Sunday, January 04, 2009

You've Got to Give Them Hope

Saw Milk last night. If you've heard it's one of the best films of the year, believe it. If you've heard that Sean Penn is even more incredible than he was in Dead Man Walking, believe that too.

Although it ends in tragedy, Milk is at long last a film gays and lesbians can embrace and celebrate for its power in a way we could not films like Brokeback Mountain or Philadelphia. While those both pushed an envelope of sorts, Milk went straight for the wall and made sure the writing was legible.

Watching it, I couldn't help but think director Gus Van Sant's was making a comment on what happened in his country in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama as president using Harvey Milk and the story of his death in 1978 as a vehicle.

Interestingly, and perhaps with painful irony, Milk's greatest personal victory (besides getting elected a city supervisor in San Francisco) was defeating Proposition 6, an effort by the Christian right-wing to rid California schools of homosexual teachers. Thirty years later, he would be sick in his grave to know the election of the country's first black president also meant, in his state, the passing of Proposition 8, a bill restricting marriage to heterosexual couples.

Were this disappointment not hard enough to swallow for gays and lesbians in the U.S. and elsewhere, the president-elect recently chose Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation at his January 20th inauguration in Washington. Warren, a pastor from Republican red Orange County, California, has compared committed gay relationships to incest, polygamy and an older guy marrying a child. (Arkansas, the leafy and beautiful Natural State went one step further by barring gays and lesbians from adopting).

From Dan Savage on down, many people were shocked, disappointed, even offended by Obama's choosing of Warren. This article, from New York Times editorialist Frank Rich, explores why. (Frank Rich, I should say, is my new favourite. If you liked that one, check out this one from today's paper. Best line: 'The audacity of its hype helps clear up the mystery of how someone so slight could inflict so much damage.' He's writing about George W. Bush naturally.)

Milk, I would say, was a welcome antidote to Doubt, a film I saw the night before about the crusading Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) and her campaign to get rid of Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the early 1960s. The performances made the movie with Streep's hard-nosed, relentless nun instilling the fear of God like no other.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

On the front line of...

Missing word in the headline notwithstanding, here's a piece from this morning's Ottawa Citizen about a local needle exchange and safer inhalation site. This is part of a larger project I'm working on about harm reduction.

Completely unrelated consumerist plug: Check out the Nikki McClure calendars and cool tees, all made by artists in the Olympia, Washington area. I know, I know, there's a recession, but don't deny yourselves a glimpse at McClure's sprightly, original work, all cut from construction paper with an x-acto knife.

And happy new year. From my window it is clear and bright outside, a perfect January morning.

Monday, October 13, 2008

An elusive illusion

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death. He was a university student in Laramie, Wyoming, who was beaten to death for being gay.

Tonight, in Minneapolis, there will be a special candlelight vigil and presentation of The Laramie Project. His mother, Judy Shepard, has become an outspoken voice for gay and lesbian equality in the U.S. She has served her son's community well.

I had a chance to speak with her last week, and found some of her answers surprising. When I asked her how Matthew's family will mark the tenth anniversary, she told me, in part: "We have great joy in our lives, we are just always conscious of the fact that one of us is not there and that never goes away. It will be a day of remembrance, but it will not be a day of grief."

You can read the entire story here and debate the semantics of the headline as you wish. Later this week, I'll post a link to a radio documentary so you can hear Judy Shepard for yourself.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The man behind the road

On Saturday, the man many people called the "Father of Nepean" died at the age of 99. His funeral yesterday drew hundreds, including yours truly.

(For readers further afield than the Capital, Nepean is the municipality that bordered the City of Ottawa to the west until amalgamation in 2000 made it a part of the city. A city that, much to chagrin of many residents in the various burroughs, was decided left with the name Ottawa.)

In other news, I may be the last person in the Canadian blogosphere (there, I used the word) to note this, but because I haven't heard much talk of it, I thought it appropriate to raise it here, as a matter of interest for you. And for me, because blogs are sadly, inherently, 2:1 self-interest/public interest.

Lorne Gunter from the National Post recently wrote that the mother of the Polish man who died after being tasered by RCMP at the Vancouver International Airport last fall should bear some responsibility in her son's death. Yes, I agree, it's unreal. And the Maclean's Megapundit lets Gunter have it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The temple turns 20

Despite my best intentions to write sooner, a long weekend spent at a windswept cottage on the shore of Lake Huron has otherwise distracted me until now. Well, that and the purchase of some much-needed and very svelte rubber boots.

Alas, in Ottawa, this long weekend marked the 20th anniversary of the opening of the National Gallery of Canada in its current location on Sussex Drive. The gallery has been around for a long time, but as you can read here, many felt it wasn't until the building of the gallery that our dear nation finally had a place to celebrate our accomplishments in visual arts and the men and women behind said accoplishments.

My own personal jury is still out on how I feel about the building from an architectural point of view, but I would say it has certainly become an iconic part of the cityscape. Plus, I love Maman, who - as one thoughful source I spoke to pointed out - is a perfect symbol for the National Gallery, for what is it if not the mothership of art in Canada.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pay the rent or feed the kids?

Yes, it's an oft-repeated line, and one that Mel Hurtig used a few years back for a book about the burgeoning issue of poverty in Canada. Still, that was the sentiment in the air yesterday at a news conference in Ottawa in which Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced his government would invest $5 million into rent banks.

Unbeknownst to me, the program has been around since 2004. Folks can apply once every two years for a grant to cover up to two months rent. But as I learned yesterday - no doubt much to the chagrin of the poor AND single people in the province - families normally get funding priority.

On an unrelated note, those keeping close watch of The Citizen will notice the story appeared in the A section. Today, A11, tomorrow... well, we'll both have to stay tuned, won't we.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Shelter from the storm

Perhaps the best part of reporting is meeting people you might not have met otherwise in your day-to-day life in a city. Yesterday I attended the 75th anniversary open house of St. Mary's Home, a non-profit charity in Ottawa that provides residential and drop-in programs for young pregnant women, new moms and dads, and their small children.

The event drew hundreds of people, including this woman, whose story gets to the heart of what St. Mary's Home is all about.

As an aside, the six of you who read The Capital Letters may have noticed another shift in its evolution as of late. Because I'm writing a lot for The Ottawa Citizen now, I don't seem to be posting as many of my personal exploits in the city. Part of the reason is because I'm busy and therefore not having as many adventures, but more it's because much of what I'm writing for the Citizen engenders an even greater understanding, appreciation and - at times - frustration for what brings Ottawa to life and what makes it tick.

The personal exploits and opinions won't disappear completely. In fact, I'm hoping a weekend road trip will help free up some mental space to put some order to my scattered thoughts about the Polaris Prize and, more to the point, why Veda Hille's latest record This Riot Life should be amongst the ten finalists announced later this year.