A Christmas message from Germany

From the mouth of German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, season’s greetings:

Be sure to turn on the English subtitles, if they don’t appear on this screen.

I’m sure you’ll find it more than timely, given the circumstances.

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Music for a Sunday: Fighting back!

Come and join the Federation:

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Rude Rudy’s rooty-tooty rude moment

Oh, how embarrassing. And yet, how FITTING:

Now, if only his career could end on that high note. TOOT!

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COVID-19: Parallels from the past, and hopes for the future

Back in the 1940s and ’50s, a spectre was haunting young people the world over. Its formal name was poliomyelitis, but it was informally known as “infantile paralysis”, because of its propensity to afflict the very young. For many, it was actually a killer. For others, it fell in varying degrees of severity, from asymptomatic or barely detectable to downright paralytic.

My own grandfather had it as a young man in northern Germany; he had a mild case, but it left him with a crippled foot. His toes were curled under due to shortening of the tendons in his sole; they had to be cut so that he could walk again. The slight resultant disability kept him out of the military — which was fine by him, as he wanted no part in that fiasco. But very near the end of Hitler’s disastrous war, when, while still in a hospital bed after a follow-up treatment, he was visited by stern-faced military recruiters, he “volunteered” to join the Kriegsmarine. It was that or be conscripted by the Wehrmacht and sent to the eastern front. If you got sent east, you went to Siberia and never returned. He couldn’t walk without limping, so long marches were out of the question, but he could drive a horse-drawn supply wagon, so that was what he did. Until the British front passed over Nordrhein-Westfalen, he drove a team of horses, supplying the German navy.

When the front passed over and he knew the war was lost, Opa let the horses run, and himself began the long walk back home to his family — his wife, and four small children. Once, as he rested at the foot of a big tree, a gang of hostile Russians — former POWs, who had often worked on farms in the area during the war — confronted him. They thought he was a soldier, and that his limp was due to a war injury; he had to convince them that he wasn’t, and it wasn’t. Had he not succeeded, they might have killed him. (Such revenge-killings, near war’s end, were disturbingly commonplace.) Another time, unable to run, he had to dig himself into a manure pile to hide from the British army as they rolled through the countryside, looking for stragglers to capture and take prisoner; the farmer, who had seen him, gave him some old work clothes and helped him dispose of the uniform. Once dressed as a civilian farmhand, he was safe, and made it home undetected — a deserter with a pronounced limp, but free, and alive.

After the war, however, a new generation of youngsters fell victim to polio. Not all of them lived in iron lungs. Scott Young, a journalist in Omemee, Ontario, wrote a short but moving account of his son’s battle with the disease, not long after the boy’s recovery. He included it in his memoir, Neil and Me. It was later excerpted in Reader’s Digest, under the title “One of God’s Requestmen”. Yes, Neil Young is a polio survivor…fortunately, one who didn’t end up paralyzed (or even with a clubbed foot like my grandpa), though he did spend some time at Sick Kids in Toronto, in an isolation ward with what he later called “the worst cold I ever had”. He grew up to become a rock star, a versatile super-talent who was equally adept in folk, rockabilly, and even early-’80s synth-pop and ’90s grunge. (His synth-infused album Trans, released in early 1982, was what turned me into a fan of his. I roller-skated in endless, foot-crossing circles on the driveway with his robotic remake of his classic from his Buffalo Springfield days, “Mr. Soul”, playing in my head as I recovered from an injury that had landed me in Sick Kids for 2 1/2 weeks the previous winter.)

And in the political sphere, other prominent Canadians who also survived the disease became advocates for the sick and disabled. Paul Martin Sr., who became a leading Liberal and federal health minister, was blind in one eye and partially paralyzed by polio; the condition made him that much more determined to do his job well. His son, Paul Jr., who eventually became prime minister, also contracted the disease, although he was left with no lingering ill effects. And David Onley, who grew up to become a TV reporter (he did his job with the help of a mobility scooter) and later, became the first visibly disabled lieutenant-governor of Ontario, is another polio survivor. CTV tells their stories here:

In the mid-1950s, the Salk and Sabin vaccines would end up banishing the spectre of polio from the developed world; schoolkids lined up to receive their shot (or their sugar cube, depending on which version of the vaccine they got.) Infection rates dropped to near zero. The dreadful visions of iron lungs, leg braces, and child-sized wheelchairs gradually faded.

Today, polio is seen mainly in still-developing countries. The danger of a comeback here is low, but it could increase dramatically if antivaxxers gain enough influence, and if enough credulous parents fail to learn from our past.

And now, with several COVID-19 vaccines in development, the spectre that is currently haunting us could soon be banished, too. Most of the projections I’ve seen would have large-scale roll-outs of the COVID shot coming as early as the first quarter of 2021. Our government is already committed to supplying enough doses for the entire country. Hope is on the horizon. Rates of infection, currently climbing again, must drop, and drop soon.

But this spectre, like that of polio, won’t go away unless we all get that shot in the arm.

Posted in Canadian Counterpunch, Confessions of a Bad German, Epidumbics, If You REALLY Care, She Blinded Me With Science, The United States of Amnesia | Comments Off on COVID-19: Parallels from the past, and hopes for the future

Donnie wanted to do WHAT when he lost the election???

This is both unbelievable…and yet, TOTALLY believable:

So, there goes the dumb “But at least he’s anti-war!” canard. No, he’s NOT anti-war. He’s PRO-war, just like every other US imperialist.

Remember his failed attempt to topple Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela (and install that fucking nobody, Juan Guaidó, in his stead)? That was a clear indicator that US foreign policy was NOT going to be any better under him than under any of his imperialistic, warmongering predecessors. And his tearing up the Iran nuclear deal was proof that it was going to get a lot worse…and it did.

It’s a real feat to be an imperialist, a warmonger and an isolationist, but if anyone could do it, Donnie could. It’s nothing to be proud of; in fact, it’s a disgrace. He’s a spiteful, petulant, senile brat who can’t be trusted with a lemonade stand, never mind a nuclear launch code. But hey, at least now he can say he left some sort of legacy.


Posted in Der Drumpf, Fascism Without Swastikas, Filthy Stinking Rich, Huguito Chavecito, Human Rights FAIL, Isn't That Illegal?, Isn't That Terrorism?, Nukes, Obamarama!, Persian Cats, The United States of Amnesia, The War on Terra | Comments Off on Donnie wanted to do WHAT when he lost the election???

Music for a Sunday: Pull my shirt off and pray…

Wait, what? The nailbiter is over? Well, alllll righty, then:

I had completely forgotten this existed, but welcome back to the mid-’80s, y’all. (Enjoy Nick’s peak ’80s hair, particularly.)

Oh! And before I forget, congrats to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for inheriting one helluva mess to clean up:

Don’t take off your high-heeled shoes.

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Bruce McArthur’s first known victim speaks out

What’s it like to be one of the earliest victims of a serial killer…and somehow to survive a murderous attack?

Mark Henderson knows. 19 years ago, he was assaulted by a man he knew by sight in Toronto’s gay village, the Church-Wellesley neighborhood. The man followed him into his apartment building, then beat Mark within an inch of his life right outside Mark’s own apartment door.

What followed was a long, nightmare-ridden journey of healing, of seeking justice, getting a slight taste of it, and then having to watch in horror as other men started disappearing from the same part of town where he himself was very nearly killed. And then finding out that the man who nearly killed him had not only been freed by an overly lenient and clueless judge, but even pardoned for his attempt on Mark’s life…effectively erasing his name and history from the criminal database of the very police force that was tasked with protecting the community from people like that eventually successful would-be killer, Bruce McArthur:

I’ve already noted how so many of McArthur’s victims were racialized queer men, easily overlooked or not taken seriously by a mostly-white, mostly-straight police force. Some of them were in the closet, with wives and families unaware of this side of their lives. This too contributed to their demise; homophobic cultures are woefully commonplace all around the globe. As immigrants making their way in a new land, they were easier targets for a home-grown killer. And with Toronto police history being riddled with strikingly recent episodes of homophobia and LGBT+ persecution, no doubt the cop shop and the justice system also provided McArthur with ample cover for his violent and murderous tendencies.

How much longer will our society go on enabling the Bruce McArthurs that walk undetected among us? As long as our justice system continues to turn a blind eye to the marginalized. And that means that everyone will have to learn more about privilege, and what becomes of those who lack it the most — lessons especially important for those in charge of enforcing our laws.

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Christine Jessop’s murder has finally been solved

It was a murder that mystified Ontarians (and Canada as a whole) for over three decades. How could a little girl just vanish seemingly without a trace, and several weeks later turn up dead and partially decomposed in a remote spot, with nobody noticing a thing? And, to make matters worse: Who sexually assaulted her before strangling her and leaving her there like that?

And later on, the tragedy was compounded by scandal as a man who had nothing to do with the crime was wrongfully convicted, and spent several years in prison. Guy Paul Morin‘s story of false conviction and the long road to exoneration has been told by journalist Kirk Makin in his book, Redrum the Innocent (which, I suspect, will soon be re-issued by its publisher with an update reflecting the new discoveries mentioned in the video.)

Along the way, the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin shed an embarrassing light on a dark and ugly pattern in Canadian policing: prejudice and preconceived notions leading to capture of wrong suspects, and conviction based on their non-conformity to a very narrow, WASPy ideal of “correct” behavior. As Kirk Makin found out, Guy Paul Morin became the prime suspect mainly because he was, in the words of one detective’s notes, “a weird-type guy”. Guy was a night owl and a francophone. He played the clarinet, was a beekeeper in his spare time, and had a quirky sense of humor. To the police’s mind, that combination betokened sociopathy, a trait necessary to commit the vile and sexually perverse murder of a prepubescent girl. It never occurred to them that they had the wrong man.

And this wrongful conviction was far from an isolated case. Donald Marshall and David Milgaard, two other wrongly convicted (and long-imprisoned) men, also proved their innocence and in so doing, indicted our so-called justice system, which has a demonstrable pattern of bias against outsiders.

Donald Marshall was convicted of the murder of his friend, Sandy Seale, mainly on the basis of racial prejudice (he was Mi’kmaq and Seale was black; Seale’s actual killer, Roy Ebsary, was white — and more than happy to let an “Injun” take the blame for his stabby tendencies).

David Milgaard was a teenage hippie who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on a road trip with a couple of friends — a no-no in arch-conservative Saskatoon, circa 1969. The common-sense fact that he could not have done such a violent crime in the short time he was seen, too far away from the scene, somehow failed to sway the jury. It certainly didn’t impress the very right-wing Crown prosecutor, who believed that hippies were all degenerates, and that Milgaard was just another Charles Manson type. (The real killer of Gail Miller, Larry Fisher, was a conservative-looking construction worker who lived in the same neighborhood as the victim, and had a violent fetish for women in white nursing uniforms, of whom he had raped several. Naturally, his clean-cut appearance helped to cover for him, at least until DNA finally led to his unmasking and Milgaard’s exoneration.)

Most notably, Steven Truscott went to prison — and very nearly to the gallows, despite being underage — for the rape and murder of his schoolmate, Lynn Harper, which he also did not commit. At 14, he was even younger than David Milgaard, who was 16 when he was falsely accused of rape and murder ten years later. Ironically, Truscott was probably the last person, other than the killer, to have seen Lynn Harper alive — and may even have identified the car belonging to the killer when he picked up the 12-year-old hitchhiker on the highway. But who listens to innocent teenagers? Certainly not the cops, who in the 1950s and ’60s were all too eager to believe the worst about them. And who certainly didn’t keep their eyes on “respectable” adult white men who literally got away with murder. Lynn Harper’s murder is still unsolved to this day.

It was a nauseating pattern in those days of growing liberalism and youth rebellion, but it carried over right up into the 1980s, when the same old mindset led to the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin. Canadian cops have a lot of bungling under their belts when it comes to violent crime. The fact that they’re deeply racist is no news to anyone who’s not white; our whole justice system was built on systemic racism. But how they get it so terribly wrong, so terribly often, even when race is NOT a factor, needs to be addressed. A full reckoning is very, VERY long overdue.

It will be interesting to see what shakes out, belatedly, about Calvin Hoover, the real killer, who took his life five years ago and never saw anything resembling justice for what he did to Christine Jessop. And what new stories will now be written as this old, cold case finally can be marked as solved.

Posted in Canadian Counterpunch, Cops Behaving Badly, Human Rights FAIL, Law-Law Land, Not So Compassionate Conservatism, Teh Injunz | Comments Off on Christine Jessop’s murder has finally been solved

Music for a Sunday: We are paid by those who learn by our mistakes

That breezy little sax intro, though…

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The October Crisis, 50 years later

A W5 report on one of the most talked-about moments of Canadian history, and one that certainly reverberates still through the memories not only of those involved, but a whole country.

When the seeds of the FLQ began to take root, I was not yet born. I was only 3 years old when the events in this video went down. Too young to remember the kidnapping of Pierre Laporte (and his subsequent murder), or the other kidnapping — of British diplomat James Cross, who was eventually freed. Too young to remember the bombings, or the drama of the handover of James Cross and the subsequent flight to Cuba of a handful of FLQ members.

But I do remember, with increasing vividity, the rise of René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois, who came to prominence as a democratic counterweight to not only British imperialism, but also separatist terrorism. The intricacies of the PQ’s policy-formation and its back-and-forth shuffle with the federal government were far beyond me at the time, since I was still very much a kid, with a kid’s impatience for such endless blather. But I remember the two referenda that followed, and how narrowly separatist motions were defeated — particularly in 1995, when I was a graduate student in journalism at Ryerson University. Everyone in the Ryersonian newsroom was watching with crossed fingers and bated breath.

Then came the final word on separation: NO. I remember the huge sigh of relief I let out, along with the rest of the country, when the final result was announced. It was like 25 years of unspoken tension melting away in an instant. Canada was finally, unequivocally whole again.

Pierre Trudeau, Robert Bourassa, James Cross, and René Lévesque are now all in their graves. Jean Chrétien is retired from politics, and has recently been widowed with the passing of his wife, Aline. Trudeau’s eldest son, Justin, is now walking in his father’s shoes, and at times they look too big for him.

But political gains have been made, and not only by Péquistes. Socialism, for instance, as implemented in Tommy Douglas’s Saskatchewan, gave us universal single-payer medicare during my early years. The October Crisis was not the only thing that dissipated the FLQ’s support in Québec; the nonviolent revolution of socialist democracy, in fact, was well under way even before the FLQ’s inception, and its incremental gains would render the FLQ ultimately irrelevant. Even the PQ is not the force that it once was, as the 1995 referendum marked not only its climax, but the beginning of its decline. The party is still very much present, but its fangs have worn down. Separatism has lost its cachet, and that loss appears to be permanent.

We still have far to go, and there are now different terrorists (of a distinctly fascist bent) on the horizon. But ballots can still do today (and tomorrow) what bullets then could not. Democracy may be slow-moving and often tedious, but it still beats violence from either fringe of the political margins.

And that’s the biggest takeaway we have from the events of 50 years ago.

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