Tuesday, May 31, 2011

the dangerous mathematical formula of finance

This is not an inkblot test but if it was a Rorschach Test what might this waterscape on a misty morning say about your emotional state? Calm? Depressed? Dismal? Soft? What? I took this photo from the overpass looking down at the breakwater in Lake Superior.

People see different things in the landscape around them, and read things differently. Some read way too much into what's before them. For example, in Toronto, an artist's mural on a railway underpass wall, which he was paid by the city to paint, was erased this Monday by the same city, which "used grey and white paint to completely blot out the mathematical formula incorporating Morse code symbols and grim-faced businessmen with yellow halos" because, because why?

Because one person complained that it was a political message with an anti-Stephen Harper message:

Elyse Parker, a director in [Toronto] city’s transportation services department, said the artwork was erased after a resident complained it was political. City records suggested the older north wall mural was commissioned, but not the one on the south wall, she said.

“This was not approved by the city and we would not endorse any kind of mural with political messaging,” she said. “There was some discussion that the mural referred to Stephen Harper. That’s the suggestion, that’s what it looked like to us.”

Richardson [the artist] says the mural “had nothing to do with Stephen Harper” — while it is “subversive and anti-freewheeling capitalism” — and his friend Benjamin Blais was the model for the businessman.

Good grief. What sort of censorship is this? Isn't art supposed to provoke reactions? Get people to think? Shouldn't we have MORE art like this that challenges people to think about what they're living inside of? Participating in?

This over-reaction says something about the conservative mindset that is in power in Toronto's municipal government. See the "offensive" artwork below:
which now looks more like this:
Seriously, I think some folks working for Toronto City Hall need to have their heads examined. Either that or someone needs to make some art about it.....maybe Joel Richardson, the artist of the dangerous math of capitalism will get paid to make more art now thanks to the city's really stupid move that's sure to create quite the buzz........

Monday, May 30, 2011

I ain't lost, just wandering

Each day brings something unexpected to our routine of life. You only have to open the door to find the magical just below your feet. Or up in the sky. Or right before your eyes. A gift given to you, unasked. All we need to do is walk into our days with our eyes and hearts open.

Sometimes, I wake up and say to myself, should I go on my walk this morning? I hem and haw. I don't feel too inspired. Sometimes, all the work that I have to do that day will run through my mind, filling every corner, and I haven't even popped my feet out of the bed. If it's past 8 am, alarm bells ring in my work ethic conditioned DNA; I feel anxiety.

OMG, it's late. Get moving! I've got lots of work to do. OK, think. Think. WhatdoIhavetodotoday?

But those mornings when life feels so uninspiring are exactly those times when I need to continue with my routine. With the pattern of my days. And, without fail, some message will cross my heart. Arrive at my doorstep. Or my pedal. Like the other day, when I was pedalling to a meeting with a satchel of notes and printouts, I heard the call of ...a loon? What? There isn't even any water close by. Sure enough, when I stopped my bike to look up into the sky, a loon flew straight over my head, flying due east to Lake Superior, calling out his arrival.

This afternoon, I first thought I saw snow falling outside the dining room window -- which is not improbable right now as we've had some up and down weather, with frosts at night. A snow flurry now? What the....But when I stepped into the porch to get a better look, a squall, not of snow flakes, but of flower petals filled the air. A northeast wind was whipping the flower petals off our neighbour's 60 year old plum tree. The petals had been released into another dance, once closer to death.

Adele. Hometown Glory

I've been walking in the same way, as I did,
Missing out the cracks in the pavement,
And tutting my heel and strutting my feet,
"Is there anything I can do for you dear, is there anyone I could call?
No and thank you please madam, I ain't lost, just wandering.."

Round my hometown, memories are fresh,
Round my hometown, ooh the people I've met,
Are the wonders of my world, Are the wonders of my world,
Are the wonders of this world, are the wonders and now,

I like it in the city when the air is so thick, and opaque,
I love it to see everybody in short skirts, shorts and shades,
I like it in the city when two worlds collide,
You get the people and the government,
Everybody taking different sides.

Shows that we ain't gonna stand shit,
Shows that we are united,
Shows that we ain't gonna take it,
Shows that we ain't gonna stand shit,
Shows that we are united,

Round my hometown, memories are fresh,
Round my hometown, ooh the people I've met,
Are the wonders of my world, Are the wonders of my world,
Are the wonders of this world, are the wonders,
Of my world, of my world, yeah, of my world, of my world yeah.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

a Magnolia bandit in my yard

A bandit wearing a black mask surprised me on Queen Victoria's Birthday! As I wasn't expecting to find him there on my back deck when I looked out the back door window, he startled me. But I think I startled him, too. From behind the hops and the yellow dogwood, he just suddenly appeared on the railing. He looked right at me and then left like a shot. But he was there long enough for me to get a good look at him so I would be sure to ID him. And, the black mask was a dead giveaway. There aren't many who wear black masks, that I knew.

I had gone into the back porch after setting the dining room table with four of my Royal Standard MADE IN ENGLAND bone china coffee cups and saucers with the small blue forget-me-not pattern that my mother gave me for my birthday once years ago (maybe my 40th?). I had already brewed a pot of loose leaf Twinings CLASSICS EARL GREY TEA, and it was almost 4 pm. -- time for royal tea in honour of Queen Victoria.

What else to do on a rainy holiday Monday afternoon but take up a bit of silliness? Of course, if you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that I am not a monarchist, so celebrating a Queen's birthday, a colonial queen to boot, is not exactly a regular habit of mine.

But Monday being the second day of steady grey, drizzly rain, and chilly weather on a long weekend meant to signal the start of summer, and Monday being what in Canada is called Victoria Day in honour of Queen Victoria, and as every now and then I have to do something silly in order to stay sane, I decided to have some British tea (i.e. one of the crops its colonized) in British fine china cups (did they appropriate the process of china, too?) with a slice of cake at 4 pm in the afternoon. I had some willing accomplices: one of my friends, one of my sisters, and my only husband. They were all game for the tea party, albeit some of them (e.g. my husband) more of a a captive audience than a willing participant.

I was so excited when I saw the little bandit! I had never seen him before, not in the city, not in the woods, not on a trail, nor in the neighbourhood. So I did not know his name, but I looked him up and sure enough, there he was. I had no idea if he'd been in my yard before. But he was gorgeous! I just had time to note the black mask across his eyes and his beautiful yellow breast streaked in black. And that he was no bigger than a tea cup!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Norman Finkelstein on Obama's speech

“the wonder is that there are so few skeptics.” Norm Finkelstein
I heard Norman Finkelstein speak about 8 years ago at York University to a packed house. His views on Palestine and Israel are troubling to Zionist and pro-Israeli groups, and the Zionist students had come out to heckle him. The university had sent in police for security but as the majority, like me, had come simply to hear his views on Palestine and Israel, so the police did not have much to do. I hope they found his talk informative!

Failing to recognize International Law, as the Americans continuously do, is hubris, showing once again the US's imperial arrogance. In his recent speech to AIPAC, Obama reiterated the US's iron-clad support for Israel, yet Israel continues to flout international law. Why should the US and Israel be above international law? Above the UN? Do they both believe blindly that Manifest Destiny will see them through the next 20 years? I hope more and more people will go to the borders of Israel on Nakba Day. Maybe one day there will be a million unarmed people at Israel's borders, demanding change. What will Israel do? Kill them all?

Obama's gift of rhetoric cannot hide the hypocrisy of his words. Above, watch a 3 min clip of Norm Finkelstein interviewed on Democracy Now, with some critical words about Obama's speech. Why isn't Finkelstein an advisor to Obama? Maybe CHANGE will become a reality, not just rhetoric.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

pink washing

Pink crime? It almost sounds fashionable and desirable. Indeed, I would say it's an (ethical) crime to call a session "Prisoners in Pink," especially as two of the three papers in that session look at women in US prisons, and we know who they disproportionately are. Lawrence Davidson, US professor of history, tells us that pink-washing this academic conference doesn't make rosy the larger crime being committed:

For those who might not know, Israel will be holding a conference entitled "Pink Crime–Women, Crime and Punishment" on 30 May 2011. As the title implies it is all about female criminality: women as drug use offenders and drug traffickers, women murders, etc., as well as how the media covers female offenders. This is an international conference, drawing to it not only Israeli criminologists but also scholars and researchers from abroad. The United Kingdom and the United States will each have at least two participants.

One might ask what the big deal is? True, the internationals are ignoring a growing boycott of Israel by various elements of civil society. True, the Israeli criminologists should actually be giving priority to their government's criminal acts. True, there is something sexist about the entire affair. What is so unique about crime committed by women? Why "Pink"? Still, there is something else that marks this gathering as out of the ordinary. The "Pink Crime"Conference is being held at an illegal Israeli settlement sitting on stolen Palestinian land. It is scheduled for the "University Center" in the settlement of Ariel on the occupied West Bank. To put it more directly, Israel is to hold in conference on crime in a criminal place.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Blue Purse

Sharing with you a creative non-fiction piece I wrote a few years ago.

The Blue Purse

As she turned away from her screen to tidy the kitchen, an image of the two of them crossed her mind. Razia and Ethel giggling together under the brilliant summer skies of South Africa. Sitting on a patio, no doubt. Wearing cotton, no doubt. Not a turtleneck or tights in sight. Huddled together, laughing out loud. Heads thrown back, then leaning close, the women exchanging intimacies.



“Seriously. You’re kidding.”

“No, seriously. And did you know…”

Oh, under an umbrella, for sure. Their own little momentary Shangri-la under the beating down sun of Jo’burg—a bit of which came across the Atlantic this morning alongside the mangoes and soft orange kanakambra blossoms that Jyoti sent in her email.

For a moment, she felt the warmth of the South bounce off the cold choppy waves of the waters in the harbour.

A chill wind blew across the lake right up to her front door. Rarely did a warm southerly winter wind travel across Lake Superior. Often the wind was northwesterly, cold and hard as a grave in November.

The Lady of the Lake wore many garments, from choppy, bottle-green summer waters with waves that lurched and lapped, to deep blue silks flecked with bronze. At times, when She showered passersby with small, perfect crystal balls made of ice, She wore the black shimmering radiance of early winter.

But for three weeks now, only a solid grey coughed up from the shore. Today, only the narrowest band of blue-mauve broke the leaden skies hold on Nanabijou, protector of the silver harbour.

The overcast skies pressed their heavy dark rain clouds into her kitchen, and the rain beat a song of sorrow against her window.

It was one of those days.

It reminded her of the weather in Hanover that summer. A whole summer full of chill cloudy grey days. Days and days of sweaters in summer, umbrellas in schoolbags. She had never experienced such a lack of sunshine—weatherwise, that is, because certainly the warmth radiating from the sunny smiles she saw first thing in the morning lasted ‘til night dropped Her cloak. She wondered at times: how would things have been different if Hanover had had a lake and a beach and hot sun that summer?

Looking out her window, she thought back to the day they had left Austria. Samira, Fatemeh, Poopak and she had traveled by train to Vienna, where they spent three surprisingly sunny days. But the day they returned back to Hanover had started off just like today. The morning of the day they left Vienna, she and Fatemeh, who had been staying at Nagwa's small apartment at the end of the subway line, looked out the window.

It was cold and grey; the sky was cloudy and there was a strong wind. A bend-the-tree-tops kind of wind. But it wasn't raining. Yet. So she and Fatemeh looked at each other and thought, why not? They would head downtown later to meet Samira and Poopak to catch the train back to Hanover. And out they went, walking briskly arm in arm, along the rushing waters and the rustling leaves. The further they walked the more silent they became.

They strode, matching step to step. They found themselves walking along a canal of the Danube.

Suddenly, the urge to sing came upon them. Fatemeh pleaded, sing the laundry song!

"My laundry song, now?"

Yes, you said, you wanted to memorize the words and the tune and keep it in your heart for when you got back to Iran and found yourself walking alone on a downcast day. You took out your little leatherbound notebook and scribbled down the words as we sang.

"The river is flowing,

rolling and flowing,

The river is flowing

down to the sea

Mother Earth..."

"Mother Earth?"

“Yes, Mother Earth…

Mother Earth, carry me,
your child I’ll always be,
Mother Earth, carry me,
down to the sea…”

By then we’d looped around the path by the canal and reached the end of our time by the water. We crossed the street to the bus stop. As we hurried to the shelter, heavy drops of rain began to warn us of the day ahead.

A small woman, her silver grey hair neatly coiffed under a dark blue hat, stood at the other end of the bus shelter. She, too, was waiting to catch the morning bus. She was off to church, as it looked like she had her good coat on and she was wearing her good shoes and carrying her good purse. And it was Sunday. And it was early morning.

Fatemeh and I huddled together in the corner of the bus shelter, leaning close together, heads touching, whispering our song so that Fatemeh could press the tune into a corner of her mind.

Our whisperings carried above the rush of the wind, over the beat of the rain spangling the glass. I turned to the old woman in blue and said, "I hope we're not bothering you. Don’t mind us. We're just enjoying our last morning here in Vienna, despite the wind and the clouds and the rain. We're unexpectedly happy. We’re singing a song together. It’s a simple song, actually. It’s a song about the River."

"Oh no, girls. Please," she answered in delicately accented English, smiling warmly, eager for the smiles of strangers to break the grey hold of the morning. "Please, go ahead. I don't mind. Truly, you sound lovely. I was enjoying the sound of you girls singing. Don't mind me. Please,” she said, placing both her gloved hands on the clasp of her blue purse. “I was thinking to myself, how nice to hear two young women singing together on a rainy Sunday morning.”

Waving her purse in our direction and stepping away from us, she pleaded, “Please, girls. Don’t mind me. Keep singing.”

The Danube

Thursday, May 19, 2011

C for confrontation

The non-violent action of Palestinians and their supporters this past weekend to commemorate The Nakba Day is like a black hole in western media. Where is the news about it? When 72000 people join together for a collective public action is it not newsworthy? And this was just those in Lebanon who went to the Israeli border this past weekend.

72,000 Palestinian refugees and their supporters bused down to the Lebanese border with Israel.

Franklin Lamb, who was one of the supporters who joined the Palestinians, writes:
As we approached Maroun al Ras, some of them were anxious, others silent and reflective, and some, like many teenagers from my generation about to see the Beatles or Elvis were giddy and squealing as the bus rounded a bend in the road south of Aitayoun and we looked to the approaching hills. "Is that my country Palestine over there?," Ahmad, a graduate in Engineering who was born in Shatila camp asked. "Nam Habibi!" ("Yes Dear!") came the reply from the microphone of our "bus mother" gripping her clip board and checking the names to keep track of her flock. This bus seemed to inflate with delirium as we all smiled and shouted. Some of the passengers had prepared signs that read: "People want to return to Palestine," inspired perhaps by the slogan made famous in Egypt and Tunisia, "People want the fall of the regime."
The esprit was reminiscent of a Mississippi freedom ride James Farmer of CORE used to tell us about and I thought of Ben Gurion's boast from 1948 that the old will die and the young will forget Palestine. The Zionist leader could not have been more mistaken. The old, many still vital and those who departed this life, continue to teach and inspire the young from their still remembered stories, guaranteeing that the dream of every Palestinian shall never die.
What happened when these people armed with their memories and stories arrived at the border with Israel?

As Rami Zurayk explains:

Last Sunday, on the 15th of May 2011, during the pacific commemoration of the Palestinian and Arab Nakba, Israel publicly executed 11 youth and seriously injured more than 40 others. Israel executed those youth in cold blood, while they were on Lebanese soil. The Zionist executioners chose their victims calmly from among hundreds of unarmed young men and women who were assembled at the Lebanese border with occupied Palestine, behind the fence of Arab shame. [...]

This was their crime: to remember, to belong, to yearn for the land and the sky of Palestine, for the shores of Haifa and the banks of the Jordan River. In today’s world of Arab and Israeli Zionism the sentence for belonging to Palestine is public execution.

Where is the public outcry about these cold-blooded killings in the North American media?

Will Obama talk about them in his speech today about the Middle East?

Will Obama ask Netanyahu when he comes to the US about these killings against unarmed Palestinians taking up non-violent action for their human rights? For their right to return to their homes?

50 years ago, Americans whose only crime was wearing black skin in public suffered similar beatings, killings, violence and public condemnation. Like Palestinians they too were made illegal for wearing their own skins, for having their own histories, for belonging to the land.

Freedom Riders' bus Anniston, Alabama, USA, 1961.
The white mob who pursued the bus, fire bombed it and held the doors shut preventing riders from exiting the burning bus. Finally an undercover policeman drew his gun, and forced the doors to be opened. The mob pulled the Freedom Riders off the bus and beat them with iron pipes.

In May 1961, civil rights activists, both black and white, male and female, boarded buses for destinations in the segregated southern USA, such as Anniston, New Orleans, Mississippi, Montgomery, and Birmingham. Known as Freedom Riders, the activists were taking up collective non-violent action to test US segregation law, to protest institutionalized racism against African Americans, and to demonstrate for the basic civil rights of African Americans. Above you can see what happened to the bus destined for Anniston. Another bus, headed for Birmingham,

When the bus arrived in Birmingham, it too was attacked by a mob of Ku Klux Klan members, aided and abetted by the police under the orders of Commissioner Bull Connor. As the riders exited the bus, they were mercilessly beaten by the mob with baseball bats, iron pipes and bicycle chains.
These vicious beatings and terror tactics of racist southern white Americans did not stop the people seeking justice.

In the spring of 1963, the two-month long Birmingham Campaign to end segregation and economic racism was another non-violent action taken up by civil rights activists. This included Project C. "The "C" in the project stood for confrontation, the strategy of nonviolent direct action designed to confront segregation through peaceful demonstrations, rallies, boycotts, and appeals to justice."

To provoke the police into filling the city's jails to overflowing, [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] and black citizens of Birmingham employed nonviolent tactics to flout laws they considered unfair. King summarized the philosophy of the Birmingham campaign when he said, "The purpose of ... direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation".

Protests in Birmingham began with a boycott to pressure businesses to offer sales jobs and other employment to people of all races, as well as to end segregated facilities in the stores. When business leaders resisted the boycott, King and the SCLC began what they termed Project C, a series of sit-ins and marches intended to provoke arrest. After the campaign ran low on adult volunteers, SCLC's strategist, James Bevel, initiated the action and recruited the children for what became known as the "Children's Crusade". During the protests, the Birmingham Police Department, led by Eugene "Bull" Connor, used high-pressure water jets and police dogs to control protesters, including children.