Friday, December 18, 2009


Shortly after writing my post on (in)equality I came across this video:

Isabel Allende, here at a TED talk, tells an impassioned and stirring tale of inequality. If you don't have 18 minutes, skip the first 7 minutes in which she sets up the story with anecdotes (entertaining ones). Here's some of her most alarming and insightful statements:

Even the most destitute of men have someone they can abuse, a woman or a child.

It is a fact that giving women education, work, the ability to control their own income, inherit and own property benefits the society. If a woman is empowered her children and family will be better off. If families prosper the village prospers and eventually so does the whole country.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


I recall being far too young to comprehend the horror that had unfolded at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal. December 6, 1989 was no ordinary Sinterklaas holiday14 women were slain, just for being women. Such a calamity evoked an appropriate response: outrage. In 1991, Parliament established December 6th as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Candlelight vigils publicize the issue and help ease the pain, but the spectre of violence against women continues to rise like an insurmountable peak. This, despite awesome projects, organizations, laws, and rights.

What stymies it all seems to be escape clauses, e.g., female ski jumpers cannot compete in the 2010 Olympics and embedded attitudes, e.g., The Daily Telegraph. Acquaintance rape suggests primitive exertion of power as the cause, which in a worst case scenario presents like this. Of course, greed’s a prime suspect, and human trafficking results in modern-day slavery.

At a basic level women represent social stability; thus, public rape inspires terror when conventional means such as assassinations only numb the populace. Such horrors frequently are so horrific that their full extent takes decades to be revealed.

Perhaps the world needs more Carol Rosenbergs (she belittled a U.S. naval commander) but I doubt it, no matter how refreshing; however, the world does need more Malalai Joyas, a secret teacher during the Taliban’s reign, an MP, and activist. Henry Maudsley, a nineteenth century psychiatrist, stated, “The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep.” Perhaps we need a good cry, or some method of catharsis (Lepine blamed an abusive father). Yes, and more: Susan Fiske’s latest research examines the source of stereotypes. She found that sexualized images of women shut down the part of the male brain associated with empathy. Eugene Caruso and Kerry Kawakami also examine implicit bias in their research.

In addition to greater insight, people need to openly discuss this issue rather than bury victims in shame. Countries, such as Somalia and Afghanistan, receive much coverage for their oppression of women, but Canada’s staggering rape statistics (half-way down the page) escape scrutiny, a black eye for our “progressive” society. Although no simple solutions exist, saying, “Hi,” holding a candle high, and discussing the issue (more than once a year) will banish stigma.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Shine Wearing Thin?

Obama’s impact remains difficult to quantify and depends largely on the method of evaluation: Do you take into account the scale and multiplicity of the tasks? or Do you just tally failures and successes? What is certain is that his speeches, which rouse such deep emotions, lose more credibility with each failure, since failures include both failed accomplishments and the failure to adhere to ideals outlined in his speeches. Obama has gained some ground in his reform of health-care, although the bill may not be recognizable when (if) it exits the Senate. The impact of the bill, however, may best be measured by the response it has generated. Although the attacks on countries with universal health-care are quite humorous (see Rachlis’s response in the LA Times), more sinister responses are strapping on 9mm pistols and portraying Obama as Hitler (I personally think Bush better suited this guise.)

Obama’s decision to set targets for and attend the Copenhagen Climate Summit (sadly, something no Canadian will be able to assert) was a sharp departure from Bush’s archaic stance and an admirable accomplishment. Nevertheless, it seems that no matter what Obama accomplishes it won’t count for much without some progress in the Middle East, e.g., Scheer notes, “On the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it’s worthwhile to remember that ending a stupid, harmful war is the most admirable thing a great leader can do.” With each passing day Obama seems to depart further from such a result: his (and most of congress’s) failure to endorse the Goldstone report implies that Israel is above the law.

Guantanamo, the flagship of panic-induced decisions by a religious tract administration, has blipped on and off the radar: it will be shut down, it’s closure won’t be funded, and it will be made more humane. Obama has taken flack for such uncertainty, and justifiably so: You can’t change a beast made specifically to bypass international law, conventions and human rights legislation.

Now Obama detractors are growing by the dozen. Early detractors gathered at Hopium: Confronting Fascism in the Obama era and some have taken drastic measures, such as challenging Obama’s U.S. citizenship. Nevertheless, before you condemn him too harshly forget that he doesn’t use twitter and recall that

Under Bush, the attempt to turn the office of the president into a branch of corporate America — complete with boardroom incompetence, a culture of collective fear and the sludge of muddy thinking — dictated that company etiquette should prevail. Dan Glaister, The Guardian. February 6, 2009.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Days usually pass between blog posts, but seasons have of late. Some of you have commented on this paucity. (Thanks for the prods and encouragement, by the way). Due to a number of reasons I have had to change vocation from a graduate student to a primary earner; however, given my recent years of freedom, I decided to try and do this on my own terms: in the summer I began a web design business. This and other forms of consulting (writing and editing) have consumed my time and creative energy.

Check out my new web site (needless to say, if you know anyone who needs a web site designed please direct them to my design page).

So, in terms of the issues, where have I been for these months? Sadly, nowhere exotic. My political activism has been confined to wearing Obama sandals (mine were made in Kenya by Kwamboka) and digitally signing AVAAZ petitions (as one local reporter called it, slacktivism). I redeemed myself a little by posting some tweets and keeping abreast of the issues: I am still flummoxed by attitudes to PTS (Fort Bragg) and gross moral offences like organ harvesting of war dead. More on these issues to come.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Corporate Warming

In Britain, Greenpeace has condemned a number of supermarket chains for contributing to Amazon deforestation (and global warming) by purchasing products from farms that illegally cleared land. They have called for product labelling to discourage such practice. Similar calls have been made regarding sweatshop labour: SweatfreeFair Labour Association, and Canada’s union-based CLC. Such demands naturally extend to the wider issue of fair trade. For example, children stitch the majority of sports balls, frequently made of PVC, a toxic material. BC Hydro cogently outlines these issues for consumers. Voting with your dollar is an effective response since corporations respond to fluctuations in demand. Look out for the fair trade logo on these products or check out stores like Ten Thousand Villages and Seven Shores.

Meanwhile in Tennessee, Gore’s home state, Burger King owners have been displaying the following:

I guess they’d also support Chevron’s claim that toxic sludge is as harmless as moisturizer (Amy O’Meara provides a good breakdown of Chevron’s claims, as do Chevron’s shareholders). Apparently neither corporation has heard that some prominent physicians have named climate change as humanity’s greatest health threat; well, maybe after baloney.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

TBI: How we got here.

As the U.S. military struggles to avert suicide (with whatever means necessary) and combat stress (one soldier killed five compatriots at a strees clinic), nearly 20 percent of soldiers struggle with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs):

In Their Boots does a phenomenal job of helping veterans. Some soldiers have faced further affliction by being inadequately supplied with water. The reason for their dehydration appears to be greed, since the contractors charged with water purification stockpile supplies rather than distribute them (just one reason for the astronomical inflation of operation costs). Furthermore, the presence of opportunist contractors really makes one question our arrival at this juncture.

Andrew Sullivan has done a great job detailing how torture’s primarily used to confirm what an interrogator, e.g. Cheney, already thinks they know, rather than obtaining fresh information; thus, an inherent bias lies within confessions (a victim only tells the interrogator what they want to hear when they’ll say anything to stop the pain). John Pilger has created an award winning documentary, The War on Democracy, which outlines America’s systematic dismantling of democracies to further their foreign policy goals: 

Although I was astounded by Duane Clarridge’s honesty, I found his sentiments a relief from the lies of various politicians and officials. Fidel Castro has outlined his role in saving Chavez in 2002 (the coup detailed in the film). The People Speak, another excellent documentary, combines quotations from lesser known historical figures read by famous actors with historical footage to highlight the necessity of civil disobedience in America’s democracy. It is very disturbing that you can’t even complain about a delayed flight these days.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Street Art and Design Innovation

Designers frequently get pitted against clients who feel ignored. The great exception seems to be the world of high fashion, where anything-goes. (Thanks to Can West for setting the record straight on Haute Couture). Christopher Raeburn has taken advantage of this freedom by designing an entire line using military surplus fabrics.

Outside of fashion Karim Rashid has strived to make design accessible and universal, especially with his publication of Design Your Self. Britain’s NHS illustrated the importance of a collaborative approach by consulting the Design Council to help inhibit the spread of superbugs: new hospital furniture eliminates bacteria harbouring fittings and seat cracks.

Moleskine for years has taken the simple notebook and impregnated it with innovation. Now you can design your own. They have produced an excellent website (MoleskineCity my favourite). For the most part attitude determines aesthetic, fortunately the spectrum’s forever expanding: Britain has officially classified graffiti as street art (unfortunately a Banksy work was painted over by zealous volunteers). Smashing Magazine presents a good selection of graffiti artwork from around the world (expand links to explore individual collections). My favourite is REONE.

Playing For Change has changed attitudes by recording artists throughout the world and producing videos.

They provide resources in impoverished areas to ensure that the power of music continues to foster peace. The BBC helps the world comprehend the devastation of Cyclone Nargis with their interactive map, which shows destruction on an individual scale (for other spectacular maps check out cybercartography, Vanishing Employment, and the Atlas of Canadian Cinema). Big Ant International has created a number of cautionary posters for the Global Coalition for Peace

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Hope over?

Scrict scrutiny of Obama began early. Naomi Klein produced some of the best. She noted that the public has suffered a hopeover, a hangover stemming from an overindulgence of hope. She’s correct; hope has led to expectation which has led to disappointment, but let’s reflect a little. Do you remember when it began? Recall the impeachment talk of the late 90’s and how many wished to hear such talk after Bush’s first 100 days. Bush proved what Clinton-Lewinsky reminiscers had feared true: he was extremely effective in moving the country wherever he wished, regardless of the consequences (global recession anyone?). Thus, on many levels pondering the etymology of hope is a luxury.

Although a global economic crisis provides a good measure of a man, it does not aid in evaluating Obama’s 100 or so days in office: first, the effectiveness of his stimulus package will not be measurable for years at least; and second, (theoretically) he could have accomplished much more if he were not so preoccupied (as could have many journalists). Nevertheless, Obama can be evaluated by four categories where he: a) accomplished positive change; b) marked a clear intention toward positive change; c) accepted a negative situation; d) stepped backward:

a) I think he made progress revising stem cell and endangered species legislation; releasing the torture memos (a Spanish judge is eager to prosecute if the AG won’t); classifying carbon as pollutant; and admitting to having contributed to climate change. b) He has made decisions to close Guantamo, but a recent vote puts this in jeopardy; to ease restrictions on Cuba, but further progress remains difficult; to reduce troops in Iraq, but when?; and to control nuclear weapons. c) He has accepted the status quo in Venezuela; in Israel; with the ICC; the automobile industry; and ANWR drilling. d) He increased the number of troops in Afghanistan (America could actually learn a thing or two from the Taliban).

I realize that progress is subjective, i.e., Swift Vets and Mavericks for Palin would probably reverse my order (progress for regress) and that progress takes time: many items may yet move up a category or two, e.g., Obama has a chance to challenge Netanyahu in a few weeks and Chrysler may pay back the bailout money. Overall, Obama has made very good progress, maybe not enough to avoid a hopeover, but enough. Remember that preventing regress is progress.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tolerance or Bias?

Abraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi and Jewish theologian, effectively reduced society’s ills to bite-size bits:

Racism is man's gravest threat to man - the maximum hatred for a minimum reason.

The problem to be faced is: how to combine loyalty to one’s own tradition with reverence for different traditions.

Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible.

No mere conundrums from the mid-20th century, these wise words demand action; however, human beings by nature seem to be self-deluding, especially concerning such matters. Surely programs, such as Affirmative Action and Teaching Tolerance, and mile-stones, such as an African-American president, have had an impact, but how do you evaluate progress when so much lingers below the surface? I guess one approach would be to examine popular culture. The success of Brokeback Mountain and Milk, suggests greater acceptance of homosexuals, especially given the plea in Sean Penn’s Oscar acceptance speech; in fact, greater acceptance has taken place (marriage is legal in six countries) and Brokeback equivalents have been produced around the world, e.g., I Can’t Think Straight.

Nevertheless, all of these movies featured attractive actors, and one thing western society does not seem to tolerate is unattractiveness. Tanya Gold immediately asserted that Susan Boyle wasn’t ugly on Britain’s Got Talent, just our reaction to her. Thus, it is extremely ironic that her story gets billed as one of an underdog, when the audience made her so. If you doubt this assertion read a few of these euphemisms. Although her performance evokes an emotional response for various reasons, for me, a rubber-neck reaction holds most viewers, an attraction to the car-wreck of bias. Although Susan Boyle does not suffer a mental illness, her behaviour is somewhat reminiscent of one who does.

Mental illness remains highly stigmatized in North America, despite many attempts to raise social awareness (a local favourite is Movie Monday). In order to foster understanding (and promote their products) Janssen Pharmaceuticals have developed a full sensory simulator, including wind effects and smells, of schizophrenia’s impact. Even the scaled down version (audio/visual only) evokes deep compassion. Dr. Pandina states it best, “It’s an awful, awful world, passed onto them while the real world passes them by.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Toilet Humour

Contempt of Wall Street runs the full gamut, from academics to latrines. Anita Thompson attended a seminar on this “legalised gambling temple” where a professor asked, “What's the difference between Bernie Madoff and Charles Ponzi?” She answered, “Charles Ponzi swindled the working poor. Bernie Madoff swindled the Uber Rich -- the ones in-the-know. Well, apparently not so in-the-know.”

Icelanders prefer a literal approach (bankers pictured):

Speaking of latrines, who knew that fart gags could lead to killer apps:

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cost of War

When Obama released the torture memos he cracked the dam of complicity and unleashed wave of fear. In the aftermath he has assured CIA agents that they will not be prosecuted, but has not done the same for Bush aides (perhaps Bush should have pardoned himself).

In many places the cost of conflict is quite obvious:

However, this hasn’t really been the case for the U.S.: an estimated 320,000 troops have suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury while deployed and the ban on covering the transportation of coffins from war zones has only been lifted for a few months.

Fortunately, The Corporal’s Diary does much to detail the cost of war. The movie is based on Jonathan Santos’s personal video footage — him clowning around with the guys, playing with his dog, and then serving in Iraq — and his diary, which is passionately read aloud by his brother. This footage is pure, having little pretence or performance. Patricia Boiko, the director, connected with Jonathan’s mother through the Eyes Wide Open exhibit (an excellent portrayal of the human cost of war). She then edited Jonathan’s footage and her own of his family and friends into this moving piece. The Santos family deserves much credit for being so natural and vulnerable before the camera. As Jonathan’s mother tearfully states,

If you could have filmed me when they knocked on the door and they told me that Jonathan was dead, if you could film that and Americans heard that, there’s no way that they’d want any other mother to hurt like this.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Leonard Cohen

Upon the heels of many favourable reviews, I awaited in eager anticipation for my night with Leonard Cohen, especially after listening to The Collection and watching Jian’s interview:

Cohen himself was simply amazing, especially at 74: he shuffled and skipped across the stage, and spent much time on his knees serenading instruments and phantom lovers. His kind disposition shone through, addressing the crowd as friends and displaying genuine appreciation at the vigorous applause; furthermore, he employed his dry wit eliciting hearty laughs from the audience, e.g. asking the singers to keep singing at the end of In my Secret Life and ending with I Tried to Leave You. Cohen remains so cognisant of the human condition: he commented on how fortunate we are to gather when suffering’s so prevalent in the world. Whenever he recited lyrics he left many with goosebumps and tingles — A Thousand Kisses Deep still resounds within me.

Cohen remains a reluctant star, perhaps the reason he surrounded himself with so many great musicians to whom he repeatedly doffed his hat. Javier Mas, who met Cohen via Mas’s tribute Acordes Con Leonard Cohen, astounded audiences on the laud, bandurria, and guitar. Mas is an innovative musician who enjoys jamming with diverse instrumentalists, such as tabla player, Prabhu Edouard (reminiscent of Béla Fleck and Sandip Burman). 

Neil Larsen tactfully interwove his ghostly reverberations through most songs, at times hardly noticeable, but on Hallelujah he broke out with great flair. I really enjoyed Roscoe Beck’s bump and slide technique on the upright bass. Sharon Robinson filled the arena with her incredible voice and sensitive vibrato, especially on Boogie Street. (Here’s a great interview with Sharon). The Webb Sisters also amazed with their sweet harmonies and gave a spine-tingling performance of If it be your Will. I thought Dino Soldo was best on the harmonica, but appreciated his sensitivity on other songs. Bob Metzger and Rafael Bernardo Gayol did a good job holding it all together.

In the end one can only wonder at Cohen: his extensive catalogue, his sensitive interpretation of the human condition, his ability to capture a scene in a song, and the fact that he has performed over one hundred times this year and plans on doing another hundred. If you are unable to see him live purchase Live in London; this production does a good job of capturing the magic of his performance (as much as the medium can).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In-Flight Entertainment

Here’s one way to relieve the sardine experience:

This looks nearly as good as my experience flying Cebu Pacific Air. The crew has a lot of fun on Cebu Pacific flights, especially during the game sessions, in which the crew awards prizes to passengers who produce an item, such as a cell phone, first or guess a song. The crew has even facilitated marriage proposals:

Monday, April 20, 2009


Justice feels right, natural order restored. In part, on a micro level, this explains the popularity of Bully Beatdown (not nearly as lowbrow as you might expect). Most remarkably, the show often re-establishes severed communication lines between victim and bully. In the big world, plenty of bullies assert apparent superiority; however, with horrors so extreme, it’s unlikely that many would repent due to a stiff sentence. The ICC tested the imposed limits by indicting Bashir. In reality, the kerfuffle surrounding ICC jurisdiction is rooted in self preservation and not justice: remember that the U.S., Israel, China, Libya, Iraq, Qatar, and Yemen voted against the Rome Statute. Furthermore, none of these countries have ratified it in the ten plus years that have passed and big movers Russia and India (with China ¾ of BRIC) also oppose it. Currently, the ICC has 108 member states, just over half of the world’s 195.

Nevertheless, justice gets served. Outside of the ICC framework, Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years, hopefully a precedent for other Latin American states notorious for their disappearances. Somewhat more surprising John Hatley got life (parole eligibility after 20 years) from a court-martial for his execution-style slaying of four Iraqis.

Of course, power always influences justice, a point made by Köchler. In the latest example, an Iraqi court reduced Muntazer al-Zaidi‘s sentence to one year close to the arrival of Obama.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Social Networks

MadV was one of the first to elicit responses in YouTube. He has compiled the responses to One World in The Message, launched The “Humans” Project, and remained quite adept at sleight of hand. The YouTube Orchestra, a fully sanctioned YouTube project in which members were voted in and then coached, recently performed at Carnegie Hall:

Such projects may be a benefit of Google ownership, something to keep in mind as Google eyes Twitter. Speaking of Twitter it has gained some celebrity punch of late, e.g., Demi Moore used twitter to stop a suicide; nevertheless, I prefer less newsworthy uses, such as the London bakery that tweets to announce the arrival of fresh loaves. I have added my tweets to Sou Station (half-way down the sidebar) and have created a twitterfeed for my blog posts (dsou on Twitter). I post with twhirl, which is based on Adobe AIR, a product much more in keeping with Flash than bulky programs, like Reader (Foxit is so much better).

A number of bands, such as Radiohead with Reckoner, have fostered on-line remixing, but now Yo-Yo Ma has followed suit. Earlier this year he invited Indaba users to produce variations of Dona Nobis Pacem with the site’s own mixing board.

Friday, April 17, 2009

When to Quit

Although America’s restrictions and embargoes on Cuba have seemed superfluous for years, they have been locked in place by the sheer weight of Cold War rationale. Now America seeks a “new beginning” with Cuba; in fact, Obama has gone out of his way to amend Cold War policy, e.g., normalising relations with Russia and changing the discussion on nuclear weapons.

Obama has also made a concerted effort to undo Bush’s policies, e.g. lifting restrictions on stem cell research and closing Guantanamo. Lately, amidst new abuse claims at Gitmo, Obama released four of Bush’s top secret memos that “legalized” torture.

Although Obama’s moves make sense in terms of revitalizing the U.S. (and the world), some Americans feel threatened by them, even non-existent policies: in response to a suspicion that Obama may restrict guns many Americans have been stockpiling them. Some have expressed their discontent by promoting Palin, others have attempted to rekindle the glory days by staging tea parties. These tea parties, however, made little impact despite (or because of) Fox News’ sponsorship. The most audacious protest belongs to the members of the Bush administration who defended the physical abuse of prisoners detailed in the memos. Fortunately, given the new climate, these rationalizations sound like voices in the wilderness and not reason.

Going Places

Thursday, April 16, 2009

War Horrors

In Gaza, the post-war stasis continues, leaving little opportunity for reconstruction: Israeli bulldozers topple houses, Israel restricts access to the buffer zone, and restricts humanitarian aid one way or another. As a temporary measure goods file through tunnels; nevertheless, some true progress has taken place. Caryl Churchill’s play, Seven Jewish Children astounds audiences amidst cries of anti-Semitism, boycotts of Israeli products make an impact, and sales of Palestinian Fairtrade items double.


Meanwhile many battlefields remain in dire need of clean-up. The Golden West Humanitarian Foundation diligently labours along doing just that. After locating, neutralizing, and removing explosives, they dispose of them; to do so, they employ some hi-tech methods and some relatively simple ones.

Unfortunately, so many cluster munitions, landmines, and unexploded ordinance remain, that despite these efforts, many people continue to get injured. COPE has done an admirable job of providing prosthetics and orthotics for Laotian victims, and the Cambodian Landmine Museum has done outstanding work with landmine-affected children. Coffeelands Landmine Victim’s Trust distributes aid, including micro-grants, to victims in parts of Central and South America and Africa.

Nevertheless, these war torn regions remain too distant to impact the average North American. (If you have been impacted, you can make a donation to, purchase products from, or volunteer for the above organizations). The suffering of our own troops has raised awareness on the horrors of war; unfortunately, traumatic brain injury (TBI), the most pervasive injury, still remains hidden. Although the Department of Defense continues to downgrade many TBIs, at least the Pentagon admitted that upwards of 360,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered them, perhaps to commemorate Brain Injury Awareness Month.

Realizing Ideas

I just updated to Cooliris 1.10; I love it. With the latest update you can browse pictures on your hard drive and Facebook; furthermore, Cooliris has released a version for the iPhone. If you haven’t checked out this innovative and aesthetically pleasing method of displaying images, do so.

If a few design ideas lay scattered amidst the countless pictures on your hard drive, bring some of them alive using Ponoko. Ponoko provides three methods for realizing a design: a) use their design software, b) take a photo and upload it, or c) describe it to a designer. Once you have a blueprint for your design, obtain a quote and order it. Ponoko will make it for you and even provide a market place in which to sell it. Don’t let those clever ideas, which you put on the back-burner due to perceived high production costs, grow stale, but market them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


WhimsyFlowers1The English language harbours a hoard of scintillating words; in order to comprehend its full extent, consult innovative tools, such as the Visual Thesaurus and A.Word.A.Day (especially its daily newsletter via email).

Whim—especially in its adjectival form, whimsical—is one of my favourite words. Whimsy envelops an ethereal lightness, which suggests divine playfulness: fairies, laughter, fate, and karma converging.

For me Geist embodies the whimsical. I do not mean that it lacks rigour, but that it presents information and art in a playful and ingenious manner. As a result, I welcome each issue; the latest features eco-friendly paper and inks, Barack Obama, and Leonard Cohen. Consistent with Geist’s eco-friendly choices, Andrew Nikiforuk dispels some myths concerning the Tar Sands; Geist also included some decals to be placed on Loonies in order to raise awareness of the threat of tanker traffic presents to BC’s coast—get yours here.

In Obama Dreams Sheila Heti presents a collection of dreams from her blog, I Dream of Barack. These dreams range from the absurd to the surreal and reveal our subconscious expectations of Obama. Stranger Song is Ann Diamond’s account of her relationship with Leonard Cohen, including a number of close calls in which she nearly met him. In anticipation of the upcoming concert I have been devouring all things “Cohen”.

Geist is collecting Stan-ecdotes: stories of how another Canadian music legend, Stan Rogers, has affected people. My own Stan-ecdote hearkens from a cold fall many years ago. I was in-between jobs and spent much of my time working my way (listening, strumming, and humming) through Stan’s discography. He grounded me to Canada, especially in its lore and history, when I was relatively new to this great nation. I have already lauded The Geist Atlas of Canada and I love their Cross-Canada Phrasebook.

Although this map from the BBC lacks whimsy, it presents the information well:


Saturday, April 11, 2009


Although buildings rise for numerous other faculties at the University of Victoria, the administration has no immediate plans to construct any for the Faculty of the Humanities; however, crumbs do fall, since Humanities gets assigned the vacated space of other faculties. Nevertheless, the faculty remains rich in many other ways—one of its treasures, the Lansdowne Lectures, has brought outstanding scholars to UVic for over 30 years. At a recent GRS gathering for Ian Morris, the most recent Lansdowne recipient, the conversation turned to modern portrayals of ancient Greece and Rome. Due to the labours of scholars, such as Keith Hopkins, moderns have a much more comprehensive view of ancient Roman society. Gritty productions, such as HBO’s Rome, have supplanted Sword-and-Sandal epics and portrayed the city’s eastern lavishness:

From every land and sea are brought the fruits of each season, whatever all the farms and rivers and lakes produce, by Greek or barbarian techniques. It follows that, if anyone wishes to behold all these things, he must travel the known world to gaze on them—or he must be in Rome (Aelius Aristides, To Rome 10–11).

The lowest estimate has India, China, and the peninsula of Arabia removing from our Empire each year some 100 million sestertii. That is the price our luxuries and our wives cost us (Pliny, Natural History 12.84). (Both translations from Greek and Roman Technology, p. 494–5).

Nevertheless, the same cannot be said for ancient Greece: modern society still view this culture through the clean crisp lines of fluted columns. Sanctuaries (the focus of my research) were lively gathering places that fulfilled a variety societal functions: exhibition, mediation, and protection; furthermore, Greek democracy comprised a series of public oaths, duties, and oratories.

One exception, however, is modern portrayals of Greek drama. Ground breaking productions, such as The Gospel at Colonus have led the charge and scholars, such as Helene Foley, who requires senior students to produce a play themselves, have supported these productions. Over the years, UVic’s Phoenix Theatre has produced a number of Greek tragedies and comedies, and garnered abundant praise for their efforts. Euripides’ Medea, their latest offering, stunned audiences.

Not only did modern events, such as a father murdering his five children, make the play extremely relevant, but the play was stellar from the foundations. Linda Hardy, the director, embraced Euripides version of the myth in which Medea murders her own children to spite Jason. The changes the director made to the text were sensible, such as expanding the role of the tutor and adding a nurse. The stage designers also excelled, creating a functional and mystical setting:

The choreography successfully integrated the chorus with the rest of the cast. The chorus itself, consisting of vocalists specialized in various genres, scintillatingly oscillated between screams, hums, and cries. Lastly, and most deserved of praise, the actors, in particular Katie Takefman who played Medea, provided the audience with an emotional/philosophical roller-coaster ride that evoked the cathartic intention of ancient Greek tragedy.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Trimming the Fat?

During these harsh economic times streamlining becomes the norm; however, trimming the fat becomes difficult when determining which cuts net the best results. Auto manufacturers make a good example: almost filial ties makes denying them difficult, but in sink or swim scenarios excess weight needs to be shed. I think Obama has been more than patient and Harper more than foolish in his attempt to maintain production in Canada. In fact, this second stimulus package seems excessive, since only bankruptcy will stop the hemorrhaging: GM and Chrysler require extreme market correction for their years of neglect.

One area that should be spared is the arts, since they have consistently been cut back. Furthermore, even the government has deemed cultural infrastructure important, and potential savings are a trifle compared to the $4 billion “lent” to two car companies. In particular, the CBC consistently tops ratings and requires only moderate cuts: from Jian to Kennedy CBC produces a veritable wealth of programming. If you feel the same, sign the AVAAZ petition. Linda Grant with her love of fashion demonstrates one way to embrace the crisis: she spent $450 on shoes so that she could greet it well-dressed. Of course, culture helps us process and remember:

This tear drop monument by Zurab Tsereteli, To the Struggle Against World Terrorism, a gift from Russia, stands in New Jersey and commemorates the victims of 9/11.

The British Museum has made strides where politicians, including Obama, have failed: its latest exhibition, Shah Abbas: The Remaking of Iran, conveys the wonder and cultural depth of Persia. This is the third part of a four-part series on Great world empires (Qin Shihuangdi and Hadrian before and Moctezuma II to follow) and follows the 2005 exhibition Forgotten Empire. Ali Khameni dismissed Obama’s hand of friendship as a “slogan” because the “soft soap” on the wonders of Iranian culture, a sore point because most North Americans label them Arabs and the superficiality of the entire process.

One by-product of the crisis, or years in the dark under Bush, appears to be greater transparency. MI5 and MI6’s rules of interrogation will be published for the first time. However, this does not appear to be the case in Canada, despite Van Loan‘s refutation of O’Brian’s statement. Canada still seems to believe that torture extracts reliable information like on 24, perhaps Harper should talk to Colin Powell.

Lest you feel that you suffer too much:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Deaf Ears

In North America (and to a lesser extent in Europe) freedom of the press seldom extends to Israel’s affairs; that is, genuine sympathy for Holocaust suffering leaves Zionism above reproach. Ironically, Holocaust deniers tend to attract more positive press than IDF (Israel Defense Forces) attract negative press. Furthermore, a misconceived correlation drawn between modern geo-politics and Biblical kingdoms enforces this taboo.

“Alternate” sources, such as, CounterPunch, Democracy Now!, and Electronic Intifada, have consistently presented another side for debate; consequently, diligent readers of these publications were heartened by the appearance of a number of articles in “main stream” publications. (Furthermore, The Guardian and The Independent increased their solid coverage on the “Palestinian problem,” as did 60 Minutes). This greater exposure, however, seems to have fallen on deaf ears, since little evidence of editorial commentary or debate exists.

Even popular movements such as Viva Palestina, and Galloway’s subsequent ban from Canada haven’t stirred real debate, in the press or parliament, despite the efforts of Sir Gerald Kaufman and Ron Paul:

Unlike these level-headed and outspoken individuals most politicians have stood by and tested the waters. As a result AIPAC pressure was tolerated once more, namely Charles Freeman’s withdrawal. Fringe groups, perhaps buoyed by AIPAC success, also have been exerting pressure. Mearsheimer and Dreyfuss, however, maintain (separately) that this may be the lobby’s last gasp. For more information read Freeman’s resignation email and comments by Pat Buchanan.

Meanwhile the situation in Gaza grows more desperate: every day potable water becomes scarcer, electricity less reliable, and treatment of female and male prisoners worsens. Amidst analysis of Operation Cast Lead, which becomes more difficult to justify with Hamas’s surge in support, demands for justice grow louder, including those made at Iran’s international summit: the operation has been labelled an illegal war and evidence of war crimes mounts as more stories come to light. Some countries, such as Britain, may even arrest Israeli officials due to these allegations.

In the West Bank, despite the evidence from ancient documents verifying Palestinian ownership, residents continue to be evicted in Jerusalem. In rural areas villagers continue to be forced out, as their homes get destroyed, perhaps to fulfill an Israeli goal of doubling the number of settlers. As if a stamp of authenticity to Palestinian misery, the Lancet published an article on Palestinian (lack of) access to health care.

Another casualty of the Gaza bombardment was Israel’s proposed withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which becomes more critical since Syria continues to acquire Russian rockets. Israel may also have ambitions to relocate Kurdish Jews to cities in Iraq. Furthermore, it appears America will continue its decade long deal of $30 billion in military aid to Israel.

Nevertheless, all is not bleak. You can make donations to offset the military aid to Israel ($2.775 billion this year). Other good causes are Lights for Gaza and Disasters Emergency Committee. Voting with your dollar also is excellent, both by purchasing fair trade items and boycotting Israeli products. Lastly, join Jewish Voice for Peace, as Sahar Vardi, a young conscientious objector, implores people to do or sign on-line petitions.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Blasting Bush

Bush offered to advise Obama on a recent visit to Calgary for his first paid speaking engagement. Some might say that Bush chose this location due to its reputation as Canada’s Texas, but Calgarians responded appropriately by stock-piling shoes at the conference centre’s entrance. Fortunately none of them will receive a three year sentence for doing so.

Last week I watched, You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush, Will Ferrell’s Broadway debut, on HBO. Overall the production was excellent: Ferrell adroitly impersonated Bush with the skills he honed on SNL (never dropping out of character for the show’s entirety), and clever filming captured much of the stage atmosphere. Ferrell came up with some gems like “wing take dream (a Bushism),” “the Tiger Woods guy (Obama),” and “Swiss (blond haired, not swarthy) Jesus.” Nevertheless, the funniest sketch was Operation Primate Spear Gun. In this fictional sketch, Morocco supposedly committed to send 2,000 monkeys to Iraq to clear mines and entertain children. Although Morocco reneges, Ferrell’s Bush recounts how he set up a base for training primates in N.C. In the end, most of the monkeys escape and spear gun fatalities rise over 1,000 percent.

The performance, however, does become tedious at times, a regular feature of Ferrell’s work (here, to Grohl's discomfort):

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Innovative Exhibitions

A number of exhibits have focussed on coming to grips with new communication technologies. Connections at the MIT Museum comprises four art installations on this topic. Metropath(ologies), part of this innovative collection, presents a constant feed of changing visual and audio imagery from news sources and data provided by visitors; thus, you may a person’s name, home city, or date of birth while viewing news images (photo left). This fall Of All the People in All the World returned to Birmingham, a show which presented various data by grains of rice, e.g. actors in lab coats constantly add grains to the world population mountain. CBC Sparks, an awesome show, recently used their blog to track how many people are “plugged in”  on transit.

On a completely different tangent, Johan van der Dong, a Dutch artist, has set up an exhibition in which people can dial a mobile phone number and leave a message for God. All messages will remain confidential and not be used by the artist in any way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Damon Galgut

Last week I glutted myself on works by Damon Galgut — an author whose tensile prose compels the reader to struggle with the protagonist on a journey of self-realization. I started with his short stories: An African Sermon (August 2004) begins with a train journey and weaves in a personal confrontation with the Rwandan genocide. (Regarding this topic, works by Jean Hatzfeld and Romeo Dallaire are essential). The Conversation (Oct 2006) tracks Father Angelo through a crisis of faith in the midst of an African conflict: What is faith? What is humanity? What is my role in it? The Lover (Dec 2008) details a loner’s journey through Africa (and on to Europe) while he grapples with social awkwardness and self acceptance, which stymie his love’s desire. Galgut cleverly embodies the protagonist’s fractious nature by fluctuating between the first and third person to mark changes between his “true”-self and his observing-nature.

The Good Doctor (2003), a Man Booker finalist, explores the tension in characters stationed at a remote (and barely necessary) hospital. Unresolved struggle is a trademark of Galgut’s writing, and he employs Africa’s stark, arid, and abandoned landscapes to explore it. Reading such a work is like being underwater and trying to reach the surface; however, you never do, so that you marvel that you’ve stayed under so long. But in the end you realize you were never swimming in water, but through your own streams of consciousness; thus, desperation, despair, difficulty, and despondency come to define humanity.

The Quarry (1995, 2004), was not published outside of South Africa until the success of The Good Doctor; however, this quirk of fate remains puzzling to me since I found The Quarry to be much more satisfying, and this novel was turned into a film that won Grand Prix of the Americas at the 1998 Montreal Film Festival. Here Galgut meanders his story around an abandoned quarry, which now houses a dead body and illicit drugs; such a feature, however, only helps focus the blight on the human landscape, as a criminal impersonates the minister he just murdered. Galgut first experimented with pronouns here: at the end of the book he uses no proper nouns; instead, the third person refers to a number of characters, each with its own short chapter (only the capitalisation of each pronoun differentiates the characters). This device successfully adds to the novel’s depth and demands a close reading.

In The Impostor (2009), Adam has let his life slide away. Unsure of who he his, he recalls that he once wrote poetry, and sets off to the country to be a poet. In his brother’s cottage the weeds have grown so thick that Adam gets a reprimand from the township. He plans to cut them back, but doesn’t so they become a symbol of his impotence (in writing as well). One day he decides it’s enough and heads to the hardware store for equipment where he meets Canning. Canning’s wife inspires him to write once more, but he soon learns that the lovely spot he spends his weekends at will be destroyed. Once more the protagonist must explore his own depths to come to terms with himself.

Reading Galgut can be like driving down a road on which you have no sense of direction or control, but at the end you’ll have exorcised humanity’s (and your own) woes. His exceptional prose keeps your foot on the accelerator until the end where you gain an un-obstructed view of the entire journey. As a side note Alistair Morgan, another South African author (and Plimpton prize winner), processes similar angst via the landscape. I just applied for FIFA 2010 tickets; hopefully I’ll be able to visit South Africa’s compelling scenery then.

Monday, March 09, 2009


Watchmen was the first graphic novel that I ever purchased. As soon as I opened it, I got lost in its pages. In anticipation of the feature film, I skimmed through the graphic novel and watched episodes of the Watchmen Motion Comic. I was surprised by how much I had forgotten; in particular, the quality of Moore’s flowing prose:

“Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach … the streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown.”

“The city is dying of rabies. Is it the best I can do to wipe random flecks of foam from its lips”

“Is that what happens to us? A life of conflict with no time for friends so that when it’s done only our enemies leave roses.”

The Motion Comic is an excellent adaptation and has number of well chosen quotes by Nietzsche, Farjean, Dylan, Jung, and Shelley to the end of each section, replacing the newspaper-style articles on Watchmen. (The graphic novel had one quote from Juvenal Satires, sed quis cutodiet ipsos custodes?” or loosely, “but who watches the watchmen?”).

Last night I watched the feature film, throughout which Snyder employs the hyper-violence associated with his past films, e.g., 300 and other comic adaptations, such as Sin City; however, in doing so, he relies on crisp movements which crowd out the dark gritty world of the original. On other points, he does fairly well: he successfully recreates the pseudo 80’s of the comic and sticks to the original story line. However, in what is perhaps a patriotic display, the World Trade Centre features too prominently, as do concerns over the environment. At least Snyder did not over-play his hand like the directors of a Quantum of Solace and Transporter 3, movies that I watched on fast forward due to their careless (and vacant) treatment of climate change. The Watchmen sound track is fantastic: not only for the innovative pairing of song with scene (at a loud volume), but also the comprehensive compilation of classic songs.

Snyder faithfully reproduces most of the major characters; however, he chooses to make Laurie much more potent than the original where she’s weak and emotional (mainly at the expense of the Drieberg who becomes even more impotent.) The Nite Owl II also loses much of his intelligence and resourcefulness, perhaps to boost Veidt’s stature. Veidt loses his spirituality, which was fuelled by a long journey and night of Tibetan hash in the comic. Although Dr. Manhattan’s portrayal captures the original, the special effects used to make him blue reminded me too much of Xerxes in 300. Rorschach becomes much less of a protagonist in the film, e.g., Nite Owl and Silk Spectre incapacitate most of the inmates while this was originally Rorschach’s doing. Nevertheless, Snyder’s use of the swinging door to reveal less and less of Big Figure’s murder is magnificent.

Snyder obviously could not get everything on film and had to make some noteworthy omissions (usually due to an incompatibility of mediums or time constraints), such as the Tales of the Black Freighter (a comic within a comic) and newsstand activity (Bernies, delivery drivers, Lesbians, and Jehovah Witnesses). Similarly, Seymour, the reporter, only gets one quick reference at the end. Overall Snyder did a magnificent job and produced a faithful tribute; unfortunately, this does not always translate into a great film, especially in scenes where the violence detracts from the story.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Faint Horizon

Since the heady days of youth, when, buoyed by Lillywhite and Lanois productions, I eagerly awaited every single from the Joshua Tree, I’ve kept my ear to the ground for breaking news on U2. The first morsels from No Line on the Horizon appeared when Bono inadvertently cranked up a few singles at an outdoor party. These rough recordings, however, didn’t compound my excitement for the latest album, Sean O’Hagan’s article did. O’Hagan followed them for eighteen months to three cities and collected a number of anecdotes, most of which he frankly shares.

The album itself begins with a riff that blazes like a sprinter out of the blocks; however, the title track soon fades into oblivion, so much so that after frequent plays I still can’t recall it. For me the album begins with Magnificent: I get comfortable and settle in for a good listen, yet even this song incorporates an annoying keyboard track, perhaps a relic from some early 90’s recording session. Nevertheless, Moment of Surrender remains solid and I finally enter the groove; Bono rasps his voice, and Clayton and Mullen Jr. make their presence known (The Edge is always there). This song anchors the album and I’m glad it’s over seven minutes long. As O’Hagan notes this song was one of the few recorded in Fez, where devotions from Sufi singers wisped through the air.

I label the next few songs “tolerable”; that is, I don’t regret purchasing them, but they won’t be going in a playlist anytime soon. In Unknown Caller U2 seems to be channelling Yes, but doing a mediocre job of it. I’ll Go Crazy … is better, but a little too familiar and too forced. Next of course is Sexy Boots (they should have kept that name) which has saturated the airwaves and I now skip. I quite like the fresh sound of Stand Up Comedy (except for the bridge) and it will make it out of my tolerable category quicker than the rest. In the first minute and a half Fez sounds like a bad Sci-Fi soundtrack, but it soon captures some of the Moroccan inspiration.

White as Snow does very little for me; I think it’s because with every chorus I break into my best Whitney Houston, a by-product of holiday shopping, perhaps by summer I’ll have evinced all traces of her and be able to appreciate its subtleties. The album ends on a strong note. Breathe and Cedars of Lebanon is U2 at full potency: “pop-rock” U2 in Breathe and contemplative U2 in Cedars. Other nice features are Breathe’s strings track and Cedars’ fantastic falsetto part, exceptional lyrics, and haunting background track. Overall, this album follows a bang-whimper, whimper-bang pattern; fortunately, the bang counteracts all the whimper. The best ancillary news is that they will be touring once more—no room for whimper there. Sugimoto’s picture on the cover inspires, and reminds me of a Tanabe landscape.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

One step forward

Although catastrophe reigns in Gaza and little aid has made it through (two steps back), there’s been one step forward: $4.48 billion has been raised to rebuild Gaza (when they’ll be able to remains a mystery), BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) has made an impact, protest has increased, and the Israel Lobby has lost some leverage.

On the last point, Charles Freeman has been appointed chairman of the National Intelligence Council, the organisation which produces National Intelligence Estimates, the summaries from 16 different agencies which presidents base many decisions on. Charles Freeman is well qualified for the job, yet a furor has erupted, simply because he has criticised Israeli policy in the past. The Lobby in their entrenched position, however, continue to find success: they pressured Obama to boycott the World Conference Against Racism (Durban II). (Meowma’ blog has the full collection of the above photos which compare Nazi photos with Israeli ones.)

In the Gulf, a $9 million gold Mercedes now cruises through Abu Dhabi. On the other side of the Arabian Peninsula, Johann Hari argues that European ships have been dumping nuclear waste of the coast of Somalia which, coupled with widespread poverty, has ensured local support for pirates. 

Directly west, it seems justice can be found on the Ivory Coast: a trio of RUF leaders were convicted of a majority of the charges against them. Hopefully they will get stiff sentences for the horror they inflicted on Sierra Leone’s population (Blood Diamond recounts some of this horror). Regarding Ghana, The Black Stilt (my review) has a good display of t-shirts and textiles as part of a campaign to raise money for the Heavenly Home Academy.

As Gitmo gets decommissioned, some prisoners have been repatriated. Binyam Mohamed has returned to Britain with numerous physical and mental injuries. Barbara Ehrenreich has claimed that the reason he was sent there in the first place was that he had clicked on her website which provides a satirical account for constructing an atomic bomb. Brandon Neely, a former Guantanamo guard, has recounted the horrors inflicted there in an interview with Almerindo Ojeda.


Lastly, the Massachusetts Law School at Andover has planned a conference to build the foundation necessary to successfully prosecute George Bush and other prominent officials. In a bold move, Obama has released Bush’s secret anti-terror memos, which claimed that the U.S. military could search and seize terror suspects on American soil without warrants. For more Bushit watch this video:


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