Saturday, 28 April 2012

Huis clos (pour les chats)

"l'enfer, c'est les autres chats." 

Existentialism? Don't even get me Sartred! This pusilanimous attempt to examine the meaningless of life fails to achieve even the lowest level of insight. Camus called his cat "Etranger. And we must not forget the Mexican cat poet. Octavio Paws, with his famous work, Los gatos de limo.

"Solitude is the profoundest fact of the feline condition. Cat is the only being who knows he is alone."

Jean Paul Sartre and his cat

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Let them eat cake

On World Art Day, April 15, 2012, the Swedish Minister of Culture and Sports, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, participated in an interactive art installation at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The installation by the artist, Makode Aj Linde, was intended to highlight the issue of female circumcision in Africa and consisted of a large red velvet cake that was covered by dark chocolate and shaped to look like the torso of an African woman. The artist referred to it as his “genital mutilation cake” and his black faced minstrel head screamed “NO! NO!” as the minister strategically cut a slice from the clitoris area of the cake and laughingly fed it to the artist. The picture doesn’t really do the scene justice but YouTube has banned the video; however, you can watch it here.  According to the artist, the minister said to him, “Your life will be better after this,” before performing the amateur genital surgery using a silver carving knife. She later defended her action on the grounds that she wanted to protect freedom of artistic expression and the right to provoke. Critics had misinterpreted the situation. As of yesterday she has refused to resign and has made the following statement on the Swedish Ministry of Culture’s website:
World Art Day took place on Sunday and the Swedish Artists' National Organization celebrated its 75th anniversary at Moderna Museet. The theme for the event was freedom of expression, the struggle against censorship and art's freedom to challenge and provoke.
As part of the event, artists Peter Johansson, Lisa Jonasson, Marianne Lindberg De Geer, Makode AJ Linde and Galleri Syster were invited to create a work of art in the form of a cake. As the opening speaker, I was asked to cut a piece of Makode Linde's creation. Given the discussions that have followed, I want to take this opportunity to give my view on the matter. 
The actual purpose of World Art Day was to discuss and highlight the role of art in society. Our national cultural policy assumes that culture shall be an independent force based on the freedom of expression. Art must therefore be allowed room to provoke and pose uncomfortable questions. As I emphasised in my speech on Sunday, it is therefore imperative that we defend freedom of expression and freedom of art - even when it causes offence.
I am the first to agree that Makode Linde's piece is highly provocative since it deliberately reflects a racist stereotype. But the actual intent of the piece - and Makode Linde's artistry - is to challenge the traditional image of racism, abuse and oppression through provocation. While the symbolism in the piece is despicable, it is unfortunate and highly regrettable that the presentation has been interpreted as an expression of racism by some. The artistic intent was the exact opposite.
As Minister for Culture it is my responsibility to safeguard the conditions for and independence of art and culture. At the same time, it is also my job to uphold the democratic values that counter racism, intolerance and xenophobia.
I chose to open World Art Day to turn the spotlight on art and freedom of expression. The Swedish Artists' National Organization chose in turn to highlight Makode Linde to bring attention to his anti-racist artistry. Through the ceremony, however, I became personally involved in Makode Linde's highly provocative form of expression.
It is perfectly obvious that my role as minister differs from that of the artist. Provocation cannot and should not be an expression for those who have the trust and responsibility of Government representative. I therefore feel it is my responsibility to clarify that I am sincerely sorry if anyone has misinterpreted my participation and I welcome talks with the African Swedish National Association on how we can counter intolerance, racism and discrimination.
Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth

Swedes have often been oblivious to racism such as in 2009 when a neighborhood in the southern Swedish city of Karlstad had its name changed from Negern (=”Negro”) after public criticism. This situation with its overtones of ritualistic cannibalism is definitely not appropriate even under the purview, freedom of artistic expression.  In 2009, there were just over a hundred thousand Swedes of African descent and although Africans have lived in Sweden since 1300, most of the current population consists of political refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa, the majority from Somalia. Two Afro-Swedes were elected to the Swedish Parliament in the 2001 national election. Racism is really quite prevalent in Sweden. The following is a quote from the website of a local Swedish Democrat politician, Per T K Wahlberg:
"For many thousands of years, the Negro could chill out in the heat, eat some bananas, rape some passing woman or child, fight with other negro males and eat them up, play the drums a little, run around a bit, catch an antelope, eat a few bananas, fuck a bit, get drunk on fermented fruits or herbs, and so on. This has been going on for millennia without any evolutionary pressure in the form of environmental factors forcing the Negro to develop in another direction."
This topic encompasses issues of gender, dominance and racism. Any comments would be appreciated.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A Question of Identity

There has been intense media coverage of Jenna Talackova, a transgendered Canadian contestant in the Miss Universe contest, lately so I watched the extended version of the video clip which was presented by ABC TV on Friday night and was amazed by the normality and comfort in her identity by Jenna and the complete acceptance by her mother so I did what I usually do when I’m curious and did some background research.  As usual, I discovered some aspects which were never mentioned by the mass media and shed some light on the story. Although Jenna and her family look like your typical white, middle class North Americans, they are actually members of the First Nations’ tribe, Lake Babine Nation and self identify as aboriginals. She continues to connect with her many relatives in the Burns Lake reserve by attending potlatches and funerals. The Miss Universe contestant is also an official member of the tribe and was given $2500 towards the pageant entry fee by the clan council as an example of their ongoing support of her transgender journey which they have followed closely since she was a child.
Lake Babine Nation, Canada
Lake Babine Nation members

The Lake Babine Nation is an example of a very successful First Nations band that has strong social cohesion, a matrilineal society and a tradition of gender equality among the members including strong female representation within the power structure.  It is the third largest band in British Columbia with 27 reserve lands and practices the Potlach / Hereditary Chiefs system. The Potlach system is comprised of four clans – Beaver /Grouse, Frog /Marten, Caribou /Mountain and the Bear /Grizzly.  The members of this tribe have traditionally lived partly off reservation with about half residing in Vancouver or Prince George, British Columbia and transition comfortably between reserve and fully integrating into main stream Canadian communities while preserving their core aboriginal self identity. The map below shows the location of the Lake Babine reserve.

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So it’s no surprise that a family who already distinguish between a core aboriginal self identity and an external white appearance in the aboriginal / white continuum would understand and accept a transgendered member in her journey to outwardly manifest her true inner female identity thus the comfort and normality of the participants displayed in the video clip. Of course this angle was never acknowledge in the interview and was puzzling to the viewers who are aware of the facts presented in the info graph below.

Much of the discrimination and harassment against the transgendered expressed in the info graphic has also been documented about the aboriginals in their transition to off reservation status. When I was in Prince George, I saw firsthand the consequences of this activity in the degradation and exclusion of the indigenous peoples to the margins of the community with rampant alcoholism and homelessness among the natives of other bands in the area.Every other store front in downtown PG was some government rehabilitative department outreach center. Jenna’s relatives could certainly relate to the discrimination against the transgendered. While I was searching down this path, I came across some feminist analysis of aboriginal women with what I would consider too narrowly focused research with skewed conclusions. Here is a typical example of a feminist studies thesis entitled “Engaging Feminism: A Pedagogy for Aboriginal Peoples”.The basic premise is that noble equalitarian North American aboriginal societies were corrupted by white patriarchal conquerors from Europe who seduced the native males into marginalizing “aboriginal women” to oppressed female subordination through the process of the men internalizing the inferred superior European cultural norms of male supremacy and misogyny . The thesis was conceived by the author’s Cree Métis heritage and based on her observations of gender inequality in both native Cree and mainstream European cultures. The author believes that the thesis research has lead to her personal validation and empowerment. I’m willing to accept that her conclusions may be validate for Cree women but to generalize the outcomes to all aboriginal women is as invalid as generalizing in a discussion of aboriginal language. The Cree language has as much in common with The Lake Babine Nation Nedut'en language as Mandarin has in common with English. The same goes for Cree culture versus Lake Babine Nation culture. I’ve seen the aboriginals which she discusses in the streets of Calgary but this isn’t applicable to some bands in British Columbia.
In First Nations aboriginal culture there is a gender variant tradition known as two spirited. This was official classified in the 1990 Winnipeg cultural anthropology convention as 2S and was a part of the reclamation of indigenous heritage in response to prior Euro-colonial documentation where the accepted terminology was “berdache” which is a derivative of the Persian word “barah” that references “slave boys” or “male prostitutes.”  Many tribes had rites of passage to determine if the children were two spirited and, if affirmed, were given important roles as shaman or curing diseases. This was repressed by well intentioned but misguided policies of the European immigrant authorities. The same policies that lead to the outlawing of potlatch, a gift giving festival and primary economic system of shared communal wealth in British Columbia  by the 1884 Indian Act which made potlatch a felony with a sentence of between two and six months in jail.
If Jenna becomes Miss Universe and transcends her origins then it will be a victory not only for the transgendered but also for aboriginal women. The question of "Who am I?" will not be decided on physical appearance or origins but what we choose to become.

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Friday, 6 April 2012

Tête carré App

Tête carré

La bibliothèque municipale de Nice concue par les architectes Bayard et Chapus et le sculpteur Sacha Sosno. (“Tête carré by mistinguette18, on Flickr")
Québec `s Office québécois de la langue française, the government organization which has the mandate to protect the purity of  ``la langue de Molière from the predations of the Anglos,  is beta testing a new version of the American PatriotApp which turns every Québécois with a smart phone into an informant for the OQLF. The code name is Tête carré App. "Tête carré`` is a French Canadian slang term for Anglos of any origin and similar  to the English pejorative, Frog,  for French people.

A week ago, the Quebec government in response to critical news reports about the lack of enforcement of Bill 101, announced that it will hire 43 more employees for the OQLF in addition to the 23 employees hired last year; however, critics have replied that even with the increase in staff the response is insufficient so the government is turning to a high tech solution involving a modification of the highly successful Patriot smart phone app which was released in the States last year. The OQLR received 3361 complaints last year which is a 23% increase from the previous year and the new technology is being touted as a full spectrum response with instantaneous detection, communication and response. The app which will be available on any smart phone allows the owner to photography or video the offending situation and automatically uploads the data instantaneously to the bureau along with the GPS location, cell phone number, time and date.
Fichier:Diagramme Loi 104.png

The above is by Riba via Wikipedia under CC licence
Christine St-Pierre, the Liberal cabinet minister, said last Friday in response to PQ criticism of the deficiences in  bill 101 enforcement , "We have obviously noticed that the situation is serious and must be monitored closely and monitored constantly." There have been many criticisms of creeping English inroads such as the names of stores in Montréal such as the one by Gilles Proulx, the famous Quebec Anglophobe who wrote in the Montréal Journal on the Champlain Mall, « En me promenant dans le Mail Champlain mouture 2011 avec sa pléthore de raisons sociales anglaises, j'ai vu le Québec de demain. Eh oui, le Grand Montréal finira par devenir un immense West Island. » The West referring to the wealthy Anglo bastion of Westmount in Montréal. You can watch Gilles in full throttle in the video below:

This new app will hopeful end such humiliations as insensitive unilingual tourists from the States asking native Québécois (pur laine) questions like ``Do you speak American? ‘   and ‘Do you take real money ?’

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said that you can judge a society by how it treats its prisoners. As we celebrate Easter and Holy Week with the observation of the Passion of Christ this is an interesting issue on which to reflect. The video above was filmed at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines where the prisoners practice dancing for four hours a day in a program instituted by the prison governor in response to a prior series of riots in the old jail, a former Spanish fortress, caused by overcrowding, corrupt jail guards, inmate gangs and a lack of structured programs. The prison's improvements in health, reduced violence and declining recidivism from new larger facilities in another location and a meaningful use of inmates energy as well as the end of the gangs and the termination of  corrupt officials put it on the shortlist for the 2007 Gawad Galing Pook, a Philippine award for excellence in local governance. If you give people respect and an opportunity to demonstrate success in achievable goals within the constraints of the institution, then they can transcend the limitations of their situation. This is a reflection on the societal strengths and willingness to innovate of what westerners demean as a developing country.

A similar event occurred in the Argentine town of Olmos, not far from Buenos Aires, where the large local prison housing over 3000 inmates had parallel problems to the Philippine facility to the point where the incarcerated crime lords and drug dealers actually had operational daily control of the prison and its inmates. A pastor at the local town, Miguel Zucarelli, applied for a job at the prison and was accepted although not without dismissal from the facility officials of his ambitions to transform the attitudes of the prison population. A choir was formed with the support of the prison psychologist and through the communal discipline required by the music a transformation took place in part of the prison community. The goal is rehabilitation rather than punishment in the eyes of the correctional hierarchy in these third world (?) countries and this seems to be lost in the advanced states’ Calvinistic view of inmate treatment as punishment for sin or revenue in the for profit sector of correctional institutions. And this has extended to such petty vicious humilities as ending the choice of the last meal for contemned death row prisoners in Texas last year. Somehow they don`t deserve even the smallest courtesy at the end of their lives including a tradition of the last meal which extends back to Greek and Roman times.

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The basic issue is respect for the basic humanity of all people. The prisons in the preceding paragraphs consider rehabilitation rather than punitive measures more important. Although America calls itself a Christian nation, it seems to have forgotten the basic tenets of the faith. On Tuesday, the Holy Week day when the church commemorates the Parable of the Ten Virgins which has the eschatological theme of being prepared for judgment day, students from Santa Monica College showed up at a Board of Trustees meeting to protest a proposed quadrupling of course fees in response to California state cuts to educational funds. The response of the college officials was to unleash the campus police who proceeded to pepper spray dozens of students as well as bystanders including a four year old child who can be seen in the photo here being treated for pepper spray. For those of you who think that pepper spray is pretty innocuous check the infographic below.


Later a college administrator stated that it was done for the safety of the participants although I can’t see how anyone would be threatened by a four year old. Santa Monica College president Dr. Chui L. Tsang later made a statement in which he said, ”Although a number of participants at the meeting engaged in unlawful conduct, Santa Monica College police personnel exercised restraint and made no arrests.” This gentleman must be living on another planet when he considers pepper spraying a child is exercising restraint. I wouldn’t consider him prepared for judgment day.

Conservative blogs have been giving the story either a “shit happens” or “rogue police individual” spin. The same take as in the University of California, Davis campus, John Pike pepper spraying incident which hit the national news last November. None of the right wing blogs including the supposedly libertarian ones who are so concerned about individual liberties discuss the erosion of those liberties such as the loss of 4th to 8th amendments in the NDAA , the evisceration of the citizenship section,14th amendment in the enemy expatriation act or the Georgian SB 469 bill that ends the first amendment rights, freedom of speech and right of peaceful assembly and reformulates it as a felony crime with up to one year detention in jail and a thousand dollar a day fine - the criminalization of formerly accepted rights to protest. There is also the issue of the change in enforcement mentality from defenders of public order to an occupying force in a hostile community where all means are justified in the name of the existing regime and there are no innocents. Some of this comes from a federal bill passed years ago which funds and encourages the repatriation of former soldiers by transitioning them into law enforcement jobs. Also the militarization of police by the accumulation of surplus military equipment including machine guns and armoured personnel carriers as well as urban combat training using unrealistic scenarios involving civilian uprisings has occurred. This has lead to a general repressive outlook by the authorities including the educational establishment and has desensitized them to use of force in situation where some students act in a traditional confrontational manner and the officials forget the true role of the humanities to foster dissent within appropriate conditions. In the new format, students are not meant to be mentored into critically thinking adults but are merely conduits of financial income from private sources and thus expendable intermediaries who have no value except in their role as monetary units. Dr. Chui L. Tsang who has a $206,800 compensation package that includes $175,000 in salary, a $650 per month car allowance and $24,000 a year for housing, as well as $5,000 for moving expenses considers students’ concerns about a massive increase in tuition costs and their subsequent actions in this case to be “unlawful”. When you’re in the elite, empathy is a luxury.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Moscow Nights: Putin on the Ritz

Can anyone find out about the background to this event? For the moment, just enjoy! The bottom photo is from Peter Vidani on tumblr . Those Russians really know how to party and the flash mob dance video was released  from an anonmyous source 4 days before the Russian general election which Putin won.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Things go better with Koch

New conservative magazine

There’s a new conservative magazine in town with pretentions to foster conservative values`` and counter “liberal bias” which has two attractive, clean cut Nordic types on the front page who wouldn’t look out of place gracing the cover of Aryan magazine. This is the first magazine with a word count after every entry on the content list. I guess that most of their prospective subscribers are reading challenged and used to those teen supermarket tabloids which have a maximum of three paragraphs per story. Don’t expect cogent arguments and appeals to critical thinking or at least a logical progression of thought which isn’t tainted by right wing jeremiads. The writers hail from Fox news and conservative think tanks. It certainly divides the world into good conservatives and bad liberals with a Manichean clarity as the video below demonstrates.

 Some of the articles are to alert naive youth to subliminal propaganda such as the one on the popular TV show, Glee where the intro quote says “innocent fun outside but hardcore social liberalism inside.``  Come to think of it the Glee club name in the television series – New Directions – does sound slightly subversive although the fictional High school was named after an American Republican president , William Mc Kinley who was assassinated by an anarchist - coincidence or a secret liberal conspiracy by the mass media to indoctrinate  youth?  Another title is “Ronald Regan, our first black president” and describes how Afro Americans achieved greater economic equality under Regan rather than Obama. It doesn’t mention how a much higher percentage of destructive subprime loans were foisted on predominantly Afro American neighbourhoods by unscrupulous bankers using the infamous reverse red lining strategy during Bush’s term in office.  The story with the title ``Why abstention works and how it can work for you`` with the subtitle ``Science shows that it’s best to wait. `` Yes. Let the professionals handle the youthful libidos and more profit to Wall Street. According to a NYT article, “The biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake.”

A libertarian viewpoint segment with the story line that government creates poverty using the premise government financial aid creates dependency so people lack the will to search for work with a particular emphasis on native people in the article. These libertarian diatribes are never about the loss of civil liberties incurred by the NDAA gutting of the bill of rights, the evisceration of the citizenship section of the 14th amendment by the enemy expatriation act or the destruction of the first amendment rights of freedom of speech and the right of peaceful assembly in the recent Georgia SB 469.   You have the expected story from a neo-liberal economist, Walter E. Williams of George Mason University, about ” Understanding Liberals” reflecting on the evils of redistributing wealth through tax policy or as he says legalized theft. These are the same people that coined the phrase, tax burden, as if taxes produce no utility such as roads, schools etc. The end of progressive taxation is more important than losing your citizenship in secret by an unelected official using arbitrary criteria without legal recourse as in HB 3166 commonly known as the enemy expatriation act.

It’s a prima facie truth among American Conservatives that the purpose of traditional colleges is to inculcate youth with left wing ideas using the ubiquitous liberal professor, harbinger of radical thoughts and socialist agendas. The info graph below is from a website that evaluates online schooling and it might be interesting to note that the top three ranked online schools on the website are Liberty University, the University of Phoenix and Kaplan  University. The first is a private fundamentalist Christian conservative school founded by Jerry Falwell and the last two are for profit online schools. Kaplan University is owned by the Washington Post and accounts for 58% of the newspaper’s revenue which might explain the recent printing on its opinion page of an article by David C. Levy trashing public higher education professors as overpaid and underworked. Good PR which might help the newspaper’s bottom line.

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To find out where your geographic area is located on the conservative – liberal spectrum, check the info graphic below.