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Oscars: Two Women Contenders...Really!

Wild Life by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis
This year, I know almost nothing about any of the Oscar contenders. And it would appear that none of my Facebook friends do either. Now, why would that be?

Is it because the cherished "Members of the Academy" are rich old white dudes who, according to the Los Angeles Times,  are 94% white, 77%  male and on average 62 years old? Or would it have something to do with the fact that the Academy votes overwhelmingly for white male directors who cast overpaid white guys in the leading roles? With Kathryn Bigelow's big win two years ago, you would think that there might be another woman director in the running. Nope. According to Women and Hollywood, there were apparently more women directors in 1998 than in 2011.

But there is still one category that I'm interested in: Best Animated Short. Yes, I realize that it ranks right up there with the best make-up, gaffer and wardrobe categories for most of you, but I am unabashedly excited about a potential win  by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby for Wild Life. This is a story about a remittance man who goes to the Canadian west at the turn of the 20th century when there was little more than gophers and endless prairie. Remittance men were often wayward offspring of wealthy British families who were paid handsomely to stay away after some indiscretion that had tarnished the family's reputation. In Wild Life, the main protagonist plays polo and badminton on the Alberta prairie and drinks himself silly. This remittance man never does ranch as he intended and eventually loses his marbles after a devastatingly cold winter. The remittance men would be the great grandfathers of many westerners of my generation.

Forbis and Tilby use computer generated images and then paint in tempera over each of the thousands of images, that is, 24 per second of animation. The final result is stunning. An Oscar win would also be another reason for our current culture-adverse prime minister not to pull the plug on the National Film Board of Canada.

To see the other contenders for Best Animated Short, click here.

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Money is Power, Apparently

About 8 weeks ago, some of you may recall that I made a date with cash, that is, to use strictly bank notes and change for a two-month period. Credit and debit cards were not to be used, if humanly possible (Yes, I slipped up a few times).

This challenge came about for two reasons: a) I had lost track of where I was spending my money, and b) I learned through the Occupy the Holidays movement that merchants pay the banks a 2% to 5% fee for each debit transaction. Hardly seems fair, right? Our local merchants fight to stay afloat financially among fierce competition from major corporations only to be nickled and dimed in transaction fees. No, I decided that banks already had enough of my money and everyone else`s.

And apparently I`m not the only one who feels this way. This International Women`s Day, Women Occupy will be staging a protest against the Bank of America. Interrupting business as usual, the group will be protesting the bank`s predatory economic policies that are destroying families and communities.

My date with cash, my own little protest, was anxiety-inducing in the beginning. And truth be told, I probably would have given up if I hadn`t opened my big mouth and blogged about it. But anyway,  I learned a lot.

Every Saturday, I calculated how much I needed for the entire week and took out a large sum on Sunday, grocery day. This is also the approach advocated by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. (The FCAC is a great site for banking tips and interest calculators to help you keep your debt in check.) In most cases, this lump sum approach worked, but I still had to run to the bank on more than a few occasions. (Readers from other countries: greedy bank principles are similar from country to country.)


1) The daily latté was a luxury I couldn`t afford. I opted for regular coffee, which amounted to a $2.00 savings a day. A latté still finds its way in, but only occasionally.

2) My closest branch ABM is at least a 15-minute walk away. Therefore, I did a lot more walking, and as a result, my clothes are looser now. Yes, cash only may also serve as a weight loss plan.

3) I also stopped buying things to eat when I felt hungry. Instead, I brought an apple or a V8 with me every day. Makes your bag heavier, but worth it.

4) I paid $13.00 in interest on my credit card in January, compared with only $2.00 in February.

5) My bank statement was half a page long, and I could actually remember the transactions (Eureka!).

6) Advanced planning helps you to organize a lot of other aspects of your life. I planned more meals and organized my time better.

7) I talked to a lot of people about how they kept track of their money. I was surprised to learn that most of them peruse their accounts online a few times a week.

8) I now have a small savings, and February will be the first month in a long time that I have not gone into my overdraft (no small miracle).

If you, too, are fed up with the uber rich banks taking your hard earned money in interest and monthly charges, then you may want to try cash only. Or you might just want to check out some of these user-friendly FCAC tools to help you make informed decisions about your finances:

Credit Card Payment Calculator: This tool shows you how long it will take you to pay off your credit card balance if you make 1) the minimum payment, 2) the minimum payment plus a little more, or 3) pay a fixed amount every month. But more importantly, it shows you just how much you will pay in interest (makes bankers salivate).

Banking Package Selector Tool (chequing): This tool shows you which bank offers the lowest monthly charges to accommodate your banking needs. It all comes down to how many transactions you make a month, and the monthly balance you maintain. It`s a good idea to have at least three previous bank statements on-hand to identify your own banking habits.

The Credit Card Quiz: If you think you know everything there is to know about credit cards, think again. Here are 10 questions to demystify some common credit card myths.

This was crossposted at kickaction.ca

Happy savings!

Related posts:
Occupy the Holidays
My Date with Cash

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Viki & TellVic: Social Media Backlash

I couldn't think of a better follow-up to my previous post on using social media as a means of protest. This week, our majority Conservative government was to push through a series of electronic surveillance laws (Canada's version of SOPA), forcing Internet service providers (ISPs) and other telecommunications companies to disclose information about its customers and their families' online activities without a warrant .

Critics say this e-snooping bill is a violation of our right to privacy and makes our personal and financial information less secure and more vulnerable to cyber crime. In addition, ISPs would have to install elaborate spyware, the cost of which would be passed on to the consumer. But the government sees it otherwise; this is a means for fighting child pornography and other serious crime. This week, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews defended "lawful access" by stating that people "either stand with us or with the child pornographers." Needless to say, this sparked outrage.

The first form of protest was an anonymous Twitter account, Vikileaks30, which began publishing lurid tidbits about Toews' divorce after 30 years of marriage, which also reportedly involved the emergence of an illegitimate child with a nanny/babysitter. Vikileaks30 also disclosed the more than $14,000 Toews spent on the taxpayer dime at Ottawa-area restaurants last year, as well as his 64 trips home to his riding. Well, I wonder how those public disclosures must feel? As you can see, the account now has in excess of 9,000 followers in just a few days. Recently, the Ottawa Citizen traced the IP address to where else?...Parliament Hill.

This was quickly followed by the hashtag #tellviceverything on Twitter. For the second day in a row, Twitter users are telling Minister Toews their every 140-character thought and ah...movement and posting it on Twitter. Here are a few:

As you can see, this type of protest quickly hits a message home: our private lives should be left, well, private. In addition to voicing passive-aggressive displeasure, this form of protest can be a highly entertaining way to spend a few hours in the morning. If you have a Twitter account, you will also see appeals from other tweeps to telephone, fax or email Toews with any thought, epiphany or brain wave you might have.

At any rate, with journalists, organizations and the average joe taking to Twitter and Facebook, this broad-based protest may be the best way to keep Canadians from getting beat up and thrown in jail, as they were at the G20. Just sayin`!

Other related posts:
The Montreal News Group
Occupy the Holidays
Peaceful Tactic: Keep Wall Street Occupied (Busy)
Occupons Montréal


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Review of Retribution & Interview w/ Carmen Rodriguez

Review of Retribution 
and Interview with Author, Carmen Rodriguez
 (Three O'clock Press)

The following was cross-posted at Rover: Montreal Arts Uncovered.

 Like many, I’m drawn to novels that explore Latin American politics, particularly those rooted in Argentina and Chile. I was immediately intrigued when I heard about Retribution by poet, translator and activist Carmen Rodriguez, mainly because the author lived through the 1973 coup d’état. Rodriguez, her husband and their two young daughters were exiled to Vancouver in 1974.

Retribution opens with granddaughter Tania receiving a letter from the Chilean Consulate in Vancouver informing her that her father may not have been who she thought he was.

Back in 1974, Grandmother Soledad Martinez and her daughter Sol brought three-day-old Tania to live in exile in Vancouver after Sol had been imprisoned in the wake of Pinochet’s military takeover. A survivor of rape and torture in prison, Sol raises Tania to believe that her father had disappeared like so many other Chileans.

 Unlike many novels surrounding the events of September 11, 1973, Retribution does not end with the Martinez family being forced into exile. Instead, it focuses on the years after the coup, on how Soledad and Sol come to terms with losing their loved ones and the brutality they suffered at the hands of the Chilean military.

 It was refreshing to pick up a book with two strong compelling women characters like Soledad and Sol. The story sheds light on how political refugees overcome loss, trauma and hatred in a new country, an aspect of political stories that is often given short shrift. This is a beautiful, complex story woven together with well-researched political facts. Rodriguez skillfully tackles heavy themes for a first time novelist, and my only criticism was perhaps Tania’s character, which was not as well fleshed out as the other two.

 Retribution is a highly realistic and satisfying read which somehow makes the magic realism of Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits seem akin to a Disney production.

I spoke with Carmen Rodriguez about her first novel at the Paragraphe bookstore in November 2011. 

There are some very difficult themes tackled in Retribution: rape, murder, torture and exile. Which parts were the most difficult to write and why?

While it is accurate to say that the topics of rape, murder, torture and exile are part of Retribution, the book is also about the regular ups and downs in the life of a Chilean lower-middle-class family prior to the 1973 coup and most importantly, about how a mother and a daughter succeed in turning horror and darkness into beauty and hope. Therefore, the whole book was difficult to write.

 I realize that Sol is a fictitious character. Yet, she was a leftist activist and social worker who fled Chile in 1974, and anyone who read your daughter’s book, Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, would see that you and Sol have a lot in common. Is there a lot of yourself in Sol or does she represent a lot of young leftist women in Chile at that time?

Sol is a composite character. Some of her experiences are based on my own, but her personality, demeanor, outlook on life and actions are her own. 

Tania receives a letter through the Chilean Consulate from Judge Leiva informing her that her father may be Marcelino Romero, a man who tortured and raped women in detention after the 1973 coup. Has any such action ever been taken by the Chilean government to acknowledge its wrongdoing or make reparations?

 I don’t know. Torturers and members of the military have been tried and convicted. I don’t know if they were specifically accused of rape.

Unlike many other novels on the Pinochet military takeover of Chile, the climax of the book is not the events surrounding September 11, 1973. Instead, it is about the aftermath. Dealing with the loss of her son, the disappearance of her daughter, and the betrayal of her conservative sister, Soledad had a difficult time with her anger and pain. Your account of Soledad’s intense feelings when she arrives in Canada was very realistic. Where did you find your inspiration for this scene?

In the character. I was immersed in her body and mind at the time and this is the way she chose to (re)act at that point in the narrative.

Perhaps the most moving part of your book was when Soledad finally finds her son, Andresito. Before she finds him, she has to go to the military barracks, a prison on Teja Island and to the morgue. Is this a realistic depiction of how parents went about looking for their children after the coup? 

Yes. This happened to many people, including the well-documented case of Joan Jara, who found her husband’s body – theatre director and internationally renowned musician Víctor Jara – in the Santiago morgue a few days after the coup.

Writing a book is a long process. Could you tell us some of the steps you went through? 

 I began by imagining a trilogy: the first book would portray the family’s life in the decades prior to the Popular Unity/Allende government, the second one would take the family through the Popular Unity years, the coup and its aftermath (1970-1974), and the third one would narrate the protagonists’ lives as exiles in Canada.

After much writing and pondering, I decided to put everything into one book. It took a long time to come up with an appropriate structure for the novel and the central theme of “retribution” made its way into the manuscript in its latter stages of development.

 Are there any parallels between the student movement today in Chile and the leftist movement of the early 1970s?

The student movement of the 1960s and 70s was part of a larger movement striving for social justice. It included factory workers, farm workers, professionals, intellectuals and marginalized sectors of society. Today’s student movement was triggered by issues specifically related to education: demands for free universal education. However, this initial motivation has brought to the forefront the injustices inherent to Chile’s entire economic model and the inadequacies and limitations of the country’s democracy. Thus, the current student movement has acted as a leader and catalyst for all those sectors that are unhappy with the socio-political situation in the country.

 Is Chile as politically polarized now as it was in the early 1970s?

 In the early 1970s, Chile’s president was Salvador Allende, a socialist elected to carry out a program of ground-breaking transformations, including the nationalization of the country’s copper mines and other key industries, and agrarian reform. This resulted in fierce opposition from the U.S. government, multinational corporations, Chile’s bourgeoisie, wealthy landowners and members of other sectors of society content with the status quo. The outcome was not only polarization, but perhaps most importantly, U.S. intervention, a concerted campaign to destabilize the country and, ultimately, the military coup d’état of September 11, 1973.

Chile now has a right-wing President — economist and businessman Sebastián Piñera, who became a billionaire during the Pinochet dictatorship by introducing credit cards to Chile. Piñera was elected in January of 2010 with promises of improving the economic welfare of Chileans, but after nearly two years in office he has not fulfilled his promises. His popularity has plummeted and large sectors of the population have begun to show their discontent.

 Overall, the situation in Chile today is very different. The wealthy and their political representatives are in government, not in opposition. Large sectors of the population have organized to denounce the government’s neoliberal agenda and propose a fairer agenda, but have neither the economic nor military clout nor the desire to depose Sebastián Piñera through violent means. Piñera may feel compelled to make some changes in order to stop the upheaval and/or will be voted out in the next presidential elections.

Thanks so much Carmen Rodriguez for your time and thoughts. I wish you all the best with your book.

Other related posts:
Meet Revolutionary Mother : More on my talk with Carmen Rodriguez

Other book reviews:
Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre
The Blue Dragon by Robert Lepage and Marie Michaud, illustrated by Fred Jourdain
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Antagonist by Lynn Coady
Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien
Going Down Swinging by Billie Livingston
Incendiary by Chris Cleave
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell 
The Girl Without Anyone by Kelli Deeth
Drive-By Saviours by Chris Benjamin

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The Montreal News Group

Over the Christmas holidays, I found myself in a Facebook conversation with some like-minded people. We were expressing our concern about the direction of our country's government and our feelings of powerlessness. Our leader has a majority government, and he appears to be forging ahead with his own conservative agenda, regardless of  opposition. To make matters worse, our corporate mainstream media appear to be in the pocket of our leader and have seemingly failed in their duties as the fourth estate. As a result of this conversation, I contacted two Facebook friends who continually post interesting articles and asked them to assist me in curating news stories from alternative and mainstream media that shed light on our Prime Minister's daily deeds, particularly with respect to the environment. And to keep things positive, we could post stories about the Occupy movement and other non-violent ways of protesting. My favourite thus far has been singing in Brooklyn to prevent home foreclosures. See video below.

After just one month of curating the Montreal News Group, I no longer feel all the doom and gloom I felt over the holidays. I've learned the following:

1. Canadian mainstream media still cover what the Prime Minister is doing. You just have to dig a little.

2. The alternative media outlet that continually covers what is actually going on with great editorial is the Vancouver-based Tyee.ca.

3. The French media in Quebec cover many stories that are completely ignored in the rest of Canada. For this we need a French-language curator who can also make some comments about the stories s/he is posting. You can contact me by clicking here.

4. Facebook and Twitter are forces to be reckoned with. Just ask the Texas-based Susan G. Komen Foundation. It announced it would no longer fund clinical breast examinations and mammograms through Planned Parenthood, an organization that is constantly under threat of closing. The annual $680,000 that was going to Planned Parenthood helped provide breast exams for some 170,000 low income women. There were over 100,000 tweets from January 31 to February 2. As a result, the Foundation's Board of Directors reversed its decision. The success had to do with a broad-based network of journalists, organizations and feminists. For further reading on the Twitter tidal wave click here.

5. A little closer to home, Avaaz.org has shown just how powerful a petition can be. At the beginning of January, the organization began circulating a petition to stop the Harper government from privatizing a portion of Jasper National Park to put in a 300-metre metal walkway. Within three weeks, over 180,000 signatures were collected, and on January 31, Parks Canada announced that it was delaying its decision. For further reading, it's covered here in the Globe and Mail.

Molly Katchpole, a 22-year-old Washington, DC resident, was offended when Verizon tried to charge her $2.00 to pay her bills online. Through Change.org she started a petition, which soon had 165,000 signatures. Verizon backed down within just a few hours. Katchpole was also behind the petition to stop Bank of America from charging its customers a $5.00 debit card user fee, which garnered 300,000 signatures. The fee was subsequently dropped. For further reading about the force of viral petitions click here.

All this to say, social media and petitions are very powerful means to make our voices heard. We just need to establish a network to have a broad enough base to get our message out and work together in sharing targeted messages.

As you know, the upcoming federal budget will largely decide the fate of our national news network, CBC-Radio Canada, which continues to cover, albeit timidly, the national political scene. We have a plan to mobilize. We just need your support. Please "like" the Montreal News Group and "share" it with your friends.

All the best, Montreal News Group, Curator

Please sign the petition below. There are already over 156,000 signatures. Cheers.

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SAVE: A Grassroots Movement

Just a 4-hour drive east of the Rocky Mountains and a 6-hour drive north of the US border, Edmonton is the provincial capital of oil-rich Alberta. As a result of last decade's economic boom, Edmonton (pop. 782,439) has experienced sustained population growth, which has put increased demand on the city's services. In January 2009, after a reorganization at the Edmonton Police Service (EPS), the Superintendent of Criminal Investigations, Danielle Campbell, was assigned to oversee the policing of sexual assaults.

Campbell is not one to shy away from new responsibilities. In 1994, she became the first woman dog handler on the force, and in 1998, she was the first female member of the polygraph unit in Homicides. She was promoted to Inspector after more than 20 years' experience, and then became the EPS's first woman Superintendent.

In my telephone conversation with Danielle Campbell on Thursday night, she told me that in her new role as Superintendent she quickly became aware of a troubling issue,"Between one to three months into the new assignment, I became cognizant of a disturbing trend--alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults." After drawing her own conclusions, she went to her community partners for their feedback.

Sexual assault is vastly under-reported, with only 6% of victims filing reports with police (a Toronto Police Service statistic). According to a 1985 Solicitor General of Canada study, women gave the following reasons for not reporting their assaults to the police: 1) the belief that the police could do nothing, 2) concern about the police and courts' attitude towards sexual assault, 3) fear of another assault by the offender, and 4) fear and shame.

On February 10, 2010, Campbell invited community partners for lunch to discuss alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults (AFSAs). In attendance among the community organizations and front-line workers assisting sexual assault victims were city rape crisis centres, the Red Cross, public health nurses, organizations that counsel victims and work to prevent alcohol-facilitated sexual assault among teens and Responsible Hospitality Edmonton, whose mandate is to ensure that bars and restaurants comply with safety regulations when serving alcohol.

Over lunch, the group discussed the fact that some 56% of sexual assaults were alcohol facilitated and that the vast majority of perpetrators were males aged 18 to 24. Campbell said there had to be a fundamental change in how sexual assaults were treated. They needed to target the perpetrators of these crimes. The response all around the room was "It's about time!" The result of this meeting was the creation of the Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE*) Committee, a grassroots movement whose mandate was to reduce AFSAs by reaching potential offenders.

SAVE held its first media availability on March 4, 2010, to introduce the Committee and its mandate in an effort to raise public awareness about the AFSA problem. Their second objective was to launch a cutting-edge social marketing campaign that targeted potential offenders. The "Don't be That Guy" campaign was a series of three graphic ads that were posted above urinals in bars around the city, in Light Rail Transit stations, at the universities and in weeklies that cater to the 18 to 24 age group. SAVE conducted its own informal focus groups and found that the campaign did in fact reach its target group.

But Campbell still had to sell the campaign to her Chief, who decided that the EPS would hire Marcomm, a local media research company, to conduct a formal focus group. In the end, Marcomm validated SAVE`s findings: the advertising campaign did indeed reach its target market. The campaign received the go-ahead, and the Don`t Be That Guy campaign was released on
November 22, 2010.

There is also another key component in reducing and preventing AFSAs. Under the city`s Responsible Hospitality Edmonton, Public Safety Compliance Teams (PSCTs) have been set up to enforce city bylaws and to ensure that alcohol is served in a safe, responsible manner. PSCTs are made up of trained professionals from the police force, fire department, city standards branch and the provincial liquor and gaming commission. In addition, all bartenders and wait-staff are required to take training so that they can identify potential AFSA victims.

Since the Don't Be That Guy campaign was released, Toronto, Calgary, Saskatoon, Ottawa, Kingston and Vancouver have adopted the campaign, and Vancouver has already reported a 10% drop in the number of AFSA`s in just six months.

"We`ve been contacted by groups in Scotland, England and Australia," said Campbell."There are apparently even bars in the US who are using our posters as coasters. We don`t care who uses them as long as we are given credit for our efforts."

I told Superintendent Campbell that I found it ironic that Don`t Be That Guy Campaign came out just months before Toronto Police Officer Michael Sanguinetti told 10 students at Osgoode Hall that to ensure their own safety, they should not dress like "sluts," which sparked the worldwide Slutwalk movement.

"Well there`s still some of that here, but luckily those officers still have to follow orders. Yes, change is indeed slow sometimes,"she added.

When I thanked Danielle Campbell for all her hard work in spearheading this campaign, she refused to take credit for it. "There are a lot of people in SAVE who have worked hard to get this initiative off the ground."

We are greatly indebted to the people of SAVE for creating this program, and for implementing a change in approach that has been so desperately needed.

*The number of SAVE members has since expanded, but here is the list of the original members:
Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton
University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre
Saffron Centre of Sherwood Park
Edmonton Police Service
Covenant Health Prevention of Alcohol Related Trauma in Youth
(The PARTY Program)
Responsible Hospitality Edmonton
Red Cross
The Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation
University of Alberta Women's Studies

Related posts:
Success: Don`t Be That Guy 
A Legal Definition of Consent
Sexual Assault: Victim Blaming
An "A" for Sexual Assault Awareness Campaign

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