Friday, April 29, 2011

I carry clout

Katja, not quite a teenager yet. 1966

When it was my sister, Katja's birthday in January, I racked my brains to think about what I could give her. I didn't want to buy her something useless, but I didn't have too much time to make her anything, either. At the time, I had been working with my students to get them to think about how consumer culture gives us many of the gender scripts (and race, class and sexuality scripts, too) that we take up. So I decided I would look for advertisements from women`s magazines from the 1970s, when my sister was in her teens and twenty something (this term, however, wasn't invented until 1990), so we could think about what were some of the media texts that influenced us to shape our identities as young women.

These were the years when we were learning to be young Canadian women, that is, not our mother. Our mother couldn't help us with this. We were on our own. As a working-class, non-English speaking Finnish immigrant woman, she was not like our "Canadian" friends' mothers; she was not like our female teachers; she was not like the women we saw in our school books, on tv, in films, in catalogues, or in magazines. She was not what we wanted to be. We wanted to fit in.
Mork and Mindy. tv series 1978-1982

As I needed to refresh myself on exactly what was in style what year, I did a bit of research on the net to find out who were the popular singers we listened to, what songs were our favourites, what movies and tv shows we watched, and what were the things we coveted to buy in the 1970s. Then I thought I`ll go look for some old magazines, look through them for advertisements targeting young women that I remember looking at, cut them out, and paste the advertisements in a scrapbook for my sister, along with bits and pieces of the media culture that was popular.

Later that day, as I walked down the hill to the downtown Bank of Montreal (BMO) to deposit a cheque for my daughter, I wondered to myself: where am I going to find some old women's magazines from the 70s now? I needed to have the scrapbook ready for the next night, so I chastised myself for once again leaving things until the last minute. By lucky chance (ain`t this often the case?), wasn't there a bookcase of second hand books and magazines at the BMO, with women's magazines from the 70s.

So, I collected about 5, left about $4, stuffed them in my bag, and left, not believing my good luck.

Later that evening, I set to work to cut out ads. I could not believe how many I remembered. The pile grew. One of the ads I cut out from a 1976 women's magazine was the same as this one:

I found this image from a 1977 magazine on ebay. Someone is selling this ad for $5.99 US. I guess if I have some time on my hands I can sell some of the ads I found in those old magazines and recoup my $4 and more!!

I gave my sister the scrapbook I made her at our RedShoes writing group meeting. The 1976 ad for the Master Charge card (it was renamed 'Mastercard' in 1979) was, as we looked at it closely and thought about it, one of the early campaigns to get women to use credit cards. We all used cash in those days. This particular ad uses the language of feminist empowerment to sell bondage to consumerism. As if buying things on credit will free you, give you status.

Well, 36 years later, Canadians are drowning in consumer card debt:

"In 2010, the average household's consumer debt reached $36,350, an increase of of 87.9% over the last 20 years."

It seems the ads have been highly successful.

At our writing group, we thought we would take back that clout from consumerism and re-feminist it. We decided to write for five minutes with the prompt:


Here's what I wrote:

I carry clout

in my Finnish face

in my blue eyes

that my Aunt Anja

stares back from

I carry clout

in my wide feet

that walk and run

and stomp and stand

tall in mountain pose.

I carry clout

in my loud voice

sharp and shrill

that cuts the air

and carries up to the third floor

to call my son downstairs.

I carry clout.

I pack a punch.

I carry clout

in a classroom

because I get to say

to a roomful of young minds

that we need to think about race and class

gender and sexuality

about power relations

about who is privileged

and who is disadvantaged

and why is that

and why we should care.

I carry clout

in my family

I carry clout

in my community

I even scolded

the new old mayor

In a Letter to the Editor

and told him that

he is an old-fashioned moralizer

who wants to use methods that never

worked in the past

for complex problems

of continuing colonization today.

I carry clout

like an old woman

who won’t shut up

who knows some stories

and isn’t afraid to tell them.

I carry clout.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

the rock below my feet

The great Canadian Shield at Cascades Conservation area. While out on a hike last Friday to the Cascades, no matter how many times I visit this place, I find the beauty breathtaking.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

art and the Egyptian Revolution

How to stop multi-tasking: Focus (do one thing at a time), Filter (delegate so that you don't take on too many tasks or too much information) and Forget (read: exercise, take breaks, clear your head).

The article I linked to above is directed at executives and those in the corporate world, and perhaps with its head stuck in a corporate glass tower can be forgiven for forgetting one key strategy to rid one of multi-tasking: make or engage in art in all of its beautiful diversities.

Making or engaging in art can help us through so many days, whether those days are mundane or difficult. Granted, at times, it may be very, very difficult to produce art when one's world is literally exploding with gunshots, tear gas, and other weapons of violence or one's life is at risk.

But artists never lie still for any length of time. Artists are those unique beings who help us see the world in new ways. Artists also help us to see the world -- that which is right before our eyes, but in our sleepwalking or rushing through our days (and some of us, wrapped up in our cell phones and other handheld digital devices, literally failing to see what is right before our feet).

Artists also enable us to see complex political, social, economic and historical events in ways that, no matter where it happens, we can all bring to our hearts some of that which did happen. Sometimes it makes the heart skip a beat. With art you never know what to expect, so be forewarned: your life may flash before your eyes and you may begin to question all that you have held as truth to date.

Below are links to, and excerpts about, four art exhibits that have risen out of the Egyptian Revolution and can be found in Egypt. Visual art was part of the Revolution, helping the demonstrators-for-justice withstand the forces that Mubarak sent to disable them. But the protesters, those visionaries, would not be silenced.

Here are some visual art/i/facts that speak to the indomitable revolutionary spirit:

1. an exhibit by the state institution, at the Egyptian museum (which will travel Europe, too)

2. an exhibit by university students on the campus of the American University of Cairo

3. an exhibit by artists at a neighbourhood art gallery in Cairo.

4. an exhibit by a Spanish artist inspired by the role of wireless technology in the Revolution

some of the people who were killed during the Egyptian Revolution. image from anamasry

1. Art Exhibition about Egypt’s 25th of January Revolution

The exhibition will first be shown in Cairo and then tour 14 European countries [...] [and] will consist of a collection of art in various media created by Egyptian artists to reflect their views on Egypt’s Revolution, and it will also include a photo gallery showing scenes of Tahrir Square as well as the demonstrators. [...]

a collection of archaeological replicas will be included with the exhibition. [...] these replicas are meant to reflect some themes of the Revolution, for example a replica statue of the Egyptian goddess of truth and justice Ma’at symbolizing the concept of justice, while peace and prosperity will be symbolized by the god Osiris, god of the afterlife.

[...] photos of people who died during the Revolution as well as some of their personal belongings, such as their clothes and flags they held, will also be displayed with the exhibition. [...]a collection of books about antiquities will be provided for the exhibition, including those printed by the MSA, a selection from other archaeologists, and those by Dr. Hawass. In addition, a collection of brochures and newsletters concerning Egypt’s archaeological sites and tourist attractions will be on display in an attempt to promote tourism from within the country and outside.

After the exhibition has completed its tour in Egypt and Europe, Hawass announced, it will be placed on permanent display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC), now under construction in the Al-Fustat area of Old Cairo. The purpose of the NMEC is to display the history of Egyptian civilization from prehistoric through modern times, and this exhibition will make it complete, Hawass stated, displaying the latest saga in Egypt’s modern history.


2. at the American University in Cairo:

‘Tahrir!’ Photography exhibit opens on campus.

A selection of more than 100 photographs taken by 20 professional photographers was displayed at the “Tahrir!” photography exhibition launched last Sunday, April 3 at the Photographic Gallery, Abdul Latif Jameel Hall [American University of Cairo].

The Tahrir exhibition captured the true celebratory spirit of life in Tahrir during the Egyptian revolution. “We wanted to make it a group exhibition with as many photographers as possible to show the different angles of the revolution,” said Nora Bahgat, the curator of the exhibition.


3. at the Art Corner Gallery in Cairo:

Yasser Rostom. white doves attacked by red-eyed ravens.

Artists express dark detainment, cruelty, the rise of Egyptians and the euphoric victory of the 25 January Revolution in an Art Corner Gallery exhibition. Proceeds from four paintings will be donated to hospitals.

4. Egyptian Revolution goes 'Wireless'

Spanish artist Xavier Puigmarti exhibition ‘Wireless’ is on at the Mashrabia Art gallery [downtown Cairo], a tribute to the Egyptian RevolutionA few steps up, inside one of the European-style buildings in downtown Cairo, the Mashrabia Art Gallery was packed with Egyptians, foreigners and the media, to view the latest artwork by Spanish artist Xavier Puigmarti at his 'Wireless' exhibition, which opened on Sunday 10 April 2011.

Puigmarti’s exhibition includes colourful abstract visuals that express the freedom that Egyptians have achieved, through wireless communication connections and technology, during the massive protests that took place in Tahrir Square and ended when the president Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

“Although I began working on these pieces shortly after the Egyptian revolution had begun, I had the idea of ‘Wireless’ before the revolution,” says Puigmarti. “I wanted to speak about wireless technology and its effects on the modern world we live in,” he explains.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

a missing few weeks

We had finally gotten rid of the snow and it was getting sunny and springlike. This is a view facing south towards Lake Superior, down Dufferin Street, which has a steep hill. This steep drop off use to be the shoreline of the ancient lake that preceded Lake Superior. You can see the feet of Nanabijou in the far horizon, a laker in the waters of the harbour, and sheets of solid ice still close to the shore. And, of course, you can see the hydro lines that crisscross the streets of our city.
photo by Dean Salerno
I found this photo on the WeatherNetwork site. This is the ice breaker that goes out into the harbour and chops up the ice so the lakers can come in to load up.
photo by Chris Garbo
Photo of the Aragonborg loading up with malt in Thunder Bay
and will be headed to Ireland.

A better view of that ship out in the harbour, by the grain elevators.
Then we had a sudden hailstorm. The sound was something fierce; at first I didn't know what that was pinging loudly against the windows of the house. The hail was the size of ping pong balls. My friend, Armi, who bought herself a brand new little Pontiac last summer, has her car in the shop now. The bill for hail damage: $5,600. Our cars were unaffected. Something about thicker steel on the body of the car, depending on the make of the vehicle, I believe. Then we had a winter storm return back, making everyone grumpy. The winds were fierce, we had a lot of snow, and it was back to boots and winter coats. Tassu loved it more then ever because it was bitterly cold again. I worried that the daffodils that had just started to sprout out of the ground in my garden would be killed even before they had a chance to greet the spring.
Today, most of the snow has melted although there are big patches here and there in my yard and around the city. McVicar's Creek is rushing water again and there's an open patch where the creek meets Lake Superior. Canada geese, mallards, ring-billed gulls, and migrants passing through can all be found paddling in the water. Most of the shoreline is still frozen solid, except for the odd patch of water. Someone new to town with a small packsack on his back went down to the lakeshore, sat on the old log that is in just the perfect spot, and, well, just sat.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

nano hummingbird

What can I say? What mind thought this one up? Who lay awake at night and came up with this idea for a new war technology?

Nano Hummingbird. It sounds cute, doesn't it? Nano Hummingbird. But no, it is not a new gift from your Nanna. That is, unless your Grandmother is Princess Stephanie Julianna von Hohenlohe or Nancy Wake or Violette Szabo and she wants you to practice playing spy. She would also have to have quite a few dollars to spend on a gift.

The nano hummingbird is a little remote control fake hummingbird to fly around your yard -- that is, if you plan on spying on your neighbours. The nano hummingbird cost $4m. to develop and along with raven drones, are a new bird-looking surveillance technology by American company AeroVironment, the leading drone maker. This particular drone was produced for use by the US army, which has also bought 2182 raven drones.

Below you can see it in action:

from Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's the army's latest $4million spy drone disguised as a hummingbird, measuring just 16 centimetres:

"Around 86 per cent of its [AeroVironment] orders come from the [US] Government, meaning last year it was paid a whopping $215million from the Department of Defense.

The company, based in California with 732 full-time employees, expects to sell even more drones to the Government once rules are relaxed to allow spying within America.


Chris Fisher, project manager at AeroVironment explained: ‘It gives the guy on the ground the opportunity to see what’s on the other side of the hill. There’s only so much you can see with binoculars. A small [drone] can get up and go over the hill. That gives the ground soldier a capability that is huge.

He added: ‘One of the things we benefit from is the average young person in the military has hours and hours of video games experience. They are attuned to holding these things in their hands; moving the joysticks around with their thumbs and that’s how our planes are flown. To an 18-year-old it’s extremely simple.