Friday, 30 January 2009

Forget the whales. Save the sheep!


So some young man was caught on video compromising the integrity of a sheep, and former chairman of the Barbados Child Care Board, David "Joey" Harper, describes it as "technology gone wild and morals compromised because of the technology", adding that “the Internet and cellular phones were being used to destroy people.” At the same time, however, he acknowledges that "This is nothing new to our society. Years ago there was a belief that if a boy did not have sex with a duck or a fowl, he was not a real boy. But this shows a breakdown in the community.”

You’re going to need to pick a side, Mr. Harper. Either cell phones are Satan’s little plastic (or metal alloy) fingers causing the modern demise of society by way of sheep violation, or this particular scourge was alive and well long before mobile phones were popular. If the former, then the power to cook an egg (and therefore our brains?) is the least of what we have to fear from these malevolent machines, since they seem to now be imbued with all kinds of soul-corrupting powers.

Joey: a boy who wants to have sex with a sheep is probably going to have sex with a sheep – cell phone or not. Stop blaming technology and figure out why boys are walking around having sex with sheep. And how is this all of a sudden a sign of the Apocalypse when, by your own admission, this is another one of those things that has been happening for generations? But that, like so many other things, we have always just passed off as a Caribbean quirk; in much the same way as we say not “He is an alcoholic” but “Oh he does drink nuff rum”; and not “He is abusive” but “Oh he does beat he wife”. Nothing is a problem and everything is dismissible. Only when there is popular, photographic evidence do the suits come out harrumphing and blaming everything from globalization to El Niño to the Guyanese.

So how would Mr. Harper prefer to have seen this situation handled by those involved? He says, “…he knows that he is being videotaped and it does not bother him. This shows that values are disappearing and that is a problem.” Translation: “Hide! Have sex with poultry and livestock if you must but for the love of Oprah, have the decency to hide! That’s how we did it in my day!”

I’m not saying I have all the answers to what ails, but hiding, shaming and blaming are business as usual, and clearly that business is failing. If we would replace the Puritanism with a decent school sex education programme, perhaps we could have an honest dialogue around all types of sexual behaviour, including but not limited to the underground phenomenon of sheep molestation.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

The Rourke is back. He may look funny, but he’s better than ever

HALT! Spoilers inside. Proceed at your own risk.

I need to beg your indulgence for what I’m about to declare: Mickey Rourke is hot in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. I know: “But look at him! Ew!” Ew indeed. I thought that as well, initially. But don’t allow your own delicate sensibilities to keep you from experiencing the comeback of Mickey Rourke. Hot is the least of what he is in this role. (Alright, perhaps I’m seeing through the fog of admiration for his work.) His acting is thoughtful and sincere, and what you’ve heard is not just hype. Sound the alarm, folks: the critics are right.

We can gather the gist: journey towards the last big hurrah of a washed-up wrestler. Not too original a concept, but the telling is fresh and interesting. The single, defining feature of the film is the pursuing camera. When we meet Randy “The Ram” Robinson, it is just after we have been introduced - through a collage of newspaper clippings - to his former glory days. The camera sneaks up on him, building the anticipation of what a former celebrity wrestler might look like. When we are finally allowed to see his face, there is no unveiling or ceremony; this is the point. We are simply and unceremoniously brought around to the front: this is what he looks like; this is all there is.

Throughout the film, Aronofsky often returns to this camera perspective. The camera might be a fan seeking an autograph, so that the rear camera shot casts Robinson as the superstar he ought to be (but isn’t) as we watch from behind the long, bleached-blonde hair and the impressive back and shoulders. But we also get the sense that the perspective of the camera is that of Robinson too: shy but dogged in the practice of his craft. Robinson isn’t looking for status; he is simply looking to continue doing what he has always loved, and what is now all he knows.

There is also little history of the protagonist. We are being told a story of ‘ending up’, and are being given a clinical, matter-of-fact look at the here and now of a failed life. All we know is that Randy was born Robin Ramzinski, a name he finds odious and refuses to be associated with, for reasons not made explicit but about which we can speculate. We must also speculate about the details of his fractured relationship with his daughter. The lesson is that there is no reliving of the past: where we are is where we are, and that is the reality we must live.

Mickey Rourke is this movie. Marisa Tomei is a bit of her overwrought, “My Cousin Vinny” character and little more. But she does the job adequately as the woman that Randy yearns to be with. Not because she is someone particularly special, but because she is someone, and he is desperately lonely. His daughter Stephanie, played by Evan Rachel Wood, is another someone to whom the wrestler turns in a final attempt to discover a life beyond wrestling. Wood gives a creditable performance as his angry and abandoned but charitable daughter who is willing to give him another chance, until he becomes sidetracked and ruins his one last opportunity.

But Mickey Rourke is all that matters in this film. The unlikely, impeccable manners from this washed-up monster of a man; the unreserved vulnerability as he reaches out to find love or – failing that – just company; the single-mindedness with which he pursues his sport, even though both he and it (at least on the scale on which he practices) seem marginal and irrelevant: these are what make him an endearing and heartbreaking figure. And it is this figure that carries the film right through to its inevitable, tragic conclusion.

Perhaps the success of the film rests in the fact that it feels like the story of Mickey Rourke himself. The actor has had a tempestuous affair with both Hollywood and the sport of boxing. When Randy, rejected by his love interest and his daughter, returns to what would be his final, fatal turn in the ring, he declares – defeated – that wrestling is the only thing that treats him with kindness. Despite the torn bicep, bypass surgery and ruined back, wrestling is the thing that has caused him the least injury. We know that Rourke, too, has been pulled in two directions: acting and boxing. He is, in fact, a boxer who studied acting, breaking through to play an arsonist in the 1981 uncomfortable erotic thriller Body Heat, and then the following year as the self-conscious, slow-moving Boogie in Diner. His petulant, sensitive bad-boy affectations earned him lots of attention, and he went on to play similar characters in several films including the bizarre and disturbing Nine 1/2 Weeks. After his appearance in the 1991 Harley Davidson and The Marlboro Man, Rourke quit acting and resumed his professional boxing career, reportedly injured by the fact that, like The Wrestler’s Randy in his relationships, he had not been given a fair chance to prove himself on the strength of his deeds (his work in Hollywood). And like Randy, he chooses the physical punishment over the emotional: he suffered broken cheekbones, nose, toes and ribs, which prompted the number of surgeries responsible for his monstrous aspect today. But the punishment was not over for Rourke, as he returned to acting in 1995. And while, as the tabloids showed, he took a few more psychological beatings for Hollywood’s failure to appreciate his nuanced (rather than Brad Pitt-like, obvious) approach to acting, we have at last been brought to this point, and to a simple, well-executed title role in a well-told story, which is what we imagine Mickey Rourke was after all along.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Father of The She-Wolf

I’m running off for a not-so-secret rendezvous with my good friend and favourite DJ. But before I do, I must take a minute to acknowledge the birthday of pioneering, abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, who died tragically in a car crash in 1956 at the age of 44. His 1943 ‘The She-Wolf’ (pictured below) is still one of the most striking things I have ever seen on canvas. Why must all the geniuses die young?

If you haven’t yet seen Pollock, the film about his life and work, do. It features riveting performances by the brilliant and delicious Ed Harris as the title character, and Marcia Gay Harden as his wife Lee Krasner. Go see it! Now!

The mongoose shall return.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

There's the rub

Yesterday’s entry engendered some great comments and discussion. Thanks to all those who read it and emailed me with your thoughts. But I have to warn you, even though I have opinions on everything, silliness is one of my joys. So not everything will be essays on the human condition. Exhibit A:

There's the rub: Vicks might make kids sicker Vicks VapoRub, the menthol salve used to soothe generations of congested kids, may actually make some little ones worse, a new study suggests.

Now, not only is this old news, it’s barely news at all – unless you’re a Bajan, and then it might be important information. When I was a child, Vicks was a medicine cabinet staple. (We only knew it as ‘Vicks’. ‘VapoRub’ was, as far as we were concerned, a highfalutin add-on that came later.) You almost wanted to get a slight cough so you could be put to bed with a good rub-down. Then you would lay there wanting to feel sorry for yourself, but really feeling relieved that you had no joint or muscular complaints and had therefore avoided the hellfire blaze of Bengue’s (Benjees!) Balsam.

My sister had a special relationship with Vicks. (That line is going to make her life miserable over the next few days. Sorry, Sister.) She was very fastidious about her bedtime comforts. I think if she could have managed to source a babbling brook and an owl to say “Woo woo” all night, she would have. But since endangered birds and naturally occurring, inland bodies of water were scarce, and Vicks only cost 65 cents from Ms. Alleyne’s shop, it would have to do. It helped her sleep better, so she always had it around.

It was only one night as Sister was inspecting her Vicks pan that she noticed the fine print and read it aloud: Do not place in mouth or nostrils. Use sparingly under nostrils.

Well this was news to us. Surely, that wasn’t always there. We used to apply Vicks like a face mask: extra heavy on the T-zone. We also used to stuff gobs of it up our nostrils when my mother wasn’t looking; and my sister - who was the Vicks adventurer - would put a little in her mouth and regale us with stories of what we were missing. If she had had a drug habit, she would have been the one going “Dude, this is even better when you eat it. Try it!”

But it seems the warnings were well-founded. The above study was prompted when an 18-month-old girl showed up in an emergency room in respiratory distress after her grandparents rubbed Vicks VapoRub beneath her nostrils. The child recovered, but people became so nervous about Vicks that this study was commissioned, and revealed the following:
The strong-smelling ointment often dabbed under noses or rubbed on the soles of feet can be an irritant, increasing the production of mucus and decreasing how fast it’s cleared, potentially causing dangerous breathing problems in infants and very young children.

“In a small child who may be hypersensitive, this can make the airways even smaller,” said Dr. Bruce K. Rubin, vice chairman of the department of pediatrics at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. “It can narrow them severely.”

VapoRub only fools the brain into thinking airways are open, Rubin said, by using active ingredients such as menthol, camphor and eucalyptus oil that trigger cold sensors. In reality, congestion remains. “I would recommend never putting the Vicks in, or under, the nose of anybody — adult or child,” said Rubin, whose work is published in the latest issue of the journal Chest.
So it turns out that Vicks is an elaborate hoax! Well, not exactly. I think most parents who use the product on their children realize it’s primarily a matter of comfort and not some magical healing balm. But we should all be more aware of what we’re administering to our bodies, even if it does seem harmless and a little like grey Vaseline. Some experts believe the study is inconclusive and alarmist, and parents interviewed say they will continue to use it. So I doubt that Vicks will ever disappear from medicine cabinets around the world. And even if people do stop buying it, my sister will probably be perfectly happy to buy the entire inventory and stockpile it under her bed.

The above photo is taken from a story about a zoo using Vicks to calm meerkats and stop them from fighting. This mongoose is a bit concerned about the forced medication of her relatives in captivity. Read about it here.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Move Horatio Nelson: the cry of the clamouring malcontents

It took me some time to write the first sentence of today’s entry. I am seldom without words; in fact, my friends would likely say I have too many too often. But I needed a minute to determine exactly how one approaches the thoroughly absurd: to wit, Richard Hoad’s stance (in his January 16th Nation Newspaper column The Lowdown: Saint Nello) that the statue of Lord Nelson should remain in the former Trafalgar Square in Barbados, renamed Heroes Square; and his further assumption that black Barbadians and white alike all happily link arms to support its permanence.

Lord Horatio Nelson is credited with saving Barbados from sure destruction by French invaders in 1805, and Mr. Hoad, in support of his Save Nelson campaign, paints a valiant picture thus:
..the editor of the Barbados Mercury wrote: "This island has certainly never before, at least in the memory of anyone now living, been in such a perilous situation and had Lord Seaforth not declared the alarms and the French and Spanish fleets attacked Barbados as had been expected, Barbados might by today have been another province of France, at which time we might well have been taught by our conquerors what martial law is really all about."
The rest is history. Lord Nelson to the rescue. The French fleet destroyed at Trafalgar. Barbados saved. Grateful citizens raise a public susbscription to erect a statue in his honour.

First, I am no historian: I did well in A’ Level History, where curiously no mention of the triumphant Lord Nelson was ever made, and enjoyed at least half of it. But having always found it odd to base a career on one’s powers of recollection, I moved on. But I can read! And I’ve read time and again how it was a tactical manoeuvre that led the French fleet to the West Indies. Bonaparte wanted his Admiral Villeneuve to fake out Nelson and draw the British blockade away from Europe to the West Indies. He could then join up with the Spanish and return to hold the English Channel long enough for his army to cross. In fact, by the time Nelson got a clue and reached the West Indies, the combined enemy fleet was already returning. That is not to say that the French may not have wanted to take Barbados: as you’re already there, why not slip another colony in your pocket. But the premise from which we begin, that Lord Nelson even saved the island to begin with, is itself shaky.

Second, let’s assume that Nelson is indeed the hero he is purported to be. I’m not sure if Mr. Hoad has looked around recently, but Barbados is a sovereign state with a dark history of slavery. Why then would we want to give pre-eminence to a colonial symbol of a man who himself was opposed to the abolition of slavery? The Barbados Nelson would have been saving was the colony that was being built and run by white planters on the backs of slaves. Or do we imagine that the slaves rejoiced to have had their island saved so they could happily return to lives of indigence and servitude? “Yay, all is clear on the coast, now back to the fields. Where did we put those shackles?” If the slaves were grateful, it would have been because they sensed their own mortality and were glad that their lives were spared; not because they felt proud of the defence of a country that had given them the same status as livestock.

And Mr. Hoad’s notion that it is irrelevant that (as some historians assert) no black people at that time contributed to the statue is truly awesome in its ignorance. He writes:
If windfall profits were taken from the sugar planters and used to build the Deep Water Harbour and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, would Marshall and Mayo claim likewise that black Bajan fieldworkers didn't "contribute a farthing"? No way!

Feel free to pause and blink. A harbour and a hospital are arguably not express symbols of colonial oppression, and moreover, would certainly be the least that could be offered by a generation that became rich off the subjugation of an entire race of people.

And consider:
Re: the slavery angle [Yes: he did say “re: the slavery angle” as if slavery were not the defining institution of this time rather than the pesky appendix he suggests] an eminent black Caribbean intellectual wrote recently that "following UWI, the entire Caribbean has schooled generations of students on slavery as a matter of black and white, ignorant of the TRUTH: that all the slave-catchers in Africa were black; and at least half of the money paid to slave-owners in the Caribbean at Emancipation went to black slave owners".
If this is so, was Nelson carrying out orders to support an established institution that benefited both Blacks and Whites?

“Slavery benefited black people as a race in equal measure as it did white people.” I’m forced to put that in inverted commas lest anyone think those are my own thoughts. I detest the notion – put forth by people desperately trying to seem smart and swim against the tide – that because a small percentage of Africans saw an opportunity to save themselves by participating in the slave trade, black people and white are equally at fault for the scourge of slavery and the resulting institutionalized oppression that lasts to this day.

Mr. Hoad further suggests that the statue stay because tourists like to have things to look at when they’re on vacation (It “is mentioned in virtually every travel publication on Barbados.”) I think that the free, independent Barbados can manage something to say to visitors other than “Look at us! We used to be slaves!” And Mr Hoad’s final argument in support of Nelson’s statue, or at least the last one to which I will give any consideration, is that “One-eyed, one-armed, he is a sterling example of how disabilities can be used to advantage.” Because I am sure that of all the possible role models, lots of differently able Barbadians draw constant inspiration from a 19th century admiral made of bronze.

I am not against preserving memories of a country’s history. In fact, I think there’s a name given to places that do that; what are they called? Ah yes, museums. Put Lord Nelson in a museum where adoring fans of colonial exploitation can go and worship at his feet. Or alternatively, put him up for auction. Maybe Richard Hoad will contribute a few farthings.

Friday, 23 January 2009

'President' is a verb

So much for being a dreamer. President Obama is truly on the case for women's rights, human rights, and general good sense after having been on the job for only two days. Apart from initiating his economic recovery programme, the President has ordered the closure of the Guantánamo Bay prisons and stopped the spurious trials; and issued a ban on torture and a review of US interrogation practices.

He has also lifted a Bush-era global gag rule that prohibited U.S. funding of international groups that perform or promote abortions, and has seen the Senate pass the Ledbetter Fair Play Act allowing women to challenge unequal pay. And with the FDA approving stem cell research, the acrid smell of lunacy is beginning to dissipate and the world is starting to make sense again.

Photo source

Facebook kills

Well actually, psychotic, insecure men kill. But how important has social networking become in our lives that a 'single' status could drive someone to murder? Now, abusive men have a whole new tool in their arsenals, and women have the same inadequate state protection.

LONDON (AFP) - A British man who murdered his wife after becoming enraged when she changed her relationship status on Facebook to "single" was jailed for at least 18 years late Thursday.

Edward Richardson, 41, stabbed wife Sarah, 26, to death in a "frenzied and brutal" attack at her parents' home in Biddulph, central England, last May after she altered her profile on the Internet social networking site.

The couple had been living apart since the previous month, said Fiona Cortese, a spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service, which is responsible for prosecuting cases in England and Wales.

"Richardson became enraged when Sarah changed her marital status on Facebook to single and decided to go and see her as she was not responding to his (text) messages," Cortese said.

"He gained entry by breaking the front door window and made his way into the property.

"Once inside, he found Sarah in her bedroom and subjected her to a frenzied and brutal attack with a knife and then attempted to take his own life."

Read the entire story here

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Peanut butter Egg Dirt!


This isn’t a Sandra Lee recipe. It’s a line from one of my favourite television shows, Scrubs. It was a string of words shouted by Zac Braff’s character to prove that he was not as predictable as assumed, and that no one could guess what he would say next well enough to say it at the same time. Of course, this being a sitcom, they did. And the result was hilarious and random.

This line has, embarrassingly, crept into my vernacular and become an important tool. When I’m having a day where too many unrelated thoughts are assaulting my brain, I stop and yell “PEANUTBUTTEREGGDIRT” as a cue to order them and clear my head. Don’t worry, I work alone. So I’ve managed to avoid being carted off to the sanitarium. Actually, most of the time I ‘yell’ this in my head. I’m not good at shouting feelings and talking to myself in the mirror and letting people catch me and all this touchy-feely ballyhoo. That’s why I’m usually banned from team-building outings. (No, really I just call in sick, but they wouldn’t want me there anyway; I would harsh their vibe.)

Today is definitely a peanut butter egg dirt day. And since you are my new captive victims audience, you are forced to let me peanutbutter-egg-dirt you. Yes. I’ve now made it into a verb. The process is just to write all the thoughts somewhere, separate them into tasks and ideas, read them once, then tuck them away and proceed with task number one as prioritized on the list. I’ve listed the tasks already. Now, you get to share the thoughts. And we’re off:
-I wonder if anyone has ever popped his eye out while taking out contacts.
-I need to order contacts.
-The cow on the Skinny Cow label looks scary and cracked out and about to ask me for some spare change.
-I CANNOT EAT ANOTHER PIECE OF SALMON!
-I’m starting to develop a blinking habit like my mother.
-In what kind of godless underworld does it get dark at 4 p.m?! (I need to move back to the tropics.)
-Why do I still write like a drunk cockroach?
-Obama looks old in the Time cover portrait and his ears aren’t really that big.
-Remind me never to get into the dairy industry in China.
-Mmmm horses smell good.
-Horses
-Grass
-Whatever happened to that guy who used to jump into the wharf in exchange for a quarter?
-Horses!
Ahhh, that's better. Back to work.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Breaking news: mongooses have souls and like to keep their shoes on

A lot of tears were shed over President Obama’s inauguration yesterday. We saw several people interviewed who talked of the significance of America electing a black man leader, and what it means and will mean for black people everywhere. I felt all warm inside, but didn’t shed any tears. I’m not much of a crier. I thought I had felt all I would feel about it since I sat transfixed in front of the television when he won the election. I was wrong. I stepped outside today and there was a different smell in the air that pricked my senses a bit and made me feel slightly (-only slightly-) weepy. President Barack (I know him like that) is in the White House and things are feeling possible.

So it is with this new invigoration that I seek to defend a very important right: the right to keep my shoes on. Yes, I know that our forefathers didn’t struggle so I could keep my shoes on in people’s houses. But I’m riding the wave of resistance to victory in all battles, great and small.

One of my best friends in all creation lives in Canada, only a few areas of which are habitable by human beings. In the other areas, where human beings elect to live anyway, they often have bitter winters with several inches of snow on the ground for much of the year. Under these circumstances, people may understandably object to having tracks of muddy snow festooning their carpets or hardwood floors when they have guests. But, these tricky Canadian types, they use this as an excuse to ban shoes from their homes year round! They’ve started a trend: an odious trend that is taking over civilization and threatening complete outfits everywhere. We must stop it.

If I’m invited to a party, everything I choose to wear is orchestrated into an integral look. Nothing is dispensable, least of all the shoes! The fact that you choose to host this party at your home does not suddenly make my shoes irrelevant. Too often, I accept an invitation to someone’s house, have my shoes banished to the dreaded doorway shoe purgatory, and then appear in photographs looking like a street urchin who found a fancy dress in the dumpster. One day, I’m going to host a party where people must remove their trousers (lest the grommets scratch the wood furniture or something equally inane.) Then I’m going to step back and watch the puzzled looks. Of course, this may not be a fair comparison, since pants cover parts none of us wants to see. But I would no sooner remove my shoes than I would step out of my dress and hang it in the coat closet.

I’ve heard the reasons; everything from “we have a baby in the house” to “the floors are ever so delicate.” So I try to be reasonable about it. Are you afraid, then, that this baby may crawl downstairs when no one is looking, eat the dirt your guests dragged in, contract some exotic disease and die a violent death? Because your child has probably already eaten a lot more dirt than you’re aware of. And she seems pretty non-dead to me. And to those people who have floors that can’t be stepped on, I think you need to rethink your understanding of the word ‘floor’.

This is a very polarizing issue, but I am taking a stand on the side of the shoe-keepers. Some say it is a matter of courtesy to remove your shoes, but I say that the onus is on the host to make his guests comfortable and pre-empt any potentially awkward situations. Think of the position in which you’re putting people and the various embarrassments that may surface: holes in socks, crusty feet, bare feet on a cold floor, ugly toes, unpainted toes, no toes…it’s not quite fair, is it?

When I go to my best friend the Canuck’s house, I’ll continue to take my shoes off because I'm home there, and because this is possibly her only flaw; you have to pick your battles. But to anyone else who is seeking my sparkling company in their little corner of the globe, be warned of my new credo: love me, love my shoes.

Please note: If you do insist on forcing your poor friends out of their footwear, please in the name of all that is holy: do it via the sign pictured. That way, they can mock your fussiness as well as your grammar.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

See ya, George! The President's here


Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th President of the United States. I watched the ceremony. I couldn’t bear much of the early media coverage: a lone camera trained on the bleak St. John's Episcopal Church as we keep being reminded that Obama is inside; constant restating of the awesome mess the new President inherits; speculation about the colour of Michelle’s outfit. None for me, but thanks for offering. It was inspiring to see the throngs of supporters gathering on the mall, but for me, that singular moment in which Senator Obama took the oath and became President Barack Obama was the soft climax. I’ve chosen the Most Memorable Parts According to Mar below:

The partner
There were two reasons the oath (not the speech, although it was memorable for reasons you’ll see below) was my favourite part of the proceedings. First: Michelle Obama. The new First Lady took some getting used to. In the very early days, there were too many quotes in print where she sounded a little far up a body part I probably can’t mention in the same sentence as the term ‘First Lady’. Then we missed her for a while, and she re-emerged as this Michelle: still as brilliant and outspoken, but slightly more tempered and with more studied answers to difficult questions. She informed us that one of the things she had learnt from her husband during the campaign was when to exhibit restraint and quiet conviction. I imagine it must be difficult to contain passion and genius. Why, I often have this problem myself what with all my smartness. But she had to let her husband run on his campaign rather than her sound bytes. And she has managed that beautifully.

I was fixated not by his face, but by hers, during his slight fumbling of the oath. (Bush’s Chief Justice delivered the wrong wording in what turned out to be the final gaffe in a ridiculous administration.) Michelle’s face never left her husband’s. And she wore a look of pride, fierce encouragement and solemn partnership.

The prayer
There was one. A very long one. This I found surprising. I believe in the separation of Church and State, though I realize this is an issue with which the US is still struggling. Obama’s decision to invoke God during the oath, which earned the litigious wrath of atheist groups, is one thing. But this was a really long prayer. And at a time when the global, political tensions in which the US finds itself entangled are so closely linked with civil and religious freedom, I found it a bizarre inclusion.

The people
One of the greatest revelations from today’s event is that other ethnicities (you can say it softly: the white people) are starting to value black culture, heritage and history in a meaningful and intellectual way; and not just as something that belongs to the other, to be politely respected out of a sense of political correctness. The ‘civil rights movement’ style of some of today’s speakers that has seemed to scare so many in the past fit right in with today’s ceremony. Those present today began to appreciate the passion and the struggle behind those deep, strong voices, and felt a part of it.

The President and the peace

My friend Kat told me today of her complete repose in the competence of America’s new president. I feel the same assurance. Not because he is a messiah. But because the mark of a wise man is not to know all, but to know what he does not know. In assembling his administration, President Obama has proven his wisdom. We feel very close to him. We, who are thousands of miles away, feel like he is our brother. He feels familiar, like we should all have a pocket-sized Obama (a real one, not a doll) to carry with us and share jokes or discuss concerns. And we saw a slightly different Obama in his speech today: a more mature one who has wet his feet on the Presidency over the last months. We saw and heard the perfect reconciliation of Obama the visionary and Obama the achiever. Now we're ready to live it.

We all remember Obama’s Democratic National Convention speech in 2004. Back then, I thought, “This man needs to be president". Then when his name appeared on the ballot, I got stuck in to the two-year race. My friends and I read and discussed every story, ingested every political analysis, and when we realized we could dare to hope, we gained even more momentum. So now I'm exhilarated, but spent. And ready for the real business of governance. The second reason the oath was my favourite part of today was simply what it brought into being: President Barack Obama is here.

Photos by Jim Young / Reuters @ Time

Monday, 19 January 2009

Waiting for Barack

    I simply could not wait until tomorrow to make my Inauguration Day 2009 entry. I considered live-blogging the event, but I will likely be far too excited to type anything other than asdfjkl over and over again. I’m not particularly excited about the event itself, although I’m sure it will be spectacular. All the millions present will hug and kiss and feel as one, and President Obama will be the awe-inspiring figure we have come to adore. What I’m anxious for is his first few days and months in office; for that day when the media stops asking us what dog he should get his daughters and showcasing photos of his bare chest accompanied by inane questions like “ Buffest head of State: Obama or Putin?” I’m waiting for a time when President Obama is just left to get on with the business of running the United States, and most of the media coverage becomes about his presidential decisions.

    We of course await his implementation of the economic stimulus package, and wait to see what his level of engagement will be in Gaza. But I’m also curious about how he will address the various crises in Africa (starting with Zimbabwe), a move which - because of his heritage - many will be waiting to judge as either biased or self-loathing depending on his response. Although Michelle Obama has reaffirmed that her primary role as First Lady will be to raise her daughters, I will not accept this. I’m also waiting to see what wondrous things a First Lady of her socially engaged, educated ilk will endeavour.

Happy Martin Luther King Day, happy Inauguration Day, and here’s to living well in these revolutionary times.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The health of the people is the foundation upon which all their happiness and their powers depend

And with that horribly paraphrased Disraeli quote, it’s time for some shameless shilling. If you’re looking for a cause to benefit from your new year’s civic-mindedness, read the information below on WHAN, a Caribbean NGO. The organization has ambitious goals and an unwavering dedication to health care in the region. It could use your help.

The Women’s Health Advocacy Network (WHAN) is an NGO dedicated to addressing issues of women's health and sexual and reproductive rights in the Caribbean; and educating women on their patient rights and how to be agents in their own health care. WHAN was founded in Barbados in 2005 in response to a perceived absence of civil organization around such issues as violence against women, the feminization of HIV/AIDS, and women’s rights as patients. The founders noted that what little dialogue existed seemed not to make adequate links between state responses such as legislation and budget development, and women’s poverty and health issues. Violence against women was not being framed in policy as a human rights issue, as a matter of economic importance, or as a reinforcer of poverty among women. It was instead being referenced as one of several ‘social ills’ that required no more than micro-level interventions by communities. WHAN is concerned with changing this approach through advocacy and research.

The organization aims to increase women’s knowledge of their rights to demand adequate health care services, thus creating a system of health care that is more responsive to the needs of patients. It seeks to make women agents in their own care by educating them on what information they should seek from their providers, and what role they should play in decisions made about their care.

WHAN also aims to reduce the spread of HIV and other STIs by increasing women’s sexual decision-making power; and to help end all forms of violence against women.

The NGO’s current programme areas are
  • Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (including HIV/AIDS and other STIs; and sexual and reproductive decision-making)
  • Violence against women
  • All women’s health matters including mental wellness
  • Patient rights and advocacy
WHAN is now preparing for a round of consultations with groups of young people to explore the linkages among gender; sexuality and sexual behaviour; sexual violence and HIV/AIDS. If you want to participate or know anyone who does, or would like to join the organization, email femnethealth@gmail.com; or check out the brand new Facebook group here: WHAN Facebook group

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Shabba!

Shabba Ranks is 43 years old today. There would be no Beenie Man, no Sean Paul and no Shaggy (yes, one of these things is not like the others but stay with me nonetheless) in pop music culture without Rexton Rawlston Fernando “Shabba Ranks” Gordon, the father of the deejay dancehall style. Reggaton may never have existed without the legend’s famous Dem Bow riddim, and though we may have our opinions on how his content treats women and sex, it is undeniable that this man helped make dancehall music visible and viable as an international pop music form. There were to be no entries today, but I had to pop in to say many happy returns to the self-proclaimed best baby father in Jamaica. Although he now lives in New York, so perhaps that no longer applies.

And yes, I’m posting this late in the day because I couldn’t figure out how to cut that famous ‘Shabba!’ audio clip until now. Silliness is a serious waster of time. Take a listen below to the still energetic Mr. Loverman performing at Madison Square Garden in 2007.

Edited to add: Some people seem not to have the right plug-in to play the file type I used for the automatic audio clip. Not to worry. Just sing "Mr. Lover Man - SHABBA!" really loudly twice, and the effect is the same.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Beauty Snapshot: the important stuff

It’s Friday, so I thought I would lighten things up a bit by starting a Beauty Snapshot. The Beauty Snapshot will be a review of some makeup, skincare or similar beauty item that I’ve tried and love, or hate, or that worked fine but was nothing spectacular so I returned and used the money to buy gum. (I have a chewing gum fetish. I haven’t yet been told what pathology that suggests.)

Forget the politics and sex for now. We’re getting serious, folks. We’re talking makeup.

Recent drugstore favourite:

Maybelline The Colossal Volum' Express $7.47/£6

My highest performing mascara to date has been Yves Saint Laurent’s Faux Cils. But since mascara tends to dry out pretty quickly and needs to be changed often, and since I’m not yet a woman of independent wealth, I can’t keep that up. Drugstore options, especially for mascara, tend to be worthy and sometimes better substitutes for their department store counterparts.

Maybelline’s The Colossal Volum' Express (what do you suppose that errant ‘e’ is up to?) is my favourite drugstore mascara so far. The brush is made of several tiny teeth that make it more like a comb. This design means that there are no clumps, it’s easy to wiggle the product along the lash line, and it combs through and lengthens the lashes beautifully with just one coat. The effect is dramatic, drag queen lashes. (This is not a stab. Let’s face it, we sometimes need drag queen lashes.)

We’ll see how it compares to my previous drugstore favourite Cover Girl Lashblast in terms of staying moist in the tube; but so far, it has it beat on durability and effect.

Recent department store favourite:

Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Volupte Lipstick in #10 Provocative Pink $34/£19

I wanted a crazy pink lipstick to wear with a smoky eye. But some brighter shades tend to just sit on top of dark lips, and look like you filled in your lips with pink liquid paper. YSL’s Rouge Volupte eliminates that problem. It is highly pigmented and so creamy that it almost appears semi-solid, allowing it to sink fully into the lip and stain it for the most magnified colour effect. Be careful, though. It is quite thick and not extremely glossy, so without proper application, you’ll end up looking like you’re wearing your grandmother’s Wet n’ Wild.

For optimum results, line and fill with a nude or matching liner, apply the lipstick with a lip brush, and then top with a favourite gloss. MAC’s Pink Poodle works well for the #10 shade. At $34/£19, it gouges a healthy chunk out of your beauty budget, but with lip brush application, it is sure to last long. Their other shades are also lovely, but I’m afraid the price means I’ll be trying one every Ice Age or so.



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Some mongoosekeeping

Thousands and meeellions of people have been asking for a simpler way to subscribe than via the newsreader option. So there's now an option on the right-side panel to subscribe via email. So now you can:

-Subscribe to posts via email (link at the side)
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I have you people covered.

Note that following the blog will only give you automatic updates if you're signed into Blogger. BUT, it will let the world know you have friends in low, wooded places. Not too shabby.

Image by bluebison. Some cool stuff there.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Papa Ne Prêche Pas!

I’m not going to rehash the entire tale of Rachida Dati’s return to work five days after giving birth. Everyone has made their various opinions known: from the defenders to the outraged to the plain stupid. But here’s a little background: the French Justice Minister, 43, gave birth to her daughter Zohra on January 2nd, was photographed leaving the maternity clinic five days later, and an hour after that - in stilettos and a tight, black suit – appeared at the weekly Cabinet session.

Apparently, how dare she? Dati has been flagellated in the press and elsewhere for setting a bad example for women, abandoning her daughter, undermining the feminist struggle that fought and continues to fight for maternity rights, and numerous other transgressions. But there are several things wrong with this crucifixion scene.

First, one of the prime tenets of the feminist doctrine is choice. By opting to forego maternity leave, Dati has not made an indictment on all women who find it necessary, or sent a message to employers that truly committed employees find a way to return immediately. She has merely exercised her right to make her own choices regarding her formal market work (government) and her informal/domestic market work (home), and she decided that at that time, she was willing and able to return to the business of government. And quite frankly, she had to. With a reshuffle imminent, a new judicial plan being announced, and a reputation as an undeserving and wildly unsuccessful justice Minister, Dati likely felt pressured to defend her position. But one gets the sense that even were she the Princess Di of French politics, she would not have spent much time convalescing. Love her or hate her, Rachida Dati appears to thrive on public life. And if eager to return to it, she does not then owe her constituents proof that her daughter is not suffering from neglect.

Second, we are forgetting that the analysis of women’s rights is not a discrete exercise. It is connected to class, race, age, income level and other variables. Women are not a homogeneous group with identical sets of rights and opportunities. Most women will need maternity leave in order to recover in a way that their resources will allow and to adjust to their new family life. Ms. Dati, as the first senior French minister of North African origin, no doubt feels she has a lot more to prove, and arguably has the resources to make her transition to family life a much smoother one. Any employers who take her case as the exception rather than the rule are simply looking for an easy escape, and all eyes should be on them, not on the Minister.

Furthermore, and picture me yelling these next words, what manner of modern-day, anti-feminist witch hunt is this? If this were a man who had returned to work five days after the birth of his child, no one would bat an eyelash. In fact, chances are no one would even know he had reproduced. Women’s own choices about their reproductive health belong in the private domain. The furor over this ‘incident’ has even obliged Dati’s good friend Bernadette Chirac, wife of the former president Jacques Chirac, to reveal that Ms. Dati “is breastfeeding her baby, which is a guarantee of very good health for an infant, it's a natural thing". Because if she had dared to pump or use formula, she would be an abomination and probably the secret bride of Satan. Are we still stuck in that practice of reducing even the most accomplished and influential of women to their value as wet nurses and incubators?

Well yes, we are. Because even before this nonsense became a public debate, the justice Minister was being pressured to reveal the identity of the father of her child. Claude Askolovitch, the editor of the Journal du Dimanche called her “… a solitary character, [who] even in happiness, [she] often inspires a little sadness.” I’m not sure why Mr Askolovitch would be sad about Dati’s solitary nature. I hope (but frankly doubt) it has more to do with her struggle as a North African woman in politics and less to do with her being a single woman over 40. And a single woman over 40 who dares to have a child with no paternal source in sight! Well, that’s just crazy talk.

Some people naysay her return to work as another in a series of Ms. Dati’s attempts to court the press and public in matters wholly unrelated to her performance as a government Minister. She’s a drama queen, they say, and they’re tired of it. This is a separate argument. The Minister has made some questionable public image decisions, chief among which was the one to pose for Paris Match in a Dior dress and stiletto boots at a time when her ministry was experiencing severe job cuts. But whatever the reason for objecting to this last, private decision, stripping bare the sexual and reproductive choices of one woman, laying them open to judgment and simultaneously burdening her with the responsibility for the maternity choices of all the women in an entire country is as anti-feminist as you can get.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Gunners or death

Some obnoxious nudging from my good friend B’more has forced me to acknowledge that my beloved Arsenal are now fifth in the league tables, while B’more’s boys Liverpool are managing to hold on to the top spot. It is insult added quite literally to injury after Fabregas was maimed and forced out of action by Liverpool’s Alonso in December. And while it was reassuring at least to see Arsenal’s win over Bolton on Saturday, that 2005 FA Cup trophy is getting smaller and smaller in the distance as we get further away from their last major title win, which was against Manchester United nearly four years ago.

Still, I have faith in the Gunners. It isn’t blind faith. I do believe they’re coming back to form. But it started me thinking about how we assign our loyalties - especially in sport - and why.

I remember when I started my love affair with Arsenal. It was 1997, I had just started university, and I had the temerity to join up with a women’s squad to play inter-faculty football. It was, after all, a time for new beginnings, new interests, and as it turned out, new ways to feel stupid and inadequate. Women’s football on the campus at that level was hilarious. Most of us knew nothing. And the few who did were right snots about it. We found a coach with a sense of humour, and started in earnest with early morning, late evening and weekend practice sessions.

Our first match was demoralizing. Picture twenty (the goal-keeps at least had the good sense to stay put) petrified but aggressive women all charging after one ball, getting to it, and then each having no idea how to deal with these other nineteen women before them. It was greater comedy than the theater department could ever have produced. I hate not being good at things. When I encounter things I am not good at, I promptly stop doing them. Of course, this is a ridiculous habit, since it means that unless you have some inherent genius in this area that rushes to the surface, you’d never learn anything or discover any latent talent. What kept me with the team was the determination of the women and my newfound interest in the game. This interest prompted me to start watching the league matches that year.

So I turned on the television one day and encountered a dejected Arsenal leaving the field after a 3-1 trouncing by Blackburn. It had been, I was told, the latest in a series of defeats that season. But I liked the look of them. I thought they moved magically as a team; I was drawn to watch Bergkamp, Vieira and Petit; and I decided at that point to root for the underdogs. I think I was the good luck charm. That year saw a legendary resurgence. An embattled Arsenal took the Premiership trophy and went on to their second league and FA Cup double. I went on playing football. When campus play ended, I joined a community team, developed a decent left foot, and settled into my position in the middle. And I became an Arsenal fan for life.

Photo: www.sporting-heroes.net

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Who let Marchesa into the good stuff?

Award season has begun! We just had the People’s Choice Awards, which I don’t imagine anyone cares much about; and the Critics’ Choice Awards, which are perhaps slightly more important, at least in theory; then this past Sunday, the Golden Globes, which we all sit up and pay attention to as portenders of the Oscars. But the Globes this year were important not just for their subversiveness (my homegirl, the oft-overlooked Kate Winslet took home not one but two of the statuettes, and the decidedly unHollywood Slumdog Millionaire won in four categories), but for the gowns! It was as if everyone said “Listen, we get it. There’s a recession and we shouldn’t seem insensitive. But it’s a new year, we have some money, and we’re going to forego the barrels and feed sacks in favour of the big sparkly things that people watch us to see.” And how right they were. The hits were in overwhelming majority this year, even the misses were crazy and entertaining, and there was that one gown that got everyone whispering: Jennifer Lopez’s gold Marchesa dress.

Various people have pointed out fat and folds and puckers of different varieties that are of little interest to me. The woman just made two whole human beings and isn’t 20 anymore. She’s still gorgeous. But…the woman just made two whole human beings and isn’t 20 anymore. This is not the dress for her. Not because of her body, but because of her fashion history. She has already done that scandalous green Versace. Should she not have evolved a little by now? This dress is beneath her. The fabric looks cheap, the construction sloppy, and it begins to cast the term ‘Jenny from the block’ in a whole different light from the source-of-income perspective.

Marchesa is a young label, but hit the ground running dressing celebrities for the red carpet. Launched by British-born Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig in 2004, it won the Britain’s Best Business Award last year and reports annual sales above $30 million. The duo has dressed Reese Witherspoon and Thandie Newton; and has designed countless red carpet gowns for JLo in the past. They don't always hit it past the boundary, but this year something went horribly wrong. And while the wearer is sufficiently lovely to not make it a total disaster, the dress itself is a shocking wrong turn for the label. Below are some of its more successful efforts:


Hopefully, the Oscars will provide an opportunity for the well-dones to do well again, and for those who seem to have slipped into the good liquor cabinet before sketching to redeem themselves.
_______________________________________________
Favourite televised clip from the Globes: Kate Winslet calls Angelina Jolie “the other one” in her acceptance speech. Not meant to be hateful but hilarious nonetheless.

Favourite dress that not everyone liked:
Maggie Gyllenhaal's Lanvin was one of the many dresses that featured large, asymmetrical, statement pleating. (Two of the others’, Eva Mendes’s and Kate Beckinsale’s were also among my favourites.) The shoes looked a little orthopaedic on the red carpet, but the print and styling of the dress were perfection.

Favourite crazy, Tim Burton hair: I think Drew Barrymore has always secretly wanted to wear her hair like this, and now that a suitable role has apparently surfaced, her dream has come true. The blue, romantic-style chiffon is bold but subdued. And as much as I want to hate the hair, it is too wonderfully insane not to love. I can’t stop looking at it.

Renee Zellweger earns a close second for the hair, and gets extra wtf points for a poor choice of foundation garments.


The rest of the best:



The rest of the worst:
Everyone loves Samantha Who, especially since the actor's struggle with breast cancer. But she's much too cute and interesting to look as if she stitched up her own dress to wear to graduation. And Cameron Diaz just looks bored and wrinkly.



Photo sources
Marchesa gowns: People.com/Beimages; ElleUK; Spreadit.org
Golden Globe coverage: fabsugar.com

Monday, 12 January 2009

More than one way to skin a mango

I hang out on this brilliant message board where I’ve made quite a few friends. Well, no, I don’t ‘hang out’ there. That would suggest indolence, or free time of any sort, which would in turn make me unfashionable. Rather, I stop in periodically in between taking meetings in the city (read: watching Danger Mouse) and doing research (read: tossing up different styles of underwear and seeing which ones hit the ground first.)

I love the women there. They’re generous, interesting and very entertaining. But every now and then, they help me put my cultural background in perspective and realize the pure common sense of how I was raised.

Recently, someone at my beloved message board re-posed an enduring question: how do you eat a mango? It’s not the question itself that makes me chuckle. Presumably, as a tropical fruit, a mango is not that easy a code to break, although I have seen them in supermarkets far and wide. But we’ll concede that the mango is tropical, and with this knowledge, you and I are not to look down our noses at the mango-inept just because we had the luxury of having the things growing in our backyards. Alright. But it’s the treatment of the problem that amuses me.

Person 1: How do you eat a mango?
Person 2: Check out the Williams Sonoma mango slicer. I got mine there.
Person 3: Oh or if you like, here’s the link for a video tutorial. It’s long but worth it!
Person 4: See, this is why I don't buy mangoes.


Now, the above really reflects a dilemma of privilege. I like kitchen gadgets as much as the next woman, but a mango slicer? An online video tutorial? People, it isn’t that serious. I’m always tempted to yell “BITE A HOLE IN THE TOP OF THE THING AND SUCK IT!” But I fear that would be misunderstood. And probably a little unfair.

But a mango isn’t a little neon fruit covered in hair and scales that scuttles off when you chase it, and then, once you’ve caught up with it and cracked it open, is filled half with little hard seeds and half with a slimy paste. If a desperately hungry woman happened upon a mango tree and picked a fruit, she wouldn’t be frantically seeking out a Williams Sonoma for some guidance on how to eat it. I’m pretty sure she would bite into it. If something hostile spilled out, she would toss it aside and move on. If it were delicious, she would keep eating, find there was a seed, eat around it, and then cease to be hungry.

Granted I’m a little insane when it comes to my mango loyalty. They’re my favourite fruit. And I’m convinced that what Eve really ate in the garden was a pawee mango. (Surely no one would accept disinheritance and eviction all for the sake of a boring little apple. A mango on the other hand…) I know we live pampered lives, but let’s not make them ridiculous. Let’s submit to some experimentation. You don’t have to get as complex as a bullet. Just bite the mango.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Patria o muerte

I was walking along the platform in the train station one day when a figure rose up alongside me. It was the kind of presence that felt awesome, but familiar, as if you had been awaiting it for some time, even if you didn’t know it; and now that it was here, it seemed right, even though you hadn’t yet laid eyes on it. It was grand. And true. It was..

a giant movie poster of Steven Soderbergh’s Che: Part One, depicting the only known actor they could dare to cast in the title role - and my secret luhvah - Benicio del Toro.

Like most people, my first experience of Benicio (which I lovingly call him by virtue of him being my luhvah) was as Fred Fenster in The Usual Suspects. But probably unlike most people, this prompted me to doggedly seek out every one of his screen appearances up until that point. Yes, even including “Kid sitting on car” in Madonna’s La Isla Bonita video. (And since I hadn’t noticed him as Dario the henchman in Licence to Kill, I of course had to watch it again. I am surgical in my admiration.) My love for him was complete after his brilliant work in Traffic, and was cemented with 21 Grams.

Now, I’m not a fan type. I don’t want to see photos of actors getting coffee or know that they hate terrycloth robes and will only wear suede. When I discover talent I admire, I’m only interested in the talent, And in the case of Benicio, even before I saw him cast, I knew he was Che. I was waiting for it.

Che: Part One
is the story of the Argentine Ernesto Guevara’s influential role in the Castro-led Cuban rebellion that overthrew Batista in the late 1950s. The film unfolds exactly as it should: as a peek into the evolution of a revolutionary. By the time it ends, we know that we have seen only one story and one layer of the making of the man who would become a symbol of justice and ideological rebellion for generations. Soderbergh’s treatment is a subdued, matter-of-fact telling of the events between the meeting of Che and Castro in Mexico and the taking of Havana that led to Batista’s ouster. Interspersed with scenes from Che’s addresses to the UN General Assembly and his interviews with American journalists is a shot by shot account of the war with Batista’s troops. In doing this, the film tries to reconcile the mythical image of the man on which many anecdotes are based with the simple strength of Che as a tactician of guerrilla warfare, as a doctor, disciplinarian, teacher, thinker; a diplomat with great passion but great patience.

The telling of the story is half the success of the film. The scenes of the rebels planning their strategy in the mountains take us immediately to Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls. It is as if Soderbergh and (screenplay writer) Buchman have transposed Hemingway’s narrative of a Spanish (language) revolution to the screen. The intimacy is the same - we feel as though we are in the trenches and sleeping in the rain – although the urgency is not. Hemingway’s account benefits tremendously from the stories of the horrors committed against the people under Franco’s regime, and from the unrelenting sounds and signs of explosion and attack. The film does not. But it doesn’t suffer too much because of it. It also shares with Hemingway the sense of camaraderie among those fighting desperately for an ultimate good, and in this portrayal, the rest of the cast shines. Outstanding among them is Santiago Cabrera, who plays Camilo Cienfuegos, a wise-cracking comandante who shows great love for his brothers in the revolution. Less impressive is the portrayal of Fidel Castro, perhaps less a function of the actor than of the parts of the man they chose to portray. The director was right not to give too much importance to the leader - after all, this is not Castro’s story – but they failed to depict a man who could inspire the birth of a new Cuba. And this they could have done, even with the little exposure which they rightly allowed him.

The other half of the success of the film is Benicio. He is Che. And not in the way in which Jamie Foxx ‘was’ Ray Charles. Not in that kind of Saturday Night Live impression way by which we seem to be so easily impressed and are so eager to reward. By the end of the film, Benicio’s face is a different one from when he meets Castro in the beginning. It carries the burden of responsibility for freeing the people of Cuba; the worry of perishing from asthma before the job is done; the concern for his column of fighters and the pain of seeing the peasants’ struggle. By the end of the film, Benicio’s face is the face of Che Guevara. And you leave the theatre anxious to see that face again, and to continue the journey in Part Two of this inspiring film.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Porn: it’s what’s for dinner


So porn is the new black. Once it was taboo, then it became trendy, then it should have passed on to that purgatory between trendy and quotidian, to happily coexist with It bags and speed. But something went awry. Instead of becoming an unremarkable hobby, porn went straight to becoming a religion. And I’m not talking the “we were brainwashed by aliens and forbid yelling for blue murder as a whole person is ripped from tender orifices, but are richer than god and therefore expected to act crazy” type of fringe religion. I’m talking the mainstream, Inquisition torture chambers, assimilate or die kind. Apparently, resistance to porn is futile. And dangerous.

I talk to women every day who try their utmost to convince me - and clearly at the same time themselves - that it is perfectly acceptable that their husbands go out for lap dances every weekend and spend hours at night examining the cosmetically enhanced, severely shorn vaginas of porn film superstars.

Men have cleverly tried to silence the old criticisms by turning porn films, strip clubs and lap dances into socially acceptable recreation, and have gone a step further by turning their characteristics – the bodies, the sexual positions, the loud, ejaculatory female orgasms – into minimum, expected behaviour in their own bedrooms. Porn stars are now the standard to which all women are subject. And the message from men is: assimilate or be replaced by more capable machines. It’s the Pornographical Revolution; pornifization: much like the Industrial Revolution or globalization – only with a lot more chafing.

But it’s not just men who are demanding this assimilation. Women don't realize what we have become a party to. We have traded being voiceless on the issue for being forced into having the same voice: one that says "we submit". Because failure to submit means being dismissed as prude, difficult, unsophisticated – by men – and worse and more savagely, by other women. And so, following their partners, hordes of women march chagrined but silent (or with fake enthusiasm that they have convinced themselves is real) to strip clubs, singing the same refrain of "He's just being a man. All men need porn." They do this in order not only to appease men, but to outdo other women who might voice their disapproval, a constant rivalry that men – in both public and private life – encourage and reward.

Now. Before the onslaught begins, let me make the obligatory disclaimer: I am not a Puritan; sex is delicious; women’s bodies are exquisite; and similar things. But decisions about sexual expression should still be ours to make, and if there is anything that gives us pause, insecurity or fear of attack should not force us to submit in silence. You can hate porn. You can like erotic films and hate lap dances. You can have a Brazilian before your holiday, but not feel the need to repeatedly rip every hair from your vulva and surgically restore your hymen. There are degrees. And they’re all up to you.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Sandra Lee is still cooking vomit

I love to cook. I love to do it, read about it, watch the preparation of it, buy the gadgets, compare endless reviews of the gadgets before buying them, create recipes, try others’ recipes, compare endless reviews of the recipes before trying them. You get the idea.

When I lived in the US and enjoyed the basic amenities – namely, cable – I watched The Food Network constantly. FN watchers all tend to use a similar classification when it comes to shows and their hosts: the good; the bad; the annoying but harmless; the pure entertainment even if we will probably never cook their food; and the bizarre. For me, Ina Garten, Nigella, Giada and Michael Chiarello are pure, perfect genius; Mario is pretentious to the point of distraction which makes him a terrible host; Emeril and Rachael Ray are annoying but don’t quite make you want to peel your skin off and eat it; and Paula Deen is lovely to watch and quite cheery and mellow: probably because she is now made entirely of butter and cream after having cooked with just those two ingredients for the past 150 years.

And when it comes to the bizarre, no one occupies that category more wholly and maniacally than the exquisite Sandra Lee. You know Sandra Lee. She’s the tall, blonde, perfectly made-up, Semi-Homemade host who always looks like she’s seconds away from knocking back a shot of something. And she usually is. Never is a show complete without a themed cocktail and a mad, themed tablescape. But the food! The food is the genius of it. The premise of the show is to combine seventy per cent ready-made products with thirty per cent fresh ingredients, thereby allowing the harried, time-poor cook to create awe-inspiring…..


…..piles of mud and vomit.

What prompted this entry, though, was the rediscovery of Sandra’s famous Kwanzaa cake, tweaked for 2008 from an old holiday episode. Watch it yourself above. To make it, she takes a store-bought angel food cake, hacks it apart, fills and covers it with sludge-dyed, canned frosting, and stuffs the center with apple pie filling. At key moments, she cautions us to be ‘careful’ or ‘delicate’ as if she’s using actual cooking techniques. Lady: you aren’t making real food. You could make this thing with your toes and a cricket bat and trust me, it would not turn out any worse.

Then comes the decoration: acorns, pumpkin seeds and giant candles. And there you are: moist, hair-flavoured and partially-hydrogenated on the inside, the salty crunch of the forest on the outside, with a healthy garnish of cultural insensitivity. Happy Kwanzaa. Here’re some Andrew’s salts.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Mar is a B, and she stinging everybody


I’m not quite sure of the blog-starting etiquette. In January 2009, I’m so late in joining the hordes of bloggers worldwide that I imagine there should be some fanfare now that I’ve crossed over. I am now a Blogger. [CYMBALS] At least I imagine that would be the stage direction. I realize that this conversion is not at all interesting, especially given the lateness of my arrival – at a time long after people have written articles and directed documentaries about the advent of blogging.

But for me, this is an occasion. I’ve long held out against blogging, thinking that humankind has really reached fresh and ridiculous levels of narcissism to fancy that anyone cares where we buy our glue, or that a man at the supermarket was oh em gee standing SO CLOSE to us in line that we could totally hear him whistle through the gap in his teeth as he breathed and could feel his hot, grody breath ew ew ew OMGWTFBBQ!!!

But apparently, we do care.

And why should we not? Conceivably, we all desire the perfect glue. Nay, deserve it. And I, for one, am always willing to commiserate with those who suffer at the hands of people who haven’t the slightest clue about the all-encompassing significance of Personal Space. You will likely be hearing more about this.

Besides, these days, I call myself a writer. And I suppose one who calls herself a writer should write things. A blog therefore seems convenient. (I used to – with much coercion – call myself an economist. But I’ve stopped all that silliness, having witnessed firsthand the perils of such nomenclature. My withdrawal hasn’t yet stopped others from continuing to call me an economist, and asking my economisty advice. But hopefully soon they shall learn.)

However, I must warn you of a few things before we proceed. First, I sometimes write complex, run-on sentences. This - I have heard - is frowned upon. But I have more faith in the attention spans of my fellow readers than the writing intelligentsia seemingly do. Some of the smartest and most interesting people I’ve encountered are fans of complex sentences, and manage them quite effortlessly. (They worked splendidly for Obama; not as well for John Kerry.) I don’t endorse them when they’re used just to appear bright, but thoughts are complex. At least some of the best ones are. Sometimes they require more than a subject and verb. And if properly executed, long sentences can be fun. Come. Let’s explore them together.

Second, I love asides. I have a random, meandering brain that thinks in asides, which I must, regrettably, share with all of you. For my asides, I often make use of all kinds of colourful punctuation: dashes; parentheses; semi-colons; and my dear, dear friend, the comma. They’re perfectly friendly creatures. I promise.

I also have what you may by now consider the annoying habit of saying first and second rather than firstly and secondly. This is simply because the former are perfectly good adverbs and for the life of me I cannot fathom why we keep replacing perfectly useful parts of speech with weaker, stupider substitutes. You people who say ‘addicting’, I’m looking at you.

I haven’t even a clue about how these blog things work, since clearly I’m making multiple entries on the same day. And based on limited research it would seem as if one is expected to only have one thing to say per day, and neatly archive these things accordingly. But I am a maverick! (Oh the fear that word now strikes in my heart.) And so we press on, stinging all those for miles around with our newfound B(logger) status.

Don’t worry about the title reference. Unless you’re Bajan, or not Bajan but (curiously) a fan of The Mighty Grynner anyway, you’re allowed to just let it go.

They shoot feminists, don't they?

Ever so often, and with much trepidation, groups of women find themselves asking each other, as a collective, an important question: do you consider yourself a feminist? The wording of the question itself is quite telling. It suggests a degree of struggle with the definition; the idea that a simple answer is not expected. That rather, it’s acceptable to answer with several paragraphs and conjunctions worth of qualifications. The same qualifications as if someone had perhaps asked: do you consider yourself a stegosaurus? To which one might reply,
“Well if by stegosaurus you mean a herbivorous quadruped, I do try to eat vegetarian and am a natural pacifist but as you can see only have two legs. But if you mean the type of armoured, horned roof-lizard that most have come to picture when they think of a stegosaurus, then I would have to say emphatically that I am NOT because I absolutely abhor heights and so would never be a roof-dweller; and my skin is really quite smooth and supple, as I go to great lengths to maintain it….”
As compared with if someone had asked for example “Are you Barbadian?” To which one might calmly say “Yes. I was born there of two Barbadian parents."

You see the difference.

The identification with feminism seems almost as problematic as if one were to try and identify with being a prehistoric lizard. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a prehistoric lizard. (So don’t write and tell me that your neighbour’s adopted son was a stegosaurus and quite frankly was a charming creature who always helped you off the bus.) But why does the idea of feminism cause us to become as bristled as…well yes…a um…horned, prehistoric lizard? Forgive me but we’re working with an analogy here, albeit a strange one.

I decided to start my bright, new, shiny blog off with this question because it is a point of concern for me. But mostly because it is a point of identification for me. I am a feminist. I say that as easily and as proudly as I say “I am a Bajan.” “I am a woman.” “I am black.” There is no confusion. And it is not because ‘feminist’ is as simple an identifier as these other examples are. (Although arguably ‘woman’ and ‘black’ also have their degrees of being.) To suggest that would be naïve. It is because I have no anxiety over how other people may define it.

Feminism is a belief in the right of women to have political, social, and economic equality with men. I rest easy in that definition, and don’t need to rush to declare “Oh but I’m not one of the crazy, bra-burning ones who wear Birkenstocks and don’t shave their pits.” First, based on our definition, who would proudly claim to not be a feminist? “Well no…I don’t think that women should enjoy equal social and political citizenship. It’s really all a load of nonsense. Soon they’ll want to grow beards! And then where would we be?” I would suggest that it’s all the non-feminists who should feel stupid and marginalized. And really, if there do happen to be roving bands of Birkenstock-wearing, armpit hair-braiding feminists out there roasting their dinner over bra-fueled fires, and all we have in common is that we believe in equal human, economic and political rights, then I’m proud to have that in common.

I’m not afraid of scaring men off by declaring myself a feminist. Anyone who that easily wets his trousers and runs away is not very useful to have around in an emergency anyway. And my goal is not to seem as demure and inoffensive as possible. Of course, I can always see the running picture in several people’s minds (and by people I mean men) when they discover that not only are you a feminist, but you have the nerve to announce it to the public (!), rather than sticking to reading your propagandist pamphlets in the basement with the others. It’s as if they’re watching their prize horse run the Kentucky Derby, and all of a sudden, she buckles, felled by the broken leg that is feminism. Argh…so close! But now…useless.

Well, don’t worry. Call yourself a feminist. They’re not allowed to shoot you for it.
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