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:


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