I will be incommunicado quite shortly. I'm about to embark on what promises to be a fascinating expedition to Mars along with famed boy reporter Tintin, Professor Calculus and the ever cantankerous Captain Haddock. I can't divulge any other details at this time, you understand (matters of planetary security and all that...), but I will say that I'm looking forward to playing fetch with Snowy on the Red Planet.
The Red Planet, C.K. on Mars

, so I'm not exactly journeying to Mars...I'll actually be hanging out in the Emerald Isle but Paddy good-naturedly granted my recent request to draw a Tintin style image of me and once in possession of that I couldn't resist starring in my own Tintin type adventure. I mean, who could?

But if you want to humour me and ask me how the Red Planet was when I get back, that's cool with me.

April 25th is the 12th annual National Day of Silence in the U.S. Participating students in a record 6,000 middle and high schools across the country will protest discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. This year the day will also honour the memory of fifteen year old Lawrence King, murdered at school by a fellow student because of his gender expression and sexual orientation.

Anyone who communicates with participating students on April 25th will be presented with a Day of Silence card explaining that “My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment” and urging people to “think about the voices you are not hearing today.”

Meanwhile conservative organizations like the American Family Association are urging parents to keep children home if their school is taking part in the Day of Silence. THE AFA's Day of Silence FAQ includes the following:

Q. Isn't the Day of Silence just a way for students to learn compassion and tolerance?

A. In reality, the Day of Silence is a one-sided campaign to manipulate acceptance of homosexuality by every student. Nationwide, parents are fed up with the political hijacking of their kids' classrooms with no opposing views allowed. What makes it even more problematic is that the results of 'tolerating' this lifestyle without objection can be tragic for many young people. The risks of homosexual behavior are well-understood by public health officials, but are being ignored by some politically correct school administrations.

I hope the children of parents who support these sentiments grow up to be more open-minded than their parents. I hope that they realize just because the phrase in reality is used doesn't mean what follows it has any resemblance to the truth. Obviously someone who labels the Day of Silence a one-sided campaign doesn't understand the vehemence with which heterosexuality and strict ideas about gender are enforced (through bullying, harassment and social expectations) on every other school day or maybe they do and just want to dedicate each and everyday to a one-sided campaign of their own.

By even using a term like 'homosexual behavior' the AFA shows their rigid way of thinking about sex and sexuality, as though every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individual has identical sex lives. If the AFA is truly worried about young people's health why is there no mention of the fact that AIDS is now the leading cause of death for African-American women aged 25–34 and that “most of these women got HIV from having sex with a man.”? At least one in four teenage girls in the U.S. currently have an STD yet that figure hasn't prompted the AFA to deem 'heterosexual behavior' risky.

If we're talking about risks, as a base we should acknowledge that no one should feel they are at risk of violence or harassment at school just by being his or her genuine self. The Day of Silence is about respect. It's about feeling free to be who you are without having to pay for it.

Conservative organizations may try to disguise their objections as concern for young people but the funny thing about intolerance, it's not that easy to hide.

You can read more about helping to ensure school is a safe place for all students at GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network).

Day of Silence

Remembering Lawrence King (MySpace)

Remembering Lawrence King (Facebook)

Yesterday I mentioned how much I enjoyed Soulpepper's production of The Odd Couple. The play was originally scheduled to run until April 19th but this morning I received an email from Soulpepper's marketing coordinator letting me know that the show has been extended until May 3rd by popular demand. So if you enjoy good theatre and are going to be in the Toronto area during the next two weeks, definitely pick up a ticket. I can't remember the last time a production made me smile so hard.
This afternoon we went to see Soulpepper's production of The Odd Couple, which was every bit as entertaining as the reviews proclaimed. Unfortunately, today was the end of the play's run so I can't recommend you buy tickets. I would, however, highly recommend catching virtually any Soulpepper production. The company's a wonder.
Brick Street Bakery, Distilley District, Toronto

One of the other tremendously great things about today was the weather. It's been summer in Southern Ontario since Thursday when we hit the heavenly temperature of 23. After a long hard winter people are basking in our turn of luck. Everyone's outside, grinning in T-shirts, strolling around in flip-flops and eating on patios. Especially eating on patios!

Hot House patio, Front Street, Toronto

Distillery District, Toronto
Distillery District, Toronto
Distillery District, Toronto
Distillery District, Toronto

Toronto, April 19th, 2008

Because I already mentioned my Africam addiction I might as well add that this morning featured more fun animal sightings. First I saw a herd of these

Africam, April 19

which included some playful locked horns

Africam, April 19

and then one of these (who may look similar from a distance but, unlike those above, didn't have horns).
Africam, April 19

Next some giraffes showed up at one of the watering holes and hogged the spotlight shamelessly.

Africam, April 19
Africam, April 19

It's hard to believe that a day featuring a hilarious production of The Odd Couple, patio weather AND real time giraffes could ever be topped but I'm hoping for rhinos, hippos and monkeys next. After all, summer is just getting started!

I watched the documentary Autism: The Musical during the week and it's been on my mind ever since. The film tracks the lives of several kids with autism spectrum disorders and their families over six months as they workshop and then perform a musical under the guidance of an acting coach (herself the mother of one of the children in The Miracle Project).

The capabilities these kids possess vary widely—some are highly verbal but have trouble communicating their own thoughts, others are disinclined to talk at all and/or avoid eye contact while revelling in certain subjects or activities (Henry knows everything there is to know about dinosaurs and reptiles and Adam loves the cello). The challenges these kids and their acting coach, Elaine, face are many—the kids have trouble focusing, they easily become overstimulated and seek to withdraw, and impulsive behavior causes numerous disruptions.

The film also documents the parents' struggles and concerns in guiding their children through a world that wasn't designed for them. One of the moments that hit me particularly hard was when Lexi's mother laments that she can't force society to value her daughter. Fourteen year old Lexi has the singing voice of an angel but finds it easier to mimic others' language than to answer a direct questions. “What parent says this?” Lexi's mom asks in frustration. “I hope she dies before I do.”

That's not to say that Autism: The Musical isn't hopeful. Progress is made even during the course of the film. Neal communicates with the help of a talking machine. Despite a tantrum at dress rehearsal, Adam plays his cello live. Henry, who had been withdrawing into his own world, takes up karate.

And then there's ten year old Wyatt, who, although he's in a special ed class when we're introduced to him, seems astoundingly perceptive about his condition, intelligent almost beyond his years.

Throughout the course of the movie Wyatt reveals his experiences with school bullies but also the desire to make genuine, compassionate friendships. Sitting on a swing in his backyard he remarks, “Sometimes I don't like it when kids go into their own world. You know, I do that alot but sometimes...I realize it now. You are in your world. How are you gonna make friends in your own world? You see, this is what...sometimes I don't get about kids, why do they—why do I even go in my own world? It's like, you're not talking to anybody, there's no point of it.”

In a documentary about autism, a disorder that's typically marked by communication and social interaction difficulties, the moment leaps out at you. It's impossible to imagine that anyone watching wouldn't feel a connection with Wyatt. Happily, he's continued in the Miracle Project—acting and now mentoring other children.

Watch the trailer:

Toronto Mayor David Miller has launched a campaign to ban handguns in Canada. As Miller points out, in Toronto crime is down in every major category except handgun violence.

Meanwhile Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day continues to mouth the tired old Conservative line that “handguns are already banned in this country except for a few legitimate purposes, a category that includes police officers, target shooters and approved collectors.” And meanwhile innocent people across the country continue to die from gun violence, sometimes from legal weapons used for illegal purposes and other times from guns that have migrated north across our porous borders.

Miller wants to see the handgun ban extended to target shooters and collectors and while I'm sure no one believes such a ban will end gun violence altogether, a gun less on the street is a gun less on the street. Currently there are 535,000 legal handguns in Canada, just waiting to find their way to a crime scene in Vancouver, Mississauga or Saskatoon. During 2004 3,582 legally registered firearms were reported lost or stolen in Canada. In the first 11 months of 2006 the number had already risen to 4,187. Clearly there's no such thing as a safe firearm and we should do everything within our power to minimize the risks of gun violence in Canada. Why should the rights of a collector or target shooter trump the rights of his or her fellow Canadians? We're talking about a hobby here—a hobby that has the potential to end others' lives. In a civilized society, how is this defensible?

If you don't believe it is, sign the City of Toronto's online petition to Ban Handguns in Canada.

Watch David Miller's plea to the people of Canada:

The signs of spring are unmistakable up here but we still have some acutely ugly reminders of winter around and some not so unsightly reminders that it's really time to put into storage nonetheless.
April 5, Southern Ontario

April 5, Southern Ontario

I, too, am a big fan of Mr. Claus but at long last we need to let him grab a spring nap. I could be projecting but the hand to head pose seems like a sure sign of stress. The last thing you want at your first barbecue of the season is a hysterical with exhaustion Santa Claus stumbling around the place. Plus, reindeer eat 12 pounds of vegetation a day so say goodbye to your lawn!
BBC Canada recently finished showing the second season of Catherine Tate and I have to admit I'm experiencing withdrawal pangs. Nan, Derek, Georgie, I miss you guys! But most of all, I miss Lauren Cooper. Call it old fashioned denial, a bad case of teenage attitude or a wicked strong self defence mechanism but whatever you put it down to, you gotta love Lauren for flat out refusing to be embarrassed in even the most damning circumstances.

Doesn't matter whether her friends have discovered she works in a fastfood restaurant:

or whether she's put her foot in her mouth:

or just seen her boyfriend Ryan make out with some other girl:

or tried to a pick a fight with a new English teacher (Doctor Who's David Tennant) who is determined not to put up with her:

She ain't bovered, mate. She just ain't bovered.
An Irish national opinion poll about attitudes to sex crimes found that a large percentage of people believe that rape victims are “totally or partially responsible for being attacked.”

Here's a breakdown:
* More than 30% think a victim is some way responsible if she flirts with a man or fails to say no clearly.
* 10% of people think the victim is entirely at fault if she has had a number of sexual partners.
* 37% think a woman who flirts extensively is at least complicit, if not completely in the wrong, if she is the victim of a sex crime.
* One in three think a woman is either partly or fully to blame if she wears revealing clothes.
* 38% believe a woman must share some of the blame if she walks through a deserted area.
That's a hell of a lot of people who want to assign at least partial blame to a woman for an extremely intimate act committed against her will, an act which could involve internal and external injuries, contracting a sexually transmitted disease (including HIV), an unwanted pregnancy and emotional trauma. Some new research on Rape-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder “indicates that certain physiological changes in the brain may be permanent conditions.” Compared to non-victims, victims are 13.4 times more likely to have two or more major alcohol problems and 26 times more likely to have two or more major serious drug abuse problems.

On top of a startling lack of empathy for victims, Ireland has the lowest rape conviction rate in Europe. Less than 10% of rape allegations lead to a guilty verdict in court. With such an abysmal conviction rate coupled with depressingly negative attitudes towards victims, it's no surprise that only one Irish woman in 12 reports her sexual assault to police. (Shock As Irish Rape Poll 'Blames Victims')

How many people would label a man as somewhat responsible for being stabbed or robbed while walking through a deserted area? And why should a certain style of clothing in any way be considered a license to force yourself on someone? Why is it apparently a woman's responsibility to keep herself from being attacked at all times? And lest we assume these attitudes are held mainly by an older generation who will soon be replaced by a more egalitarian one, research on Irish teenagers' views of abuse and violence found that, “a staggering 19% of young women and 34% of young men did not think being forced to have sex is rape.”

Blaming the victim isn't something that's solely done in Ireland, of course. Virtually every time an incidence of stranger rape is reported in Canada warnings go out that women should be vigilant, travel in packs, not open their doors to people they don't know, not leave their drinks unattended. Warnings pertaining to acquaintance rape also include: don't show too much skin and whatever you do, don't get drunk. Advice like this (even if well intended) does serve to suggest that women have some measure of control over the attacks being committed against them. If she hadn't gotten in the elevator, if she hadn't walked to her car alone, gone back to his place, etc., etc...

But as Scarleteen founder Heather Corinna points out on the Scarleteen site:
It’s a bit like if all the warnings we see about driving drunk were aimed at people hit by drunk drivers: “Don’t ever get in your car: someone else might be drunk!” or “To prevent your drunk driving death, never leave the house during happy hour: someone might be drinking and driving.” Imagine, too, if when you found yourself or someone you loved hit by a drunk driver, the common sentiment about that trauma was that unless the person hit was doing everything possible to avoid being hit – like, say, never leaving the house, or only leaving the house when dressed in SUV-resilient armor – then it was only partly the drunk driver’s fault, and maybe not that driver’s fault at all. If you weren’t doing everything you could to not get hit, well then it’s really your fault you got hit, not the fault of the moron full of vodka behind the wheel.
While some safety advice directed at women may keep individual women from being attacked on some occasions (the same way not getting in your car may prevent you from being hit by a drunk driver) it does nothing to tackle the larger problem of sexual violence.

“There is just no way to protect women from sexual violence by having them alter their behavior, unless we completely remove all women from social situations. The rapist is the problem, and he will eventually find a victim.” (from the SAFER blog)Obviously cloistering women isn't an option and would do nothing to reduce sexual violence against males (31% of Canadian men were sexually abused when they were children and in 2003 8% of adult victims of sexual assault were men). Prevention strategies need to focus on the root causes of sexual assault rather than instructing women to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If we want to reduce sexual assault in general we need to be honest about where the vast majority of violence is coming from. Most males don't rape but 99% of rapists are male. “A lot of the way masculinity is commonly defined, idealized and enacted is one very big reason why rape is as common as it is, for rape being seen as such a minimal crime so often...” (Heather Corinna, How You Guys...)

Why are boys constantly told they're genetically programmed to want to score while girls are often taught that they should save themselves? Why, as a society, do we still teach boys to define themselves as males through aggression and dominance? Boys will be boys. And girls should beware. Huh? How can that be right?

It's not. We need to eliminate our own double standards and open up other people's eyes to theirs. No one is to blame for the sexual violence committed against them, whether they're a girl or a boy, a man or a woman, whatever they're wearing or not wearing, whether they're passed out drunk or stone cold sober, whether they're jogging through the park in the middle of the day or walking home alone in the dark, whether they kissed their attacker earlier that night or whether he jumped out of the bushes like the rabid stranger rapist our society prefers to focus on (although 77% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows).

What's really needed to decrease rape is a major attitude adjustment on society's part and for that we need to raise awareness and combat the beliefs (like those shown in the Irish poll) that make sexual assault more likely to occur. We need to ask ourselves if our culture can consistently use sexual images of the female body to sell everything from videogames to animal rights and still make an honest claim to respect women and girls (and if not, what are we going to do about it?). We need more articles like Heather Corinna's How You Guys -- that's right, you GUYS -- Can Prevent Rape. We need more organizations like Men Can Stop Rape and SAFER (Students Active For Ending Rape) and more men and boys joining The White Ribbon campaign. As individuals we need to wholeheartedly (and vocally!) reject the pervasive societal messages that condone and glorify sexual violence and focus on the realities of sexual assault as opposed to harmful myths.

If you want to know how heterosexual acquaintance rape typically happens check out Ashley's enlightening entry on the SAFER blog: How Sexual Violence Really Happens. She's labelled this article as potentially triggering so please keep that in mind before clicking on the link.

If you're a guy you might also want to check out Men Can Stop Rape's info sheet Rape As A Men's Issue and What Young Men Can Do (pdf).

Today Paddy Casey's latest album, Addicted To Company, is released in Canada which means the CD should be with me at any moment. To this I say both, YAY! and FINALLY!

Have a listen to It's Over Now live:

Annoyingly, I can't watch the videos on this MTV page from the true north but if you're in the US, enjoy:

MTV Buzzworthy Artist of the week: Paddy Casey

Read about Paddy's top ten favourite albums:

Guest Collector Paddy Casey - ARTISTdirect News
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