After the G20 smoke clears . . .

Image by Flickr user Commodore Gandalf Cunningham

In the aftermath of the G20 summit in Toronto, the outrage blazes on for longer than any police cruiser could.

Ideology is highly flammable, you see.

Shakespeare famously wrote that all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. Indeed, this weekend, the international audience was introduced to a familiar cast of characters: heartless or noble police officers, peaceful or savage protesters, watchdog or propaganda-spewing journalists, innocent or nosy bystanders.

Why are we so attached to these false dichotomies?

The conversation will not advance as long as divide the world between “punks” and “pigs.”

Examples: Even if you think the community of dissent shouldn’t disown certain activists, it is never okay to hurl a brick at someone because they represent something you disagree with. Even if you think the police were just doing their job and controlling “bad guys,” it is never okay  for officers to threaten female detainees with rape.

If we want to be critical people who navigate within a complex world, we have to acknowledge that people on our “side” can be wrong too.Regardless of where our sympathies lie, we must speak truth to power and to our peers.

Let’s lift the blankets–it’s not just about police maintaining security OR protestors maintaining solidarity. Neither side has a monopoly on virtue or vice.

I’m contrasting sides for effect, but I emphatically believe that we must not forget the spectrum.

It saddens me that more people know exactly how many police cruisers were burned on the street than the number of decisions that were made behind the fences. The political reverberations that come out of this conference are much more difficult and long term than the theatrics that took place in “Fortress Toronto.”

But they’re not either/or important. The streets became a caricature of the power dynamics that were also playing out amongst those inside THE room. It may be easier to have an opinion on the black block than fiscal consolidation, but that doesn’t make it more important.

I think  we need to start by admitting that our world is rapidly changing and in many ways deteriorating. We are facing increasingly complex social, environmental and economic crises, and the decisions made by our world leaders will affect the children of protestors and police alike.

If the Toronto summit was a failure, which I would argue it was,* it has less to do with what was destroyed and more to do with what was not built.

*But that’s a whole other blog post.


Designs on a better way

Multilingual map heralds subway to unite a city

Originally published in the Toronto Star

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Himy Syed examines a tattered subway map written entirely in phonetic Chinese characters.

Without understanding a word, he draws a translation for Queen’s Park station right on to the pavement in front of the Bickford Centre, a language school for adults.

“People come from all over the city, here, to learn English,” says Syed, 40. “This is my way of saying ‘Welcome,’ ” he says, adding that he wanted to do something for the school after a lockdown drill in May 2009 led the community to think the area was under siege.

The fringe mayoral candidate and self-described Torontopreneur is finishing a roughly 24-metre-wide, multilingual subway map. At his concrete canvas, just southwest of Christie station, Syed says he can feel the rumbling of underground trains. His map weaves other languages — Korean, Greek, Hebrew, Ethiopian, Farsi and Russian — among familiar station names in English, but the artist was surprised to discover some students preferred the latter.

“They were enthusiastic about everything being English,” said Syed, who added that, conversely, “residents who grew up here were enthusiastic about having all the other languages.”

LISTEN HERE Why Himy Syed just can’t leave Toronto (even though he has tried) and why he wouldn’t paint any other subway system in the world

Reactions are as diverse as the people who see the painting.

Passersby stop and snap pictures while others don’t even look down. Some are excited to see familiar languages while others complain about those not represented. Sometimes children skip the length of the track, stepping on stations as if they were lily pads. And still others spend the afternoon, chatting with Syed as he works.

One bystander, a Mandarin-speaking student named Zhi, spent more than an hour advising Syed on the finer points of spelling stations in phonetic Chinese.

“He said he would write Queen’s Park as ‘ins park’ ” in simplified phonetic Chinese characters, which are read the same in Cantonese and Mandarin, said Syed, “I don’t understand why, but I trust him.”

Sue Motahedin of the TTC customer service advisory panel called the painting fun and unexpected after a spontaneous visit. She snapped a photo of her dog sitting by the map, and said she would bring her own kids to examine it.

“I think it helps promote transit,” Motahedin said, “It shows how transit can be a part of a community via art, too, and not just in a physical sense.”

Motahedin compared Syed’s subway map to projects by other transit-inspired Torontonians, who have made everything from TTC station buttons to vintage streetcar signs.

“I see this as another creative reflection of pride of ownership of our city and our transit system,” she said.

Because the station names are drawn in chalk, Syed says the languages used are negotiable. He often erases and rewrites as passersby stop to offer suggestions and translations of their own.

Of course, because of all the street-side conversation, the project has been an incremental, ongoing process. Syed has spent roughly 30 hours since last summer on the map, which has been — miraculously — spared by bad weather and vandalism.

Staff at the Bickford Centre have seen him working and have implied their permission by allowing him to continue undisturbed, says Syed, a candidate for mayor of Toronto and one-time director of the Canadian Muslim Civil Liberties Association.

When asked, one school official was nonchalant. “It’s nice, but I don’t know how useful it is,” said Jin Jiang Du, the Bickford Centre’s site manager. “I realize that a lot of urban artists are doing this kind of thing. As long as it’s not obstructing anybody, it’s fine with me.”

At the end of a long day, Syed dips a roller into thick white paint and traces over the Korean Bloor/Yonge station, the small Toronto City Hall pin on his shirt gleaming in the sunlight.

“I’ve done many, many works throughout the city very quietly,” said Syed, just shy of smiling mischievously. “I just do it and it’s done, and it’s there for that neighbourhood.”

Although his map represents the many different cultures and tongues, Syed envisions a transit system that unites its riders. He thinks the image of a transit of Babel is appropriate, since the TTC is itself in transition and so much of what happens will hinge on good communication.

“With all the misunderstanding within discussions about transit recently, we’re all trying to decipher and understand what transit means today and what the TTC will be tomorrow,” said Syed. “In a way, we’re all trying to speak the same language.”

Does this library poster promote storybooks or stereotypes?

Jungle image featuring dark, near-naked children paddling in a canoe ‘lacks cultural sensitivity’

Originally published in the Toronto Star

Fabiola Carletti
Staff Reporter

Some people will look at the picture and simply see curious children exploring a tropical habitat.

But the jungle-themed poster for the 2010 summer reading club is also attracting criticism mere weeks before its distribution to roughly 30,000 young users of the Toronto Public Library.

The debate hinges on whether or not visible minorities are poorly represented in the program’s showpiece, an illustration by award-winning artist Stéphane Jorisch.

“The people with darker skin are shown as in their ‘traditional’ state, with ‘traditional’ garb or little clothing at all,” said former club literacy worker Emily Burns. “The paler characters are dressed like tourists.”

Many noted the only black person, a woman wearing a colourful dress and big earrings, is not wearing a backpack or shoes like the other characters.

Others thought the near-naked children pictured in a canoe, which the artist described as little boys “in their native habitat,” looked like part of the scenery.

“The tapir and frog are especially endearing” said library blogger Catherine Raine, “but the images of the people in the jungle lack cultural sensitivity.”

The Montreal-based artist said the criticism was surprising.

“Everybody is entitled to what they think. I can’t decide for them,” he said. “I was trying to achieve something that the kids would enjoy. It’s as simple as that.”

Jorisch said the children in the canoe, wearing necklaces and loincloths, were meant to be “beautiful” and it would have been “uninteresting” to put the little boys in t-shirts and Adidas.

The black woman was “back where her ancestors came from” and she could have been in “native dress that can or cannot be from there.”

In past years, the reading club posters have featured less contentious themes, including secret agents, pirates, spaceships and superheroes.

“The jungle theme is dangerous,” said Adebe DeRango-Adem, a writer and former club member. “It seems to suggest that reading, as a means of exploration, is not in control of these indigenous and African groups.”

The TD-sponsored program will run in most major Canadian cities, and in every one of Toronto’s 99 library branches.

At the Albion Library in Rexdale, people wondered how the theme will be received in their multicultural neighbourhood.

Staff members declined to comment, but did discuss it with representatives from head office.

“Since this concern was raised, a number of meetings with staff have been convened,” said Anne Marie Aikins, the manager of corporate communications at the library.

Aikins said staff members openly addressed their concerns about the poster and the process of choosing images during the sessions.

Ken Setterington, the library’s advocate for child and youth services, was one of the representatives that met with Albion staff.

“It’s most upsetting that this illustration has upset some people,” said Setterington, who has worked on the annual project for 15 years, “but as soon as an issue is raised, what’s important is how we discuss it.”

But many are happy with the illustration, and think the jungle poster will simply do what past illustrations have done.

“Children will see the picture and be excited to read,” said Daniela Domfeh, a former library club member who has fond memories of the program. She said children won’t find anything but adventure in this year’s theme.

Mark Hughes, the Brampton-raised son of a librarian, was also a fan. He described the poster as “excellent” and “whimsical.”

Gregory Harrison, speaking for corporate sponsor TD Canada, said: “the artwork is consistent with the theme and it targets our key audience of children aged four to 13.”

Individual libraries will highlight relevant books and run jungle-inspired activities.

“I think that library workers need to be careful when planning events surrounding this theme,” said Burns, who is completing a master’s degree in library and information science.

She explained that the setting may be an awkward one, and that kids should be cautioned against “innocent” racism and stereotyping.

The conversation is far from over, as thousands more will see the image after the final bell rings.

“In a crazy way, this thing is thought-provoking,” said Jorisch. “It brings discussion.”

Pilot killed in crash near Buttonville airport

Original article here

Today, my radio room story about the recent Buttonville plane crash was the main feature on the Toronto Star’s home page–a first for me. The story has been widely circulated and has remained the most read story for several hours.

I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see my work so prominently placed and vastly shared. On the other hand, the story itself is an undeniable tragedy and it feels inherently wrong to get too excited.

Although I doubt they’ll ever read this, my thoughts are with the people who are missing an unidentified pilot tonight. I’m sure he means more to them than we could ever know.

Tofino and teenage love songs

Tofino, Vancouver Island
All photographs by Fabiola Carletti

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As I stood on the shores of MacKenzie beach in Tofino, I was overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia. Although it was the first time I’d ever seen a much loved beach in the surfer town, it reminded me of a song I fell in love with as a teenage girl.  I felt, on those cool April evenings during off-season, like the luckiest person to have ever watched the waves write poetry onto the sand.

Forgive my sentimentality, but we often forget to marvel at the world.

Wish you were here

I dig my toes into the sand
The ocean looks like a thousand diamonds
Strewn across a blue blanket
I lean against the wind
Pretend that I am weightless
And in this moment I am happy…happy

I wish you were here (x4)

I lay my head onto the sand
The sky resembles a back lit canopy
With holes punched in it
I’m counting UFOs
I signal them with my lighter
And in this moment I am happy…happy

I wish you were here (x4)

The world’s a roller coaster
And I am not strapped in
Maybe I should hold with care
But my hands are busy in the air saying:

I wish you were here

I wish you were…

I wish you were here (x4)

Smarter Beach Books: a journalist’s shortlist

Photo by Gibson Claire McGuire Regester on Flickr

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.  ~Oscar Wilde

When a journalist as smart as Kathryn Gretsinger lets you in on her summer reading short list, you pay attention.

As fellow student Jodie Martinson once said, Kathryn is a “professional human being.” She is  fantastic at what she does — both as a UBC professor and a CBC journalist — and, true to form, she recently took the time to share the source of some of her smarts with her students.

Here are her fifteen suggested  summer reads.

  1. The New Journalist – Paul Benedetti, Tim Currie, Kim Kierans
  2. The News about the News – Downey and Kaiser
  3. A Little History of the World – E.M. Gombrich
  4. The Chaos Scenario – Bob Garfield
  5. We the Media – Dan Gillmor
  6. Sound Reporting – Jonathan Kern
  7. The Elements of Journalism – Kovach and Rosenstiel
  8. Asking Questions – Paul McLaughlin (Hey! This is a former prof of mine. I can vouch for this one!)
  9. Convergent Journalism – Quinn and Flak
  10. REPORTING:  Writings from the New Yorker – David Remnick
  11. Here Comes Everybody – Clay Shirky
  12. The  Elements of Style – Strunk and White
  13. On Writing Well – William Zinsser
  14. What’s happening to News: The information explosion and the crisis in journalism – Jack Fuller
  15. A History of Canadian Journalism – William Craick

Don’t just sit there! Do something

This post was originally published in the Toronto Star’s intern blog.


"I was sitting, waiting, wishing..." by JoshSemans on Flickr.

We radio roomers have a dangerous job.

While other journalists physically chase stories, we sit on our rumps making phone calls and staring at screens.

Although our minds are working hard, our bodies only see action when we zip over to the bathroom. And remember, we work eight-hour shifts.

So, why isn’t this sitting well with me? (Sorry, I love bad puns)

Well, a new field of study — lead by Canadian researchers — is focusing on what’s actually happening in the body during these sluggish sessions.

And it’s not looking good.

We’re not completely “off,” as it were, and we’re straining ourselves in ways that are not yet well understood.

To learn more about our physiology in these sedentary states, scientists in Ottawa have been hooking kids up to all kinds of monitoring devices as the youngsters do, well, nothing. While the subjects watch Sponge bob (or whatever the cool cartoon is these days), the researchers watch how their bodies respond to their lack of activity.

The CBC reports that, so far, they’ve found evidence of the following: two to seven hours of uninterrupted sitting is enough to increase their blood sugar, decrease their good cholesterol and to have a real impact on their health. I’d imagine we adult-types are not much more robust.

I hate to admit this but, at time of writing, I’ve been sitting firmly on my tush for about six hours. What’s more, I’m polishing off some coffee in a can and eating cold pizza. (Yeah, my body hates me.)

So, in an effort to guilt myself healthier, I’ll post some of the more interesting points I found in the CBC story:

  • Each two-hour-per-day increase in sitting at work was linked with a 5 per cent increased risk of obesity. (So, besides extra cash, think carefully about what you gain from those overtime shifts.)
  • Women who spent seven hours or more per day sitting had an increased risk of endometrial cancer compared to those who sit less than three hours per day. (Egad! I hate when bad things apply to me)
  • In 2008, Spanish researchers found the odds of having a mental disorder were 31 per cent higher for subjects who spent more than 42 hours a week watching TV than for those who watched fewer than 10.5 hours a week. (Surely, youtube doesn’t count…)

The good news is that even simple activities may help mitigate the damage. Just getting up and shaking it off creates those little interruptions to which the body positively responds.

So, now we know that people are doing science to try and convince us stuff we should probably be able to figure out on our own.

I’m not trying to be snarky. In fact, I say we give ‘um a standing ovation.