Category: Civil Liberties

Deep in my heart, I do believe

Highlander pic of five

A 1957 photo showing, left to right, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pete Seeger, Charis Horton, Rosa Parks, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. It is thought to be the only photograph of King, Seeger, Parks, and Abernathy together.

The school was a training ground for the civil rights movement. Parks herself trained in the library pictured above shortly before her fateful refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus in 1956, the act of civil disobedience that touched off the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Charis (pronounced with a hard “c”) is the daughter of the Highlander School‘s founder, Myles Horton, and of Zilphia Mae Johnson Horton, best known for having launched We Shall Overcome along its tortuous path from gospel hymn to iconic civil rights anthem. The library is said to be the place where King first heard the song.

Charis was my classmate at the Putney School, a Vermont boarding school founded on the teachings of John Dewey and the Progressive Education Movement.  A fellow classmate brought a copy of the photo to our reunion last June. I do not know the photographer.

If you’ve done no wrong, why fear NSA surveillance?

A catchy little ditty about surveillance of citizens, en français.

In partial translation:

If you have nothing to hide, then you could put a camera in your bedroom and your bathroom, and publish images on internet. Or if you have nothing to hide, then you can get your login and your password on facebook or in google, publish and everyone can go dig it.

Our lists of things to do
Our soft sms
Our writings of anger
And our address books
Our favorite pubs
Our schedules pool
Our sworn enemies
And the name of the neighboring

Nothing, nothing, nothing to be ashamed of
nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing to hide

H/T: Bethany Horne

Yet another assault on the sanctity of the voting booth

Progressive Conservatives are voting in Halifax at this hour on whether to review Jamie Baillie’s leadership. Some of the delegates have cameras.

ToryBallot2

Contrarian isn’t saying who. Pete Seeger taught us not to name names.

2014 Halifax version of the colored entrance

Colored Entrance

A childhood friend found this disturbing 1956 photograph by the late Life Magazine photographer Gordon Parks on the Facebook page of the African-American history group BlackPast.org. She reposted it on her own Facebook page, and I reposted to to mine, adding, “It’s worth remembering that this was less than 60 years ago.”

Epicurious Morsels

It didn’t take long for Gus Reed to post this photo of the posh Hydrostone restaurant Epicurious Morsels, adding:

60 years ago there was a separate entrance for African Americans at the Birmingham bus station. 60 seconds ago, this was the wheelchair entrance at a restaurant in Halifax. One of hundreds of retail establishments like this, by the way. Can you explain the difference?

It’s not the difference that should bother us, but the similarity. White southerners didn’t bat an eye at segregationist signs in the 1950s. Mobile Canadians don’t bat an eye at respectable establishments that exclude users of wheelchairs in the 20-teens.

Can I explain the difference? Yes. Canada lacks the public and political will to extend to people in wheel chairs the same civil rights we would be appalled to deny African Americans or Jews. After repeated protestations from Gus and others, HRM’s all-powerful building code enforcers have begun insisting new businesses include wheelchair accessibility, but heaven forfend a ramp should intrude on a square inch of the city’s notoriously wheelchair unfriendly sidewalks.

By the way, Epicurious Morsels and a lot of other Halifax establishments could solve this problem for less than $100 with a portable threshold ramp.

The growing clamor to grant Edward Snowden clemency

Bus-ThankYouSnowden

A Washington, DC, city bus

Briefly, because I can’t say it better than these people did, please check out the links below for eloquent arguments about the value of Edward Snowden’s lawbreaking, and the Obama administration’s pernicious folly in persecuting him.

On the last day of October, from his exile in Russia, Snowden wrote a letter seeking clemency.

snowden letter

On the first day of January, a New York Times editorial endorsed his request.

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

In a series of tweets, a US business journalist who has cheered on the excesses of the security state, condemned the Times’ position.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 9.54.24 PM

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf eviscerated Barro’s argument in a logical tour-de-force.

When should a leaker of government secrets be forgiven rather than jailed? Here are some possible standards:

  • When the leak reveals lawbreaking by the U.S. government
  • When the leak reveals behavior deemed unconstitutional by multiple federal judges
  • When a presidential panel that reviews the leaked information recommends significant reforms
  • When the leak inspires multiple pieces of reform legislation in Congress
  • When the leak reveals that a high-ranking national-security official perjured himself before Congress
  • When the leak causes multiple members of Congress to express alarm at policies being carried out without their knowledge.

The Snowden leak meets all of those thresholds, among others….

Leaks of classified information in the United States will remain common, regardless of what happens to Snowden, because they frequently serve the interests of people in power—and they won’t be prosecuted precisely because they are powerful or connected. That longstanding, bipartisan dynamic is far more important to the norms surrounding official secrets in the U.S. than how a singular, unrepeatable, once-in-a-generation leak is handled….

For apparently altruistic reasons, Snowden revealed scandalous instances of illegal behavior, and the scandal that mass surveillance on innocents is considered moral and legal by the national-security state, though it knew enough to keep that a secret. It is difficult to imagine another leak exposing policies so dangerous to a free society or state secrets so antithetical to representative government. The danger of a Snowden pardon creating a norm is virtually nonexistent.

The Friedersdorf piece in particular deserves to be read in its entirety.

Edward Snowden’s Christmas message: asking is cheaper than spying.

Every Christmas since 1993, British Television’s Channel 4 asks a noteworthy figure to record an “alternative” to starchy pieties of Her Majesty’s annual Christmas message to her subjects.

This year, Channel 4 tapped whistleblower Edward Snowden. From his temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden sounded a pithy, 1 minute, 43 second, warning about the dangers of government spying:

A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalysed thought….

Remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.

H/T: A.C.H. Noskwith

How seriously did Canada Post consider people less mobile than they

CanadaPostPetition

Susan Dixon has started a petition:

Has anyone at Canada Post ever tried to to push a stroller or a wheelchair or a walker through the snow? I don’t think they realize the impact of ending door-to-door mail delivery when it comes to the parents of young children, to the disabled, and to the elderly, especially in winter…

Did the government or Canada Post really consider how people in difficult circumstances might be affected? I am the mother of two young boys. My youngest has cerebral palsy and uses a walker or wheelchair to get around. For me, Canada Post’s decision would mean having to bundle them up and struggle through the snow with a wheelchair just to get our mail. And I am just one of thousands of Canadians who must already overcome mobility challenges on a daily basis.

That’s why I started this petition urging Canada Post to reconsider the plan to end door-to-door delivery, and think about how all Canadians would be affected. Please sign it and share it with your friends.

Remembrance Day reflections – with updates

Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in the United States, where right-wing scoundrels turned patriotic symbols into political cudgels, left me with a lifelong aversion to flags, ribbons, lapel pins, and other obligatory trappings of national fealty. When I moved to Canada, this aversion morphed into a disinclination to wear poppies.

As best I can tell, most Canadians see the poppy as a neutral symbol of respect for veterans. Social pressure to wear it is strong. Acquaintances and strangers alike view my failure to fall in step as inexplicable, disrespectful, and distasteful. I regret this. After years of attempts to explain my position, I mostly avoid the conversation today, and I regret that, too. I can only offer the hope that the occasional outlier’s refusal to adopt mandatory, state-sanctioned idolatry is healthy for democracy.

poppy (1) In a Facebook post this morning, Coast journalist Tim Bousquet, who also grew up in the US, offered a succinct expression of one of my reasons for eschewing the opium flower:

  1. Kill 10 million boys pointlessly.
  2. Honour pointlessly killed boys with anti-war Remembrance Day ceremonies.
  3. Morph “honouring pointlessly killed boys” into “honouring veterans.”
  4. Militarize Remembrance Day ceremonies.
  5. Label those opposed to war as anti-veteran.
  6. Anti-veteran = anti-troop = unpatriotic.
  7. More war.

Exactly.

(For the record, Bousquet included an eighth point:  8. Profit! I don’t know that he’s wrong about that, but it’s not central to my own allergic reaction to tendentious heraldry.)

[UPDATE] Scott Taylor has a gutsy column on bullying around the poppy in today’s Herald

[UPDATE 2] Contrarian reader Greg Marshall writes:

I wear a poppy religiously, to the point that, thanks to the crappy pins they use on them, I think I have bought half-a-dozen this year. It is not because of social pressure, but because I grew up doing it, and it feels right. My family was a veteran’s family, and most of my parents’ friends were vets as well. They were lucky, since few of them had been at the “sharp end,” and did not have to wear the emotional effects of combat. That was for my high-school physics teacher, who did a tour on Halifaxes with 6 Group, and was a shadow of a man.

I don’t share all your views on this issue, but I certainly understand and sympathize with them, and Bousquet’s points are not without merit. I wish they were not. I can’t put on the poppy without thinking of the waste of life these wars have caused, and the utter pointlessness of it.

[UPDATE 3] My old Daily News colleague Ryan Van Horne writes:

In attempting to explain why he doesn’t wear a poppy, Tim Bousquet takes the worst possible reasons one could have for wearing one and assumes that everybody wears them only for those reasons.

World War 1 was a colossal waste of life and a pointless war. World War 2, while also a colossal waste of life, at least served a purpose for fighting back against tyranny. War is not a glorious endeavour, but a sometimes necessary evil.

One of the things that soldiers fought and died for was the freedom that you, Tim, and I enjoy to choose to wear a poppy and to write columns and blog posts without fear of retribution. If you eschew the poppy because it is against your principles, I hope that you and Tim at least recognize that young men died in a war to preserve that freedom.

I’ve never fought in a war and I don’t know any veterans, but I have three sons who are the same age as many of the young men who went off to fight in World War 2. I know that a generation made a huge sacrifice and I appreciate that. That is why I wear a poppy and always will.

[UPDATE 4] Debra Forsyth-Smith writes:

As someone who lived in the U.S. for some years, I certainly applaud your point of view on many symbolic gestures which in reality are confusing at best and meaningless at worst.

But jingoism is not the same as respect and remembrance of sacrifice.  It is in this spirit I wear the poppy.  In the very same spirit, I respect your decision not to.

[UPDATE 5] Robert Collins writes:

I respect your opinion on wearing, or not wearing, the poppy, as I am sure many veterans do as well.  I try to wear one but often lose it or don’t have money with me when I see them available, or I hand mine to someone else who “needs” it for a particular situation.

Regardless, it is a personal decision and a personal choice. The problem that I have with your position (and Tim’s) is that it is as political as the very reason you state for not wearing it. It is the Yin to the Yang in the argument. The poppy is not political. It is very simple. It is to remind us of individuals who died, often in tragic, horrible, and often very lonely situations.  Some of them were in that situation knowing full well why. Some were there because they were lied to and some didn’t understand why they were there but were told it was the right thing to do.

I see it as being similar to the ceremony in Berwick for Harley Lawrence. No one was there to make a statement about mental health or homelessness or anything else. They were there simply to honor a fellow human being who died in a tragic, horrible and very lonely situation.

It is too easy for us today to assume ulterior motives and become cynical about everything around us. For me, the poppy is a sanctuary from that to a simple and basic compassion for another person’s sacrifice and loss. It can be very liberating and comforting if you allow it to take you there, but don’t feel you have to let it.

Attention #NSPoli geeks: those tardy poll-by-poll results are finally in

Elections Nova Scotia quietly posted the poll-by-poll results of  the October 8 Nova Scotia election on its website last Thursday

6-PhuddPreliminary poll-by-poll results are normally released immediately after the vote, but this year, for the first time in living memory, elections bureaucrats decided to keep the detailed results to themselves for three weeks. The only explanation offered was that the Chronicle-Herald wasn’t interested in publishing them (as it had traditionally), so Chief Electoral Officer Richard P. Temporale decided no one else could have them either.

Aside from this inexcusable delay, the agency did a good job of presenting the tallies, making them available in both PDF format, with accompanying maps of the polling districts, and as a zip file* of 51 Excel spreadsheets, plus a riding-by-riding summary.

(In the past, Elections Nova Scotia has sometimes deliberately degraded the electronic files it makes public, so as to make them all but impossible for researchers to use. This retrograde practice has eased somewhat since Temporale ascended to the throne.)

I look forward to seeing what map geeks can do with these spreadsheets. Elections Nova Scotia publishes mapping shapefiles on its website for the 51 electoral districts, but alas, not for individual polling districts. It’s possible these might be available on request, but Contrarian may not be the best person to ask.

[*Note: I have not linked directly to the zip file, because I expect doing so would trigger spam filters to reject the daily emailed version  of Contrarian (see "Subscribe to Contrarian" at right). To download the zip file, click here, and then on the words, "Excel format" in the third bullet point.]

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