Monday, January 12, 2009

Senator Romeo Dallaire on Khadr

I was pleased to see Romeo Dallaire following up on Omar Khadr's case.

This morning Canada AM spoke with the senator who will be making a presentation about the child-soldiers (from Rwanda and Sierra Leon) to Obama's Transition Team.

It is noteworthy to mention that Omar Khadr (who was captured in Afghanistan when he was 15) is the only westerner in Guantanamo Bay Prison.

For more information on Romeo Dallaire and his mission in Rwanda see the documentary "Shake Hands with the Devil" or a movie with the same title.

BONO on Sinatra

January 11, 2009
Op-Ed Guest Columnist
Notes From the Chairman

Once upon a couple of weeks ago ...

I’m in a crush in a Dublin pub around New Year’s. Glasses clinking clicking, clashing crashing in Gaelic revelry: swinging doors, sweethearts falling in and out of the season’s blessings, family feuds subsumed or resumed. Malt joy and ginger despair are all in the queue to be served on this, the quarter-of-a-millennium mark since Arthur Guinness first put velvety blackness in a pint glass.

Interesting mood. The new Irish money has been gambled and lost; the Celtic Tiger’s tail is between its legs as builders and bankers laugh uneasy and hard at the last year, and swallow uneasy and hard at the new. There’s a voice on the speakers that wakes everyone out of the moment: it’s Frank Sinatra singing “My Way.” His ode to defiance is four decades old this year and everyone sings along for a lifetime of reasons. I am struck by the one quality his voice lacks: Sentimentality.

Is this knotted fist of a voice a clue to the next year? In the mist of uncertainty in your business life, your love life, your life life, why is Sinatra’s voice such a foghorn — such confidence in nervous times allowing you romance but knocking your rose-tinted glasses off your nose, if you get too carried away.

A call to believability.

A voice that says, “Don’t lie to me now.”

That says, “Baby, if there’s someone else, tell me now.”

Fabulous, not fabulist. Honesty to hang your hat on.

As the year rolls over (and with it many carousers), the emotion in the room tussles between hope and fear, expectation and trepidation. Wherever you end up, his voice takes you by the hand.

Now I’m back in my own house in Dublin, uncorking some nice wine, ready for the vinegar it can turn to when families and friends overindulge, as I am about to. Right by the hole-in-the-wall cellar, I look up to see a vision in yellow: a painting Frank sent to me after I sang “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with him on the 1993 “Duets” album. One from his own hand. A mad yellow canvas of violent concentric circles gyrating across a desert plain. Francis Albert Sinatra, painter, modernista.

We had spent some time in his house in Palm Springs, which was a thrill — looking out onto the desert and hills, no gingham for miles. Plenty of miles, though, Miles Davis. And plenty of talk of jazz. That’s when he showed me the painting. I was thinking the circles were like the diameter of a horn, the bell of a trumpet, so I said so.

“The painting is called ‘Jazz’ and you can have it.”

I said I had heard he was one of Miles Davis’s biggest influences.

Little pithy replies:

“I don’t usually hang with men who wear earrings.”

“Miles Davis never wasted a note, kid — or a word on a fool.”

“Jazz is about the moment you’re in. Being modern’s not about the future, it’s about the present.”

I think about this now, in this new year. The Big Bang of pop music telling me it’s all about the moment, a fresh canvas and never overworking the paint. I wonder what he would have thought of the time it’s taken me and my bandmates to finish albums, he with his famous impatience for directors, producers — anyone, really — fussing about. I’m sure he’s right. Fully inhabiting the moment during that tiny dot of time after you’ve pressed “record” is what makes it eternal. If, like Frank, you sing it like you’ll never sing it again. If, like Frank, you sing it like you never have before.


If you want to hear the least sentimental voice in the history of pop music finally crack, though — shhhh — find the version of Frank’s ode to insomnia, “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” hidden on “Duets.” Listen through to the end and you will hear the great man break as he truly sobs on the line, “It’s a long, long, long road.” I kid you not.

Like Bob Dylan’s, Nina Simone’s, Pavarotti’s, Sinatra’s voice is improved by age, by years spent fermenting in cracked and whiskeyed oak barrels. As a communicator, hitting the notes is only part of the story, of course.

Singers, more than other musicians, depend on what they know — as opposed to what they don’t want to know about the world. While there is a danger in this — the loss of naïveté, for instance, which holds its own certain power — interpretive skills generally gain in the course of a life well abused.

Want an example? Here’s an example. Take two of the versions of Sinatra singing “My Way.”

The first was recorded in 1969 when the Chairman of the Board said to Paul Anka, who wrote the song for him: “I’m quitting the business. I’m sick of it. I’m getting the hell out.” In this reading, the song is a boast — more kiss-off than send-off — embodying all the machismo a man can muster about the mistakes he’s made on the way from here to everywhere.

In the later recording, Frank is 78. The Nelson Riddle arrangement is the same, the words and melody are exactly the same, but this time the song has become a heart-stopping, heartbreaking song of defeat. The singer’s hubris is out the door. (This singer, i.e. me, is in a puddle.) The song has become an apology.

To what end? Duality, complexity. I was lucky to duet with a man who understood duality, who had the talent to hear two opposing ideas in a single song, and the wisdom to know which side to reveal at which moment.

This is our moment. What do we hear?

In the pub, on the occasion of this new year, as the room rises in a deafening chorus — “I did it my way” — I and this full house of Irish rabble-rousers hear in this staple of the American songbook both sides of the singer and the song, hubris and humility, blue eyes and red.

Bono, lead singer of the band U2 and co-founder of the advocacy group ONE, is a contributing columnist for The Times.

Childcare Policy

Lessons from Quebec:

I have long appreciated Quebec's progressive childcare policies. Here is an article in the Economist that looks at what works and what doesn't. The article also discusses the costs.

I would like to discuss the cultural paradigm shift in population growth at some point in future.

Quebec's demography

The cradle's costly revenge
Jan 8th 2009 | MONTREAL
From The Economist print edition

A baby bump courtesy of the taxpayer

A French-speaking outpost in a predominantly English-speaking continent, Quebec has always been sensitive about its demographic prospects. For a long time these were encouraging. The province was legendary for its families of 15 or more children. Its population more than tripled between 1900 and 1960; its relative weight within North America also increased. The revanche du berceau (“revenge of the cradle”) dreamed of by some romantic nationalists as retaliation for the British conquest of 1759 didn’t seem so far-fetched.

Then came a sudden rebellion by Quebeckers against their Catholic heritage and church-dominated institutions. The birth rate plunged from the highest in Canada to the lowest. By the mid-1980s the fertility rate—the average number of children born to a woman—dropped to 1.36. Since a rate of 2.1 is needed to maintain a stable population, nationalists, and others too, began worrying about extinction.

This stung the provincial government into action. After much fine-tuning under several different administrations, signs have at last emerged that its efforts are bearing fruit. The first effort was a “bucks for babies” scheme. Parents were paid C$500 ($425 at today’s exchange rate) and C$1,000 for their first and second offspring respectively; subsequent children earned as much as C$8,000. But Quebeckers seemed to be unbribable.

So the government stepped in to support child care. While this can cost C$50 or more a day per child elsewhere in Canada, Quebec offers big subsidies to day nurseries and childminders provided they charge parents just C$5 a day (increased to C$7 in 2004). Despite long waiting lists for places, the province has developed a reputation as parent-friendly. Parts of Quebec bordering Ontario saw an influx of young families, even though the move involves paying much higher income tax.

Even so, the birth rate edged up only modestly. But in 2006 the Liberal provincial government of Jean Charest introduced a provision for parental leave that is more generous than anywhere else in North America. And at last the children came. The number of births in the province jumped almost 8% that year (with a particular bump in January as parents delayed conception to qualify for leave), and then a further 2.6% in 2007. Early figures for last year show the trend continuing. The fertility rate has risen to 1.66, still below the replacement level but higher than the national average.

“Baby boom is a big word. It’s more of a little bump,” cautions Céline Le Bourdais, a demographer at Montreal’s McGill University. “It will have to be seen over the long term.” From that perspective it may prove unsustainable. Both subsidised day care and the parental-leave programme, which allows parents to take almost a year off at up to three-quarters of their salary, have been popular beyond the government’s wildest projections. Their cost is way over budget. There are now 200,000 subsidised day-care places across the province, each costing about C$13,000 to the government, and with plans for 20,000 more within two years. The parental-leave programme, which was forecast to require C$1 billion annually, already costs 50% more.

At a provincial election last month Mr Charest managed to win a third term with a narrow majority (having governed with a legislative minority in his second term). With Canada’s economy sliding towards recession, the fiscal calculus is more complicated. So he may be tempted to cut spending on day care and parental leave. Both programmes help to make Quebec the most taxed and indebted place in North America. But they are popular, and many Quebeckers see them as a price worth paying to prevent a demographic death sentence for their culture.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sarah Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Hillary Clinton -

September 05, 2008
Gloria Steinem
Los Angeles Times

Here's the good news: Women have become so politically powerful that even the anti-feminist right wing – the folks with a headlock on the Republican Party – are trying to appease the gender gap with a first-ever female vice-president.

We owe this to women – and to many men too – who have picketed, gone on hunger strikes or confronted violence at the polls so women can vote.

We owe it to Shirley Chisholm, who first took the "white-male-only" sign off the White House, and to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who hung in there through ridicule and misogyny to win 18 million votes.

But here is even better news: it won't work.

This isn't the first time a boss has picked an unqualified woman just because she agrees with him and opposes everything most women want and need. Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It's about making life more fair for women everywhere. It's not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It's about baking a new pie.

Selecting Sarah Palin, who was touted all summer by Rush Limbaugh, is no way to attract most women, including die-hard Clinton supporters. Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Clinton.

Her down-home, divisive and deceptive speech did nothing to cosmeticize a Republican convention that has more than twice as many male delegates as female, a presidential candidate who is owned and operated by the right wing and a platform that opposes pretty much everything Clinton stood for – and Barack Obama still does.

To vote in protest for John McCain/Palin would be like saying: "Somebody stole my shoes, so I'll amputate my legs."

This is not to beat up on Palin. I defend her right to be wrong, even on issues that matter most to me. I regret that people say she can't do the job because she has children in need of care, especially if they wouldn't say the same about a father. I get no pleasure from imagining her in the spotlight on national and foreign policy issues about which she has zero background, with one month to learn to compete with Senator Joe Biden's 37 years' experience.

Palin has been honest about what she doesn't know. When asked last month about the vice-presidency, she said, "I still can't answer that question until someone answers for me: What is it exactly that the VP does every day?"

When asked about Iraq, she said: "I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq."

She was elected governor largely because the incumbent was unpopular, and she's won over Alaskans mostly by using unprecedented oil wealth to give a $1,200 rebate to every resident. Now, she is being praised by McCain's campaign as a tax cutter, despite the fact Alaska has no state income or sales tax.

Perhaps McCain has opposed affirmative action for so long that he doesn't know it's about inviting more people to meet standards, not lowering them.

Or perhaps McCain is following the Bush administration habit, as in the Justice Department, of putting a job candidate's views on "God, guns and gays" ahead of competence.

The difference: McCain is filling a job that's one 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency.

So let's be clear: The culprit is McCain. He may have chosen Palin out of change-envy, or a belief that women can't tell the difference between form and content, but the main motive was to please right-wing ideologues; the same ones who nixed anyone who is now or ever has been a supporter of reproductive freedom.

If that were not the case, McCain could have chosen a woman who knows what a vice-president does and who has thought about Iraq; someone like Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison or Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. McCain could have taken a baby step away from right-wing patriarchs who determine his actions, right down to opposing the Violence Against Women Act.

Palin's value to those patriarchs is clear: She opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality.

She believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women's wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves "abstinence-only" programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions; she tried to use taxpayers' millions for a state program to shoot wolves from the air but didn't spend enough money to fix a state school system with the lowest high-school graduation rate in the nation; she runs with a candidate who opposes the Fair Pay Act but supports $500 million in subsidies for a natural gas pipeline across Alaska; she supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, though even McCain has opted for the lesser evil of offshore drilling.

I don't doubt her sincerity. As a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, she doesn't just support killing animals from helicopters, she does it herself. She doesn't just talk about increasing the use of fossil fuels but puts a coal-burning power plant in her own small town.

She doesn't just echo McCain's pledge to criminalize abortion by overturning Roe vs. Wade, she says that if one of her daughters were impregnated by rape or incest, she should bear the child.

She not only opposes reproductive freedom as a human right but implies that it dictates abortion, without saying that it also protects the right to have a child. So far, the major new McCain supporter that Palin has attracted is James Dobson of Focus on the Family.

Of course, for Dobson, "women are merely waiting for their husbands to assume leadership," so he may be voting for Palin's husband.

Being a hope-a-holic, however, I can see two long-term bipartisan gains from this contest.

Republicans may learn they can't appeal to right-wing patriarchs and most women at the same time. A loss in November could cause the centrist majority of Republicans to take back their party, which was the first to support the Equal Rights Amendment and should be the last to want to invite government into the wombs of women.

And American women, who suffer more because of having two full-time jobs than from any other single injustice, finally have support on a national stage from male leaders who know that women can't be equal outside the home until men are equal in it. Obama and Biden are campaigning on their belief that men should be, can be and want to be at home for their children.

This could be huge.

American author and feminist organizer Gloria Steinem is co-founder of the Women's Media Center. This column first appeared in The Los Angeles Times.