Sunday, January 30, 2011

this weekend at the Egyptian Museum

Hello readers,

I apologize for being lax in posting recently. I have been busy following the news in Tunisia, Egypt, and Lebanon, sick with a terrible cold, and teaching. Below, is a modified version of a post that I wrote today for the class blog in my critical museum studies class, where we are examining the multiple social, historical, economic, and political contexts of museums and our engagements with them.

Tut ankh Amen. image source

I know I don’t have to introduce Tutankhamen to you. People in the West have had a long history of interest in the antiquities of ancient Egypt. This is evidenced in a special cable to the New York Times, written up in the Feb. 16, 1926 NYT article, “Tut-ankh-Amen’s Inner Tomb is Opened Revealing Undreamed of Splendors, Still Untouched After 3,400 Years.” “EXPLORERS ARE DAZZLED” begins the article, which glowingly reports on the speechlessness and gasps that followed the opening of Tut ankh Amen’s tomb. This momentous unveiling was the particular privilege of a primarily Western audience of, to quote the article, “EXPLORERS.” With one Egyptian official named as part of the party, the article notes that “There were twenty in all, to whom must be added the laborers who carried down the huge trays for the reception of seals, & amp;c [sic].”

Jan. 28, 2011, looters smash cases to steal antiquities from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

artifact thrown onto the floor of the museum in the midst of smash-and-grab

Over the years, interest in the artifacts of Tutankhamen’s tomb has only grown, and they circulate the world to the delight of audiences everywhere, and, as well, millions of tourist visit Egypt each year to see the national treasures of Egypt in their homeland. And today, rather than read about the colonial adventures of Western explorers in American newspapers, the news from Egypt accessed online through various media sources, including Arab digital media, speaks of challenges to the legacy of colonialism and to state repression by the descendants of the unnamed “labourers.”

I am sure that you have been keeping up with the news about the recent popular uprising in Egypt that came to a head this Friday and Saturday and continues as we speak. The Egyptian people, inspired by the grassroots revolt for democracy in Tunisia (led by young people and enabled by social media), have been gathering, demonstrating, and defying government curfews and military violence in their demands for the resignation of Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak. The uprising is a response to increasing poverty (40% of Egyptians earn $2/day), unemployment, rapidly rising food prices, political corruption, and a 30 year long American supported ($1.3 billion military and security “aid” each year; US economic aid in 2009 was only $200 m.) repressive dictatorship, i.e. the government of Hosni Mubarak.

smashed case of antiquities at the Egyptian Museum

Egyptian army tanks move in to secure the museum

The Egyptian people have been demonstrating for days and nights in cities across the country, and many people have been killed (100-150 deaths) and injured (over 1000) by Egyptian security forces. In Cairo, where demonstrations are particularly intense, people have been gathering in Tahrir Square (Freedom Square), which the Egyptian Museum faces.

The building beside the museum is (I should say, was) the headquarters of the despised ruling party, which the anti-government pro-democracy protesters set on fire on Friday night and destroyed. The raging fire engulfed the party headquarters, which endangered the museum due to its proximity, and in the melee “dozens of would-be thieves started entering the grounds surrounding the museum, climbing over the metal fence or jumping inside from trees lining the sidewalk outside.”

Egyptian army securing the interior of the Egyptian Museum

The first people to secure the museum and stop further looting were the people, the anti-government demonstrators. As reported in the article by Maggie Michaels (that I linked to above), people formed a human chain around the museum, preventing more looters from entering the museum:

One man pleaded with people outside the museum’s gates on Tahrir Square not to loot the building, shouting at the crowd: ‘We are not like Baghdad.’ ….

Suddenly other young men — some armed with truncheons taken from the police — formed a human chain outside the main entrance in an attempt to protect the collection inside.

‘I’m standing here to defend and to protect our national treasure,’ said one of the men….Another man…said it was important to guard the museum because it ‘has 5,000 years of our history. If they steal it, we’ll never find it again.’”

Egyptian army patrolling the museum

Tourist police assisted the pro-democracy demonstrators in protecting the museum until the Egyptian army arrived to secure the building. However, looters destroyed two mummies by ripping off their heads, damaged 10 other artifacts, smashed glass cases, along with other damage; some of which you can see in the photos I have posted. I took the photos yesterday while watching the Al-Jazeera English website, which is live streaming the uprising in Egypt. So they are images I snapped from webcasts that I was watching on my computer monitor and my TV.

Above is a short (about 1 minute) newscast of the destruction at the museum that I found on the Al Jazeera website.

artifact smashed into pieces

Along with the Egyptian army securing the museum to prevent further theft, the fire in the adjacent building was extinguished. However, the museum is still not safe until the burnt building is torn down (Zahi Hawass says that it can fall onto the museum, causing damage), and, of course, the current volatile instability in Egypt is resolved. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is a particularly valuable cultural archive of North African antiquities, important not only to the Egyptian people, but to all humanity.

The Egyptian Museum (Museum of Egyptian Antiquities) is a “two-storey museum, built in 1902, [which] houses tens of thousands of objects in its galleries and storerooms, including most of the King Tutankhamen collection.” The looters, thankfully, were caught and the stolen artifacts retrieved, according to this report.

However, the situation in Egypt remains insecure, tense, and unpredictable. Unlike Canada and its aging population, the countries of the Middle East have young populations; overall, 70% of the population is under 30 years of age. In light of high unemployment, skyrocketing food prices, increasing poverty, censorship, and violent repression of any dissent against the ruling government, young Egyptians and their allies, family members, and neighbours, male and female, have taken to the streets to attempt to change their futures. On Saturday, as Manar Ammar reports on the collectively written blog, bikyamasr (which, according to my husband, translates roughly to “all the bits and pieces that make up the problems in Egypt and you don’t know where to start”), “Egyptian demonstrators took their protest movement on the offensive, braving gun fire, tear gas and violence to protest in front of the ministry of interior. Reports from the scene are anything but harrowing [sic], with one reporter saying lines of people would brave the live fire and march toward the ministry, only to return with blood and wounds, in a Gandhi-like protest against state tyranny.”

The short video above clearly gives you a sense of what the Egyptian people are against, and their determination to free themselves from the stupidity of Mubarak. I am heartened by the courage and rage of the peoples of Egypt (and Tunisia) in rising up against their repressive regimes, standing up against corruption and for their human rights, and I wish them success in their struggles.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

snow scenes in my city

There are few houses with icicles as long as the icicles dripping down from the roof of my home. When it is brilliantly sunny, as it is today and has been for the last few days, regardless that it is -20c something, the sun still manages to do its magic. Behind the rooftops of homes and garages in my neighbourhood you can see an imposing looking old brick institution. That was a high school that has since shut down, so it sits empty.
Here is a photo from my walk yesterday. We had a lot of light snow fall all day long, making everything look clean, white, and pure. As you know if you are a regular reader of my blog, I like to walk down back lanes. Walking down back lanes is great in the winter as you are protected from the winds and, as well, there is next-to-no vehicle traffic. So it's quiet, except at times for barking dogs that growl at you as they run back and forth behind fences. Also, in back lanes the ground is earth, not paved, so it is more forgiving on the feet, ankles, and knees. Of course, this doesn't make as much difference in the winter as the snow underfoot cushions your step.
Here is a photo taken from the parking lot at Lakehead University, after I stepped out of my car. Along one edge of the parking lot, there is a strip of old tall spruce and tamarack, among other trees. Last month, I saw a lynx run into this strip of wood, on its way to somewhere else as this is not a wild spot. Indeed, in the area around the university, more and more urban forest is being taken down for "development." Thunder Bay is more a car culture than a place of public transit, so the university has a lot of parking lots. I am one of those car culture folks who takes her car to work rather than wait for public transit. This is a pretty edge of one of the lots. I will show you other photos later; I will go up to the fifth floor of the ATAC building and take some photos of our parking lots.

Canada's failure on the UN Security Council

Human Rights Education

proudly presents

How Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government Destroyed Canada’s Reputation on the UN Security Council

with Yves Engler

Montréal author & activist

Friday, Jan. 21st, 7:00 pm.

ATAC 1001

Lakehead University


Yves Engler's books include The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy; Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority; and Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

a happy ending for one horse

horse rescued from flood waters in Australia.

When she was a girl, my sister had a love affair with horses, especially Palaminos. This love probably came from some tv show we used to watch, possibly Roy Rogers. She still has the china Palamino that she got to replace getting a real horse. Today, my sister has a love affair going with a blackbird. However, she has expressed her lament for his return on her blog.

Well, bird numbers plummet due to a number of reasons, including:

  1. our love of plantation (i.e. inexpensive) coffee (birds lose their habitat);
  2. use of pesticides (pesticides can kill birds directly, poison them without killing them directly, or affect them by reducing their food or habitat resources);
  3. demand for new homes (More than 50 percent of all wetlands in the contiguous U.S., and many of the wetlands in Canada, have been drained or filled since the time of European settlement);
  4. and demand for cheap industrially produced food (10 million blackbirds killed over the years as crop pests, as I wrote about some time ago).

I wonder why few news reports about the recent sudden bird deaths explore reasons of corporate capitalism? Even the argument that perhaps weather is the culprit cannot be blamed in isolation. Haven't we humans been playing havoc with the weather through our consumer lifestyles and demand for leisure, efficiency, and cheap prices NOW?

And Martha Rosenberg asks, isn't it a bit ironic that "The Blackbird Killers [are] Sent to Investigate [the recent] Blackbird Deaths"?

"Do wildlife officials feel just a little hypocritical answering media questions about the New Year's Eve blackbird "rain" when they know they kill 200 times that amount a year as "pests"?

In 2009 the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), part of USDA, says it poisoned 489,444 red-winged blackbirds in Texas and 461,669 in Louisiana. It also shot 4,217 blackbirds in California, 2,246 in North Dakota and 1,063 in Oregon according to its posted records.

We won't even talk about the starlings, crows, ravens, doves, geese, owls (yes owls) hawks, pigeons, ducks, larks, woodpeckers and coots our tax dollars annihilated to benefit ranchers, farmers and other private interests. Or the squirrels, rabbits, badgers, bobcats, beavers, woodchucks, coyotes, opossums, raccoons and mountain lions.

The he-men at the Wildlife Service also shot 29 great blue herons, 820 cattle egrets and 115 white-faced ibises in 2009, despite the known dangers of approaching shore birds.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

e-voice from the grave

E-Tomb: “the conceptual tomb for the information age.”

Here’s your chance to be undead. Can this be a way to make humans supernatural? That is, we don’t really die if our e-selves continue to speak from the grave? Move over séances, Ouija boards, and John Edwards, technology / science will allow us to speak from the grave.

Our body may be dust, but this new technology promises to let us live forever in the minds of our family and friends; we will be just a digital distance away. The E-Tomb stores all of the e-communications we networked during our lives — blogs, tweets, texts, emails, Facebook, Skype video, Messenger, and on and on — for handy e-access for our loved ones, who can collect e-memories and reminisce about us.

This latest digital technology to keep the dead in our network and our memories is designed by Huang Jianbo, Zhao Ting, Wang Yushan, Ran Xiangfei & Mo Ran.

E-tombs for e-communications for e-memories ….e…. e…. e ….


A popular topic of art: the beautiful female corpse. "The Anatomist." 1869. Gabriel von Max

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


one antlered deer. photo by Dan
Symmetry has a natural beauty to it that no eye needs to be trained to find pleasing. The repeating pattern of the mirroring of the lead deer by the rear deer shows this, as do the brown colours of the deer repeating the colours of the winter bush and the splash of primary blue providing contrast.

Yet asymmetry catches your eye unexpectedly and has a pleasantness, too. While many things in the world and outside it repeat circuitous patterns of balance, sometimes something interrupts that order. What are at times seen as imperfections are actually beautiful. A broken antler can be art, too. On a physical level, can you imagine the strength this deer needs to simply hold its head upright and straight? Would not this imperfection cause one's neck to be stronger? Antlers are heavy, you know.

I know why I keep returning to Deer for reflection: just look at the broad surface of Deer's ears! They are maps of sensitivity. The gentle curve of Deer's ears seem perfectly made for listening, to grab any slight sound that happens to whistle by. Listen.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Canadians, we are deluding ourselves

Not only is this woman's designed-and-made-in-Canada bathing suit a thing of the past, so too is this Canadian woman's figure. This 1945 ad shows a Vancouver woman, Yvonne de Carlo, modelling a cutting-edge bathing suit with new fabric (prior, women's bathing suits were made of heavy water-absorbing wool). The bathing suit was designed by two other B.C. women, Rose Marie Reid (design), and Marianne McCrea McClain (textile).
This Canadian man enjoying the summer sun in Montreal is also not how most Canadian men look, either. As a just released poll on Canadians' perceptions of their health shows, Canadians think they are lean, fit, and healthy but in fact 2/3 of Canadians are overweight and 20% are obese. Just as Canadians have deluded themselves that our national identity is that of a peacemaker (in fact, we are profiteering from waging war in Afghanistan and training police and security forces in Haiti, the West Bank, and Afghanistan), so too have we deluded ourselves that we are in shape, healthy and active.
This photo is more reflective of the average Canadian bodies today, as we eat more than we move. While there are lots of social and economic reasons for rising weights, inactivity, poor eating, and unhealthiness, one of the contributing factors to our delusion of thinking we are in shape and physically active when in fact we are overweight and sedentary, is the lie of the images on tv and other visual media. The bodies of people on TV and movies do not mirror us back to ourselves. They show illusions, simulacra, as if all men and women and teenagers and children are thin and lean.
'The Biggest Burger in Canada'

The Adversary: 9 lb. Hamburger

Where to Slay It: Blondie's Restaurant -- Winnipeg, Manitoba

Sunday, January 2, 2011

word of inspiration: listen

On New Year's Eve, in my kitchen as I was making a pot of tea with dried rose petals that my sister-in-law, Zeina, gave me before I left Lebanon this summer, sprigs of fresh lavender from the garden planter I brought into the house before the night frosts, and a bag of bramble and strawberry leaves and linden flowers, my sister was telling me that rather than a New Year's Resolution, the buzz on blogs was about having a one word inspiration to set the course for your creative and spiritual focus for the coming year.

"Oh," I immediately said, "I know my word. My word is LISTEN."

From my red 1969 Webster's Dictionary:

list, [Original form of listen, which is a lengthened form from A.Sax. hlystan, to listen, from hlyst, hearing, like Icel. hlusta, to listen, from hlust, an ear, allied to A.Sax. hlosnian, to hear; W. clust, an ear; L. cluo, Gr. kluo, to hear; and to E. loud.] To hearken; to attend; to listen--listen, lis'n. To attend to closely with a view to hear; to give ear; to hearken.

Here is my list of 10 things to Listen to, although I am sure that Listen will bring me what I need to Listen to, unasked and unexpected. Nevertheless, as a start to listening, here is my list for Listen:

1. listen to what someone is saying. Without interrupting. Without distractions. Without multi-tasking. Without trying to make him or her feel better. Without telling him or her what my opinion is on it. Just listen with intent to another person voicing what she or he wants to say.

2. listen to what other people are not saying. Listen to their silences. Listen to long pauses between words. Listen to what is left unsaid. Accept the silence. Let the silence be. Attend to silence.

3. listen to the rustle of birds' wings as they fly overhead; listen to the winter chirping of purple finches, chickadees, and sparrows; listen to the croak of crows; listen to the many trickster callings of starlings.

4. listen to my inner voice of wisdom. Listen when she speaks as a young girl. Listen when she speaks as an old woman. Listen when she scolds. Listen when she guides. Listen when she speaks from a place of experience. Listen when she speaks from joy. Listen when she laughs. Listen when she howls like a wolf. Listen when she twitches her ears like a rabbit.

5. listen to elderly Finnish Canadian people speaking Finnish.

6. listen to poems, to the sudden breath-stopping surprises unleashed from their words

7. listen to random phrases: baby cardinals; begin to write; dress myself with snow; open the window; stirring the stars; it's nearly night again; begin recording your dreams; visited by owls; moon like a canoe; shedding pink petals

8. listen to things that are not normally seen as speaking to us: trees, a street, clouds, the river flowing under the ice, the haunted moaning of the ice by the lake shore, dog paws padding on packed snow, the squirrel munching a maple key, the wind creeping through cracks in this old house; the snow, drifting

9. listen to curiosity when she comes by. Listen to her when she comes dressed as an old Italian man who lives alone with hummingbirds in his front porch, pigeons in his eaves, and tears in his eyes.

10. listen to breath.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

a New Year's Day walk

I love the slant of my town. A slice of the city meets the slope of Hillcrest Park as an old apple tree leans backwards, permanently bent by the wind, with Lake Superior in the background disappearing into a calming blue horizon. That small black dot on the hill? A young sledder braving the -24c windchill on the first day of 2011. What better way to celebrate the new day than whizzing down a hill on a thin round disc?
Looking up that same hill towards the apple trees. A father, his daughter, and their dog walked up from the Bay Street neighbourhood, climbed to the top of the snowy slope, and as the father and daughter flew down the hill, their dog raced up and down the snow in a frenzy of glee.
Walking towards the south end of the lookout, I passed a row of cars idling their engines as their occupants gazed out towards the lake. In the distance, you can see the one tall building we have downtown: Waverley Park Towers.
The old bell at the crest of the hill. It was gleaming in the cold. I had on my new double layer long johns that my mother gave me for Christmas, gloves with mitts on top, my fake fur hat made in Canada, a fleece scarf, and my daughter's hand-me-down red down-filled jacket, so I was toasty.
My camera, however, was not. It stopped working shortly after I took this photo. Standing in front of the bell, I snapped this photo of the old part of town. The white street running down towards the lake on the left is Bay Street. What I like about my town is that there are next-to-no tall buildings.