Sunday, November 29, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 129 - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It's the last few hours of NaNoWriMo. For me personally this has been a gruelling, challenging marathon that did everything it was supposed to do: take me well past my comfort zone, make me question my sanity, make me rearrange every priority in my daily schedule in order to write, make me take chances creatively that I would never do at a less crushing pace.

I still have 8800 words to write before I collapse exhausted over that finish line. So I'll ask Bing Crosby and songwriter Meredith Willson to help me out today on the Poetry Train. The pictures were taken today at my writers' group Christmas Potluck at Cathryn Fox's house.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go
Take a look in the five and ten
Glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev'ry store
But the prettiest sight to see
Is the holly that will be
On your own front door

A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen
And Mom and Dad can hardly wait
For school to start again

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go
There's a tree in the Grand Hotel
One in the park as well
The sturdy kind that doesn't mind the snow

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart

- Meredith Willson, 1951

For more poetry, Ride the Poetry Train!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 134 - 13 Reasons Canada's Defense Minister Peter Mackay Should Man Up About Torture Allegations

1 - "A top diplomat’s account of the rampant torture and rape of Afghan detainees is not credible, Defence Minister Peter MacKay (shown with Gen. Natynczyk) said Thursday.

Under fire from all parties, MacKay dismissed testimony from Richard Colvin as second- and third-hand information from enemy sources.

'What we’re talking about here is not only hearsay, we’re talking about basing much of his evidence on what the Taliban have been specifically instructed to lie about if captured,' he said."
- Kathleen Harris, Toronto Sun Photo by Andrew Vaughan

2 - "The mugging of Mr. Colvin's reputation showed the Conservatives' underside.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party has its own Frat Pack: a cluster of ministers and MPs who represent the sharp point of the party's attack machine. You could see it at work last week, with Transport Minister John Baird and others attacking the credibility of Richard Colvin, the civil servant who tried to alert the Canadian government to the torture awaiting Canadian Forces detainees sent to Afghan prisons."
- Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail Photo by Chris Wattie

3 - "In December of 2005, while Canada was in the middle of the election campaign that brought Stephen Harper to power, then-Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier signed a deal establishing our detainee transfer protocol — an arrangement that did not provide for Canadians to monitor their prisoners.

According to Mr. Colvin, Canadian soldiers were rounding up large numbers of suspected insurgents and turning them over to the Afghan authorities, and then relying on the Red Cross and an Afghan human rights group to make sure they were not tortured."
- Stephen Maher, Chronicle Herald Photo by Globe and Mail

4 - "Inevitably in this kind of insurgency, where foreign troops sweep the countryside for guerrillas, some innocents get scooped into the same net as actual enemy fighters.

All three of the independent military commands at that point (in 2007) — the Canadian, Dutch and British — knew that under international law they were responsible for the well being of all Afghans they picked up, even after they were handed over to Afghan prisons and interrogation centres.

The Dutch were concerned enough to report immediately any handover to the local Red Cross officials. Britain acted within 24 hours.

But Canada?

When Canadian soldiers brought in the usually hooded and tightly bound detainee, our military police on the spot would first inform the colonels and generals in the Kandahar mission control centre.

But instead of alerting the Red Cross right away, like the Dutch and British, these commanders, following orders, sent the information to CEFCOM, the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command in Ottawa.

This information would then be passed over to Defence Headquarters and to Foreign Affairs.

Instead of CEFCOM sending word back to Kandahar to immediately engage local Red Cross officials, the file instead was forwarded to the Canadian Embassy in Geneva.

Only then did Canada inform the International Red Cross, suggesting that it check up on some Afghan civilians our troops had detained and handed over to Afghan interrogators.

It was while this odd Kandahar to Ottawa to Geneva to Kandahar shuffle was going on that detainees would be under the greatest threat of torture and other abuses. If you wanted to ensure your detainee was grilled to the hilt over days, weeks, or months, would this not be the kind of play-for-time system that you would devise?"
- Brian Stewart, CBC News Photo by Musadeq Sadeq

5 - "Former warden of Sarpoza Prison, Abdul Qadar Khan Popal, told Canwest News Service 'Prisoners were kept several days in the custody of the NDS,' Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security. 'It was not a matter of hours,' Popal said before detainees were transferred from the dilapidated NDS detention centre to Sarpoza. 'I myself have seen injuries on their bodies caused by torture by the NDS.' " - Matthew Fisher, Photo by Natalie Behring-Chisholm

6 - "Colvin’s analysis came from interviewing hundreds of prisoners who had been transferred to the Sarposa prison, after allegedly being abused. In May 2007, the Globe and Mail’s intrepid, unembedded reporter Graeme Smith had ventured to the Sarposa prison and broke the same story of alleged torture. I happened to be in Kabul with colleagues when Smith’s expose hit the newsstands and, as a result, we were able to do some first-hand followup.

The head of the NDS acknowledged that the abuse issue could strain Afghan-Canadian relations and, as a gesture of good faith, he offered to grant us direct access to the notorious NDS detention centre in Kandahar.

When we interviewed the directing staff, they proudly admitted that to a man they had all received their training from the Soviets and were all former KGB officers."
- Scott Taylor, Chronicle Herald Photo by Dene Moore

7 - "Colvin told a special Commons committee on Afghanistan Wednesday that Canada took vastly more battlefield prisoners than either the British or Dutch militaries operating in southern Afghanistan.

He said that those detainees were, by and large, innocent taxi drivers and farmers rather than Taliban operatives, and that abuse was the 'standard operating procedure' of Afghan authorities, regardless of the intelligence value of a prisoner.

The implements of torture were wire cables, electrical shocks and physical and sexual abuse, he said.

Once newspaper reports in April 2007 brought the problems to light, Colvin said he was instructed to keep quiet by David Mulroney, a senior official who had responsibilities to report on Afghanistan to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, then-foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay and Gordon O'Connor, who was the defence minister before he became the first political casualty of the detainee scandal."
- Tonda MacCharles, Toronto Star

8 - "As far as anyone knows, no one has seen a Canadian soldier turn over a suspect to a torturer to be pistol-whipped, cudgelled, shocked or raped.

Yet Richard Colvin sent senior Canadian officials no fewer than 17 messages in 2006 and 2007 warning that Afghan interrogators used torture as 'standard operating procedure,' that Canadian troops were handing over 'a lot of innocent people,' and that could make them complicit in war crimes. He also copied more than 70 people.

As for Colvin's credibility, the Afghan human rights panel has just confirmed that there were indeed 232 cases of torture in 2006/07."
- Editorial, Toronto Star Photo by Finbarr O'Reilly

9 - "The Foreign Affairs report, titled Afghanistan-2006; Good Governance, Democratic Development and Human Rights, was marked 'CEO' for Canadian Eyes Only. It seems to remove any last vestige of doubt that the senior officials and ministers knew that torture and abuse were rife in Afghan jails.

The report leaves untouched many paragraphs such as those beginning 'one positive development' or 'there are some bright spots.'

But heavy dark blocks obliterate sentences such as 'military, intelligence and police forces have been accused of involvement in arbitrary arrest, kidnapping, extortion, torture and extrajudicial killing.' "
- Paul Koring, April 2007, Globe and Mail Photo by Canadian Press

10 - "Whistleblower Richard Colvin joined Foreign Affairs 15 years ago, in his mid-20s, with the idea that – in the words of one source close to him – Canada might not be a major player but 'we're a force for good, we stand for something.' " - Tonda MacCharles, Toronto Star Photo by Sean Kilpatrick

11 - "Counter-insurgency is an argument to win the support of the locals.

Every action, reaction or failure to act become part of the debate. In Kandahar, Canada needs to convince local people that we are better than the Taliban, that our values were superior, that we would look after their interests and protect them.

In my judgment, some of our actions in Kandahar, including complicity in torture, turned local people against us. Instead of winning hearts and minds, we caused Kandaharis to fear the foreigners. Canada’s detainee practices alienated us from the population and strengthened the insurgency."
- Richard Colvin, House of Commons testimony, Macleans Photo by Tylere Couture

12 - "I find it insulting to listen to the governing party in Canada trying to discredit someone who is standing up for the Canadian sense of human justice. I think the Harper crew is insulting everything that each and every Canadian soldier fought and died for - basic human rights. We are a country that upholds the human rights of all people, all the time. This government just celebrated Remembrance Day, and now it slaps the face of all who died for this great nation. Canada deserves better." - Rod Sarty, letter to the editor, Chronicle Herald

13 - " 'We inherited an inadequate transfer arrangement left in place by the previous government,' said Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

'There is something called ministerial accountability,' said Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh. 'You can't shut your eyes, your ears and your mouth to say "No, I didn't know." '

The opposition demanded to know the names of the officials who tried to shut down Colvin's reports and sanitize the reports of other diplomats.

'Who in this government issued that order?' asked Dosanjh. 'Why is this government creating a culture - an un-Canadian culture - of secrecy about an issue as abhorrent as torture?' "
- Murray Brewster, Canadian Press Photo by Pete Williamson

Wordless Wednesday - 127

Photo by Kai Pfaffenbach

Monday, November 23, 2009

Through the Opera Glasses - 38 - Lucas North Faces His Torturer on Spooks

For lucky TV viewers in the UK, Spooks season 8 has already begun airing. And the latest episode - 4 - focuses on Lucas North's literal torturous past.

For viewers in North America, where Spooks season 8 won't be airing for awhile yet, try this link on You Tube.

In this episode, Lucas (Richard Armitage) faces down the man who was his torturer for four of the eight years he survived in a Russian prison.

Truly the stuff of both nightmares and fantasies, to once again stand before someone who tortured you would take 'mindblowing experience' and totally redefine it.

Torture scenes in films and television put me in a cold sweat. I feel physically sick when I sense one is coming in the story, and sitting through one is an ordeal.

If it's real news footage, like the scene in the Vancouver airport of Robert DziekaƄski's last excruciating moments after being Tasered by RCMP officers - I can't watch and I have to put my hands over my ears. I can't stand the screaming.

The handling of the Lucas North torture storyline on Spooks thoroughly examines the post-traumatic effects this has on the remainder of that person's life. Lucas is shown as being unable to sleep unless he returns to the hard floor, unable to prevent unrelated stimuli from provoking break-through memories from surfacing, and struggling to prove to his MI-5 superiors that he doesn't retain any Stockholm Syndrome feelings towards his former Russian captors.

CLICK HERE to watch a clip from Spooks season 7 featuring our first glimpse into Lucas' torture memories. WARNING: contains waterboarding footage.

Join me later this week when I haul Canada's Defense Minister Peter Mackay onto the carpet for daring to say he was not aware that up to 130 Afghan detainees who were handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops were then tortured.

My Thursday Thirteen will be posted with both barrels blazing. Wear your flak jackets.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 128 - I Won't Back Down

As I mentioned last week, I'll be using song lyrics for the remainder of November for the Poetry Train, due to my writing marathon for NaNoWriMo.

This week was even more desperate than last week.

Last week, when I asked Eugene Hutz to help me out, I thought the Blue Meanies had done with their conspiracy to shake my resolve. My glasses had already fallen apart at the bridge as I was typing away on my NaNo novel. I was without glasses for three days. But did I miss work? No. Did I stop writing? No. Could I see anything? No.

I could even ignore the fact that I felt like absolute crap. I only had to work Mon. and Tues., had my birthday off work for Remembrance Day, worked on Thurs. and had Fri. off (my every-three-weeks earned-day-off.) That's a three-day-weekend for lots of word-count accumulation, right?


The flu knocked me out cold. Flattened. Steamrollered. I crawled into work on Mon., but from Tues. on I stayed home. I slept. And slept. And slept. And slept. Fell down the stairs, too, in there somewhere. Very, very dizzy. No writing at all for two entire days. Zero additions to my word count. NaNo kept on. I didn't.

Did I ever mention I come from a long line of Extremely Stubborn Acadians?

This week I'll let these lyrics explain my state of mind, as I haul myself back into my seat at the computer. Help me out, Tom.

Photo by Karl Walter

I Won't Back Down

Well I won't back down
No, I won't back down
You could stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down

Gonna stand my ground
Won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down
Gonna stand my ground

And I won't back down

Hey, baby
There ain't no easy way out
I will stand my ground
And I won't back down

Well, I know what's right
I got just one life
In a world that just keeps pushin' me around
But I'll stand my ground

And I won't back down

- Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty, 1989

For more poetry, Ride the Poetry Train!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 133 - 13 Random Shots From 2009

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- 4

- 5

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- 10

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- 13

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - 126

Monday, November 16, 2009

Through the Opera Glasses - 37 - The Silver Chair

Today on my bus ride home from work, I found myself dreaming of The Silver Chair.

After The Horse and His Boy, it's my favorite of the Chronicles of Narnia. And if all goes well, it will be the fourth of the film adaptations of that series.

Of course, in my dreams Prince Rilian and his enchanted persona, the Black Knight would be played by Richard Armitage.

What say you?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 127 - Letter to Mother

I'm deep in the midst of the writing marathon known as NaNoWriMo. I can't possibly write any poetry for the remainder of this month, not even found poetry, because that too requires a calm, clear focus to hear what the found words are saying to me.

So I'll share with you some lyrics I really like from mad genius Eugene Hutz, the songwriter for Gogol Bordello.

Yesterday I tappity-tapped a record-breaking (for me) 4000 words into my NaNo first draft novel. So Eugene, give me a hand here.

Photo by Pavla Fleischer

Letter to Mother

The noise in this joint is unearthly
And soon I awkwardly say,
'Oh look, there it is, my whole life in the ashtray
I can go back to her that way.'

Cause in blue darkness of the night
She keeps imagining one thing:
Someone stuck his Finnish knife
Under my heart

I know that even though she doesn't show it
She grieves sorely for her son
And often walks out to the road
In her old fashioned coat

And in blue darkness of the night
She keeps imagining one thing:
Someone stuck his Finnish knife
Under my heart

I know she's there grieving sorely for me
I know she's there turning grey for me
When I come back she'll forgive me
So motherly, motherly, motherly

- Eugene Hutz, 1999

For more poetry, Ride the Poetry Train!

Friday, November 13, 2009

I'm blogging at Popculturedivas today

Drop by Popculturedivas today and judge for yourself:

If you're Gerry Butler, does a walk down the red carpet = running the gauntlet?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 132 - 13 Ways to Say Happy 40th Birthday to Gerard Butler

As many of you know, I'm rather partial to Scottish actor Gerard Butler.

On Nov. 13th he turns the big 4 - 0. Here are 13 wishes for him on this milestone birthday. He's the inspiration for a fictional character that I'm currently writing about during NaNoWriMo, a month-long writing marathon.

Thanks, Gerry.

- 1

"If you count all your assets, you always show a profit."

- Robert Quillen

- 2

"Whatever you do, do it with all your might. Work at it, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned."

- P. T. Barnum

- 3

"It's being able to take it as well as dish it out. That's the only way you're going to get respect from the players."

- Larry Bird

- 4

"A taste for irony has kept more hearts from breaking than a sense of humor, for it takes irony to appreciate the joke which is on oneself."

- Jessamyn West

- 5

"Do just once what others say you can't do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again."

- James Cook

- 6

"The lion is most handsome when looking for food."

- Jalal ad-Din Rumi

Photo by Patrick Fraser

- 7

"The higher the hill, the stronger the wind."

- John Wycliffe

Photo by Debra Hurford Brown

- 8

"When you reach the top, that's when the climb begins."

- Michael Caine

Photo by Dagblat (Norway)

- 9

"Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties."

- Erich Fromm

Photo by Amanda De Cadenet

- 10

"Nobody is born a warrior, in exactly the same way that nobody is born an average man. We make ourselves into one or the other."

- Carlos Castaneda

Photo by Martin Pope

- 11

"Twelve highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion."

- Scottish Proverb

Photo by

- 12

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Genius will not. Education will not. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

Calvin Coolidge

- 13

"The face you have at age 25 is the face God gave you, but the face you have after 50 is the face you earned."

- Cindy Crawford