One of my favourite things about the Christmas holiday season are the festive lights brightening city streets and people's residences and yards. I really miss them when they come down in early January sending winter into darkness again.

Other things I've been heartily enjoying over the Christmas holidays this year include The Golden Compass movie, my new noise cancelling headphones, Raine Maida's solo album (The Hunter's Lullaby), the King Edward's scrumptious buffet (no reason to choose between tourtière and turkey, try a bit of both!), Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (I'm about a third of the way into it and I'm dying to find out where it's going), tons of Mr. Bean episodes, and the Trailer Park Boys Christmas special (who doesn't love Bubbles, huh?).

It's nice to know that Canadians are believers in that old it's better to give than to receive adage. Last week a Canadian poll found that 80% of people surveyed said that it's either “very or somewhat important to give gifts at Christmas” while only 39% said it was “very or somewhat important to receive gifts.”

This is the cool thing about holiday lights and exterior decorations too. People aren't putting them up solely for their own sakes; they're something everyone can enjoy. I think this is pretty much what Bubbles was trying to get across to Julian and Ricky about the bonfire in Trailer Park Boys. Christmas isn't about stealing fur coats and evergreen trees; it's about stopping to light the bonfire or look at the lights or whatever...Something like that anyway—I don't have Bubbles' eloquence!
As a big fan of 1971's The Omega Man I was so hoping I Am Legend (based on the same source material, a sci-fi novella by Richard Matheson) would live up to its tantalizing Will Smith as last uninfected man left in New York trailer.

Happily, I Am Legend is more than a great trailer. If you like horror movies whose chief aim is to fill you with dread (rather than simply populating the screen with high body counts and/or extreme gore) I Am Legend is one for you to sink into with the lights off and the biggest screen possible in front of you. Like in 28 Days Later, the infected are swift and brutal. They live in hives, in darkness, unable to survive for longer than a moment under the sun's rays and yes, they're plenty scary but the dread of them might just be as bad as the infected themselves.

Will Smith rules NY by day but the nights are long and howling and even the daylight hours are tinged with loneliness and fear of shadows. One of the coolest things about I Am Legend is that Will Smith plays Robert Neville not strictly as an action hero but as a living, breathing human being forced to deal with the aftermath of a cure for cancer gone horribly wrong. If you saw The Pursuit of Happiness you won't be surprised by how good he is here as a man backed into a different kind of corner. My heart was racing the entire time but I couldn't take my eyes off him.

Some of the rock music from August Rush reminds me of The Frames, which in my book is a good thing. And Jonathan Rhys Meyers does a great job with the vocals in his turn as an Irish guitarist who falls for cellist Keri Russell. Have a listen:

This Time

I just got back from my birthday trip to Montreal and one of my presents was this Beatles lunchbox, which is definitely coming to the office with me tomorrow!
Beatles lunchbox

Montreal is so picturesque that at first you almost don't mind the cold...and then you start searching for RESO signs so you can make like a mole person. Still, Montreal does winter so convincingly well that ultimately I felt like Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day when he says, “I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”

On snowy Montreal stairs
Winston Churchill pub, Crescent Street
Intersection Saint Catherine and McGill College
Marie Reine Du Monde
Notre Dame
Notre Dame, old Montreal
Notre Dame

rue Saint-Denis artwork

Skating at Atrium le 1000
McGill college

Christmas wreath going up, old Montreal
If there was any remaining doubt, here's yet another study (this one by the nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy) that finds abstinence only education doesn't reduce teen sex or pregnancy.

More comprehensive sex ed, on the other hand, has a positive impact on teenagers, “delaying the initiation of sex, reducing the frequency of sex, reducing the number of sexual partners and increasing condom or contraceptive use.”

The study also showed that comprehensive sex education does not promote “promiscuity” as its opponents have accused. What comprehensive sex ed programs do accomplish, according to the study's senior researcher are: an increase in young people's knowledge about the “risks and consequences of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” Having all the facts gave teens greater “confidence in their ability to say 'no' to unwanted sex.”

The United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the Western industrialized world. 31% of young women become pregnant before they reach the age of 20. Last week ten top public health researchers urged Congress to cut funding for abstinence only programs due to its “multiple scientific and ethical problems.”
Remember this?
“We're gearing up now for the biggest struggle our party has faced since you entrusted me with the leadership…I'm talking about the 'battle of Kyoto' - our campaign to block the job-killing, economy-destroying Kyoto accord... Kyoto is essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations.”
—from a letter written by Stephen Harper in 2002, asking Canadian Alliance party supporters for money to fight Jean Chrétien on the proposed Kyoto accord.

Damn socialists with their insistence on quality of life for all! But Harper should be grinning a wide, soulless grin now because he got his way with the 53-member Commonwealth country climate accord—no reference to binding targets.

Canada's current position on global warming is clearly why lead when hanging around at the back of the pack and slowing progress down for everyone is so much easier? Sorry polar bears, you'll just have to wait until China, India and the United States get on board the binding target bus. I mean, really, stop being such socialists and find yourselves some jobs already. You can't expect us to sustain this life of Riley hunting, swimming and knocking back cool ones lark. Get real.
Stephen Harper must figure the polar bears are Liberal or NDP voters. What else could explain his disdain for the gorgeous northern animals ?

“Violence against women remains prevalent, pervasive, systemic, and even sanctioned. The key challenge that remains is to move the issue from awareness that it is a human rights violation and a crime, to making it socially unacceptable and counter to community norms.”— United Nations In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women: Report of the Secretary-General, 2006

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Whenever people claim that feminism is no longer needed I immediately think of the 51% of Canadian women who will experience at least one incident of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. That's half of us beaten, choked, sexually assaulted or otherwise injured in our lifetimes. The devastating figure should demand action. Violence against women isn't something that only happens in faraway places.

A 2004 Statistics Canada report on family violence showed that 7% of women and 6% of men in a current or past spousal relationship encountered spousal violence between 1999 and 2004. Female victims were twice as likely to be injured as male victims and were also three times more likely to fear for their lives, and twice as likely to be the targets of more than 10 violent episodes.

Earlier this year two men roamed one of York University's residence buildings in Toronto, randomly opening students' doors, searching out lone women to rape. In September a female Carleton University student was beaten unconscious, suffering a dislocated shoulder, broken jaw and sexual assault. We don't hear about the less dramatic cases but they happen all the time (in British Columbia, where the sexual assault rate is twice the national average, a whopping 47% of women have been sexually assaulted) and they won't stop because women limit their actions, curtail their behaviours and remain in high alert mode. They won't be stopped by those things because women's behaviours and actions aren't what's causing acts of violence against them in the first place.

Women are targets simply because they are female and violence committed against women can't be stopped by women alone. We can raise our voices, raise awareness, volunteer for and help fund anti-violence campaigns but violence against women is as much a men's issue as it is a women's issue. Men who find violence against women intolerable need to raise their voices along with us and work towards creating a Canada (and planet) where half its citizens aren't at lifelong risk. It's not enough for any of us to silently disagree with the status quo. Not a minute more.White Ribbon

Check out White Ribbon member Richard McAdam's blog entry taken from the latest issue of the White Ribbon campaign newsletter.

Join Amnesty International's Stop Violence Against Women campaign, Men Stopping Violence, White Ribbon Canada or White Ribbon U.K. 

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Schmap saying that one of my Flickr photos had been short-listed for inclusion in the fourth edition of the Schmap Vancouver online travel guide. Yesterday I received a follow-up email informing me that my photo had made the cut.

You can have a look at it here. It's the picture of the Vancouver Art Gallery on the right. I'm purely an amateur but I do love to snap away so this was very cool. That photography course I took when I was 18 didn't go to waste!

To tell the truth, I'd never heard of Schmap before receiving that email but it seems like a really good idea. At the moment they cover 200 destinations in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand - and the guides (which feature photos, interactive maps, info on festivals and events, nightlife and popular attractions etc.) are free.

Actually, I'll be going to Montreal again shortly so I should probably check out what they have to say about the place.
I was so sad to hear the news about Music World today. Canada's last Canadian owned national music chain lost $9 million last year and most of their 72 outlets will shut down after January. After the closing of Sam The Record Man's flagship store last summer this feels like a painful déjà vu.

I have countless memories of hanging out with my best friend at our local shopping mall's Music World in the 80's. My friend had a crush on a guy that worked there (and now that over twenty years have passed I guess I can admit I thought he was pretty cool too) but that wasn't the big reason we were at the store all the time. It was the music. The record store felt like a gateway to a cooler place, in our case, a gateway to the U.K. where most of our favourite music came from at the time. Duran Duran. The Thompson Twins. Paul Young. The English Beat (and then General Public). The Smiths. The Cure. Depeche Mode. Howard Jones. Tears For Fears. Kate Bush. U2. Simple Minds. Banarama. Talk Talk. Til Tuesday. Crowded House. The list goes on and on...

At the record store there was always the promise of a new album or an ultra cool band we hadn't heard of yet. This still happens, of course, and it will continue to happen but mostly not in any shared physical space outside a concert hall or other music venue. In the same way people enjoy being surrounded by novels at a bookstore (rather than having them delivered to their door via Amazon, Indigo or Barnes and Noble) I loved the feeling of being surrounded by music. In the 80's that was mostly tapes and wow did I work hard for those tapes. I didn't care too much about buying new pair of jeans (or the legwarmers or mesh tops that were popular at the time, although I did have those too) but tapes!! Tapes, tapes, tapes. I listened to my favourites so often that they got tangled up inside and had to be pulled out of their cases and strung back in again (although they never really sounded right after that).

I can't help but think that people who grow up not realizing a record store is someplace to haunt are missing something. I know people mostly download from iTunes or elsewhere now (sometimes I do too) and that you can discover any number of cool new bands on MySpace but I, for one, will continue to drop in on the physical spaces where a passion for music reigns - and flick through the racks.
I Know It's Over cover

This is what I Know It's Over will look like sitting face out on the {gulp} shelf. Is it wrong of me to want to keep this webpage open so I can stare at the cover over and over?

And I love the purple and how the wooden floor repeats on the back. You can click the below image if you want to get a closer look at the whole jacket design.

I Know It's Over jacket flap

I'm having that surreal feeling again...

It's starting to seem like this will really happen.

jacket photograph © 2008 by Ali Smith

The first strike by Hollywood writers since 1988 is currently underway and the first shows to hit rerun city will be of the late night talk variety. If you find yourself needing a fix of the Late Show Dave has kindly supplied two weeks of punchlines:

It's anticipated that daytime talk shows and soap operas could follow shortly but other popular programs have enough scripts and/or filmed episodes to hold out until early next year. Meanwhile most movie studios have stockpiled scripts and will not be affected by the strike for some time.

Ellen Degeneres stayed off the set of her show today in support of her writers while Jay Leno, also supportive, showed up at the NBC studio in Burbank to visit with strikers. David Letterman called producers "cowards, cutthroats and weasels" on the Late Show Thursday.

Writers want a better share of the profits from DVD and new media content and who can blame them? If you read through to the comments secton of this BBC article on the strike you'll notice a British writer who is a member of the WGA cite that a writer's royalty from a $10 DVD is a paltry four cents.

Yet where would Hollywood and the television industry be without writers? I don't know if we have 22 weeks of reruns ahead of us but let's sit back and watch the executives, with their multi-millions, try to craft an episode of Heroes or The Office.


On Monday Pope Benedict XVI told a group of Catholic pharmacists they should have the right to be conscientious objectors. This status would “enable them not to collaborate directly or indirectly in supplying products that have clearly immoral purposes such as, for example, abortion or euthanasia.”

“We cannot anesthetize consciences as regards, for example, the effect of certain molecules that have the goal of preventing the implantation of the embryo or shortening a person's life,” he said.

But preventing pregnancy in the first place isn't the same thing as abortion and anyone who doesn't know this certainly isn't qualified to be dispensing medication. Emergency contraceptive pills work in three ways (depending on when, in a woman's cycle, she takes them):

By keeping the egg from leaving the ovary

By keeping the sperm from fertilizing the egg

By keeping the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus

On the other hand, if certain pharmacists don't believe pregnancy should be prevented, by extension all matters of birth control are something they could feel ethically driven to oppose. And what about not having sex? Aren't abstinence and celibacy preventing pregnancy? Hell, I'm preventing pregnancy right now by choosing to sit here and type this rather than engage in pregnancy inducing pursuits.

Pope Benedict also mentioned that pharmacists should inform patients of the ethical implications of using emergency contraception or euthanasia drugs. Now while I'm happy to consider medical advice from a chemist I'm not quite sure what qualifies them as an expert in the arena of ethics. For all I know my local florist or accountant may be morally superior. Maybe we should start asking them what they think about emergency contraception and euthanasia drugs. I mean, heaven forbid women should have faith in their own counsel and actually want to exercise some control over if they get pregnant or not. But hey, what do I know, I'm not a florist or an accountant.
Just when I think summer's well and truly over we get yet another hit. It's official, today was Toronto's warmest October 21st on record, with the temperature reaching a lofty 26 degrees. So here's what an October summer in the city looks like:
Hug me tree, Queen Street West

Lunch on the patio. The Rivoli, Queen Street West

Sunshine on Queen Street West dog.

It's a dog's life, isn't it? Queen Street West

City of Toronto bicycle lock

Book buyers in Chapters near Queen Street

Rabba ad

Inukshuk and C.N. Tower

Fall Sailing, Lake Ontario

Storing the canoes, Harbourfront

Man and dog through an Inukshuk,  Harbourfront

Kayak Storage with Skydome in the background

Challenge, Harbourfront, Toronto

Sunshine on Lake Ontario

Harbourfront Centre skyline

The theatre formerly known as Hummingird, now Sony, Front Street
A genetic contraceptive, which researchers believe wouldn't have the side effects of hormone based birth control pills, is currently in the works.

If scientists are successful the new technique will use RNA interference to block a gene called ZP3 which produces a protein that coats the outside of the egg and "is vital for sperm to latch on to to achieve fertilisation." This would mark "the first serious advance in chemical contraception since the first stages in the development of oral contraception."

Researchers plan to begin full tests on animals within five years and a product could be available within ten.

You can read opposing views of the contraceptive on the f-word blog:

Just another way to alter our bodies
In praise of the pill
I'm a little worried that my provincial MP's autodialler might believe we're actually friends. You may remember it called last week while I was sick. There was another call yesterday and once again this morning when it reminded me of today's polling hours. Now I don't mind a gentle reminder but two calls in two days is somewhat excessive and the thing is, if we're going to be friends it could at least ask how I'm doing, you know?

But no, it's always about the election. Always. There's no opportunity for me to put my two cents in, no give and take, just autodialler's continual prattle about the election.

However, autodialler did offer me a ride to the polling station. That's friendly, right? But what if I want to go somewhere aside from the polls? Why do I suspect that could be a problem and that worse, tomorrow there'll be no phone call? No pretence of concern. Not even a few celebratory or sober words about autodialler's success or failure in the provincial election. It's not that I even want to be friends with such a self-absorbed entity, you understand. I just don't appreciate being used.

So I get it. Election, election, election. It's not about me. I got your number, autodialler, and next time I swear I'm going to outwit you. When a real life Liberal campaigner makes their initial call I'm going to tell them I'm voting Tory (whether that's a lie or not). Hah! You'll have no excuse to call and pretend we're buddies then, will you?
Warner Bros had denied Internet reports that president of production Jeff Robinov declared, "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead."

According to a Warner Bros rep, "Mr. Robinov never made that statement, nor is it his policy."

You can read the entire story at slashfilm.

As Peter Sciretta concludes, "We'll likely never get a real answer to what happened…Now it is our job to check up on them and see this through. It will be interesting to see how many Warner Bros films come out in the next two years with female leads."

Indeed. If Warner Bros are honest in their denial we can expect to see women in some roles other than sidekick, love interest, sexy but evil adversary, or random eye candy. Time will tell.

In general Hollywood has been doing a woeful job of utilizing female talent. An annual survey conducted at San Diego State University showed that of the 250 top-grossing American films in 2006 only 7% had women directors. Women screenwriters account for 10% of the total (down from 13% in 1998). In 1999 the median earning figures for male and female film writers showed a gap of $24,000. By 2005 that gap had risen to $40,000 with median earning figures for male writers in the film industry sitting at $90,000 while the female median was a mere $50,000. (Figures from The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2006 and The 2007 Hollywood Writers Report: Whose Stories Are We Telling?)

Martha Lauzen, a professor at San Diego State University, estimates that the number of female executives in Hollywood studios is around 20%. "We're at the same place we would have been in 1999," she said. In the past two years, three of the four women who held top jobs at Hollywood's major studios were all replaced by men. (Hollywood's shortage of female power)

So few female executives, even fewer female writers (with those few earning just over half what male writers do) and the woman director being such a rare figure in Hollywood that we may even begin to doubt her existence. Oh, Hollywood, what's the problem? Don't you know that relegating women to bit-player status in so many areas of filmmaking robs you of a wealth of creative vision and bankable stories? Sure 300 was okay but so were Marie Antoinette and The Devil Wears Prada. Putting the box office failure of a movie down to the presence of ovaries rather than bad writing or a lack of cohesive direction (like when you have three directors working on The Invasion for example...) is ridiculous to the nth degree. You've heard of fair trade, right, Hollywood? What about fair play? What about hiring the best person for the job and paying them a fair wage? And what about telling diverse stories featuring diverse people rather than rehashing tired plotlines with clichéd characters? I'm telling you, I'll bet there's even some money in it for you.
I just got a recorded phone message from my local member of Provincial Parliament who obviously doesn't know I have a cold and don't want to be bothered. Naturally, I hung up, which is what I always do when I receive auto-dialled calls - even when I've had more than four hours sleep and am not shuffling around in a fog, wheezing, sniffling and feeling generally haggard.

Don't worry, the hang up in no way indicates my political disposition; I'm still voting red in the upcoming Ontario election. I do think this cold, in combination with lack of sleep has temporarily bumped me down several IQ points, though. I haven't been able to concentrate on anything for days and haven't read anything more complicated than the TV guide since before the weekend. Last night the only TV show able to hold my interest was To Serve and Protect (Canada's version of Cops). I also called several people up (in a burst of pseudoephedrine inspired restlessness) but was ultimately unable to maintain enough cognitive function to hold a conversation for longer than a few minutes.

More signs I'm not well: 1) Kermit the frog's run in with rampaging teddy bears (which, granted, is always going to be a painful sight to behold) hit me especially hard. I mean, does he have to look quite so anguished at his fate? 2) My veins, which usually vanish into thin air upon the threat of bloodwork, stayed sluggishly put yesterday as I stretched out my arm for the lab nurse. 3) I don't feel the slightest bit compelled to get out there and enjoy our continuing good luck in the weather department. 4) I couldn't make it through to the end of David Suzuki's talk at Word on The Street on Sunday. Fascinating though he was, lightheadedness took hold after forty-five minutes of standing in the crowd. 5) I'm not in the humour to write this but don't want to do anything else. Colour me out of sorts.

When I woke up yesterday morning the radio announcer was saying, "It's 6:04 and it's the last day of summer." Even in my dazed state, my heart sank. Not that I'm a sun worshipper (my skin is so pale that it repels the rays of the sun up until the very moment it begins to singe - there is no middle ground tan!) but the thought of winter's inevitable approach fills me with dread. Except for December, when a seasonal covering of white feels cheerfully festive, I'd be happy to skip from fall to spring.

Having said that, the temperature is supposed to hit 28 today (82 Fahrenheit) so it's not time to go digging out the snowshoes yet. Hell, it's still summer, despite the trees beginning to show off their autumn colours.

In other happy news, new Gardasil data shows that the HPV vaccine, which protects against four strains of human papillomavirus, also offers partial protection against 10 other strains. "The finding means that Gardasil provides at least partial protection to 90% of HPV strains that cause cervical cancer."

It's too early to celebrate the following just yet but researchers at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh have identified a possible vaccine target for chlamydia, the world's leading STI. Because chlamydia so often shows no symptoms "it can damage a woman's reproductive organs and cause irreversible damage, including infertility, before a woman ever recognizes a problem." Chlamydia can also result in male infertility and lead to Reiter's syndrome, a disorder that causes arthritis, urinary tract problems and eye infections. Obviously the development of a chlamydia vaccine would be widely celebrated, then.

But judging by the news here lately, our Catholic school boards may feel more conflicted about the matter. Toronto Catholic trustees approved the HPV vaccination program of eighth grade girls with a vote of 9-3 but elsewhere the gap has been narrower and the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board postponed the program pending further information from the Ministry of Health.

Huron Superior Trustee Regis O'Connor remarked that, "As a Catholic school board, we are very, very aware that this is a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease and that giving it means children are going to be promiscuous."

This statement flies in the face of STI transmission reality. You don't need to be "promiscuous" to pick up an STI. Following the Catholic school board's abstinence stance could still land you with a sexually transmitted infection on your wedding night. Also, 62% of the victims who reported being sexually assaulted in 1998 were under the age of 18 (Statistics Canada, Juristat, Vol. 19, No. 9) - how would they fit into the board's morality fears? In the dream world where some of the Catholic school board trustees apparently live, there is no sexual assault and virgins only marry other STI-free virgins but wouldn't we be better off protecting real life people from real life cervical cancer which will kill 150 Ontario women this year?

Hopefully most parents think so and see this as a good opportunity to ensure their child's health.

Finally, I'd like to include a scene from To Sir With Love, which doesn't have anything to do with the above but is guaranteed to put you in a shiny, happy Friday kind of mood if you aren't already.

Happy Friday! Happy fall!

Writer S.A. Harazin and As if! (Authors Support Intellectual Freedom) both recently blogged about an Alabama teen taking young adult novel Sandpiper (by Ellen Wittlinger) out of her high school library and refusing to check it back in because she and her grandmother deemed it "sick." Today I also read about a Maine woman holding on to two library copies of acclaimed sex ed book It's Perfectly Normal (by Robie H. Harris). In a letter to one of the libraries the Maine woman complained that, "I have been sufficiently horrified of the illustrations and sexually graphic, amoral, abnormal contents. I will not be returning the books."

Aimed at kids, It's Perfectly Normal features frank info on sexual intercourse, birth control, sexually transmitted infections, sexual orientation and more. Cartoon-type illustrations of nudity accompany the text. According to a library media specialist for the Tuscaloosa County School system, Ellen Wittlinger's Sandpiper is intended for older teens and is "a cautionary tale for teenagers that oral sex is sex." You can read the first chapter at the bottom of this article and read Ellen Wittinger's thoughts on the matter at As if!

Sadly, it seems some people would prefer young people to be ignorant and fearful when it comes to sexuality—and what does that accomplish? In her sex ed guide for teens and college students, Scarleteen founder Heather Corinna notes that 26% of young adults supposedly practicing abstinence will become pregnant within one year, making it "less effective than the typical use rates for almost any other method of contraception." You can bet that STI rates are similarly high.

You don't have to agree with the main character's actions in Sandpiper or approve of the gamut of sexual behaviour described in Robie Harris' book, but withholding such materials from young people leaves them without crucial info they need to make intelligent, informed decisions. The fact is, all kids growing up in the Western world today live in a sexually charged environment, constantly bombarded by sexual images and messages. Reading thoughtful analysis/explorations of sexual matters can only help them sift through these messages. We need to keep that critical faculty turned on in kids, not discourage it, and people who would remove such books from libraries are not only deciding what their own children should be exposed to, but forcing their decision on others in their communities.

Lysa Harding and JoAn Karkos had the opportunity to read Sandpiper and It's Perfectly Normal and decide the books weren't for them. Other library patrons should have the same opportunity.
Way to go, David and Travis! Two students at a Novia Scotia high school stood up against bullying when a male ninth grade student was harassed and threatened by a group of older students for wearing a pink shirt on the first day of school.

Central Kings Rural High School students David Shepherd and Travis Price “used the Internet to encourage people to wear pink and bought 75 pink tank tops for male students to wear. They handed out the shirts in the lobby before class last Friday — even the bullied student had one.”

Read the whole story here.

Dude, You're a Fag makes interesting additional reading about how high school guys often police masculinity within their own peer group and enforce demonstrations of dominance over girls. There were so many things I wanted to say about the book that the prospect of writing about it became impossibly daunting but anyone concerned about school bullying and the way stereotypical gender traits are enforced should read C.J. Pascoe's book.
There's a very important election coming up in Ontario. On October 10th Ontarians will not only vote in provincial leaders but decide the fate of a referendum on the province's electoral system.

You'll be presented with two ballots at the polls: one for casting a vote for a candidate in the general election - and the other for choosing an electoral system in the referendum.

In our current electoral system "First-Past-the-Post", each voter in a district gets one vote to choose a candidate they believe should win a seat in the provincial legislature. The candidate with the most votes in a district wins, no matter how close the race, and the political party that wins the most electoral districts forms a government.

The alternative electoral system proposed by the Citizens' Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional) is a combination of two voting systems - First-Past-the-Post and a Proportional Representation system. Under this system, Ontarians would vote twice - once for a 'Local Member' and once for a political party. The province would have 129 seats in total - 90 'Local Members" (representing 90 electoral districts) and 39 'List Members.' The candidate with the most votes in a district will still win using the First-Past-the-Post system but in this alternative system, votes for parties will determine the number of 'List Members' each party gets, resulting in a more representative government than we have now.

For more details on the two electoral systems check out:

the referendum website - Your Big Decision

the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform

Thanks to Courtney Summers for reminding Ontario bloggers about what an important decision this is and don't forget to make sure you're on the Voters List (1-888-ONT-VOTE or!
It wasn't until this morning that I realized both films I'd seen at the Toronto International Film Festival this year were about couples whose lives were dramatically changed by children. Breakfast With Scot is an adaptation of Michael Downing's novel of the same name. Tom Cavanagh (of Ed fame and the prematurely cancelled Love Monkey) plays Eric McNally, a gay ex-Toronto Maple Breakfast With ScotLeaf who currently works in sports broadcasting. When his partner, Sam, temporarily inherits custody of his eleven year-old nephew Scot, the couple are forced to rearrange their lives.

Emotionally, this is much more of an issue for Eric, who prides himself on being masculine and expresses concern that Scot is "gay gay." Scot, still grieving the recent loss of his mother, is indeed drawn to sparkly things, enjoys wearing makeup, knitting, singing Christmas carols and twirling. He's also free with his affection and has a winning enthusiasm for life in general. In short, he's delightful, and Eric—who coaches Scot in both hockey and the fine art of self-preservation in a society that's still not comfortable with homosexuality—could stand to learn a thing or two from him.

The endlessly likeable Tom Cavanagh works his magic again here and his young costar Noah Bernett plays Scot like a young "Kitten" Brady. At times the dynamic between them reminded me of About A Boy but ultimately this movie does its own thing and does it well, standing up for individuality with a refreshing charm.

In a recent interview Tom Cavanagh said that he's not bothered by Breakfast With Scot being dubbed "the gay hockey movie." He says, "I think that the attention that (label) gives the movie is more than anything you could do with any publicity campaign." With a message like this, I hope Breakfast With Scot wins all the publicity and viewers it richly deserves.


I barely dared to hope for Monday night tickets to Atonement, the film version of my favourite Ian McEwan novel. If you were in one of the long lines for the Elgin theatre last night (or standing across the street stargazing) you understand why. Ian McEwan wasn't in attendance but everyone else was - director Joe Wright, screenwriter Christopher Hampton and stars Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. The crowd surged as they arrived, photographers shouting, fans ogling and TIFF staff struggling to maintain order.

The Elgin theatre is the picture of old world sophistication - the ideal place to watch such a brilliant cinematic achievement unfold. As I watched the screen, all those complex feelings I'd experienced upon reading Atonement resurfaced to such an extent that even now I can hardly pick the experience of the film apart from the experience of the novel. This is high praise. Ian McEwan is one of the most skilled and insightful writers working today.

I haven't read Atonement in years but one of the keen insights that stuck with me is this: near the beginning of the novel thirteen-year-old Briony finishes her first play. She's extremely pleased with herself - until she spies an emotionally charged exchange between her older sister Cecilia and Robbie (the housekeeper's son). What Briony gleans in that moment between the future lovers causes her to rip up her play in disgust, suddenly aware that everything she thought she knew was wrong. At thirteen she's an intelligent enough girl to realize this but not mature enough to grasp what's missing from her understanding. This is the depth of observation that Ian McEwan makes of his characters. He seems, somehow, to know the mind and heart of young Briony just as well as he knows a middle-aged surgeon in Saturday or inexperienced newlyweds in On Chesil Beach.

What becomes of Cecilia and Robbie in Atonement is entirely due to Briony's imagination and enormous gap in comprehension. The three characters lives are intertwined from that moment forward and for all their good intentions, life does not unfold as it should. It's heartbreaking to watch; heartbreaking to read. It's also gorgeous and entirely riveting. As Cecilia, Keira Knightley is cool and self-contained (except in certain key moments where she reveals herself). In his review of Becoming Jane Toronto Star reviewer Peter Howell remarked that James McAvoy "always seems like the lead actor even when he's not so billed." After watching James McAvoy's hauntingly beautiful performance as Robbie Turner, I have to wonder whether we'll see him as anything but a lead again.

Some faraway photos of cast & crew at the events:

Laurie Lynd, Tom Cavangh and Noah Bernett Q & A at the world premiere
of Breakfast With Scot, Scotiabank Theatre, September 9th

Breakfast With Scot Q & A, TIFF

Joe Wright, Keira Knightley, James McAvoy etc, Atonement
screening, Elgin theatre, September 10th.

Atonement cast & crew, TIFF

I graduated from York University in the early 90's and while I didn't live in residence, I had friends that did, so reading about the young women raped in their own dorm rooms on Friday feels personal. I'm both angry and sad for all the frightened girls in residence, who can't feel at home in their own dormitories.

Sadly, sexual attacks on female university students are far from rare. University of Victoria studies from 1995 estimate that between 1 in 6 and 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted during their time at university. A University of Alberta report showed that over 80% of college and campus rapes are committed by someone the victim knows and that many of these assaults happen during the first eight weeks of classes.

Common safety advice says: lock your doors and windows, be aware of your surroundings, learn self-defense techniques, don't walk alone at night or spend time alone with boys/men you don't know well. These tips may help some women, some of the time, but the fact is, a rapist's behaviour depends solely on him so please, please don't ever make the mistake of thinking it was something you did that caused an attack. The blame is all on him. It wasn't because you didn't lock your door, didn't say "no" loud enough, didn't fight back, had too much to drink. The blame lies with him alone.

If you want to read more on the subject, Meg Cabot has a compelling blog entry on her experiences with rape victims in an undergraduate dorm at New York University. Also read Richard McAdam's debunking of Cosmos's bullshit "gray rape" theory.

Some violence against women statistics:
Rape Statistics Statistics on Young Women and Violence
According to the CDC, Illinois had the 7th highest chlamydia rate and 11th highest gonorrhea rate in the U.S in 2005. It also ranks 46th in the availability of contraceptive services/supplies and has the 6th highest reported number of AIDS cases. Now Planned Parenthood's newest clinic in Aurora, Illinois is being aggressively protested against in advance of its September 18th opening.

If you believe “that women should be able to access health care without fear of violence, harassment, or intimidation” take a minute to show your support by joining Planned Parenthood's campaign. Sign this petition and they'll tie a ribbon in your name outside the Aurora clinic, letting the women seeking care know you support them. Read more about the new clinic and protests.

“I'm worried that newspapers are abandoning their local voices and roles and that many editors don't understand movies. I know one editor who fired a critic because he `didn't like the movies that were selling the most tickets.' Asked if his restaurant critic should praise the cuisine at McDonald's, he said, `Absolutely.'”
Roger Ebert

As a Roger Ebert fan I'm very happy to hear he'll be in town for the Toronto International Film Festival (for the first time since 2005). Welcome back, Roger!

I also share his concerns about the roles of newspapers and critics. Critics in general (whether they be critics of film, literature, theatre, etc.) aren't meant to function as cheerleaders. A review should be a thoughtful analysis of a work's merits and faults, otherwise what we're talking about is an advertisement and the last thing the Western world needs is more commercials for empty calorie products, whether they be McDonalds or Hollywood creations.

As for local voices, they both create and reflect our community. When newspapers increasingly begin to resemble a typeset version of Entertainment Tonight we all lose. If readers want People magazine, they'll pick it up at the newstand but it's much more important, for instance, that Ontarians learn about critically flawed human rights Bill 107. Set to become law on June 30, 2008 it will place the reseach and prosecution onus on individuals who have been discriminated against. With reduced funding, inevitably the Human Rights Commission will choose to represent fewer cases, leaving unlucky others with no choice but to hire their own lawyer, find free legal help or suffer the consequences. Hell, even stories about less weighty matters like an on-duty hawk at Toronto FC's field keeping the seagulls at bay help foster a sense of community.

A top ten list (in no particular order) of songs overflowing with positive energy.

Young Folks:

Friday I'm in Love:

Here Comes The Sun:

These Are Days:


Melt With You:


Beautiful Day:

Just Can't Get Enough:

You Gotta Be:

Burlington Beach, September 2, 2007

I avoided taking this picture while two kids were actively working on their collection of sandcastles, mindful that it might seem odd. I considered asking them if I could take snap a picture of their handiwork but even posing the question seemed potentially strange so I waited until they'd slipped away before pointing my camera. Of course, afterwards the girl (about seven years old) stood boldly nearby and said, “I see you like my sandcastle.”

I agreed that it was very impressive and she informed me that her friend Damien had made it. So good going, Damien (and friend) and hooray for hot September days!

More September 2nd Photos
“It's not enough to ask a prospective sexual partner if they are HIV-infected. The reality is that someone can be telling the truth based on a negative test report received that same morning, which only means they tested negative for HIV antibodies two weeks ago, when the blood for the test was drawn. It may even be that they carried HIV in their bloodstream but had not yet produced HIV antibodies.” –Old tactics, old tests can't stop modern plague, by Dr. Mark Wainberg (director of the McGill University AIDS Centre)

I have no idea how many people are even posing the question or getting tested (rising HIV transmission rates would lead me to believe that not enough are doing either) but a recent Quebec study showed that up to 50% of new HIV cases in the province were spread by people who had been HIV-positive for less than six months. So by all means we should ask about a sexual partner's HIV and STD status but relying on his/her answer is enormously risky.

Check out Scarleteen's guide on when to use what (and other safety essentials):

Safe, Sound & Sexy: A Safer Sex How-To

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