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 www.elections.on.ca)!
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
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