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Month: March 2003



Check out Protest records
Okay, this is just one cool concept. If you’re like me (and like free mp3s, w000t!) you’ll be keeping an eye on this bad boy: protest records. This is a Sonic Youth venture, and I know this because, well, all the stuff is on the Sonic Youth server. (I’m smart like that.) They’re collecting protest songs and giving them away on the website. The tagline: use’em for yrself. give’em to friends. just don’t sell’em.

Some personal favourites:
In a World Gone Mad, Beastie Boys
Go Down, Congress, Steven Taylor
Peace In the World, Nancy Lancy
Pictures of Adolf, Jim O’Rourke and Glenn Kotche
two minutes and fifty seconds of silence, credited to George W. Bush and Matt Rogalsky. This is perhaps the strangest track I’ve ever heard, and unless I’m much mistaken, what I think he’s done is taken all the pauses in Bush’s sentences and combined them to make a new ‘speech’. Actually, me just telling you that that’s what I think it is might be enough, you probably don’t have to actually download it. But what a weird, weird track. Cool, though.

Politics and Good Radio

Politics and Good Radio

This American Life: The Balloon Goes Up

Act One. Bombs over Baghdad. Issam Shukri is an Iraqi man, living in Canada. He lived in Baghdad when it was bombed during the first gulf war. He talks about how scary it was when the ground started shaking, and how hard it was to explain to his three year old son.
Act Two.Tice Ridley, a first lieutenant in the army, has been sending regular emails from Kuwait City where he’s stationed about what it’s like to wait for the war to begin, and what it’s like to fight it.
Act Three. What’s French for French Fries? David Sedaris reports on French/US relations.
Act Four. Sarah Vowell tells the story about the first time the US attacked a country that hadn’t attacked us first. It was also the first time the US went to a foreign country to force a regime change. The country in question is still not doing too well a hundred years later.
Act Five. What Peacetime forgets about Wartime.
Act Six. Lessons from Ancient Wars. The story of a preventive act of war commited 3200 years ago, in the lank that’s now Turkey. Seneca’s The Trojan Woman takes place at the end of the Trojan war.

I swear to you, my own life would be so much poorer without This American Life.

New Brunswick Couple Can’t Leave Their Property

New Brunswick Couple Can’t Leave Their Property

Nope, sorry, Lady. You can’t cross the road.
New Brunswick couple can’t leave their property. The Pedersen’s have lived on their potato farm for 53 years. The property skims the international border with their driveway in Canada, and the road, centimetres away, in the United States.

An American customs agent even threatened to arrest Marion Pedersen for illegal border-jumping on Jan. 31, 2003.

“It was out here when they stopped me,” Marion says. ” And he said `I’m going to take you in.’ ‘In where?’ I said. And boy he meant it. He wasn’t fooling. And I said, `Well what’s wrong?’ He said `You jumped the border.’ And I said `Well, maybe yes, maybe no, but if I have, I’ve done it for 53 years.'”

Marion escaped prosecution, and eventually got special dispensation for herself and her husband Nickolaj to cross the street without getting into trouble with the law. But there’s no such permission for anyone else who might come to the farm, not even her eight children who like to visit, or delivery or service people.

“He said `Mrs. Pedersen, you’re alright, but you’re not allowed to have anybody else here. No family.’ I said `What about family?’ `No. No friends.’ `I said what happens tonight if say the water stops? And I have to call a plumber?’ `Nope, not unless them come around by Andover and report.’ I said, `Well, how can they get back in here? This is Canada.’ Well that was going to be the way.'” [Rather funny audio link about this story here.] Thanks to Brin for the link.

Where Have All the Muslims Gone?

Where Have All the Muslims Gone?

Where Have All The Muslims Gone?
Remember Ali, the Iraqi student I wrote about a few weeks before leaving for Italy when telling about going to the antiwar rally?

He’s gone. Disappeared.

His parents’ phone number is disconnected.

His mother cannot be reached at work.

His father disappeared first… and now, one of our babies is gone!

His counselor said to me this afternoon: “Either the parents have been called in by the government for questioning, or else they’ve all fled.”

Oh, my God.

More Multi-Media

More Multi-Media

The Foundation Restaurant is not afraid of expressiong an opinion about the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. In fact, the walls of this unassuming cafe are currently papered in anti-war sentiment.

It’s part of an exhibition entitled No War: Reasons and Photos by Melissa Campell. She asked 105 ordinary Canadians to explain their reasons for opposing war. She then paired the answers submitted with a portrait she took of each person.

Mark Thomson is part owner of the Vancouver restaurant. He says, “We put them up because the reasons against the war just don’t seem to be getting much coverage. Everyone who comes in here is opposed to it but all you hear on the news is why we need to go.”

See the Exhibit as a flash movie here.

Sodom Of Eye-Rack

Sodom Of Eye-Rack

Free Speech?

Free Speech?

You Can’t Criticize American Politicians in Canada
TORONTO – The U.S. ambassador to Canada let fly at the Canadian government Tuesday, complaining about its lack of support for the Iraq war and its failure to discipline Liberals who criticize the U.S.

Paul Cellucci said “a lot of people in Washington are upset” with Canada for not backing the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

And he said Ottawa “could do a better job” at controlling Liberals, like Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal, who said last week that U.S. President George Bush lacks statesmanlike qualities.

I’m sure there’s a Geneva convention about criticising world leaders who declare illegal wars on middle eastern (read: muslim) countries. Respect must be paid, dammit. What is this ‘freedom of speech’ of which the Americans speak? What is this ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ the American government keep going on about? My my.

Brian Mulroney and the Great Big Snit

Brian Mulroney and the Great Big Snit

I saw Brian Mulroney on television today, doing an interview. Well, to be honest, I didn’t actually see him. I just heard him, because I couldn’t be bothered to sit in front of the tv for that. So I just read the online news and ate my breakfast while listening in.

I was appalled.

Well, I shouldn’t be. Brian always did have one hand in the Bush, so to speak.

So he’s upset that the Chretien government isn’t backing this war. He says waiting for UN approval is “letting foreigners set Canadian foreign policy.”

“You know who it is?” he says. “It’s a few guys from Chad and Mongolia. Sure, they’re smart guys, but they’re still foreigners.”

Of course, it doesn’t strike him as at all hypocritical to then suggest that we base our foreign policy on whatever the Bush administration dictates. Right, cause that’s not foreign. As foreign hopping over to your neighbour’s backyard for a barbeque, isn’t it Brian? Yeah, you don’t need a passport to do that, either.

He criticizes the Chretien government for making the ‘popular’ choice, not the ‘right’ choice. Sure, two thirds of the Canadian populace support the Chretien government in this decision; the entire cabinet and the entire government (even the Liberal Chretien opponents) support this decision. This is what Mulroney calls governing by ‘popularity polls’. What we need to do, they tell us, over and over and over, is go into Iraq and fight for freedom and democracy. What Tony Blair is doing, going to war in spite of the fact that his country is against the idea, is brave and right. It’s all in the spirit of democracy, the wonderful gift we will bring to the people of Iraq.

I’m so glad they hold democratic ideals so close to their cold, tin little hearts.

The Theatre of War

The Theatre of War

Theatre is an apt word for it, from our perspective. This is something we watch, we are an audience for these things. We turn the war on in the evenings when we switch on our tvs. We listen to it on the radio and read it on the internet, unfolding with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Inverted checkmark; the build up, the climax, the denouement. And even if the war doesn’t have these parts the media will create them for us.

The last time we did this, we were very involved. Twelve years ago we were devoting money and people and emotion to the American conquest. But it was clearer then, or it felt clearer. An invasion, our economic interests, atrocities. The murder of the Kurds, a modern-day Hilter. Ethnic purging. This time everything is different for us. We’re not commited to this war, we’re not sending people, we’re not giving them any money. The symbolic response of the Canadian government impresses me, to be honest. Jean Chretien is at home with his wife. He’s not answering questions, there is no press secretary up on a podium answering questions. There is no one on parliment hill; just a few reporters standing around idly. The Prime Minister is refusing to make this a big deal. He will sit at home and deal with whatever fallout he has to in the morning, at a reasonable time.

For a moment I thought, “but shouldn’t he address us, at least? The people, the population of Canada?” And then I realized, no. No, he doesn’t need to. This isn’t our war. This isn’t our conflict. There’s nothing that needs to be said, really. We’re not going in, we just need to hunker down and then maybe offer to help clean up the mess afterward.

But who knows. Who knows what our non-participation will mean for our relationship with the US and the UK. It’s a theatre of war, after all. All we can do is sit still and watch.

Thoughts on my Vancouver

Thoughts on my Vancouver

If he had known unstructured
space is a deluge
and stocked his log house-
boat with all the animals
even the wolves,

he might have floated.

But obstinate he
stated, The land is solid
and stamped,

watching his foot sink
down through stone
up to the knee.

–Margaret Atwood, Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer

Vancouver is, indeed, very wet. See, I can say that and it sounds simple. If you’re from the east, or from central North America, or anywhere else except possibly Norway, you won’t understand what this means. You really won’t.

First, it rains a lot. They tell you this isn’t true, but don’t believe them. British Columbians are immune to their own weather. It’s like living in northern Ontario during the black fly and mosquito season; eventually the damn things leave you alone and you become completely oblivious to the fact that they’re still there, attacking the fresh-smelling city folk in droves and driving them mad.

So don’t let the locals fool you. It rains 70% of the time in Vancouver. It rained hard every single day I was there (in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island), except on the first couple of days when it snowed. And it’s not like rain here in Ontario. It doesn’t rain and then clear up, it doesn’t rain and then break out all sunny and blue and clear. You wake up in the morning and the roads are wet and slick. For the first time in years I heard that weird buzz the car makes when you’re hydroplaning. It rains like the world is ending out there, it rains thick primordial soup that changes the landscape. It rains oil that doesn’t wash off, ever. Everything in British Columbia is in biblical proportions; they say ‘everything is bigger in Texas’, but they don’t even know what they’re talking about. British Columbia is big water, big mountains, big trees, and out-proportioned weather.

When it does occaisonally clear up in Vancouver it feels like the aftermath of a flood. Puddles everywhere, fog rising out of the trees on the mountains. It feels like a lull in a war zone. My sister and I kept looking around through the rain and wondering why everything (and everyone) looked so normal; you’d think all that downpour would make everything somehow marked. We expect to see big plexiglass shelters for the elderly, extra-large gutters on the houses, big holes in the ground carved out by ridiculous amounts of water. Like Hogsback in Ottawa, like the Grand Canyon; you expect to see the etching of the water into the earth, the hard fingers of it that pull mountains down and tunnel through them. The acid oil that leaves everything five shades darker than it is at home.

But it’s not just the rain. It’s the damp. I mean, this is what happens when you set up shop in the middle of a rain forest, isn’t it. The damp gets under your skin and laps at your innards. If you’re from anywhere east, you will go to BC thinking you’re going to be enjoying a nice spring. High temperatures, pleasant weather. Hell, a little rain isn’t so bad, it’s not a tough price to pay for temperatures above the freezing mark, right? Well, think again.

It’s the damp. If you’re from a drier climate and you show up in BC, you’re going freeze your ass off. Why? Because you can never dry off. The dampness gets into your bones, you’re cold from the inside out. You wake up and your sheets are a little dampish, you can feel it in your elbows and your ribs and your knees. You need to pile on the sweaters just to allow your body to feel warm in spite of being, as it were, dumped in the middle of a tepid body of water.

It’s true, the place is a rainforest. There are ridiculously tall trees, beautiful stretches of forest that make me think of Narnia. You know, at the beginning of the world, when you could drop pennies on the ground and get a penny tree, because everything is just that fertile. Driving from Victoria to Duncan is almost an exercise is running from the fertility of the place; if you stop for any length of time it will start to grow on you too. It will pull you into its wet green self and devour you.

And I’m not even kidding; there is moss everywhere. We drove through forests with massive trees entirely covered in the stuff; it grows on the sidewalks, the roofs, in the gardens. If you stand still too long you might find it creeping up onto your scalp. It’s like they beat back the forest as much as they can, but it’s a losing battle. Eventually the forest will take over and will just make mossy mounds of human civilization. Not that this is tragic, really. It reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s forest; In the darkness the fields / defend themselves with fences / in vain: / everything / is getting in.

The people of British Columbia are on the true frontier. They are on an eternal crusade against a wall of moisture that falls from the sky and inches in from the coast, a wet invader that is replenished daily. They are the warriors who hold back the tide that could envelop us all. Praise them.



I am very proud of me. Ridiculously proud. I have just returned from Vancouver, where I did something I have never done before. I wandered around aimlessly in Vancouver and did not get lost. I repeat, I did not get lost. So here’s what I did. Bear with me, because my pride is very very great.

Okay, so I left my friend Xandria’s place, where I was staying in vancouver, and picked a direction. I’ve never walked much further east than I am, and I drove in with my brother-in-law from the west, so I decided to walk west. I knew there were some streets there. Looked to me from the car that there might be something happening that way. And if all else failed I knew Stanley Park was that way because we drove through it. So off I went.

I remembered my friend Xandria telling me to stay away from a street called ‘East Hastings’, but on the map it looked big and important, so I thought if I walked along it I will get somewhere, well, big and important. So I gravitated that way. I walked and walked and walked. It started to rain. What a shock. Not a lot of rain, just a little. I was wearing jeans and a hoodie, I had no umbrella. Because I am stupid and from Ontario. They put something in the water there that makes us all really dense and slow.

So I walked and walked and I realized that I was not in the best end of town. I was suddenly a bit worried that possibly I was in the industrial end and walking further and further into the industrial end, but I was enjoying the walk so I didn’t so much care. Hey, I could always just turn around and walk back, right? I left my trail of bread crumbs.

Finally I realized that I was getting rather damp by that point, because it was really seriously raining. So I popped into a shop that claimed to sell lots of things determined buy an umbrella. The shop was actually a chinese medicine shop, which was cool. Racks on the walls filled with dried…things. I have studied Chinese medicine a few times during my master’s degree and have a lot of respect for it, so I was hip to all that. I could even walk into the place, though; there was stuff piled everywhere and an entire family standing in the aisle in front of me. I looked around for something that might look like an umbrella.

A tiny Chinese woman looked up at me and said, “Can I help you?” The what are you doing here, big white woman? is not said but is naturally implied, in the nicest possible way.

“Do you have umbrellas?” I asked.

“Umbrellas! Yes!” Everyone tittered. She pointed behind me to a small holder with about eight umbrellas in it. I pulled one out and notice that it is entirely covered with dust. Hey, no problem.

“Nine nine,” the woman said.

“Ninety nine cents,” another woman said.

“Ninety nine dollars,” another woman corrected.

“Nine ninety,” the first woman said. I gave her a ten dollar bill. She gave me my dime and I go out into the rain with my very very dusty black umbrella. Normally I would not buy things in black, but who was I to be picky at that point, it was pissing like an eight year old halfway through Dances with Wolves. My umbrella has a tag on it that tells me it was made in Shanghai.

I kept walking. I had absolutely no clue where I was going. I passed by all kinds of tasty things; a big line up next to a detox centre which I presume is for methadone; a 10:30am crowd having a nice mid-morning weed break. I passed by a few rundown hotels advertising cheap rates and good security. I still had no clue if I was walking into or out of downtown Vancouver, but my ever-optimistic presumption was that there is something interesting on the other side of this.

Finally I turned left and walk up a street. This looks more or less the same, but slightly less gritty. I found a diner advertizing breakfast (always a good way to flag me down) and dropped in for a bite. I was just under the wire for the 11am cut off. I read my book while I ate. All memory is revisionist, all stories are apocryphal, all photographs hang suspended in the present tense. Diane Schoemperlen is a genius. As I was reading I noticed that the buses passing me said ‘downtown’ on them, and went a block south and then turned right. I decided to follow them and hope I end up somewhere interesting. I was already proud of myself; I seemed to be heading in the right direction and I could still concievably make it back to Xan’s place without having to call for directions. Off I went.

The first thing I saw is that I had hit Granville street. This is the only street in Vancouver I have ever actually heard of, so I was ridiculously pleased. I stop[ed in at a drug store and get some vanilla-flavoured lip gloss and more sparkly lip gloss, since my other sparkly lip gloss is in the care of my friend Cassie in New York City. I saw a girl with a starbucks cup and resisted asking her where the nearest starbucks was. I walked out the door and noticed that there was a starbucks next to the drug store. Also across the street from the drug store. I got a coffee and sat down to read more.

A nice man sat behind me and we talk about the weather.

“Do you think it will clear up?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Doesn’t look like it.”

“I’m not from around here,” I said.

“Oh, where are you from, the Okanagan?” I have no idea why he thought I look like I might be from the Okanagan. I wonder if it’s my raspberry deodorant making people think I smell fresh and fruity.

“No, Toronto.”

“Oh! Really not from around here.” He then told me all about his aunt from Willowdale and how his parents are from Barrie. I responded in kind and tell him that my parents are from Vancouver Island, and we discussed the strange provincal zoning laws. Also the politics, and the fact that British Columbia is constantly in a state of pre-election; a state that only occurs in Ontario prior to an election, while the people of British Columbia are constantly poised to overthrow their own government. He also told me it’s best to walk northward toward the waterfront rather than southward.

“It’s dumpy down there,” he says. I told him which way I walked in. He said that was pretty dumpy too. Nice man.

I wandered out again and found a book store to fuss around in. Very quickly I find the Canadian literature wall and about 15 books I want really really badly. I wanted Carol Shield’s Unless, but it’s still in hardback. I want Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen and a new copy of Margaret Atwood’s Good Bones, but I settle for Alice Munro’s Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage.

I called Xan. I told her where I was and how I got there. She is terrified and appalled. “You walked through the worst neighbourhood in Vancouver,” she said. “They kill people here, you know. They send you to the pig farm.” I am doubly pleased with myself. “I can’t believe I didn’t give you my ‘where not to go in Vancouver’ lecture”, she says. “I give everyone that lecture.” I realized she’s worried because she has seen me in my flannel nightie and realizes that I have an innate innocence like a five year old girl. She told me how to take the bus home and forbids me to walk back. I was not too tempted to disobey her, because it was raining even harder by then.

I found a bus stop as directed and sat down to wait.

“Bus fare is two dollars, right?” I asked the guy next to me.

“Depends on which zone you’re going to,” he said.

“Zone?” I asked, confused. A girl across from us giggled.

“Oh, you’re not from here, are you,” she said.

“No, not really. I’m from Ontario.”

“Ah…well, at least there’s no snow here,” she said. I shake my head and laugh. They tell me how to take the bus.

I almost made it home without getting lost or confused, but I overshot by a block and had to circle back to get to Xan’s place. But I think overall I did pretty damn well.