Friday, July 27, 2007

Remind Me Again: In Whose Interest Does the Government Govern?

Tiny Town Demands Justice in Dioxin Poisoning
A U.S. health agency has made research subjects of people in tiny Mossville, Louisiana by repeatedly monitoring dangerously high levels of dioxin in their blood while doing nothing to get the community out of harm's way, residents say.

Further, the agency failed to release important test results for five years, and made it difficult for the community to obtain the actual data, say residents and their lawyers.

"The air is staggering," said resident Haki Vincent. "Come stay at my place and you will see firsthand that the air and water is repulsive."

Mossville is closed in by 14 chemical factories, including Petroleum giant Conaco Phillips and Georgia Gulf, a vinyl products manufacturer that had revenues of 2.4 billion dollars in 2006, according to the company.

Dioxin compounds are a byproduct of petroleum processing and vinyl manufacturing and residents in Mossville say the factories are releasing amounts into the air that are making them sick.

Studies show the community suffers from high rates of cancer, upper respiratory problems and reproductive issues, and residents say dioxin pollution is the cause.
The historically black community founded in the late 1700s is unincorporated and has had no voting rights in the state and no power to control what businesses operate within its borders. Some factories moved to within 50 feet of people's homes.

Yet again, disenfranchised and marginalized people bear the effects of corporations' harmful practices. And the governmental agencies do nothing.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Costs of the Iraq War - Who is picking up the tab?

So about a trillion dollars is spent by American taxpayers to kill Iraqis.Aside from the direct cost to American taxpayers, there are additional costs incurred by the war in Iraq.

For instance the cost of dealing with 2 million refugees - primarily in Syria and Jordan - is astronomical. How about the cost to the UN and NGOs - humanitarian support, food aid, and helping refugees? Canada and other NATO countries are paying to hold the bully's coat (by picking up the slack in Afghanistan).

This doesn't even include what it has cost the Iraqi people themselves.

So the Iraq occupation costs everyone money - well, almost everyone. Ah, I see. Transferring more money from those who have little to those who already have a lot. Killing hundreds of thousands of people in the process. Good policy, GWB.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Underpaid women: Stupid Letters to the Editor

You know, I have no one to blame but myself. I know how the National Post makes my head spin, and yet some macabre force compells me to read it.

Anyways, today I found this little gem of a letter to the editor:
Underpaid women
Re: Why Men Earn More, editorial, July 23.

The bottom line is that if women want to earn as much as men, they have to behave like men in the employment marketplace. That usually means: work longer hours at intellectually challenging, personally unrewarding careers that offer a poor workplace environment, physical hazards, pay linked to performance, an imposition on nonworking lifestyle choices or some combination of the above.

Furthermore, women would have to take on more responsibilities, make family sacrifices and be more productive in the jobs they have. That's how men do it. Women can do it too, if they so choose.

Now I could politely tell the author to climb back into the cave from whence he came, and let us women go back to eating bonbons while our menfolk hunt for our dinner, but I think I'll take the high road today. Some facts might be a better response.

First, we need to get to the heart of his argument, which appears to be that women, compared to men:

  1. work shorter hours in more rewarding and challenging careers
  2. experience better workplace environments, and fewer physical hazards
  3. are payed based on something other than performance
  4. make poor lifestyle choices
  5. take less responsibilities and make fewer family sacrifices
  6. are less productive in their jobs than men.

Are any of these true?

  1. Do women work shorter hours in more rewarding and challenging careers? When all women are compared with all men in paid employment, women's earnings in 2003 averaged only 63.6% of men's. This is indeed due in part to womens' shorter average paid working hours. (Of course, when unpaid work is added, women and men both work nearly 9 hours a day). Often paid working hours are not a matter of choice; women are overrepresented in part-time, contract and temporary work, and women are less likely to be paid for overtime hours. When adjusting for the difference in working hours, the gap decreases to 70.5% - that is, women make 70.5% of the average earnings of men working full-time for a full year. Lastly, more women than men head single parent households, which significantly impacts the quantity of paid hours worked. (Most data from here, here, and here) As to whether women work more rewarding jobs, that is probably fairly subjective, but we do know that women are overrepresented in the lowest paying jobs like cashiers, food service, and child care jobs and underrepresented in the highest paying occupations like senior managment, law, and dentistry. I suppose a case could be make that scanning bar codes all day is more rewarding than looking at nasty teeth, but otherwise I think most people would prefer the higher paying jobs - for the pay, the challenge, and the status.
  2. Men do represent about 3/4 of those injured in the workplace - however, we do have labour laws for a reason. Willingness to be injured is fortunately not a requirement for a decent wage. This means we should continue trying to reduce workplace injuries overall, not demand women experience a greater share. There are other risks women face more than men: including sexism on the job, sexual harrassment, repetitive stress injuries, toxic chemicals. Do women have better working environments? Hard to say, but probably men and women both have equally shitty workplaces.
  3. Are women paid for something other than performance, more often than men? This appears to be true, but it is not exactly a good thing. Pay-for-performance tends to result in higher pay not lower pay. So, yes please, we'd like some more of that, thank you. I expect it isn't likely to happen any time soon since the kinds of jobs that reward performance aren't typically nursing, teaching, and clerical.
  4. Women make poor lifestyle choices. Where to even begin with this one. Most likely the letter writer is referring to having children, since I can't imagine what other lifestyle choices affect employment so differently for men and women. One thing: it takes both a man and a woman to make a baby, so why should a woman be poorer just because it is her body in which the fetus must grow? But, the fact is, we do, which is part of the reason reproductive choice is so important.
  5. Women take less responsibility and make fewer family sacrifices. This is sort of funny. I suppose if you were to remove child care, and husband care, and elder care from the picture, then it could be true. Also, one of the things women know when they start a family is that they are making a big sacrifice - their job opportunities and pay almost certainly decrease - unlike men, who experience the opposite. That could be one of the reasons women are delaying marriage and children longer and longer.
  6. Women are less productive than men. This I couldn't find any data on, either way. We know two things definitely improve productivity - one is technology, since improved technology allows fewer labour hours to accomplish more. The second is training and education. Neither of those are related to gender.

It is true than when women behave like men (mostly meaning not having any children), they tend to make similar wages.
The thing is, women, in some people's eyes, don't do the same work as men. They stay home having babies and knitting dirndls while the men are out hunting bear and fending off the Visigoths, so naturally they get paid less... It's easy to caricature this view (dirndls versus Visigoths, etc), but there may be some truth in it. Some research suggests that when women behave as men do--not having babies, mainly--the income gap largely disappears. If so (I won't claim the matter has been definitively settled), the question facing women is a stark one: What do you want, kids or cash?<Straight Dope>
Not very family friendly, is it?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Whiner Files: Backpack Edition

Oh no! Not the backpacks! Grownups with backpacks - why that's nearly as bad as women who wear sneakers for their commutes. Selfish sneaker wearing women - caring about their own comfort more than they care about how their legs look to the menz.

Dude - let me 'splain. We don't have enough SPACE for everyone to drive. Some people can't even afford a car, or are too young to drive. Hence the subway. When you can't store your whole day's worth of stuff in your car, you have to carry it somehow. The backpack is the most body-friendly way to do that. If you don't like backpacks, you can carry a plastic grocery bag. And leave the rest of the backpack-toting world alone.

I find people are actually pretty careful with their backpacks and even when they aren't, if you ask them nicely to move, they cheerfully oblige. Let's practice together, in our non-bitchy voices: "Can you please move your backpack so I can sit down? Thanks."

What do people carry in their backpacks? Well, those lazy entitled students (though personally I find those whose parents drive them to school are a wee bit lazier and more entitled than those who take mass transit) usually have enough books and homework to keep them busy for 9.2 hours a day.

Now, I have shocking news. In this new age of peak oil and a warmed globe, you better get used to backpacks. Here's what I recommend: an umbrella for sudden weather changes, sweater (for the over-airconditioned buildings), wide-brimmed hat and big bottle of SPF2000 for melanoma protection. Maybe you should place the blame for the backpack scourge where it is deserved: on the shoulders of big oil.

Is there really nothing better to complain about? Like say, people starving or something? Or your favourite shampoo was discontinued? Come on.

You know what really gets me? People who say "napsack". WTF is a nap sack? Something to hold my supplies for the dream world? In conclusion, if you're going to whine about sacks or packs or backs or naps, please do not waste space in the NEWSpaper doing so. Get a blog like the rest of us.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Challenge of Progressive Solidarity: Hamas, Palestine, plus a Fishy Analogy

The question is: how do we support the people of Palestine without endorsing the Hamas leadership? Let's be clear: Hamas' long-term social vision is repressive. Hamas is a movement driven by militarism and nationalism. It aims to institutionalize reactionary ideas about gender and sexuality, and it uses religion as a smokescreen to pursue its agenda.

And there is another, equally important question: how do we put forward this critique of Hamas without reinforcing the Bush Administration's anti-Arab, anti-Islamic rhetoric? We do that by taking a stand for a sane and humane US policy in the Middle East. When we demand an end to both Israeli occupation and US attempts to control the resources and governments of the region, we refuse to be conscripted into Bush's "war on terror."

Some people worry that criticizing Hamas means casting doubt on the legitimacy of its leadership. It doesn't. MADRE recognizes that Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council through a fair election and that Hamas must be part of any future negotiations. And MADRE acknowledges that Hamas has enabled many Palestinians to survive the ravages of Israeli occupation by providing healthcare, education, and other critical social services to families in need. We don't contest the legitimacy of Hamas' rule, but that doesn't mean that we are required to support them—any more than we are bound to support the new administration of Nicolas Sarkozy in France or any other elected government.
This article is relevant for more than this specific situation. It speaks to a very important question: how do we make a difference in this world while being neither insular nor reflexive nor by reinforcing the colonial order of things?

We have to walk a fine line. On the one hand, we need to acknowlege and respect the specificity of experiences in other cultures that differ from our own - this to avoid imposing our Western values upon others. And yet we need to not give up on the values that make us progressive. I believe a big part of that is rather than trying to dictate the terms of our support, we need to listen to the voices of the disenfranchised, whenever possible taking our cue from them. The organizations who are fighting for justice, equity, and human rights within their own countries don't need us to tell them what to do. Indeed, we can often learn from them. And those organizations we disagree with, do not need our unconditional support.

We do not have to make a choice between Fatah and Hamas. We can understand and support the right of the Palestinians to elect Hamas, while disagreeing vehemently with the platform and tactics of Hamas. Sort of like how we do not have to offer one of Obama or Hillary our unconditional support.

Our greatest responsibility to the people of the two-thirds world is probably at home - meaning, preventing our own governments and corporations from following policies that are often the root cause of so much violence, misery, and suffering. To paraphrase/mangle something I read the other day, that saying about not just giving someone fish, but teaching that person how to fish, needs to be updated. You best belive a people located in a coastal region knows how to fish. They don't need our charity, nor our patronizing fishing lessons. They need us to stop polluting the water. Or to stop arresting and killing them when they fish.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

One of These Countries is Not Like the Others

Let's play a game.

What do these countries all have in common:

Sri Lanka

... something not shared by that beacon of women's rights, the United States of America.

Yep, these nations, and many others, have been run by women.

In America there has been no woman president. Only 16% of congress are women. Well, someday perhaps the USA will catch up. Maybe the Philippines or India can come and liberate American women.

In Canada, we aren't exactly doing so well, either. No women lead any of the four major parties. We have never had more than 21% women in parliament, with few of these coming from aboriginal, immigrant or other minority women.

Granted, attaining gender parity in politics may not be the most urgent and pressing matter facing women, but it is one visible marker that helps us guage our progress.

Inspired by India electing its first woman president, Pratibha Patil.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

In return for your feedback, there's a little something for you in this post

I know I haven't posted much lately, and nothing of substance for quite a while. This last push with work and school and 14 hour days has been wiping me out. As of Friday my schedule will be clearing up significantly and then I promise we will return to our regularly scheduled blog postings (probably more, actually).

Perhaps even a blog redesign. I'm tired of this template. So, here's me asking for your feedback. What kind of features would you like to see? Is my blog currently too cluttered, too plain? What kind of posts? More funny stuff, more commentary, more news, more photos, more videos? Or less of any of these? Any particular topics you'd like me to focus on? Let me know - I'm always interested in what you have to say!

In the meantime, here is your little something, as promised, courtesy of Deleted Images:
"The Junkyard of Art," resurrects digital photos that would have been erased from the hard drive of history. The photographers were shaky, or clicked the button accidentally, or were overzealous in an attempt to capture motion or night shots. But for some reason, the error-as-art conceit sort of works. Via <Neatorama>

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Little People

Street art with a twist

This one is called Small Gods and was taken in front of Westminster Abbey.

See more at Little People - a tiny street art project

Monday, July 09, 2007

Can Biological Essentialism Die Already

Come on people. I thought we got beyond this decades ago.

Good Thing They Have Us

Cuz see, they can't do anything on their own. Pity the poor passive peeps in African/Muslim/Third World places. They need us to bomb them into peace/prosperity/equality/democracy.

An organized leadership push by Muslim women for Muslim women is taking place, quietly but purposefully... Muslim women, who will meet in Malaysia later this year, are pursuing a 10-year plan for advancing women's worldwide leadership within Islam. <Womens E-News>

Yup, they are just waiting there, hoping for bored and wealthy Westerners to come in and save them.
A Malawian teenager built a wind power system for his house... He now provides lighting for his parents' home, and battery charging for his neighbors. His blog (with pictures) is wonderful. <Boing Boing>

Yep, good thing they have us.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Where the Hell is Matt?

In case you've never seen this, it's really cool.

Matt travels the world and films himself dancing, then edits it into a video. Gives a real small world perspective. Really neat. Watch it, and then check out the outtakes. More info at

Friday, July 06, 2007

HMOs Kill More Americans than Terrorists do! Why Aren't we Bombing Them?

In fact, not just HMOs, but the whole health care profession.

Next up: the War on Health. This war sponsored by Pfizer.

The war on Communism has been "won". The War on DrugsTM is busy filling jails at home. And now the War on TerrorTM may no longer be working to justify the vast military-industrial spending.

For some reason the war on peanuts never took off, but I think this one really has a shot.

We already have a backlash toward doctors because of the recent attempted London bombings. (Keep pushing the doctor aspect, see, because people might mistakenly think the detainments of Indian doctors has to do with their foreign-ness not their doctor-ness. We already have a war on foreigners. We are trying to start the war on health, people.) The foot soldiers in this war are already marching.

Post title shamelessly stolen from here.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

I Now Pronounce you David and David

Watch before it's removed from Youtube

And here's Gavin

Does anyone know where I can find a clip of "Step Class"?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Guilt, Privilege and the Pain of Living in a World of Domination

Someone close to me is in pain because he feels marginalized for who he is: a white male.

He's basically a "gender-blind", "colour-blind" regular Nice GuyTM who believes in equality for all. He sees people as human first and wants the same from others. The common definitions of sexist and/or racist (seen as individual attitudes or prejudices) do not apply to him.

But there's a deeper, structural understanding of racism & sexism as a system of power that goes far beyond any individual beliefs or discrimination. In other words, we are all racist and sexist because we participate (i.e. live) in a racist, patriarchal system of dominance. That doesn't mean we're all Ann Coulter. It also doesn't remove our responsibility to try to do something about the system.

As a feminist, anti-racist activist, this interests me, of course. This is a situation in which all the theories I read are pretty irrelevant - here there is pain; there is real anger and hurt.

This young man hurts because he is labeled privileged, simply because he's a white male, something he did not choose and cannot change. But as a youth who grew up poor, in a household with violence, in an unhelpful school system with bullies, believe me, he had no silver spoon. He looks at his life and asks a very fair question: how can this be what privilege looks like?

If it wasn't someone I care about I could perhaps blithely respond: yes there is privilege, if you don't see it it's because you don't have to (your denial proves your privilege and dominance, which is maintained precisely because of its invisibility to those who possess it), there's nothing more to discuss. Of course, that is me talking to the figurative, metaphorical, representation which is "White Man", not to every real individual white man. This is is the real world, and individuals have real feelings and experiences that cannot be adequately captured in such simple statements. As progressives I believe we don't want to alienate those who are trying to make the world a better place, especially by hurting them. That simply drives them into the arms of the right-wingers: Might as well get a shotgun and a gas guzzler and become a real racist sexist prick, since that is what I'm assumed to be anyways.

When we are able and have the energy to do so, I think there is a point to helping those with privilege learn how to accept and understand it, so they can become our allies, even as we continue to learn about our own privilege, and how we ourselves perpetuate oppressions.

The truth is, privilege and oppression are extremely complex. White people and men of different backgrounds have different levels of access to social resources, power and status. Economic class, language, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, even the neighbourhood a person lives in makes a difference. Aside from the intersection of many forms of oppression exist other contradictory examples. Here's one for ya: Patriarchy harms men. Patriarchy privileges men. I believe those two statements are not mutually exclusive.

From Pain and Progress (on the awesome XY site):
Because sexism hurts all men as well as women the ending of sexism is entirely in the interests of all men and all women. The "privileges" of patriarchy are paltry compared to the enormous cost we pay to maintain them. We give up so much of our humanness to become sexist patriarchs and no man who could clearly see what he has lost and is still losing by maintaining patriarchy would hesitate to give it all up. For example the power accorded to us by patriarchy is as nothing compared to the joy of real human connections to other people, men, women and children, based on equality and true relationship. We can't exercise this power and have truly equal relationships with women.

Interestingly, marginalization is at issue here too. Now we know that it is the white male perspective that is the "invisible" perspective: the universal position of imagined objectivity. Those on the margins have historically been silenced. Recognizing viewpoints that come from different experiences is an important part of our work. This does not necessarily mean that an individual white male is given a forum or platform (which are of course not identical to the dominant mainstream white supremacist viewpoint), meaning our theories do not resonate within him. They don't jive with his experience, so he may turn away from feminism and anti-racist activism completely.

I think growing our movements and building coalitions means trying to understand the pain we all experience as both oppressors and oppressed.

From Trauma and Oppression, Chapter 4 of Power-Under: Trauma and Nonviolent Social Change, from which I've quoted before:
One of the distinctive features of our social/economic/political system is the way in which it parcels out privilege and power-over. While there are enormous concentrations of wealth, status and power at the top, there are also infinite gradations of economic, social and political standing throughout the rest of the society. The result is that while virtually everyone is oppressed in some significant way, almost everyone also has access to some type of privilege and to one or more oppressor roles. This is an aspect of what Aurora Levins Morales calls the "interpenetration of institutional systems of power."
Most white people and most heterosexuals and most able-bodied people and most people who hold wealth beyond their needs simply think of themselves as normal, and think of their privileges as something that they have earned or that they deserve or that give them some modicum of social value and self-respect. People from oppressed constituencies who aspire to privilege and dominance surely do not think in terms of aspiring to become oppressors, but in terms of achieving statuses and positions from which they have been categorically excluded.

At the other end of the spectrum, when people identify as victims of oppression, it can all too easily block their willingness or ability to recognize the ways in which they also hold privilege and dominant roles.
As victims we are understandably preoccupied with our own experience of being acted upon in utter disregard for our worth as human beings. Our suffering unavoidably fills up our entire psychological landscape and – to the extent that we are politically conscious of oppression – our political landscape. The overwhelming impact of trauma can make it difficult or impossible to believe that the suffering of other oppressed groups could be as serious or as profound as our own.

I know this has been a long and rambling post. I'd be interested to hear other thoughts on this.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Behind Iron Bars: A Graphic Novela

From the always amazing Words Without Borders, check out Behind Iron Bars, a short graphic novel by Jorge Garcia and Fidel Martinez in English and Spanish.
The anarchists' union I had joined when I started working at a noodle factory and whom I joined in the streets to defend the republic against the revolt of the armed forces in July 1936.

That summer everything seemed possible: even some of us women went to the front.

We shared the trenches with men who insulted us for refusing to wash their clothes.

But soon they made us retire from combat, accusing us of spreading venereal disease.

We returned to our old prisons, those of being wives and mothers.

Read the whole thing, or check out another by the same authors: Ballad of Ventas Prison. Also try this odd piece, A Bomb in the Family.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

If You Really Don't Want to Kill Civilians, Perhaps Airstrikes Should be Avoided

It's just, you know, that airstrikes always kill civilians. That's what they do. They aren't that accurate. They can't distinguish between a wee little lad and the big bad Taliban fighter who lives next door. Not to mention, killing civilians doesn't earn us the "hearts and minds" of said civilians.

It's a proud day for Canadians. Murdering Afghan people without justification.

Happy Canada Day.