Thursday, October 21, 2010

Homecoming Dalhousie

"The Dalhousie Gazette speaks for itself. The Gazette is to represent the views of the Students, to advocate their interest and strive in all things to cultivate that love and intensify the sympathy that should exist between Alumni. 

The editors are to be little more than judicious censors, to select wisely what shall be published, to endeavour, in a new sense, to practice the art of 'putting things', and by worthy service hope to earn the praise of being faithful Exponents of Students' views. 

If among much that may prove dull there be found some sparkling of pleasure or wholesome goods let it expiate the fault. When you find many blemishes, learn to avoid them, and ere you condemn produce a work more faultless, while we timidly suggest the words of Horace: Carmen sequar, ut sibi quiuis speret idem, sudet multem frustraque laborat, ausus idem."

- The Dalhousie Gazette, 1869

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Timeline of G20 ISU media highlights

Comment on the blog entry if you want to add something—this is definitely not comprehensive, just my first attempt to collect relevant links.
The timeline is meant to examine how the PR campaign of the police forces perhaps changed over time, and how parallels from definitive moments can be drawn to protest policing (and protest policing PR) in other cities, post-9/11.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Getting ready to cover the G20

This is the "Protest Tip Sheet" Toronto Star reporters covering the G20 were given:

First off, this is NOT a tip sheet on how to cover a protest. That’s between you and your editors. This tip sheet is about how to get through a protest with minimal pain or injury, culled together by J-- R--- and S--- L--- at the Toronto Star from experiences at WTO protests in Seattle, FTAA in Quebec City, IMF and World Bank in Washington, the OAS in Windsor and attendance at the protester’s own training camps.

·       Get a gas mask. Old army surplus gas masks may offer some relief from tear gas, but filter canisters have a limited shelf life. Check expiry dates. Keep the mask concealed until needed. People may want to take it from you, and they won’t ask politely.
·       Keep a bandana soaked in vinegar in a Ziploc bag with you at all times. If your gas mask is stolen, or you don’t have it with you, it will be a backup. Place the bandana over your nose and mouth.
·       If you are stationed at an active fence demonstration, consider a helmet. Hardcore protesters throw rocks. Again, keep the helmet concealed until needed.
·       Ear protection. The sound cannons are new, so the best advice we can offer at this point is get good ear protection, from ear plugs to construction-grade ear covers. The closer you intend to get, the better protection you'll need.
·       Water bottle with a spray top. Not just for drinking. If you are gassed, and it gets in your eyes, spraying with water is the only cure. Aim for the corner of your eye by your nose. Water should flush around your eye and clear out the gas. Better yet, get someone else to do it. Not surprisingly, the protesters tend to be good at this.
·       How you dress is important. If you look like a protester, you are more likely to be treated as one by riot police. If you don’t dress like one, more militant protesters may surmise that you are a member of the main stream media or police and target you. In Quebec, hardcore guys threw paint-filled balloons at media. It was Barney purple, and very difficult to remove. So, try to strike a balance in how you look.
·       No natural fibres. Tear gas sticks to natural fibres, so wear nylon, polyester, etc. The last thing you want is to take that stink home, and we don’t want it here. Consider a change of clothes for going home.
·       Hide press credentials until you need them. Protesters often don’t like the “corporate media.” That said, riot police in the heat of the moment may not care if you are press, even if you happen to be Lloyd Robertson.
·       Food and caffeine. Carry with you. If the protests get bad, shops will close and you will have a tough time staying fed and caffeinated without leaving the story. High-energy power bars are good.
·       Know where you are and how to get out fast. Police in the past have fired waves of tear gas, at varying distances, all at once. This can cause great panic amongst less hardcore protesters and cause a stampede.
·       Rubber bullets, at close range, will break bones.
·       Don’t pick up a detonated tear gas canister with bare hands. They are hot. Very hot. If you must, kick it away.
·       Concussion grenades. These are loud bangs that will make you think a gun has gone off right beside you. They are meant to disorient, and they do. They are also hot, so don’t touch.
·       Tasers. Given the bad press for Tasers, we may not see much of them here, but they were used in Quebec City to break up protesters who sat down in the road and refused to move.
·       If you get enough of a snoot full of tear gas, you will find yourself on your hands and knees, leaking big time from eyes, nose and mouth. It will be very hard to breath. This is normal. You will be disoriented, but try not to panic, find relative shelter, if you can, and ride it out. You’ll feel like you’re dying but you’ll live. Flush your eyes.
·       If at all possible, pair yourself with another journalist and watch each other’s back.
·       If you are carrying electronics, beware of water canons. A waterproof bag is a good idea.
·       Have a pencil stowed away. In the event you and your notepad take an unexpected shower, you can still write with that. Those big, thick pencils meant for kindergarten classes are best, since the leads don’t break as easily.

Sensitivity to gas increases as the protest goes on. Tear gas can be like bee stings – it gets worse with each hit, so stick closer to these tips as the protest wears on.
You will need a shower after a day of being gassed. Remember, that the gas will cling to your hair (it’s a natural fibre), so the first thing to do in the shower is hold your head back and stick your face into the shower.
Otherwise, the gas in your hair will go straight for your eyes.
Be careful, and alert, and you’ll be okay.

If you are going to the protests next weekend and want to meet a real life Star reporter, to maybe get your picture with them or something, I have created the following professional-grade sketch of one, so you can more easily identify them in the flesh. Keep in mind, his bandana baggie and camera are stashed in his back pockets:

The reporter might also look like this:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Intern, 3/4

Ok, at this point in the internship, the whole "writing an internship report" thing is getting old. 

     What can I really say to distinguish week three from week two? Drama and conflict perhaps. That usually works as a lead. 
     There was a virtual fist-fight over OpenFile this week. Actually, the fight wasn't really about OpenFile, OpenFile was more of a MacGuffin in the narrative of the fight, but as a group consisting of living humans with real emotions, playing the MacGuffin for a while was drama enough. 
     In my Week One round-up of press coverage of OpenFile's beta launch, I neglected to include an article that appeared  in the NOW newspaper (or maybe just on NOW's website). The article was opinion, and it argued that OpenFile is going to face the challenges that citizen journalism sites like NowPublic regularly face, and will struggle as a result. Except, the author didn't interview anybody from OpenFile, and apparently didn't read any of of the other coverage that did contain interviews very carefully, because he got a lot wrong about how OpenFile proposes journalism with public participation could be done. Craig Silverman pointed out the errors in a comment. Jay Rosen, a guru of online journalism who teaches at NYU, casually tweeted a reference to the fact that the NOW piece committed errors, and thus the virtual fist-fight began. 
     This person presents the first of the crazy tweet punches fairly clearly.
    Even as Rosen's followers weighed in on the issue in this way, the NOW guy refused to give up! He went from error to slander when he accused Rosen of having a direct economic interest in the OpenFile company. Madness. 
     Then, some guy in Atlanta picked up on the tweetfight and analyzed it logically. I thought the coolness of the piece would put the matter to rest, but if you read down to the comments, the NOW author chose to continue his feckless campaign to clear his name. By this point, the whole thing made me laugh. 
     I definitely know how this Joshua Errett guy feels. Which is why I'm trying to not be too hard on him. The Internet is a hard, hard place to project part of your life into. There is no mercy for those who make mistakes. There is no way to control what you broadcast. Everyone is expected either to self-moderate to the point of perfection, or to take refuge in anonymity. I admire those who put their real selves out there into the unforgiving environment, and I feel bad when they are punished as a result. 
     But back to the office. I'm amazed anybody got any work done as this drama unfolded. My productivity would appear to have dropped,  judging by the number of stories I filed this week (only one) but I actually have three stories I'm working on for next week. Hopefully, they will be somewhat ready by Monday or Tuesday.  
     Different things made writing difficult this week. A lot of people took their sweet time getting back to my phone calls, or they never got back at all. I went to a city council committee meeting, which was so much more stupefying to my neurons than any Dalhousie Student Union meeting I've ever been to. The main reason I got less done: the TTC and the incredible long time it takes to get me anywhere when I need to be there. Also, Thursday morning was spent wandering around downtown, looking for a street person to talk to. Friday afternoon was shortened because I agreed to give an interview to a Ryerson Review of Journalism writer who is covering OpenFile and the future OpenFile heralds. 
     In true RRJ style, she has pretty much interviewed every single person remotely related to her topic of study. She wanted to talk to me because I am a freelancer who has five stories up on the site, which is more than most people. She didn't know, when she requested an interview, that my output of stories is due to  me being an intern. She must've thought I was just an OpenFile nut -- which, I'm on my way to becoming.

P.S. Two stories interested me from a philosophical perspective this week. One journalist took on the research of a rumour about immigration raids which no one could confirm or deny. On OpenFile, that's still a worthy story, because the rumour has had wide diffusion among hispanic residents of Toronto's West End. This story was a good proposal for how coverage could evolve and keep filling the file with new information. Nothing has really come out, yet, to confirm or deny the rumour (perhaps because OpenFile doesn't have wide diffusion in the immigrant community) but I have my fingers crossed. In the future, the site's audience will be bigger, and also bigger then the likelihood that lures like this will attract actual fish. 
     Secondly, this story about a house captured a quick audience. It's almost a perfect example of what my fiction instructor would call "the human heart in conflict with itself" -- but the human heart I'm talking about belongs to the reader; it's the human heart of the contemporary Torontonian. Because, what should happen when a quadriplegic wants to raze a heritage house in order to build an accessible one she can move around in? It's a competition between two strong but conflicting desires: to preserve something that may have historical value, or to build something that has value for a family with specific and tragic needs. To make the story more interesting, the city councillor has picked a side, and underhandedly commissioned a third-party report that pulls the rug out from under the feet of the family, who are anxious to build their home. The way this story evolved on OpenFile was classic, and one Twitter user agrees: this is how the new journalism could be done! 
     And it's not citizen journalism, Errett. It's more. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Internship report 2/4

Week Two (May 17 to 21)  I had my act together more often, I would say. I borrowed a cell phone: a key reportorial instrument. I was promoted temporarily to a desk. I ate better, and at more body-appropriate intervals.
     Tuesday and Wednesday were my busiest days so far. As a result, and surprisingly at times, they were quite fun.
     On Tuesday, I woke up to see the story I was going to be working on that day on the cover of the GTA section of the Toronto Star.
     “Damn,” I thought. 
     One aspect of OpenFile that is constantly pointed out by the skeptics as a possible weakness of the model is the open pitching process. Story ideas aren’t secret. They are public, advertised as “open files” in a prominent banner on the front page. The openness is designed to collect public input on whether a story is worth assigning to a reporter. But even after they are assigned, the files stay in the top banner, continuing to tempt readers from other news outlets to take the story idea and develop it for their own pages. This was the pitch to OpenFile:
“Years ago, I wrote a blog post about the Joy Oil Station building restoration efforts. Fast-forward several years, and while appearing to be fully restored, they remain unused and inaccessible to the public. What is the official plan for these restored architectural relics at Lake Shore & Windermere? When will they open?”
   The last time the Star covered the Joy station story was in 2007, around the same time the blog post referred to in the pitch was published. Although the Toronto Star knew the story of the relocation and restoration of the Joy Oil building, I didn’t see why they would cover it now, a week after it appeared as a pitch on OpenFile, unless the open pitch prompted them to do a follow-up. When I saw that Star headline, I thought they’d scooped my news out from under me the day I was getting ready to publish it.
     Fortunately for me, they didn’t do much other than re-visit their old story (which far from answered the question posed in the pitch on OpenFile). The restored building façade featured prominently in the Star story art, but their source at the city didn’t know much about the future of the building. I had different sources, and they were able to tell me a little more. When I published later that day, what I was able to write had more information about how the Joy Oil building was included in development plans for the lakeshore area. My story is here
     But I don’t think the fact that I had better sources made mine a better story. I actually think that the open pitch process made the OpenFile version a better story. The background narrative was richer. Somebody (Jerrold Litwinenko, former blogTO editor) was publicly interested in this building. His curiosity germinated in other readers’ minds, while they, too, waited to see what the pitch would produce. Jerrold publicized his curiosity about this building on his personal Twitter feed and in other online and non-online areas of his life, I’m sure. His curiosity was mirrored. A week after his query, both the Toronto Star and OpenFile had answers to his question, and the questions of other people interested in his pitch. It all added up, and on OpenFile, it added up more completely. The Toronto Star article that day did not have a comments section. It did not have links to complete the narrative. It didn’t even have all the information a reporter could have gathered. But OpenFile linked to the Toronto Star, and to Jerrold’s old blog post, and to other relevant pages.
     So, it was a good day. The next day, my assignment was very different. I didn’t expect to break any news, that day. I covered the grand opening of the newest public washroom in Toronto. It was a media circus. Mayor David Miller cut the ribbon. In days leading up to the high-tech washroom inauguration, city PR people had been very tight-lipped about the details, and their strategy worked. The Mayor said later he hadn’t seen so many media people at one of his press conferences since he announced a budget surplus in March.
    Although the amount of press people there did not encourage me (why bother duplicating all this effort?), it was good experience in terms of observing some Toronto reporters in their natural environment. I tried to calculate how much money was being spent on these people’s salaries for the two hours I was standing there. It seemed like a waste of money. One camera crew, one print reporter, one photographer and one radio reporter could have done the job that needed doing: getting the information and putting it out there. I wish that with these types of spoon-fed stories, we could get away with that, and spend our society's journalistic resources on investigative work. But I digress. 
(though, to further this digression, I share a link my editor tweeted yesterday, containing an argument that small scale, collaborative news projects ARE the future of investigative journalism. So maybe it's all connected)
     My coverage of the loo story didn’t originate with a pitch. Because OpenFile is still in beta, the influx of pitches from regular users doesn’t yet sustain the story-producing capacity of the site. So, reporters and editors create story ideas too, like in a traditional newsroom. This story idea came from my editor, Kathy.
    The timing worked in our favour on this one. Kathy had the idea a week before the press conference, while the PR people were being tight lipped. But we were able to write something that drew on earlier stories from several similar interviews Toronto’s street furniture manager gave in early May to a variety of outlets. So, we had a story the day before the grand opening, hinting that the next day (May 19) would probably be the big day.
     And so, on Wednesday, when I went to the press conference, we already had a file started on the site. By the time I got back to the office after the event, all I had to do was plug in some new info, use the old story as a nut graph, add the photos I took, and the file was ready, and updated, way before many of the other print/online stories were.
    The TV stations had been broadcasting live, even before the first flush, but when TV viewers went to the internet to find more info, OpenFile was best prepared to capture those clicks. Kathy pushed this story on Twitter quite a bit, and it ended up getting three times as many page views as the Joy Oil story.
     So, even though I’m doing the same kind of reporting I would do if I were interning for a newspaper or a radio station, I’m learning different ways to use the internet to build and acknowledge the existing community around a single story.
     I’m also learning about Toronto, as a side-effect. Torontonians are starved for good public washrooms. Torontonians are proud of their neighbourhoods. Torontonian transit drivers won’t stop the streetcar unless you pull the yellow lead, even if you’ve made it abundantly clear you want to get off at this corner, through other cues. I have two more weeks to go. (edit: one and a half) 
     So far, so good. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

My internship report, first of four

I've been extremely lucky to find myself amongst the furor of the first week of OpenFile's live website launch. Up until May 11, consisted of a blog with idealistic but vague posts, and links to Facebook and Twitter pages. Things quickly got more interesting when, on my first day in the office, their beta news site went live.
     If you haven't been keeping up with the buzz, you might need to know that OpenFile is the newest guess at what the future of journalism will look like. They are betting that it will look local, with an open and collaborative story development process, and that the stories will be community driven, freelancer-produced and curated by experienced old-media talent.
     So, what sets this start-up apart from all the others who are claiming to have divined the future?
     Well, first of: they pay freelancers really well, and really quickly. As a result, they are building a fan base amongst the unemployed writers, photographers and media people in Toronto (and even some of the employed ones) whom they will need in order to build up the story stable on the site. 
     Secondly, they have some money. And they have enough for three years, apparently.
     But that's not all. Word of OpenFile has spread thanks in part to the brand-value of the people associated with the project. Kathy Vey, the EIC, is a well-known Toronto Star alumnus. Wilf Dinnick was a TV correspondent for all the big North American stations. The only name I knew before applying for the internship, and the most well know in the internet world, in Craig Silverman, whose 2,200 Twitter followers certainly haven't hurt the start-up's efforts to get the word out about themselves. 
     Also, OpenFile have, in a way, combined the buzz concepts of the current online world, and successfully conceptualized how these concepts (open processes, discussion, conversation and crowd-souced information) could fit into a journalistic model. Silverman wrote about how a tipster, a reporter (me) and an editor carried this off in his second blog post after the launch: File Function
     During my first three days there, OpenFile has garnered the coverage they were coveting.  There were upbeat articles about them in some prestigious publications. The Globe and Mail article was the first, and might have prompted many of the others (that's the thing about old media: influence). Every time another article about them broke, the small staff would chatter gayly with each other, levy violent threats in vain at anyone who dared say anything negative, and give each other virtual high-fives in Twitter-land. (edit: it was stimulating event to be around. I wish I had ownership over a new project I was this excited about. Tune back in to my life the the new Dalhousie Gazette gets started in September.)
Here is a round-up of the kudos:

Business News Network (one and two) -- these are good clips to watch if you want to know about how the money aspect works

And more bloggy-type coverage:
Torontoist (which included a very nice photo gallery in which I appear - take it as proof that I'm attending my internship, perhaps)
Mondoville (who've exhibited a bit of snark and a lot more skepticism than the other sites)

Predictably, a lot of the positive response to OpenFile has come from journalists. Some of the more personal responses, emailed directly to the editorial team instead of expressed publicly on Twitter or Facebook, were unexpected.
But despite all the hype, OpenFile has hurdles to overcome. The Halifax Daily News and the New York Times experimented with the hyper-local model, planting reporters in specific neighbourhoods and attempting to benefit from that involvement with the grassroots community. Their experiments failed. Maybe journalists don't have the most active imagination when it comes to local news. Maybe, like my prof said, there is a problem in "defining news by where it happens instead of what it is."
     I see a possible disconnect between the audience they are ultimately aiming for, and the audience they are currently reaping. They need to have a big number of unique visitors in order to satisfy their funders. They won't get those numbers by leeching from the established Toronto blogs and Twitter feeds, or by attracting only disenfranchised journalists. I don't see how the site can create a comprehensive portrait of all the Toronto  neighbourhoods without some targeted street outreach work promoting their site. 
     Another question I have is: what is their argument that the internet is the best medium for neighbourhood news? Don't people who connect to the internet generally have more education, more money, more options, and thus more of an interest in the things outside their own neighbourhood? And perhaps, is neighbourhood news not best garnered from the neighbourhood itself: the local flyers, the notice boards, the conversations at the grocery store?
     But maybe I'm destined to miss the appeal of hyper-local internet news, because I've never really felt connected to any neighbourhood. It has been 14 years since I have lived in any one house for longer than a year. I use the internet to feel connected to things I can't walk to, or call on the phone. Maybe I spend too much time with the hyper-international? So, I'm not the target audience of hyper-local sites.
       OpenFile's overwhelming strength is that they are taking it slow. They have capital funding for three years: it has taken them less than one to get where they are now. They are smart, well-connected, experienced journalists. They have fully thought-out the project they are working on, but they are not rigid. They expect to morph over the next weeks, in order to keep up with what they will need to become. They are open to suggestions. I think the bookies are still undecided on what will happen to this gamble. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

In short






Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The quit

“If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.” 

—W.C. Fields

It's the only decision taken in the past few weeks that, when taken, gave me a sense of empowerment. It's the only future that, when considered, doesn't suck me into some curious darkness. 

The word "quit" has such negative connotations. Perseverance is the virtuous path. "Sticking with it" is admirable in out culture. You don't know how hard it has been for me to come around to this choice. At first, I just dismissed the option. I don't quit. But the stuff kept piling on, and taking ownership of The Quit was the crutch that kept me standing. 

I have to let myself do it. Other people have to let me do it. It's a failure, and admitting that burns. But it has to be the right thing, because it feels like life again. 

Thursday, March 04, 2010

as everything falls apart

life can change in a week. i remember when i used to believe in love - it wasn't too long ago. i was so cocky as to talk about love with others, compare notes and laugh about it's dark side. but now i think that when two people talk about love, they are talking about two totally different things. when you take away your insecurities, you secret hopes, your flaws, your fairy tales, your fear of loneliness, and your desires, what remains? there's nothing left behind to call "love"which is understood to be the same by both people. there is no shape for "love" in Plato's world of ideas. 

i also used to believe stuff about myself, which i don't anymore. where i was going, and what i wanted from to get from the journey. that all has to change. everything is upheaving at the same time. except in the world of ideas, i don't care about school, i don't care about journalism, i don't care about myself, whether i get up in the morning or don't. it's a struggle to care about other people, even. its a struggle to care about the dog. 

i used to think that when people screamed underwater in movies, the character did it because it made for a cool shot. but now i know: sometimes, it's the only thing left. 

Monday, March 01, 2010

Human journey

"He said, essentially, humans are alive for the purpose of journey, a kind of three-act structure. They are born and spend several years discovering themselves and the world, then plod through a long middle in which they are compelled to search for a mate and reproduce and also create stability our of natural instability, and then they find themselves at an ending that seems to be designed for reflection. At the end, their bodies are slower, they are not as easily distracted, they do less work, and they think and feel about a life lived rather than look forward to a life getting started. He didn't know what the point of the journey was, but he did believe we were designed to search for and find something. And he wondered out loud if the point wasn't the search but the transformation the search creates."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The day after yesterday

Those of you who understand Spanish: I updated in that language over here:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Know thyself

So, one week has passed in Colima. Twenty more of those to go. 

Someone wrote on my Facebook wall yesterday: "Bethany, you should be used to moving new places by now. Don't worry; things will get better." And I wrote back something that I feel and have felt very strongly this past week: Yeah, I'm used to moving. It's the staying part that is proving difficult. 

The first day here was fine: I flew in to a strange airport; found my way to public transport; travelled three hours by road to a second strange city; found my way to my lodgings and went to sleep. The next day: I found my way to the University; found each office I needed to know about; explored the campus and the surrounding areas; ate adventurously and went to sleep. It was Day Three when the loneliness began to weigh on my, and by Day Four, I was so desperate for an escape I looked into plane tickets out of here. 

The food here is pretty good. Cheap, interesting, flavourful. But I can't enjoy it because: eating alone really sucks.

It sucks more when you are consistently eating alone at the same place, just because you finally figured out which words on their menu don't mean stir-fried cow brain, and you begin to read your own self-pity in the familiar faces of the person serving you your usual order. Eating, because it happens alone, has become a chore. 

Going to class is another, more burdensome, chore. Lectures start late because the prof or students don't care to be in class on time, and there is never a notice if a class has been cancelled or moved. The model of learning often involves forced participation by way of the students taking turns regurgitating last nights readings. This way, the prof ensures that everyone did them, and that those who didn't at least hear the regurgitations of them and can get the basic idea. The profs expect us not to do the readings, and so they do not prepare a lecture that is any addition to them. They can afford them selves that luxury, because attendance is obligatory.

Yes, that's right. I missed the first week of classes because I wanted to attend the graduating class of 2010's convocation ceremony, in Ecuador. Nobody told me this when I asked if I could arrive a week late, but I need to attend 80% of classes any given month in any class I am in at the University of Colima, or I lose the right to take the midterm. Thus, I fail it. Thus, I started out by pre-emptively failing midterms, because I missed the first week across the board, and also missed some classes the second week because I didn't know my schedule yet (the University of Colima does not have an online Academic Calendar or Academic Timetable, you have to do all that in person, by yourself because they do not have academic advisors). 

It's basically academic hell, especially when I think back fondly to friendly University of King's College, and all the work Kelly Porter in the Journalism office, Tara Buksaitis in the Registrar's, and Sharlene Salter in Student Accounts did on my behalf last year so that I would be able to stay in school and not go broke or crazy. I want to send them a fruit basket and ask them to take me back. 

And look: 

I started this blog entry to talk about the pretty things:
the weather, 
and going to the pool with a fellow ex-pat of multiple countries, 
and the parade of riders on horseback that held up traffic in the downtown yesterday, 

and the Valentines Day vendors who clogged up the sidewalks while the horses clogged up the streets,

and the flowers, fountains and fruits all around.
 But I couldn't, because all those things were just a distraction from the dominating narrative: the unbearableness of Being -- right now -- Alone. 

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Two for two

By 5 a.m. in Toronto, Gordon had made it through customs and was ready for his first flight.

By 9 a.m., he was airborne. And squooshed.

After one landing and another take off, he was ready to enjoy the trip. But by then, it was almost over.

We were landing in Mexico. And so we did. And three hours later, we were home.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Well, I'm back. During my last week in Ecuador, I had so little internet access there was a day I didn't even get a chance to check my email. My only alternative on some days was to borrow a friends smartphone to glance briefly at my Gmail before going back to real life. 

So it shouldn't be a surprise that I'm writing a summary blog entry about my entire visit, instead of a series of short ones.  

I spend only two out of thirty-three nights in Ecuador at the beach. One time, in a tent on the sand. The other, in Dale and Janet Horst's guest bedroom. It was hard to get away from Guayaquil, mostly because if I went to the beach, I wanted to do it in company of people I loved. And I got lucky, because both times, I did. And I met up with some loved ones, there, too:

Old Kuma is riddled with ticks, but still standing. It might have been my last goodbye from this former Horne.

The beach is always good to my soul. I spent time with Raul, Karen, Daniel and Heather Moore that time there, and felt the foundation of our long friendships under my feet, even though it had been three years since I'd spend time with Karen, and a year and a half for the rest. That reassuring feeling keeps me going back to a place that is harder and harder to call home. Going back reminds the hold it has over me, though. And who I am, because of that.

I also spent a lot of January with the kids from the graduating class of 2010. Five of them finished at the same inner-city public high-school, and I went to their convocation ceremony. I have known some of them for twelve years, since they started at our school in Guayaquil. I cried. How could I not have? Freddy: the middle child of eleven offspring. His mom was in a literacy program a few years ago and I do not know how much progress she made, and his dad works construction. In his numerous family, Freddy is the first to graduate from high school. 

Rebecca: she was adopted as a baby, but only found out a few years ago that her mom is not her real mom. But out of all her immediate and extended family, she, too, is the first to finish high school, and she did so with an 18.55 (out of 20) average. 

Jennifer: the only daughter in a family of 6, the day she was going to accept her diploma on that stage her father had told her he didn't care about her goals in life or what she made of it. She is also the first in her family to graduate from high school, as neither of her parents nor her older brothers did. 

Francisca: After her fathers death this year, an older sister is the only person with any sort of income in Francisca's household. But "Panchita" is so driven to succeed, she has already found a full time job to do during the day while she continues on to university studies, night school. She'll be getting up at 5:30 to get to work by 7, then after getting off at 3 she will travel to her classes which will start at 4 p.m. and go, on some days, until 10. I sure wouldn't study if that was what my life was going to look like.

Francisca asked me to be her graduation godmother (Photo by Nikki Horne). 

I also spent some time during the month with old friends from high school, and news friends from the internet. It was a good month, somewhat tinted by being away from Paul and feeling out of touch with him. It is an old life, my life in Guayaquil: there are so many parts to it. It was easy to feel 16 again, 18, 21 and even 8 or 9, when I climbed up a mango tree for the fruit. I am, however, 24 now. Next time I go back, I will have to have a job waiting or a project to work on. This time, my project was a scholarship application process for the graduates, and a freelance story I never finished researching (the story itself isn't really done happening,yet). But I feel strongly that I want to go back for more than social visits, in the future. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Award winner

Last night, my "Dawgfather v. the police" story that was published in The Gazette in September won a Canadian University Press award for excellence in student journalism, a Johnny.  The prize comes with a $500 cheque, and an inscription on the CUP News Writing winners plaque.

Because the Gazette website hasn't been updated since last year, and my story never made it up there, anyway, due to a delay of web work at the beginning of the school year, I'm posting the winning story here, so it can be read somewhere, at least. The story is missing the excellent photo of the Dawgfather holding a bike, which was printed with the story and shot by Pau Balite, but here is a photo of the man I found on the internet:

"I said ‘There’s pizza men at my door pretending to be cops. She called me back and said ‘No, they actually are cops.’”

The Dawgfather v. the police
Police fine street vendor/cyclist $1,300 in two minutes

by Bethany Horne, News Editor
Dalhousie Gazette 142-03, Sept. 25-Oct. 2

The man selling hot dogs in front of the Student Union Building knows his rights. As a black Muslim in a ci a ty with ingrained racism, he says he has to.
Every student at Dalhousie knows him as the Dawgfather. The Halifax Regional Police department knows him as Gerald Arthur Reddick. They know him as the man ticketed, in the space of two minutes, for eight different bicycle violations on the night of Sept. 15.
The fines on the eight tickets add up to $1,316.
But the story Reddick tells about that night is very different from the story as it is recorded in pencil scratches on the eight green slips of carbon paper.
The police department can’t comment, because the matter is before the courts. But they confirmed that eight summary offenses were handed out to a man on a bicycle between 8:00 and 8:02 p.m. on Sept. 15.
According to the tickets, the episode begins at the corner of Shirley and Robie Streets, just south of the Atlantica Hotel.
Each ticket has a number in the top right corner. The first number is 4240230.
“Riding bycicle without wearing bicycle helmet complying with regulations,” the offence box reads, in block capitals.
The ticket is filled in with Reddick’s driver’s license number, home address, as well as the exact section of the Motor Vehicle Act violated, and the time and date Reddick is summoned, to appear in court. The officer wrote “2000,” or 8:00 p.m., as the time the offence was allegedly committed, and signed Cst. J. Murphy 0484 on the line at the bottom.
The next ticket, 4240231 in the top corner, places the action at Quinpool and Vernon, two blocks north and two blocks west of where the first offence is alleged to have occurred.
“Riding bicycle without chin strap of helmet securely fastened under chin,” is written in the offense box on this one. The time slot says 8:02.

After this, the numbers in the top corner start to make less sense. The next few are still written down as occurring at Quinpool and Vernon, or Quingate and Quinpool, just across the street. But 4240237, the last one apparently written, carries the heaviest fine of the bunch, $222, and is written up as having occurred back at Robie and Shirley, at 8 o'clock.
Every single ticket is filled out in detail, listing Reddick’s address, driver’s licence number, and the time and date he is scheduled to appear in court. Every ticket says either 8:00 or 8:02 as the time the offence was allegedly committed.
But the ticket numbered 4240236 is the most controversial, to Reddick. It also carries a fine of $222.
It alleges Reddick committed the offence of “failing to obey a peace officer.” It says he was “ordered to stop for having no helmet while riding a bicycle.”
“You can’t have a time where you don’t have a helmet, and then you don’t have a strap,” the Dawgfather says. But his main problem is with the “failure to obey” allegation. And the police officer’s main problem might have been that, as well.

Photo illustration by Paul Aarntzen

How he lost them

The timeline on the tickets does not correspond to how the Dawgfather tells the story. He says he was riding north on Robie Street, in the west lane. A cruiser going the same way, but on the eastern branch of the road, slowed and the cop inside yelled over to him from across two lanes of traffic.
“He said ‘Yeah, you gotta walk that bike without a helmet.’ I’m like, yeah, right whatever buddy.” Reddick says.
He was wearing a helmet at the time, but his turban obscured it.
“I know he’s gonna turn on Quinpool and try to catch me at the corner of Quinpool and Vernon, which he did,” Reddick continues.
“When he saw me there, he said ‘pull over.’ I said ‘For what? I’ve got a helmet on, I ain’t pulling over.’ He says ‘Pull over cuz I said so.’ I said ‘Not since 1982, buddy, that don’t work no more.’”
The Dawgfather was citing sections 8 and 9 of the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protect citizens against “unreasonable search or seizure” and grants Canadians “the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.”
So, as the police car made its left turn from Quinpool to Vernon, Reddick rode on into Quingate Place, already late for prayers at the mosque. The cop car makes a U-turn, goes through the lights and into Quingate, in pursuit of the man on the bike. When the car parked and the cop got out, the Dawgfather says he turned his bike around, crossed Quinpool again and went through the Tim Hortons parking lot.
He watched the cop car head west on Quinpool before he re-crossed Quinpool, heading north, free from the unwelcome tail. That, he says, was the only interaction he had with the cop.
Until 5 a.m. the next morning.

How they found him again

“Five o-clock, a knock come on my door, pretending to be Randy’s pizza,” he says.
“I didn’t order pizza. I say, ‘go upstairs, they probably ordered it upstairs.’ But it’s five o’clock in the morning, I know nobody ordered pizza,” Reddick says.
The man outside says, “Well, somebody did,” and that he will leave the pizza on the step. “He thinks I’m gonna open the door for free pizza!” Reddick says. “Once he realize that didn’t work, a few minutes later [knock, knock, knock]. ‘City police … can I talk to you?’ I say ‘We’re talking, I can hear you.’ He says ‘Can you open the door?’ I say ‘No.’”
“So, I called the police and reported them. I said ‘There’s pizza men at my door pretending to be cops. She called me back and said ‘No, they actually are cops.’”
When he opened his door hours later, the eight tickets fell to the floor.
If Reddick’s story is true, the non-consecutiveness of the numbers on the top corners of the tickets makes sense. J. Murphy’s exact knowledge of when Reddick will be expected to appear in court also makes sense, if the summons were delivered after the fact. 5250 Spring Garden Rd., courtroom 4, the morning of Nov. 13.
What doesn’t make sense, is why an officer of the peace is visiting citizens at 5 a.m., announcing themselves as a pizza delivery, to deliver summons. Also, Reddick says the police officer was never close enough to the bike to see whether or not it had a horn or a bell (ticket #4240234,  $135.75) or front lighting (ticket #4240234, $164.50).
The Dawgfather says he has had many run-ins with police, but this one was the last straw.
“This one here, I’m not going to let them get away with,” he says.
“These guys are so out of control. And we don’t fear them the way the average person fears them. We, in our community, are fully aware of [the Charter of Rights and Freedoms],” he says.
“We exercise our rights, because for the longest time we didn’t have any.”

Friday, January 08, 2010

The conspiracy of the artists

"I had no respect whatsoever for the creative works of either the painter or the novelist. I thought Karebekian with his meaningless pictures had entered into a conspiracy with millionaires to make poor people feel stupid. I thought Beatrice Keedsler had joined hands with other old fashioned story-tellers to make people believe that life had leading characters, minor characters, significant details, insignificant details, that it had lessons to be learned, tests to be passed, and a beginning, a middle and an end.

As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a conveniently literary device for ending short stories and books."

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions. 

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Sentences about the end of exile

My body fills out its own space again. All systems are a go: the senses peak; the circulation spikes; the water flows. I can feel the health of my composition coming back with every warm hour that passes.

To be back in a house where my name is still scrawled in pencil on a pillar next to the front door.

To walk a neighbourhood where every step could lead to being spirited away by an enthusiastic thirteen-year-old, and then treated to lunch and three hours of socialization.

To greet with sweaty hugs and kisses. I must've given and received fifty cheek kisses already (there's this cool move where you can do both at once).

See, my blood is worked into the paint on these walls. It's there in the form of  the little murdered mosquitoes and the splattered contents of their bellies.

The children I used to teach are now adolescents, and the adolescents I used to lead in youth groups are now teenage parents. Time passes. Lives are condensed. Many die young, but those left behind love younger, too, to make up for the losses.

To have a dollar in your pocket and eat for two days. Not because life is that cheap, but because poverty makes for generosity. And you're surrounded. By both.