Monday, June 28, 2010

G20 in Toronto: protesters in a violent system

LUCAS OLENIUK - Riot police move in to arrest Reuters photographer Mark Blinch at Queen Street West and Soho Street.

More than one journalist was part of those arrested in Toronto this weekend. Jesse Rosenfeld, a journalist on assignment for The Guardian, Describes Being Beaten, Arrested by Canadian Police While Covering G20 Protest

BERNARD WEIL - ETF police officers in their amoured [sic] vehicle keep watch on Leslieville where the Temporary Jail is located.

[all photos from the Toronto Star]

Hello dear readers. Sorry to be lax in making a post; I have been out-of-town teaching. Over the weekend, while madly teaching a condensed course that takes up every minute of my time, in the evenings, in my hotel room, I looked up from my notes regularly to watch what was happening in Toronto during the G20 fiasco.

I was shocked. I was shocked at the level of police, guns, security, shields. I was shocked at the aggressiveness. I was dismayed, too, to see that some protesters had taken the step to wreak violence, but while I don't condone this sort of reaction or action, I can see how it happens. I blame Canada's increasing focus on policing, security, militarism, and prisons as central to understanding the response to the G20 meeting.

STEVE RUSSELL - Alledged protesters await a new bus to transport them to the holding facility. Approximately 70 alledged protesters were arrested at 4 Bancroft on the University of Toronto Campus, Many were from Quebec and members of Anarchist groups.

Have you seen the 1971 movie Bloody Sunday about northern Ireland? I suggest you do. It has to be one of the best films I have ever seen. It shows how peaceful protest gets caught up in the escalation of state violence. It has lessons for all of us.

BERNARD WEIL - Police fires a muzzle blast into the crowd at the Eastern Avenue film studios.

While there is much to say about what happened in Toronto this past weekend, about how that level of militarism and security attracts its nemesis to it like a fly to dung and violence spirals and, of course, becomes the central focus of our spectacle society. What were our government leaders thinking to have this despised meeting in the heart of urban Toronto? Below, I've included the editorial from today's Toronto Star by John Cruikshank.

Now, I don't agree with everything he says, but his critique of the folly of holding the G20 in downtown Toronto and how the making of Toronto into a militarized ghost town (a false version of its urban action where politicians were secured inside an emptied bubble by an overwhelming force of security) set the seeds for unpredictable madness is right to the point.

STEVE RUSSELL - A couple hundred cyclists gathered at Spadina and Bloor to wait to take to the street in a ride similar to the critical mass rides

Brutal Spectacle Failed a City and Its People
. by John Cruikshank

"The G20 security strategy has been spectacularly successful at cocooning the world’s leading politicians and staggeringly ineffective at protecting the property and peace of mind of Torontonians. And the one, inevitably, led to the other.

By bringing in thousands of heavily armed strangers and throwing up barricades everywhere to regular traffic, frightening off good and decent citizens, Canadian authorities created a ghost town in the heart of our city.

Perfect for the political leaders. Protesters were kept blocks away from where the deliberations were going on.

And most protesters conducted themselves faultlessly as the global good and great met behind rings of gulag-like fencing and battalions of police beating Plexiglas shields with batons in a primitive show of might.

It was, however, less than perfect for the city, its businesses and its inhabitants. The only force that can prevent vandalism and mayhem in a city is the presence of its population. Surely that was the lesson every urban planner learned from looking south to the hollowed-out urban war zones of the United States in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

No police force, no matter how large, how well armed, how empowered to limit the civil rights of citizens, can stop vandalism in the empty shell of a city. Canadian authorities have proved that two days and nights running.

The strategy that ensured G20 leaders would never have to see a Canadian who wasn’t a politician, a police officer or a waiter lacked even a glimmer of common sense when it came to the security of Toronto and Torontonians.

They took our city to hold a meeting and bullied us out of the core, damaging the commerce of thousands of merchants and inconveniencing the entire population. Then, they failed to protect our property. Along Yonge St., as self-described anarchists were smashing stores unopposed, terrified merchants and their staffs sought shelter behind counters and in basements. If these establishments had been set alight, all of the thousands of fearsomely equipped police would have been able to do little more to save our citizens than they did to save their burning cruisers.

For the last few days, the city has looked like a vast reality TV set, where heavily garbed gladiators in black, burdened under bullet-proof vests, guns, walkie-talkies, shields and batons, try to chase down a wild, quick-footed band of anti-gladiators in black sweat suits and bandanas. And it cost us $1.2-billion to stage and choreograph this grossly unequal contest.

Canadian authorities knew that this overweening show of paramilitary hubris would draw the violent dregs of nihilism from around the world. Previous summits offered stark and certain warnings. Given that, the attempt to provide security for the city and its inhabitants has been a sad and disturbing failure.

What is the critical lesson?

Don’t even try to hold international political conferences with this kind of explosive ideological charge in the heart of a major urban centre. You sacrifice either the safety of the politicians or the safety of the city.

The idea that this was an effective way to show off Toronto to foreign guests is bewilderingly stupid.

Canadian authorities created a city no citizen could recognize and no visitor could admire. Then, they allowed a pack of brutes to trash it."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Montreal in the '50s

When You Give of Yourself. short film by Lynn Stopkewich. 5min46s

Synopsis: Mohammed and Yulanda Faris are generous and devoted patrons of the arts. Through dramatic re-creation, this short documentary captures the spirit of Montreal in the 1950s, the early days of their relationship, and their passion for music and dance. If we all danced more, says Yulanda Faris, we would be happier people.

I stumbled upon this wonderful heart-lifting film on the NFB (National Film Board of Canada) site today. It's one of those charming surprises that remind you, through their own special magic, about beauty, blessings and joy. Watch it; I'm sure you'll love it, too. It's about 5 minutes long.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

my old washing machine reborn into G20 security fence

Security fencing around downtown Toronto. photo by Tara Walden, Toronto Star.

For weeks now, I, like many other democracy-minded Canadians, have been following the news about the upcoming G8 and G20 meetings being held in Ontario. If the fake lake they made downtown Toronto inside a new media centre wasn't infuriating enough (a fake lake with loungers to stare at a huge digital screen of the Muskoka cottage country region when Lake Ontario is right outside the door and Canada full of lakes!?), there is the security fence being built around downtown Toronto.

Every day, I am getting more outraged at the extent of the security that has been deemed necessary to protect the visiting dignitaries. My sister has an interesting point: why are these people seen as so special when they are the ones responsible for the destruction of the earth and many people's dreams and realities because of their corrupt neoliberal economics? Why are we rolling out the red carpet -- behind a steel fence -- for them?

It says that they are doing something wrong if they have to fear from people's legitimate protest of their policies.

I agree with Mary Ormsby who writes:"This divisive presence seems at odds with the spirit of the True North, strong and padlock-free. With all the wire, downtown Toronto looks like a city under siege, not the arm’s-open metropolis that has welcomed generations of immigrants." In Ormsby's article she discusses that the security fence is made from recycled steel which includes old cars and junked appliances.

This brought two things to mind:

1. so! we've made a new market to replace making cars: making security fencing from junked cars

2. Now I know where my old washing machines are! Protecting global thieves!

Can you see my old washing machine in this 3 metre high wall? Canadian Press photo.

What sort of Toronto experience will the visiting G20 troupe have when most of the city's people will be locked out? These global elites will be living in an illusion of Toronto as it is a false version of the city inside the bubble world behind the fencing. The Torontonians, tourists, workers, visitors, and the urban buzz of coming and going, the day to day life on the streets will be MISSING. Gone. Many businesses have told their employees to stay home. I guess so. How can you get to work if you can't get through the security?

That this was even an option, never mind having come to fruition, is simply mind-boggling to me. Who thought this up? 5.5. Torontonians locked out plus tourists, plus just people. I guess all the homeless and panhandlers will be out of site of these global I said, creating an illusion of Toronto for the G20 attendees. Seems more and more we live in illusion.

On top of the security fencing costing over $1 billion -- for a TEMPORARY fence that will be taken down after the meeting -- at a time when there are many, many needy Canadians and social and economic uses for $1 billion dollars, what about all the tourist dollars and lost dollars to restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, businesses, and so on inside the fencing that no one can access during the days of the G20?

Of course, the mainstream media and the government have turned the trick of normalizing protest as violence as businesses say that fear of vandalism from G20 protesters is the reason they are staying away from offices.

Coming on the heels of the security blitz at the Olympics which cost the Canadian taxpayer more that $1 billion, this latest expensive and expansive security that separates the people from those who make decisions is another example of Canada's increasing militarized collective identity. Our nation has been moving more and more into a security, policing, and military identity. Indeed, globally Canada has been moving more and more into the policing business. We are currently doing the business of training police in Haiti, Afghanistan, and the West Bank, in other words, we are training the police forces that will do the work of protecting neoliberal Western interests.

I thought to myself, I can see why so many Israelis don't do a damn thing about the Apartheid Wall (which they call the Security Wall) around the West Bank and the security fencing and walls around Gaza. They just go about their days. Unless they rise up and get out on the streets en masse to protest this, it just continues.

Like our security wall. Oh well. Just a few voices speaking out. But those in power have deemed this as necessary and needed. More jobs and money for security and policing industries. A security state is normalized. And the people? Next to no dissent.

Next to no dissent. I find that scarier than the security walls we build.

Friday, June 18, 2010

my morning walk in reverse

Fog rolling in off Lake Superior. I took this photo from Hillcrest Park, towards the end of my morning walk, after having coffee at the Hoito coffee bar and climbing the Bay St. stairs.
Looking down the park where people drive in to look over the lake, you can see a fog bank dividing the sky into two blues. A late model car in the "Amerikan rauta" style.
Down by the lake shore the water was as calm as a mirror. This was before the fog rolled in.
A fat groundhog was sunning himself on a rock, with an old rose bush in the background. Miraculously, this rose bush has managed to survive over the years amongst the boulders. Another ground hog dashed away between the rocks to her tunnel.
Look closely. Walking over the overpass, I saw what I thought were plumes of smoke coming from atop trees. I stopped to look. No, just millions of small flies! The pillars of flies were everywhere. Needless to say, I walked with my mouth closed tight to prevent flies from flying in.
Due to the rainy weather, humidity and sun, the environs of McVicar's Creek was majestic.
The creek between Algoma and Court Streets.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Telling his story: David Neish

Attacked again by Israel's Inquiry

One of the Canadians who was part of the Gaza flotilla, and was on board the Mavi Marmara when the Israeli commandos stormed it, has provided an eye witness report of what happened. I strongly recommend that you read the whole article, What Kevin Neish Saw: Eye Witness to the Israeli Assault on the Mavi Marmara, by Dave Lindorff.

During the mayhem, Neish found the backpack of one of the commandos and flipped through a booklet he found inside it. The booklet had profiles and pictures of all the passengers as well as a detailed diagram of the layout of the decks of the ship, suggesting as other reports have noted that the attack was a planned hit. Neish also reports that he witnessed wounded and dead bodies being moved and that several of the bodies had clear signs of being executions:

"Meanwhile, he says, more and more people were being carried down the stairs from the mayhem above—people who'd been shot, and people who were dying or people already dead. 'I took detailed photos of the dead and wounded with my camera,' he says, adding, 'There were several guys who had two neat bullet holes side by side on the side of their head--clearly they were executed.'”

He explains that he threw away anything related to electronics that he had on him, but before throwing away his camera, he hid the memory card on his body:

The Israelis took all the cameras and computers. They were smashing some and keeping others. I put the chip in my mouth under my tongue, between my butt cheeks, in my sock, everywhere, to keep them from finding it,” he says. He finally handed it to a Turk who was leaving for a flight home on a Turkish airline. He says the card ended up in the hands of an organization called Free Gaza, and he has seen some of his pictures published, so he knows they made it out successfully."

I wonder if the mainstream Canadian media will be making his photos and eyewitness account available to the public?

In an interview with Rabble, Neish explains that in the midst of the attack and resistance to it, Haneen Zoubi played a key role in trying to bring order and lessen injury and death by asking the Israeli soldiers over the PA system to stop attacking the passengers:

"Then a female voice came on announcing in English that everybody stop fighting, stop resisting, the bridge is seized, the Israelis have command of the ship, there's no sense risking your lives anymore, go to the lounges and drop your weapons, you know, weapons drop your pipes and chains and wooden staffs.

I just retreated with all the other Arab and Turkish folks. I sat where I was before, very close the back of the ship and there were Israelis peeking in the windows and flashing their laser-sighted guns all over the place. It was quite surreal.

But they wouldn't step in and the woman's voice kept on coming over saying "Israeli soldiers please, please stop shooting, we're not resisting anymore, we've released your captured soldiers. They're unharmed and they're released. Stop attacking us. Stop attacking us."

Eventually the Israelis, the soldiers, [Haneen Zoubi] she's an Arab Israeli Knesset member, she's in big shit, she's in jail right now, it's simple they took away her immunity so they can do whatever they want to her now.

She acted as a liaison, brave woman, she walked right out with her hands up because anyone who was standing, was a target, basically... She had her hands up and she came forward and explained that there were numerous injured. Then they packed these people off in makeshift stretchers and whatnot out to the Israelis. And the Israelis hauled them out to the doorway."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

we love life when we find a way to it

Love From Gaza. image Alhoash Gallery, Palestine

And We Love Life

And we steal from the silkworm a thread to build a sky and fence in this departure.
We open the garden gate for the jasmine to step out on the streets as a beautiful day.

We love life if we find a way to it.

And we plant, where we settle, some fast growing plants, and harvest the dead.
We play the flute like the color of the faraway, sketch over the dirt corridor a neigh.
We write our names one stone at a time, O lightning brighten the night.

We love life if we find a way to it...

(translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah)

from Ma'an News:

The first public square named after the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish outside of his homeland was unveiled Tuesday in the French capital with a plaque with the poet's name and a line of his verse: 'We love life when we find a way to it'

According to the Palestinian Authority news agency WAFA, Mayor of Paris Bertrand Dolanoe unveiled the plaque alongside officials from the French Foreign Ministry, ambassadors from several Arab states, UNESCO, and French and Arab artists living in the city. Darwish himself lived in Paris on and off for years, traveling between the French city and Beirut during his years of exile.

Monday, June 14, 2010

daring to speak: Haneen Zoubi

Member of Israeli Parliament Haneen Zoubi trying to do her job.

Where are the western feminist voices to defend Haneen Zoubi for daring to go against the dominant norm of the state/nation and for speaking out?

The media were quick to jump on Helen Thomas' remark, so why doesn't the mainstream North American media cover what is happening to Haneen Zoubi?

Why don't feminists, liberals, and the media speak out in condemnation of those calling for Zoubi's MP passport and privileges to be stripped and her Israeli citizenship to be revoked? Where is the clamour to expose the extremists who want her executed?

What is her "crime"? She had been on the Mavi Marmara. She speaks out in Israeli parliament about the attack on the Gaza flotilla, challenging the official Israeli version, asserting that she saw 3 passengers shot in the head by Israeli commandos. She asks hard questions such as why doesn't Israel release the photos and video footage confiscated from the passengers?

As Alison Weir writes, "According to eyewitness reports and forensic evidence, many of these aid volunteers were shot at close range, including a 19-year-old American citizen killed by four bullets to the head and one to the chest fired from 18 inches away."

The response against Zoubi is shocking; for her efforts towards seeking justice she has been made into a hate figure in Israel. Shouldn't Americans and Canadians be at least informed about what is going on?

Haneen Zoubi is a ground-breaking female politician and media scholar that I told you about before, and one of few Arab members of parliament in Israel, and the only Arab female MP in Israel. Obviously, her work is difficult, and now when she should be receiving support for her efforts, she is being castigated and heaped with not only scorn but also threat of punishment. Jonathan Cook writes about the recent far-right fueled frenzy to get her and her questions out of Israeli parliament, out of sight:

"Ms Zoubi has been provided with a bodyguard after receiving a spate of death threats. A popular Facebook page in Hebrew is calling for her execution and an online petition for her expulsion from the parliament has attracted tens of thousands of supporters.

[A Hebrew Facebook page “Execute MP Haneen Zoubi” features a cartoon image of the MP with crosshairs on her forehead as the figure waves a Palestinian flag with a bloody Star of David at its centre.]

Last week, in unprecedented scenes as she tried to address parliament, Ms Zoubi was heckled into silence by Jewish legislators shouting out “terrorist” and “traitor”. Guards only narrowly prevented a far-right parliamentarian from attacking her.

During her address to the parliament last week, Ms Zoubi called for an international investigation and demanded to know why Israel had not published photographs and video footage it confiscated from passengers that related to the nine dead and dozens of wounded. After the session, she said: “It was so hostile in the chamber that, had MPs been allowed to carry guns, I am sure someone would have shot me.” Israel has been swept by rightwing demonstrations in support of the raid on the flotilla over the past few days."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

ladybug cluster

My son found this cluster of baby ladybugs all bundled together on an old damp log by the strawberry patch in our yard. They are much smaller than the spotted ladybugs I see around here. I'm not sure if these are a different kind of ladybug altogether; besides a ladybug song that I used to sing as a girl, my knowledge of ladybugs is poor. Maybe these over-wintered under the log and came out in the light rain today?

Friday, June 11, 2010

my yard is whatcha call natural

horseradish gone wild

the part of my yard that I call "the jungle." Forget weeding; weeds always win.
columbines in pink

looking at the sky from beneath pink columbines

the transplant: a slip from the white rose bush from my mother's yard is enjoying the sun in my yard.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I was reading the back page of an old back issue of The Sun that was lying around my house, and I thought I would share some Sunbeams:

"It isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't see the problem." ~ G.K. Chesteron.

"It wasn't the Exxon Valdez captain's driving that caused the Alaskan oil spill. It was yours." ~ Greenpeace

"It takes time to ruin a world, but time is all it takes." ~ Bernard de Bovier de Fontenelle

"Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment." R. Buckminster Fuller

"To people who think of themselves as God's houseguests, American enterprise must seem arrogant beyond belief. Or stupid. A nation of amnesiacs, proceeding as if there were no other day but today. Assuming land could also forget what had been done to it." ~ Barbara Kingsolver

"Prayer does not use up artificial energy, doesn't burn up any fossil fuel, doesn't pollute. Neither does song, neither does love, neither does the dance." ~ Margaret Mead

i thank You God for most this amazing
day; for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes.
~ e.e. cummings

and the most ironic one, which at least admits there is hope for the Palestinians yet:

"History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives." ~ Abba Eban

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

some colonial histories should not be uttered

Today, after my morning walk and pulling out some more weeds from my flower garden, I popped on the radio and listened to parts of The Current, then to Jian Ghomeishi's Q. Anna Maria Tremonti was covering the Jewish artifacts of Iraq that had been damaged during the US invasion, that had been then brought to the US to be repaired -- with an agreement before they left Iraq that they would be returned as part of Iraq's cultural heritage. They are still in the US.

Some people don't want them returned to Iraq; Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress explained that they should be distributed to their original owners. I thought, what, and break up this amazing irreplaceable historical archive? Disperse it in pieces into the diaspora? Make it invisible? She interviewed Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq's ambassador to the US who argued that the Jewish heritage of Iraq goes back many centuries and that these artifacts will be cared for -- that Iraq has a long history and knowledge of caring for important cultural artifacts -- and further that they would be digitized so anyone, any researcher can access them. He argues that they are part of Iraqi history as are the Jewish people.

Tremonti's questions to him, I felt, were accusatory. She asked him why shouldn't they be kept in the US? Or sent to Israel? These comments, of course, speak to the interviewer's lack of understanding of Iraq's history and Jewish history and in my opinion were disrespectful, suggesting that Iraq is both incapable of, and unacceptable for, holding these Jewish artifacts as a collection. Sumaidaie's replies began to sound defensive, like he is tired of having to repeat the entire history of the world once again, that is, the history of the world beyond Western eyes. I turned the radio off. If you want to listen to the podcast, go to Part 3 here.

Shortly after, I listened to the opening of Q with Jian Ghomeshi. He started by talking about "the Helen Thomas" incident. After listening to what he had to say, I shut the radio off, sat at my computer and sent this off to the Q blog:

I thought your show was supposed to be cutting edge. The focus on Helen Thomas's comment and how it ends her career on a down turn speaks of how once again mainstream media -- no matter how it is disguised -- turns away from the real issue: the occupation, dispossession, and suppression of the human rights of Palestinians in the Gaza, the West Bank, in Israel, and in the diaspora.

Helen Thomas' off-the- cuff remark speaks of Israel's colonial history. Is this new to Americans and Canadians? Do we not know that many of the Jewish settlers to the newly created country of Israel were from Europe? That the state of Israel was created through violence? Reading Jewish history of the invasion of Palestine states the facts. Thomas' off-the-cuff remark speaks of occupation. Has it been forgotten that the Palestinians live under occupation? Or is that a convenient truth left ignored time and time again?

Let's look at "incidents" and never the real issue: the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel and its supporters, primarily the US and Canada.

Of course, the Israeli setters and immigrants can no longer go back to their original homes, any more than Canadian settlers and immigrants can go back to our original nation states. So, on this point I disagree with Helen Thomas, but I am sure, with her advanced knowledge of the Middle East collected over an esteemed career, that given the opportunity she would explain the context of her remarks.

I am not so quick to dismiss her like you have done.

One of the reasons Canadians and Americans refuse to look at Israel's colonial settler history is because that would mean looking at ours. It's easier to trash Helen Thomas.


After posting this, I read Angry Arab, who said on his post Helen Thomas and American Zionists:

"Regarding her comments: I have lived in the US since 1983, and I regularly hear American Zionists calling for the expulsion of Palestinians and their distribution around Arab countries far from Israel. It is a standard Zionist line. What is the difference? "

Sunday, June 6, 2010

which is worse, a black duck or a brown duck? or are they both dead ducks, so it doesn't matter?

South of the 49 parallel, in the Gulf, the BP oil crime is predicted to cause massive loss of wildlife and birds over the years. What will be the number? Does BP care? Does Obama really care? If anyone really cared the laws wouldn't be so wimpy that these sorts of crimes continue to happen with very little accountability. Why are these CEOs,managers, et al, not seen as criminals? Corporate criminals? Why, no matter what disaster neoliberal capitalism creates, we continue to support capitalism?

Canada: Syncrude duck. Our dirty ducks are more black than brown.

Meanwhile, north of the 49 parallel, in Alberta, the Tar Sands oil project continues full steam ahead, billowing out all sorts of toxic sludge, which, THANK GOD for SCIENCE, is being saved in humongous vats. What to do with it? Hmmmm. What government policy allows this folly? It is predicted that the Tar Sands will cause the deaths of 160 million birds over the next 30-50 years. The 1600 ducks that, a few years back, landed on one of the gigantic toxic tailing ponds and drowned have been forgotten by most Canadians. In Alberta, the ducks at least still make the news. The politicians, however, seem not to have seen the images. Further, the number of ducks that get swallowed by these tailing ponds is out of sight, out of mind.

Bye-bye birdie. Capitalism always wins.

Visual Songs are found on the walls

Invitation to see Visual Songs, a special art showing of the work of my sister, Katja Maki, who is the next featured artist at Calico's Coffeeshop. You can find her art on the walls from June 7th until August 2nd, 2010. Visit Katja's blog for more detail and her artist statement.

If you don't know where Calico's is, find it right beside Hoito Restaurant on Bay St. in Thunder Bay. This photo is from the Definitely Superior Art Gallery's FB page, taken by Heather MacArthur as part of the downtown Port Arthur bike lane inauguration.

Friday, June 4, 2010

our feathered friends need our help

The photos BP doesn't want you to see

AP photographer Charles Riedel [has] filed some of the most disturbing images yet of the effect the BP oil spill is having on Gulf Coast birds.

photo by Win McNamee. From a photo series on the Toronto Star online.

ota ja istu: Have a seat

These two photos illustrate the article I just wrote for New World Finn. This one is of my maternal Grandmother and Grandfather in their tupa, or central room of their farmhouse in Juonikyla, Finland. They are both deceased now. As you can see, they are dressed in their Sunday best for the photo, and although the muuri is an important part of the tupa, they have positioned themselves in front of the tv. The muuri, the old big stove and heater, signifies work, work, and work, but the tv? Ahh, a bit of leisure ...

not that my Mummo had much time for leisure having birthed 17 children.

Now, as you know, if you are a regular reader of my blog, my sisters and I write an article for the quarterly New World Finn, which is published in Minnesota, US. Once a year we write a collective piece, and for the other three issues we take turns writing. Last issue, which you can read online as a sample, my sister, Katja, wrote a story about Aino. (you can also see her images of Aino that she created). The story is her retelling of Aino, the female character who Elias Lonnrot invented from other fragments for his epic The Kalevala, a collection of old Finnish runes, poems and stories.

The photo above was created by three people: Mr. Hautala who took the photo of me, my mother and my father in the late 50s, my sister Della, who made a photo copy and made it into a card, adding a frame and some text, and my sister, Katja, who digitized it and added some of her own magic to bring it alive!

My article for the next New World Finn issue is called "Ota ja istu: have a seat." That's a Finnish expression extended to someone who has dropped by; you are inviting them to sit down while you make them a cup of coffee. My article is a story about immigrating to Canada in the 50s and learning how to become middle-class Canadian in the 60s and 70s. I do that through talking about the changing rooms and furniture, the changes of what was part of the agrarian Finland we left and what came to be in Port Arthur, Canada, and how those rooms and furniture shape who we are as individuals; indeed, moving us more into individualism in the North American capitalist context. To read my story, however, you will have to buy the spring issue of the New World Finn!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

fantasies for jaded grown ups

No one professes to watch commercials, and everyone asserts that they are “too smart” to be affected by them. Who is watching them, then? Why are we watching them? They are everywhere and cost a mint to make and to place in media culture. Online commercials alone are watched by millions. The current seductive power of consumer culture today works to make commercials that you WANT to watch.

The ad above is part of the new genre of commercials that speaks to the viewer as a clever 21st c subject who knows how ads work, who can read cultural meanings, who has agency, who is not a brainwashed dupe. It works on the level of story, buzz, and social media.

You watch this commercial, rather than skip it, delete, or move on. Why do you watch it? One of the reasons: you know it is a commercial for Adidas shoes, so you wonder, where do the shoes come in? So it speaks to you as a person who will help construct the meaning, help make this a cultural text.

This commercial does not need to persuade you. The makers know that you are inundated with messages trying to persuade you to buy their product or service. You are a savvy, hip consumer – or so you like to think of yourself as such. So, they take things in a new direction and persuade you by not persuading you. They seduce you through indirection.

Here’s how it works. You watch the commercial to find out where the shoes come in. The story seduces you to keep watching. It’s a contemporary fantasy made explicit. The makers know that consumers know that ads sell fantasies. So, they make a literal fantasy with an average (sexy) guy. You don’t need to be hit over the head to be reached. You watch. You look for the shoes, which are on the margins of the story.

This ad works on a visual story needing no text. The makers know you can make meanings and don’t need to be told. There are all sorts of cultural codes floating around in this visual drama. You watch it, continue to watch it, to see which ones you can figure out so you can make sense of the story. You wonder, what can I piece together from this to make sense of it? The soundtrack is contemporary quirky–unique. You feel like you’re watching a mini-movie.

Intertextually, this story calls up the mermaid mythology. But it also is very much a masculine fantasy. It calls up various scripts from the social narrative of bachelorhood/being single, commitment, marriage and/or relationship, heterosexuality, children, getting drowned by marriage/responsibility, boring middle-class leisure, needing to escape that reality, choices, needing to be independent, women will drown your dreams, and so on.

After watching this mini-story mini-drama to the end, it becomes part of your cultural archive, your cultural archive of visual images with which you make cultural stories. You tell your friends about it by sharing it via social networking/media. Buzz happens.

Like the walking billboards we have become and make our children into, we continue to do the work of advertising various companies' products. Online, rather than wear the product, we share the product -- like I have done.

This is the trick. Advertising is something we do willingly.

Telling you how great Adidas shoes are is not the point of this ad. The point is the word Adidas stays in your mind. The company name becomes part of your cultural archive. When you go to the mall and are confronted once again with the mind-boggling choice of shoes in the sports shop/shoe store, you pick up a pair of Adidas and try them on. You “free” yourself by “simply” “choosing” these shoes.

That’s it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

watch out for these two old terrorists: they may be armed with clubs and knives

The ways people rationalize away what they refuse to accept never fails to amaze me. As you can see from reading the quote below, some people grasp at straws to perpetuate their illusions when they see the truth opened up for all to see. They insist on repeating falsehoods no matter how ridiculous they sound. Here's what I read in my local paper today about the Israeli attack on the flotilla of humanitarian aid:

"The B’nai Brith Canada, the Jewish advocacy group, applauded the Harper government for not jumping to conclusions, and called the "Free Gaza Flotilla" a terrorist group with links to al-Qaida and Hamas.
'We also await the facts and urge rational Canadians not to jump to conclusions, even though there are many who are trying hard to seize this obviously staged opportunity for the purpose of spreading hateful propaganda,' said spokesman Frank Dimant.
'No one should be fooled that the Gaza flotilla was part of some docile humanitarian mission. This was an action organized primarily by Islamists with ties to various terrorist groups across the globe whose obvious goal was to provoke Israel into a response.'"

That mind-boggling statement came after statements by Netanyahu saying the commandos "were mobbed, they were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed ...Our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives, or they would have been killed."

Below are some of the dangerous "terrorists" who were on board the ships:

Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, 88

Hedy Epstein 85