Monday, 1 November 2010

Aftermath of Hurricane Tomas

Hurricane Tomas has just passed this region, and after having weakened, is projected to regain strength as it moves towards Haiti. From all reports, St. Lucia seems to have been the worst hit in the Eastern Caribbean, and the below video contains some footage of the damage. Many are missing, 14 have been confirmed dead; the destroyed roads and bridges and damaged hospitals mean that transportation and access to basic services are compromised. In terms of the scale of disaster, and compared with some of those we have heard even in recent weeks, this may seem less severe. But in a country the size of St. Lucia, these effects are not insignificant. The entire country is affected and all State resources have to be mobilized in recovery. Aid from other countries is key.



One hesitates to utter the name Haiti in the context of another natural disaster, but communities there are right now bracing for a potential hit from the hurricane; this in the midst of a cholera epidemic and the continued insecurity of tent dwellings which offer no protection from strong winds and rains. Calls to evacuate seem redundant.

I say all this for one reason: perspective. This past weekend was an uncomfortable one. There was a point when the winds reached their highest at which you realized that you were dealing, after all, with a system of nature - there were no guarantees; anything could happen. We had some damage and several people have been displaced as a result. Following the coverage on television, it was difficult to watch the helplessness and disbelief of some people who had lost homes and important possessions: farmers who lost the livestock or crops on which their livelihoods depend; parents with no idea where their children would sleep that night.

But there is helplessness and vulnerability, and then there is discomfort. Losing your home or livelihood makes one vulnerable. It's a significant loss. Losing electricity and water temporarily are uncomfortable; perhaps beyond uncomfortable if there are essential medicines that need to be refrigerated, or if one has small children. But I feel like we need to understand the concept of 'worst-case scenario' here. I was never one to go in for the Olympics of Suffering: it is all relative. I'm not going to tell someone who has lost two limbs to count their blessings because they might have lost three, because where would it end? Things could always be worse. Quite literally, always. That fact doesn't make the current situation any less of a challenge. But yelling and throwing tantrums because you've lost your cable and internet access are a little beyond the pale, I think. This is not to scold, just to encourage us to have some appreciation of what disaster actually and potentially means. It means that while we expect a certain level of service and response in the best of times, a sense of entitlement does not really fit the context of hurricane aftermath. It is the reason airlines promise nothing when bad weather hits. There is the understanding that even as the State, public-private and private sector companies have a responsibility to those they serve to mitigate disaster and provide relief, these very services are often themselves challenged and their resources diminished after this type of event. While making our concerns clear, we should respect and understand that - bearing in mind that the hurricane may very well have levelled the offices of the public utilities buildings. And who would we be yelling at then?

Still, I think the yellers are few, and even then, one understands the place of frustration from where it might be coming. In general, though, we've been putting our heads down and getting on with the repair in our groups and communities. Looking ahead, we will have to extend that approach to St. Vincent and St. Lucia, and, wherever the hurricane leads, continue to support Haiti in their recovery.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Strippoween weekend is here again

Our friends over at What's the Idea raised the question, and as it's Friday and my brain is now on gentle cycle, I'm stealing developing the discussion. So yes, agreed: Halloween is irrelevant to us in the Caribbean. I hardly think that's even an argument. Is it harmless fun? Perhaps. Assuming we consider fostering meaningless, wholesale cultural appropriation "harmless". This isn't hip-hop music, whose origins we can trace back to our own, and which even in its current form we have adapted and given our own unique stamp. Or even Valentine's Day, which has its naysayers, fine, Hallmark holiday, blah blah, but surely a celebration of love and affection can never hurt, especially in a society where we are becoming less patient and more aggressive. (Yes, I'm looking at you, man in the obnoxious Transformer truck who honked at me for letting an old lady take her time to cross the street rather than deciding she had had enough time and running her over.) We're talking about a holiday that has little usefulness and even less imagination. And even were I given to letting the whole thing slide, it's the lack of imagination that really does me in.

If you want to tief the people dem holiday, fine. Go for it. But at least put some effort into it. How many sexy nurses and sexy police officers and sexy Big Birds does one need in a Halloween party? Can someone not wear a shell and some antennae and really high platforms and go as a giant African snail? Or a red plastic bag and go as...well...Red Plastic Bag? Can we not make the thing at least slightly culturally relevant? Or, if you must do sexy because you're going to the club and no one is going to want to slow grind on a mollusc, maybe a sexy school meals server? I once went to an Independence Day fancy dress party in a little, yellow, tank dress under wraparound banana leaves and everyone could tell I was a conkie. It isn't hard.

But we seem to have borrowed (well, not borrowed because we seem not to want to give it back, ever) not only the holiday itself, but the obsession with making everything about women's bodies on display, and any imagination costumes might show suffers as a result. Small clothes are great. I love them, as appropriate. But if you forego them on one occasion, you'll still be sexy tomorrow, and you'll still be sexy underneath your real costume. And we'll know it. We believe you. Your sexy is safe. If you are going to participate in this...'holiday'...unless you are actually going as a stripper, please feel free to make the whole exercise interesting and entertaining. Your butt cheeks will still be there to shine at a later date.

_______________________________________________________

The photo above is meant to be a women's costume for Brian, the dog from Family Guy. Brian is, in fact, a dog, not a cocktail waitress with a picture of a dog on her dress. Notice what the men's version of the costume looks like - fancy that: a dog.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Prime Minister Thompson

Prime Minister of Barbados, David Thompson, has passed. Even in the midst of the political discord of past weeks, the country remained resolute in its well wishes to the Prime Minister and his family, and so this moment seems in some ways surreal. One's first thoughts are to his wife and daughters. Two other Prime Ministers have passed while in office in my lifetime, PM Thompson the first in my adult life, which gives quite a different perspective - less of official mourning as Barbados loses a state official, although of course there is that sense - more of consideration of the man as a politician, a thinker, a father and husband, a Bajan who served his country. My thoughts are with his loved ones.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Your name! Just what I always wanted!



This dude here? McLean? He wants to give me his name. Apparently that is the prize for me picking him up when he was down and being able to do a hell of a Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment impression and whatnot. Never mind that I already have a name that I may want to keep. Ah branding. The ultimate expression of love and affection.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

I swear if I hear "independent ladies" one more time...

I'm out pretty often: parties, concerts, limes, general lolly-gagging in the wee hours. I've only recently embraced the notion that I do work hard (I grew up thinking that hard work had to involve hot sun, perspiration and calloused hands; anything else - even 20-hour days at a computer or in meetings with seats and coffee breaks - was a luxury and a fiasco), and so I should be able to engage in the types of entertainment that I enjoy.

When one is out as often as I am, one tends to notice certain trends in the ways people seek to entertain the masses. And though not as ire-inducing as some other trends, there is one in particular that makes me itch. Shall I present it as a question? I think I shall. Because I wouldn't mind having an answer, if any of you are amenable.

I ask you: what is up with this "independent ladies" bullshit? Were I a betting individual, I would very readily bet all my jewels and livestock that at any given party or stage show, some DJ or MC - in most cases a man - will take the mic and yell something along the lines of "Ladies if you know you independent, you got on your own clothes, you got on your own hair, your own underwear, you got your own house key, bullshit bullshit bullshit, put your hands in the air." Or worse: "Ladies if you know you independent: SCREEEEAM!"

I beg. Your pardon.

First, that last exhortation is a contradiction in terms. The fact that I (and by "I" I mean "Mar". The rest of you may scream in response if you like, although I have never understood it) may self-identify as an independent "lady" (more on that later) means that I do not scream at the say-so of some random stranger on a mic. That's not to say I will never scream in public. I scream all the time. I screamed just Saturday night when Lil Rick performed some of his old dub hits and made a delightful ass of himself on stage - as only he can do - in another one of his lessons on how not to take oneself too seriously as a performer. But I screamed or bellowed or made whatever noise I pleased in the spirit of general noise-making to show appreciation. There is something about a man telling a roomful of women to scream that makes me feel like he's trying to live out some kind of harem fantasy. Worse is when he tells the women to scream and the men to say "Blat blat blat!" So men's voices are to express aggression and gun violence and women's voices are to express either sexual climax or distress. That is lovely.

But even setting aside the general screaming commands, why the preoccupation with "independent ladies"? And what is an independent lady anyway? And who the hell is this subset of women up in the club wearing other people's underwear?

I have some theories. When I was growing up, I dare say that consumerism wasn't the beast that it is today. Yes we all wanted L.A Gear and bodysuits and whatnot, but foreign markets were not as accessible; we as non-adults had limited resources, and all that resulted in the trend of sharing clothes. I can't say whether women over the age of 25 did it, although I'm inclined to think so as they had similar market access issues, but among my friends, it was certainly done. In a time before snapping cell phone pics and immediately uploading them to Facebook so everyone could see what you wore to every event, people were less self-conscious about what their outfits said about their paycheque and status. If your friend had a hot new trend piece and wasn't wearing it that week, it was an option. But, with our matey culture, in which men's dominance is perpetuated by pitting women against each other along the lines of attractiveness, domestic skills, sexual adventurousness, clothes-sharing soon became a further point of comparison that men used. The jig was up. Now, and as consumerism began to take hold more, wearing your 'matey's' clothes was to be a source of extreme embarrassment and proof you weren't an adequate female person. After all, if you were worthwhile, if you cooked well and could make sufficient babies and fvcked like a porn star, surely you could keep a man who would buy your clothes and therefore you wouldn't have to beg and borrow.

From there, as women began to participate more in economic life and it came to be seen as perhaps not the worst thing that could happen, there came a shift from "be proud your man can buy you shit" to "be proud you can buy yourself shit" (although the former maintains its legitimacy in certain ways and contexts). This would not necessarily be a bad thing, except for the following:

1) In this scenario, women's independence or lack thereof is still being used to pit women against each other. The old divide and conquer. So those of us in the fête who are in fact not financially independent, who depend on the income of a partner because such is the division of labour ('productive' vs. reproductive), or because we may be out of a job, or for whatever reason, we should feel like shit. Because not only are women supposed to be fvckmasters and top chefs and supernannies, we are also supposed to be Bill Gates. What? You aren't all those? Leave the fête immediately!; and

2) It reinforces men's resentment of having to continue to contribute economically when they, in their perception, no longer enjoy the other markers of privilege. So some men were happy to maintain 'their' women and children when it was a guarantee that they also simultaneously got to command higher wages for similar work done by women; or be promoted more easily; or have greater access to political participation; or free reign to commodify women's bodies. But for some, we women just have to damn well choose. You want to be independent? Fine. You get to pay your own way. That's the price. And all the attention to "independent ladies" is a bit of a passive-aggressive fvck-you.

An extension of that idea is that financially independent women who remain commodities or commodified in men's eyes are a huge turn-on. It is the Holy Grail of the whole ordeal. It is the reason a man will boast of his sexual conquest of a woman and qualify it with "and I didn't spend a cent." So all those independent ladies in the fête who are still willing to scream on command? Oh man. That in itself is an orgasm. Because it means that as financially independent as you are, you still require my penis to be ultimately satisfied. You still take orders and I'm still in control.

Disclaimer time: first, there are men for whom interesting, confident women who have charted and followed their own career paths are very attractive. That is clear, and not under debate. But I don't think that sentiment is behind the whole "independent ladies, scream" shout-out in the fête. Second, yes, the whole "independent ladies" meme is not unique to men. In fact, it was made quite popular by Beyonce et al, and their treatment of it is not necessarily problem-free, but I would say it is less problematic than this particular treatment of it by men. It works infinitely better as a celebration among women than as a judgment by men.

Here is my bottom line: stop singling out women as "independent ladies" based on some bullshit basket of goods that you determine of value to women: weave and clothes and underwear. All the women in that particular show or fête are independent by virtue of the fact that they are adults with rights. And they don't need to scream at your command to make that so.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Mongoose Lives - Blog Note

So I've noticed that you people have completely given up on even acting interested in my whereabouts and wheretofores. At first there were several questions about when I might start posting again, then general dribbles of "Hey wassup. Just checking" messages. And now, not so much as a glance. How fickle, the six of you.

Notwithstanding the neglect, I am passing through to confirm to no one in particular that posting officially resumes on the blog on November 1st, although I may try to add some content before then. The reason for my absence - a new job that has been consuming all my waking hours and most of what should be sleeping ones - will also restrict the range of topics I can cover as well as the range of people I can piss off. Not even sure I can say "piss off", but there I go, living on the edge.

Still, let's see how far we get with these new parameters. See you in November.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The best part of summer: the music of the Crop Over Festival

Tomorrow night I'll be on the internet TV talk show "Reason Deep" on CaribFyah TV discussing this season's musical offerings for Crop Over. Since there is never enough time during these things to say all the gazillion words in my head, I thought I would preempt the accusations of oversight by sharing a list of 15 of my favourite tracks for the season. This list is not exhaustive and is not necessarily in any particular order of preference. Or it might be.

Ooh. Intrigue.


Go Dung - Lil Rick
No Cheating - Tony Bailey
Sweet Soca Song - Red Plastic Bag
Charge Up - Skinny Fabulous
Mekkin It - Bobo
Serious Wukking - Gorg
Drop It - Mr. Dale
My Party - Mikey
De Way You Wine - Peter Ram
Foot on Fire - Blood
Sun Come Up - Statement
La La - Red Plastic Bag
Neighbour - Edwin and Patrice
Can't Stop - Brett Linton
Bounce - Lorenzo

Honourable Mention*
Strong Rum Something - Skinny Fabulous
Too Drunk - Statement


*Actually this mention isn't so honourable. The first two songs here are about not just alcohol, but alcoholism. And while they are extremely well written and delivered, the content is problematic. More on this in a subsequent post.

Look out for the discussion on www.caribfyah.com tomorrow Wednesday at 10:00 p.m.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Me and Samuel Beckett and homophobia in the Caribbean

Some people are willfully hateful bigots, and some people are bigots because they haven't thought long enough or hard enough or well enough about things to be otherwise. They are comfortable in their bigotry; it is warm and familiar, keeps their friends around, and maintains their own privilege. That distinction may not be important if the results are always the same. But every once in a while, that distinction means that people from the latter group, because they are in some measure open and reasonable, are willing to have their minds changed by another party or situation.

I just met someone who I think falls into the latter group. I've been travelling for work quite often, and he happens to work in a hotel I sometimes stay at when I'm travelling in the region. He came to my room to help with something, and we got to talking. I won't share the entire conversation, but it was about homophobia, LGBT rights, and was initiated by the following exchange:

Employee, as he is about to leave: What's your name, though?
Me: Mar. And yours?
Employee: Samuel. Think Samuel Beckett.* You can remember it that way.
Me: (laughs) Is that what they call you though? Because that would be pretty cool.
Samuel: No. They call me Hitler.
Me: Oh no. That's no good. Why on earth do they do that?
Samuel: Because my last name is [something associated with Hitler*]. I hate it. It's awful. And sometimes the joke doesn't stop there...my friends make a lot of Hitler jokes.
Me: Ugh. Yeah. Hitler jokes are rarely funny. Plus, working in a hotel, I guess you have to be pretty careful what you say around people. People are coming from all over the world.
Samuel: Yea. It happened already. We had some Jewish people staying here and the guys were joking around. They didn't like it. (Freezes) Are you Jewish?
Me: No. Not Jewish. But yunno you can tell people to stop calling you Hitler. I don't think that's an unreasonable request.
Samuel (looking troubled): Yeah. I really hate it. You know they say he was gay.
Me: (Blinks) Well...maybe bisexual? I don't know. He had relationships with women though.
Samuel: Yes but they said he slept with men. (Looks increasingly worried) Do you know anything about that?
(In the blink of an eye I've become an expert on Hitler's sexual history.)
Me: Well...no...I couldn't say for sure. But um...he also murdered millions of people...
Samuel: Yeah I know but...here in [country name here], we take gayness very seriously.


At this point I'm suddenly aware that I'm alone in my hotel room with a man who considers gayness far worse than murder, but we press on, talking about homophobia in the Caribbean (apparently Barbados is seen as the champion of LGBT rights in the region, a notion that while laughable to those of us who know the environment, makes me proud, even as it makes Samuel eye me suspiciously as if he is aware of my implied agenda); what it means to discriminate; why it's necessary to have anti-discrimination legislation; and why Caribbean men feel threatened by gayness. 'Gayness' is Samuel's word.

At some point when I ask him pointedly: "So are you saying the thing that worries you about being called Hitler is not the fact that he killed over 10 million entire human beings but that a couple people speculate that he was gay?" he says soberly:

"Well, here in [country name] we have people who are in jail for murder or whatever. And they go in, come out, and people don't really check after a while. But gay..."

I must have interrupted that sentence. I don't recall. Because of course it's not just the thorough and embedded homophobia operating here that is disturbing, but the fact that at the same time, Samuel seems not to understand or acknowledge the importance of the Holocaust. And I'm not talking all of the context of it, the eugenics, the politics, the war: I'm afraid the teaching of that part of history is pretty lacking in the Caribbean, and for that reason, a lot of young people don't appreciate its importance until much later. I'm talking about the fact that Samuel acknowledges the fact that Hitler killed millions of people. Whatever the circumstances, killing millions of men, women and children is a really horrible thing, right? Worse, arguably, than killing one man. And far worse than killing no one at all, i.e being gay. The thing is, I can't even be sure we're operating on that assumption. Because if Samuel thinks a murderer in the jail downtown is meh maybe not as bad as the gay guy on the bus, then who knows? Maybe he also thinks a murderer is a murderer, and after the first 20, it's all the same.

We carried on talking after this, and Samuel began to listen and nod and think a bit. And he started to make some sense after a time, to make some important associations and parallels with other parts of civil rights activism. I like Samuel. He is really a likable guy, open, interested, interesting, not hateful. And I think sometimes we have to realize that what we're working against is an attitude, a culture, not necessarily (although sometimes) the people who inhabit them. In the context of the Caribbean, where anti-gay sentiment is vastly more common and embedded than the opposite sentiment, as compared with other nations in the North where LGBT activism and legislation are far more advanced, engagement of people every day on their thoughts and beliefs, the music they write, the things they tell their children, and why, is where the movement needs to take hold.

*Names have been changed. The name used here was that of a famous person with the same last name. And somehow when I decided to use the name Samuel as a pseudonym, Beckett was the first name that sprung to mind as a famous person I could use. You can tell I'm not a fan of Samuel L. Jackson, right?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Newsclips and Quotes [Strange New Phenomena]

This is a real item in the Nation Newspaper today:

Why are so many men keen to enter relationships with single mothers, and what can these women do to encourage these partners to marry them?

Share your views below or by calling or texting your comments to telephone number [246] 262-5986, or e-mail us at sankaprice@nationnews.com.

I think we should all call or email Sanka Price to tell him exactly what is patently absurd about everything going on above, starting with the framing of single motherhood as some kind of scourge on humanity with which no reasonable person would want to associate, hence the certainty of some Strange Modern Phenomenon afoot. And including the assumption that a single mother in possession of (presumably) no fortune and (certainly) no self respect must be in want of a husband.

The Back-up Plan: The Almost Demise of Sookie St. James

Just the other day I was thinking how great it would be to see Melissa McCarthy onscreen again. Only I didn't call her Melissa McCarthy in my head. I called her Sookie - the best friend from Gilmore Girls? She's great. She was great as Dena in Samantha Who as well, even though she played the same character. But who cares? She could play Sookie St. James in the next Star Wars film and all would still be right with the world.

Well, be careful what you wish for and all that. Shortly afterwards, a friend asked me to see The Back-Up Plan, which made me wrinkle my nose and think 'Really? Are you sure that's what you meant to say?' but turned out that was the only non-ridiculous option at the theaters. At least that's what we thought at the time. I was all set to relax into some harmless mediocrity, perhaps redeemed by an interesting wardrobe or a leading man who wasn't too bad to look at. But then to my surprise: Sookie! Sookie St. James as I live and breathe! Well my dears, believe it or not: Sookie was not enough. And, as it happened, harmless mediocrity was way too much to hope for.

So quick synopsis: Jennifer Lopez's character Zoë is an educated, accomplished pet store owner who decides that since the traditional family track hasn't happened for her, she's going to find a sperm donor and have a child. Then, in what is perhaps the weakest, least cute meet-cute ever, she meets a guy who could be The One but goodammit too late the baby's already in there, festering, throwing a wrench into things.

I want to be quick and painless here; no reason you should suffer as much as I did. Everything about this film is bad. Where to start? Lopez's performance is not good. True, we don't expect it to be, but perhaps if it had been less lazy and perfunctory, this film would have been better. Yeah no that's not true. There was no saving this thing, because it failed everywhere. Lopez's Zoë is loopy in a way that is not at all endearing. I do not care about her and her philanthropic pet store, or whatever it is. She doesn't even seem like someone who likes animals. She has no chemistry with any of the other characters; her execution of the fall-down, get dirty slapsticks scenes falls way short of her Monster-in-Law performance, if that's any standard (but of course, those had Jane Fonda, and that's a lot of help); and in general she's just Jenny - miles from the block - determined to play someone who's having twins just after she's had twins.

She is foiled in her efforts by one of the worst rom-com scripts I've witnessed in a long time. And that's quite the accomplishment. It is hard to separate out the poor performances from the very very very bad script. Take the supporting cast, for example. The best-friend-sidekick, that character who's supposed to be slightly less attractive than the leading woman but attractive enough to have her own relationship to serve as a point of comparison, but not so attractive that she's not credible as the Funny One because everyone knows a woman can't possibly be witty and attractive at once - it's too hard; that woman is there to be funny, and strange, and interesting in some way that the leading lady is too impossibly beautiful to pull off. And obviously, a good actor helps, but you have to write and direct her that way. You have to give her the backstory and the dialogue to be funny and strange, not just stick her in there with her mousy hair and plain wardrobe and expect magic to happen. Every single line from this character, set up though it was to get us all ready to laugh and go 'oh that sidekick!' fell horribly flat. So horribly flat that I started to wonder if I had misread this character altogether. Maybe she wasn't the sidekick. Maybe she was just some weirdo stalker who was going to end up stealing JLo's babies and completely switch the genre to some kind of rom-com/thriller a la From Dusk Till Dawn. It was none of that, just a very bad script and equally bad direction.

Speaking of sidekicks, the leading man got one too. I'm sure if I give you three guesses you can figure out who the actor is. A hint: portly, Black sidekick guy, perpetually played of course by Anthony Anderson, who is not funny in the best of circumstances. But even so, has this guy not earned his stripes, just from prolificacy alone? How long is one to be shoved into that wise, Black counselor, dudebro place? Especially when one has been a part of (granted the worst era of) one of the best courtroom dramas in TV history? Doesn't mere proximity to Jack McCoy disqualify you from having to labour through really awful scripts opposite really awful actors? (But then, especially as a Black actor, I suppose not. S. Epatha Merkerson is as much an L&O institution as Sam Waterston, and brilliant in the role, and she's still hanging out playing bit parts in Lifetime movies. [It may be an insult to Merkerson and the exercise of her own agency to suggest that she doesn't choose the work she does for a reason. But honestly, we all know the constraints faced by Black women who are actors in Hollywood. Man, that was some digression.])

But undeniably the worst part of the film - beyond the atrocious script, the poorly-drawn characters, the yawn-inducing slapsticks, the so-what story - is the character and performance of the leading man, Alex O'Loughlin, who plays Stan.

Let me talk to you about Stan. Stan is an asshole.

From the first moment of our introduction to Stan - the meet-blargle - he comes off as an obnoxious jerk. But by this time we're not even sure we like Zoë yet, so maybe we don't care that Stan is a jerk. Maybe they can be jerks together while we talk amongst ourselves. But soon, Stan reveals himself to be such a thorough jerk that not even our apathy towards Zoë can stop us from hating him. Now, a leading man in a rom-com can be an asshole and still make for a good film. In fact, one of my favourite films featured the most brilliantly-executed asshole ever - Jason Patric's Jay in Expired - opposite an equally inspired performance by Samantha Morton. Not only was Jay layered and wonderfully interpreted while one-dimensional Stan floundered around embarrassingly on screen. But Jay's character and the relationship depicted also rang very true. We cringed when his manipulation and abuse were accepted, but we also laughed at his insecurity and the absurdity of the lie he was trying to perpetrate on Samantha Morton's character; the lie that he was it, and she could do no better, one that she ultimately rejected as she went on to be happy without him.

By contrast, here is what I hated about the message of Stan and this film: here's this woman - successful, happy, with friends and interests and things going on - who decides to have a child. She follows through with her plan, gets pregnant, then meets a man that she's at least interested in getting to know, sleeping with, but perhaps not in anything more. Who knows? it's only been 5 seconds. Of course, once he's in her life, she starts to feel guilty about not telling him of this decision she had made about her own body and life long before he fell obnoxiously into her taxi. So she tells him. And all kinds of whiny, entitled, territorial, paternalistic bullshit ensues. It becomes wholly about him, but this fact is partially obscured by the writers, whose only concern is the old "women who try to have it all need to stop pushing men away, beg their forgiveness and eat some crow" meme. (See: Tyler Perry)

To top things off, Stan has no chemistry with anyone - not Zoë (the kisses are among the worst I have witnessed. Stan is a Really Bad Kisser), not The Black Friend who is unceremoniously thrust upon him, not a single other character in the film. In fact, no one has chemistry with anyone. All the other characters exist on the fringes of the film as props in JLo's vanity project and the story's uncomfortable message. They run helter-skelter around in supermarket encounters, gratuitous, unfunny, labour scenes and other messes. And at the end, we all hate everyone and want the last two hours of our lives back. Except Sookie. We don't hate Sookie, but we do come dangerously close.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Rue McClanahan has passed

Golden Girl Rue McClanahan has died at the age of 76.

"She passed away at 1 a.m. this morning," her manager, Barbara Lawrence, tells PEOPLE. "She had a massive stroke."

McClanahan, who played man-happy Blanche Devereaux on the still-popular '80s sitcom Golden Girls, had suffered a minor stroke earlier this year while recovering from bypass surgery.

You all know I think Rue is awesome. I wish her family and friends well.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Newsclips and quotes [Still working on that unexplained stigma]

(Emphasis mine.)

Chairman of the AIDS Foundation, Colin Brewer, said while the foundation was making progress in the fight, there was still much to do.

[...]

He added that although the foundation provided assistance to those living alternative lifestyles, it did not condone the behaviour.

He also urged those present to "rededicate" themselves to the challenge of eradicating any stigma associated with HIV.

Well. Wonder where that stigma comes from.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Newsclips and quotes [I got your issues right here]

[Via Showbiz Spy via Jezebel]-"We all have the same issues. Every woman. It's thighs, butt, arms, muffintops. All those fun things, we all have the same issues." — Heidi Klum.

Except, not every woman counts those as 'issues'. Feeding ourselves and our dependents; physical security; finding and keeping a job; getting equal pay for equal work on that job; not being sexually harassed on that job; reproductive rights and autonomy; affordable, accessible health care provided by professionals who see us, hear us, value our input and well-being. I could go on and on about the things that concern millions of women everywhere, and readers can add several more. Thighs, butts and arms - those are body parts*. Not issues.

*ETA: And for some of us, the above issues are influenced by the disabilities with which we live, yunno, speaking of body 'issues'.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Kamla Persad-Bissessar is the new Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago

We here in the region have been closely watching the events occurring in a few of our territories in recent days and weeks. The conflict in Jamaica is infuriating, saddening, compelling. I want to write something, but it's hard to know where to start. Harder still to know where to end.

While I try to figure that out, I want to acknowledge the recently held elections in Trinidad and Tobago, in which Kamla Persad-Bissessar, previously the first woman to ever hold the position of Opposition Leader in that country, became the first woman to win the office of Prime Minister. She will be sworn into office this afternoon.

My Google-inspired imaginarium

Google Reader, whenever it suddenly goes offline, generates the error message: Sorry an unexpected condition has occurred (which is preventing Google Reader from fulfilling the request). The font of the message is larger than the text on the rest of the page, and is sometimes against a pink background. And each time I see the message, I get startled and take it personally. It's such a severe message: "an unexpected condition", and so non-specific. How did it just occur, the condition? Was there no pathway to this destruction? I start to think ohmygod did I just spontaneously fall pregnant while I was sitting here dreaming up names I would give my pet elephant? Did something fall out? Or off? What fell off?! Was it something I need? And then the second part - the part in brackets that I don't really pay attention to at first - further anthropomorphises the whole scenario. It's as if they're saying 'god, woman, get your nose. We don't mind continuing but we'd rather not do it with your nose all rolling around on the floor and sh!t.'

Or I think maybe it's environmental: some hi-tech tsunami warning that Google and its futuristic, marginally scary braininess have managed to generate via Google Maps or Google Earth or Google We Might As Well Stop Branding And Go By A Symbol Like Prince.

Or supernatural. Like The Rapture is occurring and all ambient energy is required to suck the chosen up into the stratosphere.

But mostly, it's just a lost internet connection. Obviously.

Life is so much better in my head.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Today, in made-up crimes...

I don't know what the hell wandering is, but apparently it's a crime mostly committed by girls, and can end in STDs and pregnancy. Consider yourselves warned.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Who writes these things: the girlie secrets edition

Dear Jane Hoskyn,

Please stop talking.

Because even if you are using 'girl' correctly to mean "a female child between zero and eighteen years of age", and not adult women (for which there is a whole other word who knew?), this list is still a ridiculous mishmash of juvenile, misogynist bullshit. To wit:

1. When we get whistled at in the street, we feel uncomfortable and we’ll always tut and roll our eyes. But we’re awesomely flattered and we’d be gutted if it stopped.

No.

2. We will never grow out of our fascination with pop stars. A guy can be completely ordinary-looking, but we will fancy him if he’s in a band.

No. Not that musicians aren't particularly attractive often for reasons beyond their physical appearance, but so are plenty other people. And yes, since we aren't perpetually 12 with boy band posters next to the Pollock in the living room, we do outgrow our fascination with pop stars. We may move on to fascination with 'serious musicians', but that's something else entirely.

And let me state now that even though I've duplicated it in the interest of continuity, the 'we' here is problematic. Because she's talking about a certain type of woman, from a certain cultural background, with privilege of a certain nature and amount, so as with most of these things, 'we' really means 'my friends and I'. It's fine if that's what you mean, but if that is what you mean, you should make that clear. We've spent too long trying to highlight women's heterogeneity to have to stand for articles like this one confirming that the whole diversity thing is nonsense and we're all really just the same person.

3. We are more likely to fancy a guy if his ex-girlfriends are really pretty.

4. We can be put off a guy by finding out that his ex-girlfriends are a bit ugly.

5. When we look through your Facebook photos, we’re looking to see how pretty or ugly your ex-girlfriends are.

6. We look through your Facebook photos a lot, and we really hope that you haven’t downloaded anything that reveals who looks at them the most.

Really? Does this woman live on a Lisa Frank sticker? Of course, history of partners is important, but for reasons that go slightly deeper than just "oh em gee ur totes prettier than her!!1!1"

7. Here’s how to make us fall for you. One day, come on to us so strong that we’re a bit weirded out by it. Then totally fail to ring us. We’ll wonder what we did wrong, and we won’t be able to stop thinking about you.

This is just disturbing, especially since I'm not sure of the gamut of reactions the author intends to cover with the words 'so strong' and 'a bit weirded out'. These to my mind could include anything from a meet-the-parents too early on and a quizzical look to stalking and seeking a protective order. But the real damage here is suggesting that women secretly love abusive, manipulative behaviour.

8. The above strategy isn’t foolproof. We may just lose interest. It depends on how much we liked you in the first place.

9. We often don’t know how much we liked you in the first place. We may have to wait until you don’t phone us. If we’re disappointed, it proves that we fancy you. If we’re not, it proves that we don’t. It’s like when you toss a coin to help you make a decision.

Decisions. They hurt our brainz.

10. Stop trying to understand how our minds work. Even we don’t understand how our minds work.

In fact, we have no minds. No thoughts, no intellect. Our heads are just filled with pink cotton wool and Justin Bieber songs.

And that's in the first 10 alone, consecutively. No breaks.

Also

42. During breakouts we get up at 6am and cover our spots with concealer while you’re sleeping.

Who does this? No, really. Who?

But the gem is saved for the end, I think (emphasis mine):

53. We’re all little girls inside. You make us cry far more easily than you realise.

And here, gentlefolk, is the finale. The overt statement at the end of an entire article spent infantilizing and homogenizing all women. Of course we cry, but it's not because we're little girls. Hurt feelings, grief or whatever might cause tears are completely valid among adults. When we're hurt and cry, it's because we're hurt, not because we're children. Still, thanks for confirming the notion that women are just big crybabies who will throw a fit when you take our lollipops away. Well done, you.


[Via Liss and Emily at Shakesville]

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The IT crowd

I get computers. In fact, I love them. I'm one of those people Obama was, curiously, just warning students not to become - one who is fascinated by and completely engaged with technology. Not in a rabid way; I'm a researcher of products. I will research anything to find the most recommended one by different groups of people of different heights, weights, ethnicities and toe shapes. So when I find a product that is everything I'd dreamed, I tend to stick with it and keep exploring the uses for it as they're developed. Besides, I don't have the budget for Droids and iPads and bears. Well, I could maybe swing a bear.

All that rambling to say that I love computers and everything they can do, and I want to know it all. When I first started blogging, I got so caught up in HTML and CSS editing I felt like it was my day job; I started learning tricks and sharing code with people who did not care. Friends come to me when their machines are 'acting funny'. I'm bemused by that, but still, I'm no tech slouch.

So I really hate it when I have to call IT. The thing is, you always have to call IT. Because office networks are set up to make you stupid and impotent. That's how they maintain control. Fair enough. But if you want me to be stupid about your systems, to call you whenever I need to install a plug-in or retrieve a file that has disappeared into The Mysterious Server, when I do, don't look at me like I'm your dear 126-yr old aunt who all this time must still have been riding her donkey into the nearest town to send a telegraph.

At one place I worked, the tech guy was just like Roy, only much better groomed. He really really really did not want to be bothered by your infernal tech issues. So if you managed to get him on the phone or Oprah forbid, to come to your desk, he was damn sure going to inform you of the depths of your idiocy. Once I tried to log in, but my log-in didn't work. You have no idea how long I sat there trying to access the system with all kinds of tricks and dubious shortcuts, just to avoid Tech Guy at all costs. Finally I had to call him, but apparently I was too stupid to speak directly to him, so he sighed four thousand times, then made me pretend I had said nothing, hang up, and go through Operations, who was presumably not as stupid. Because as someone from Operations, she spoke his language. Not like the people in Projects. We were idiots. So Operations (yes I called her Operations, like the guy from La Femme Nikita), as confused as I, called him and recited the same information. He asked her to put me on the phone. No way. Way.

So we're going through the problem, and he asks me the most inane questions, which I of course pretend are completely reasonable, so as not to anger him. Did you turn the system on? Did you check whether the Caps Lock key is on? Have you changed your password recently? Did you drown the machine in molasses and then smash it into the ground? Because, you know, that would stop it from working.

Finally, he says something that sounds like:

"Ok. Try this: restart in safe mode.
When it prompts you to log in, use the drop down box in the lower right hand corner and select 'Log in As Unicorn'.
Enter your regular username, then as your password enter WhatisLoveBabyDontHurtMeDontHurtMe(underscore)NoMore
Then once you're in, restart in regular mode while solving a Rubix cube.
Now log in as your regular username, password is the name of that in-between member of Destiny's Child that no one remembers.
Now stand up.
Now sit again. Really sit. Don't hover.
Ok. That should work."

Of course, delighted, I let him know when it works. And he responds with something like "No kidding. It's only in the Operations manual" before he rolls his eyes and walks off.

I really don't miss that guy.

So recently, I met a couple new IT people. They're great so far: they smile, engage, speak in full sentences instead of just saying 'server problem' and 'try restarting' at regular 30-second intervals on a loop. But even they have the thing. The thing is that look when they first walk into your office. It's a look that says "I expect you to say the stupidest thing imaginable." I fight it. I relax into it and try to casually appear to know stuff. But the look persists. I suspect I'm fighting a losing battle here.

The version of your body currently running is not bedroom compatible

My gym is running some kind of 6-week body makeover butt blast boot camp bangarang. That's not what it's really called but you get the idea. It's especially for women. It says so on the flier. Also on the flier, central to the message and in large red type, are words to the effect of:

GET A BEDROOM BODY!

Now, the gym runs these kinds of things all the time, in which they propose to bulk you up or whittle you down or generally bring you up to code in a specified time period. This is the first one I've seen geared specifically to women. And it's also the first one I've seen that seeks to gently encourage participation by reminding people women that they will have to get naked for someone's enjoyment, and for the sake of that other party, they'd better get their asses in gear. Or no man one will want to sleep with them. And then what would their lives become? Why else would you want to get in shape anyway, womanperson? For sport? For functional strength? For your own damn self? Stop speaking nonsenses!

Presumably, men don't need bedroom bodies*. Their fitness activities are in pursuit of more lofty ends. Hunting! Fighting! Watching cricket with their shirts off! And since women have to sleep with them anyway (everyone in this hetero-normative dreamscape is 'straight', ok? Just play along), there is no minimum aesthetic requirement involved for men.

Also what we've learnt so far is that a "bedroom body" is of a particular type produced in a gym or other exercise situation. Somebody should tell that to the bodies everywhere that are at this moment getting into some pretty enjoyable situations in their bedrooms, garages and crawlspaces right now, and have no intention of changing their bodies in order to continue doing so. If this describes you, you are hereby advised to cease and desist, until such time as we have certified that you possess the appropriate, bedroom-approved body.

It's true, I suppose, that "a bedroom body" could mean something more all-encompassing: it could simply mean a fit body of any size and shape that allows you to - as a friend of mine likes to put it - spin on your headtop during sex. But then, nobody's asking a man to spin on his headtop. I guess he and his non-bedroom body can just lay there.

And what annoys me most about this stupid poster - when I have to see it every single morning because it is affixed to the changing room door at my eye level - is that it does not reflect what I always thought were the philosophy and behaviours of the staff at this gym. They've always seemed very inclusive about women in sport, women gaining strength just because they feel like it. They've always seemed to have a pretty open "we can all do anything we want" mentality, inclusive of men, women, the elderly, people with disabilities, everyone. But now, because they are letting this stupid poster speak for them, I have to acknowledge that somewhere, someone in this establishment either does not get it, does not think, or does not care. And since I spend some time there, time that I otherwise enjoy, that's a bit of a downer. Still, always one who's eager (w00t!) to embrace the all too familiar "humourless" tag, here I go tomorrow morning. To ask what that mess there on the changing room door is all about.

*I asked if there was a similar poster on the inside of the men's changing room, and was told 'no' by a jolly fellow who is also a member, and who added, "darling, any man that got a body, it ready for the bedroom."

Monday, 10 May 2010

Newsclips and quotes [I regret to inform you that you are against the law]

See? It says right here (emphasis mine):

The advice came from Magistrate Pamela Beckles as she dealt with a matter involving 18-year-old dancer Mary Elizabeth Williams and singer complainant Kareen Clarke in the District "A" Magistrates' Court.

Williams, an illegal Guyanese [...]

The curious case of Not Meaning Anything By It

I live in a land where people think it's perfectly acceptable to say whatever they want. If you gain weight, or lose weight, or cut your hair, or let it grow, or grow paler, or grow darker, all these things are worthy of comment. And along with the comment comes a healthy serving of judgment. The judgment says a lot about who we are. When I was growing up, and even now, sometimes, getting darker was not cool: "Oh...you get dark! You been in the sun? [contemptuous snarl]" Well yes, I've been in the sun. We only get about 702 days of sunshine a year and I'm 8 years old. My life is in fact dedicated to being in the sun. But of course, voluntarily getting darker was not something that people understood, because for a lot of them, dark was less attractive. The same was true of short or natural hair, and an aunt once remarked with disapproval when my sister grew her natural hair out: "oh...('oh' in this context is usually a sign of impending disapproval)...you leaving the hair hard!" I am at once totally baffled by and in complete understanding of this kind of sentiment. I get that she meant "oh you have ceased to chemically process your hair", but implicit in that statement is the notion that processed - rather than natural - hair is the default (which by definition cannot be true), that unprocessed hair is 'hard' and therefore bad, and that 'hard' hair is to be avoided at all costs.

In our nicknaming, we go a step further. We not only comment on some aspect of a person's physical appearance, but we brand them accordingly: we make it the sum of who they are. So a person will be Fat Man, Short Woman, Tallies, Hopalong (yes, I'm referring to a person with one leg; yes, I'm horrified that some people seem not to see the problem there), Slims or Bones or Matchstick.

And on we go: commenting on people's appearance and habits, expressing unsolicited desires and attraction, bullying people as a pastime, and generally blabbing here there and yonder about things on which we have no business remarking. It gets tiresome, but what's more tiresome to me is the defense or dismissal of this habit with the words: "Well I/he/she/they didn't mean anything by it." This expression is a mystery: it's that all-encompassing defense which it seems is supposed to allow you to let any mess fall out of your mouth without taking responsibility for it. It's akin to "it's just my opinion" and a close neighbour of "I'm just saying". There's this notion that because an idea was spawned somewhere in the recesses of your brain, albeit by a process that remains unclear, it is worthy of utterance. And not only do you have the right to share it (which you probably do, which doesn't mean you should), but we have the obligation to 'respect your opinion' merely by virtue of the fact that it's your opinion. This is false. If your opinion is ill-conceived or bigoted or just plain nonsense, I don't have to respect it. And further, if you share it with me, and I think it nonsense, be prepared to hear about it, if I'm in the mood to let you know. You don't get to hide behind "it's just my opinion" as a license to talk out the side of your neck and not have to defend it.

Not meaning anything by it is a similar animal. What am I supposed to do with this information? That you didn't mean anything by it? You formed a sentence, so you meant something. You used words, which carry meaning, and so there was something that you hoped to convey. Perhaps you're saying that you didn't mean to upset me, or to start a fight. This might be true. But what you're really saying there is "I wanted to say whatever I pleased and leave you with the responsibility of not getting upset or challenging me." Or maybe you're so used to certain patterns of conversation that you just automatically discharged some nonsense without thinking about what it might mean for the other person. And if that's the case: stop it. Or finally, maybe you had a genuine foot-in-mouth moment. I've had those. They're hideous things. But "I didn't mean anything by it" is not of any comfort in those situations either. Because it's so overused, it's a bit of a non-statement now. If the person registers offense (or even if they didn't, depending on how brave you're feeling), just say sorry, you used the wrong words, and say what you really meant. Because you did mean something. Otherwise, why was your mouth open?

Now, there's been a lot of talk recently about what it means to be offended, and whether it is even desirable to avoid offending people, and it's a worthwhile discussion, because people do claim offense at everything. It's now a strategy; it's about manipulation. In the theater of the absurd that is the US Tea Party movement, for example, becoming offended is the new method by which to deflect responsibility: "How dare you call me a racist? I'm offended by the implication!" The ensuing backlash means that no one cares any more. Forget about not meaning anything by it, people are now starting to feel that if they can cause you personal injury on a lark, that means they're edgy and interesting, possess biting wit and are not afraid of being 'real'. That is all an illusion. The fact is, you're just an a$*hole. For me, the point of demarcation lies in the following: you don't have a right to not be offended, especially if you're the type to be offended by the skirt length of a stranger on the bus. But you do have a right to be free from discrimination and dehumanization by word and action. I tend to feel that words are action. They can call all kinds of things into being. They should be operated with care.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Damned homeless people and their hunger

**Trigger warning for reference to violence and half-hearted warning for a bit of profanity that is censored anyway**


How does one write an entire article about the homeless and manage to completely avoid even the vaguest reference to their vulnerability and lack of well-being? This is how.

There are too many gems to quote them all, and by "gems" I mean "instances of blatant disregard for the humanity of these people who dare to be hungry enough or desperate enough in their particular dependencies to beg for money". So just read the entire thing. It focuses on how bothersome the homeless are to businesses and tourists. Here are some quotes from the business owners consulted for their wise perspectives:

"As a tourist-oriented place we need to have the issue addressed as it may have adverse effects."

And another store owner:

"It is not right for people to come here and have this type of harassment. We cannot be spending this type of money to advertise Barbados and having a few people ruining the experience for them."

"It is a big problem and nobody seems to be dealing with it," he continued.

I have two things to say to this. First, tourists: "here is my country Barbados. It is lovely, the food is outstanding, the music is entrancing, the weather, the beaches, the people, all great. Some of these people, though, just like some of the people in your countries, have mental health challenges, substance dependencies and other circumstances which contribute to them living on the streets and sometimes not being able to feed themselves. Do help them if you'd like. Welcome to Barbados."

And second, yes, the 'issue' has to be addressed because there are 'adverse effects'. You know who is most adversely affected? The f**king homeless. I swore there, see. And I hardly swear in print. Such is the absurdity of the notions expressed here.

The idea that we have some kind of obligation to the people who visit this country to shield them from some of the manifestations of poverty - poverty that is in some instances maintained because of the unbalanced economic and political power relations between their countries of origin and ours (I know I should qualify this since it begs discussion, but that is a whole other post, so do ask "What?!" if you want to hear more) - is problematic. There are issues of safety, of course. And we should strive to maintain peace and security for all people, native or other, who happen to be resident here at any given moment for any length of time. But to frame this 'vagrancy problem' as 'a few people ruining the experience' of tourists, which is what I'm sure they set out to do when they left their pavements this morning - and to suggest that solely for this reason should we try to get human beings off the streets and into homes with food to eat and livelihoods to maintain themselves is getting things a bit ass backwards.

Our primary obligation is to secure the well-being of the citizens of this nation and region. That's what our development agenda, of which tourism is only a part, is all about. Economic arguments are sexy. I know. I make them every day. I'm often asked to make various cases for things "in economic terms", because that's what those with influence understand. And this is true. It's useful sometimes to show people the costs of certain policies or behaviours. When a woman is abused, when she is burnt with acid or stabbed or punched in the face, there are real costs to the State, to the economy, to the society. But you know what else? When a woman is punched in the face, a woman has just been punched in the face. So inherently, you see, this is a very bad thing. And while one gets that macro considerations are important and one does not want to lose one's job making these linkages clear, one gets jaded making economic arguments for things that should just be about common f**king decency and basic human rights.

Similarly, homelessness is bad for tourism, I suppose. So is littering and other forms of environmental degradation. Perhaps, so is getting annoyed with your friend in public and yelling YEAH? WELL F**K YOU TOO within earshot of a nervous tourist, since one gets the idea that we're all supposed to do the friendly native dance and not sully the tourist landscape with our actual character or personality or challenges. But poverty, homelessness, environmental decline, these are all problems that compromise the well-being of real people. And tourism is an important income earner for many, yes, but I am frankly afraid of the notion that all that is important is the tourist dollar and not spooking the flighty tourists dem, even if that means cleaning up the streets by stuffing the homeless into the nearest manhole out of sight of the money-spenders.

Quite a few of us realize the value of helping displaced people off the streets. There is a pretty impressive young man who started a local charity, the Barbados Vagrants & Homeless Society, with this as its mandate. And while the name is a little unfortunate, the work of the organisation and the support it has received from government are encouraging. Still, articles like this one contribute to the popular intolerance of the homeless. There's nothing wrong with considering some of the spinoff effects of homelessness, but showcasing the homeless as a nuisance and nothing more removes their humanity, and tells people it's alright to do the same.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

So much for transparency, good governance and freedom of the Press

Speaker of the House of Assembly Michael Carrington said yesterday he was surprised that an alleged incident involving two parliamentarians in the chamber last Friday night was reported in the Press.

Carrington declined comment on the reported incident, and noted that matters relating to the rights and privileges of parliamentarians and events within Parliament were to be dealt with by the House.

He added that any such reported matter would be dealt with and an appropriate report submitted for action if necessary.

Opposition Leader Mia Mottley and former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, at a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) constituency meeting last Sunday night, called for the sacking of Cabinet Minister Dr David Estwick, following a reported altercation between Estwick and St Joseph MP Dale Marshall.

The incident was alleged to have taken place within the precincts of Parliament.

Rights and privileges of parliamentarians? So are parliamentarians allowed to break the law without consequence? I'm sorry, but if ministers are putting each other in choke holds - in the House or anywhere else - I, as a voter, have the right to know. Shame on Michael Carrington for suggesting otherwise.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Stoopid stigma; doesn't work

In what will come as a surprise to no one at all, the justice system - with ardent support from the Nation newspaper - is still trying to establish some kind of connection between homosexuality and crime, suicide, murder, general death and destruction [emphasis mine; ridiculousness theirs]:

KILLER CURTIS JOEL FOSTER declared his sexual preferences to a probation officer, saying he will be a homosexual for the rest of his life.

"Despite the expected stigma," probation officer Roseanne Knight read, "Foster has maintained he will be a homosexual for the rest of his life. He stated that this was a decision of his, rather than influence from others."

The nerve of this man. Daring to remain a homosexual. Doesn't he know what stigma is for? We the people have carefully created that stigma. We have painstakingly crafted it for decades precisely for these very occasions. I mean...having no remorse for murder is one thing. But to have no remorse for homosexuality! Well that is just way past the boundary.

Knight, who read the report, said Foster - the eldest of five children fathered by Joel Erad Payne - started participating in homosexual activity when he was around 15 years.

He took to liming in Reed Street, The City, and hanging out with homosexuals.

She said Foster spoke of the mutually beneficial nature of a relationship he had with one Peter Wiltshire, saying it was only recently that he had been able to advance his literacy skills, while Wiltshire said Foster always tried to contribute to the household's finances.

I'm sorry. What? Does this make sense to anyone who reads English? Or anyone who doesn't? First of all, who is Joel Erad Payne? Is he a calypsonian? Does he read the news? What is this about? Why is the name of this man's father being read into evidence in court? Are they going to post his name and photo in business places like they do when you write a bad cheque? "Do not have sex with this man. He produces murderous homosexuals." And I love "participating in homosexual activity." I'm keeping that, adjusted of course to context: "Well since neither of us has a condom I guess we won't be participating in heterosexual activity." "Hey honey, get on over here let's participate in heterosexual activity." Do you know what "participating in homosexual activity" sounds like? "Participating in criminal activity." Do I think that's on purpose? Yes. Yes I do.

No good can come from hanging out with the homosexuals. Let this be a lesson to you.

And that last sentence is just generally confusing. Foster's partner helped him to read and Foster in turn contributed financially to their household? I think this report writer is one of those people who records all information and then sticks everything in the report in case it's important. I knew people like that at school. They did not pass their subjects.

The lone commenter below the article (at the time of reading) thinks the defense is trying to plead homosexuality. Well, not plead, because the man has already been convicted, but it amounts to the same: using homosexuality - along with the reference to the man's "low-functioning family" found elsewhere in the report - as evidence of mental defect and therefore appeal for a more lenient sentence. I suppose this is what it has come to.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Blargle [telephone blargles]

I am not important, at least not in the way people use that word. I hope I'm important to some people, and that my work is useful to several more people. But as Important People go, I'm not one of them. So don't take what I'm about to say as one of those self-important rants meant to offer instructions on how to increase your chances of accessing my fabulousness. I make that disclaimer because there are many such rants floating around the halls of the average, and they tend to make me snicker. No, this is just one of those "you know what's annoying...?" things that I'm sharing because it's far easier than reading some news and writing more meaningful thoughts.

People sometimes call me, on the phone, get my voice mail and decide to leave a message. I suppose the point of that is to share information that may inspire me to call them back. Something like "Hi Mar. This is Wendy next door. I found your pet elephant in my yard. She got out again. You really need to get a handle on this situation. My anthuriums are a mess now. Call me back." Or "I'm calling for Mar [Lastnamehere] from The Money Place. We have craploads of money for you. Just stupid piles of money with your name on them. Please call us back at 43GETMONEY."

Here is what will not inspire me to call you back: "Where are you? Why aren't you picking up? I've been calling forever [read, usually: all of 3 hours] and nothing. Is something wrong with your phone? I hate when this happens. [Angry noise.]" Right. First: I don't know who you are, which is part of the point of leaving a message. Second - the other key purpose of the voice message - I don't know what you want. And third: you've just succeeded in simultaneously freaking me out (is this stranger bleeding in a ravine somewhere and my phone is the only one he can connect to?) and pissing me off. All I've gathered from this message is that you've called before and that, ruling out the bleeding thing, you're pretty rude and demanding. Sometimes, of course, I recognize the voice, in which case you can skip straight to the freaking out about bleeding and the rude and demanding parts.

This kind of entitled telephone posturing isn't reserved for voice mails. Sometimes I do pick up, but apparently not soon enough, and hear this: "Hi. Your phone rang very long. You took forever to answer!" Why yes, I guess I did. And so now what? Am I meant to apologize for not having leapt to the phone? For having had to fish it from the bottom of my bag? For not keeping it tucked behind my ear while I shower? In any event, your call was successful. You now have me on the phone. Were you calling for some reason or just to judge me for my slow telephone response time?

Such questions might be part of regular conversation preamble, I concede. I'm not talking about those times. I'm not talking about the "Ooh your phone rang long. Were you asleep?" Or the "Where are you?! I'm teaching my dog how to roast a breadfruit! You should be here! It is the Best. Thing. Ever." openings. Those are an expected part of conversation. I'm talking about the people who scold you for daring to keep them on the phone 2 seconds longer than they deem you worthy of. Or the people who think they should be able to reach you immediately and always, because to not do so is clearly an insult to them and, in general, a very big problem indeed.

I live a reasonably simple life, in which I answer the phone when I am able and/or amenable, and don't answer it when I am not. When I don't answer, in most cases, I'm not nearby, or worse, I'm in the middle of an event, have forgotten to turn it off, and am trying with the sheer power of my brainwaves to deflect the sound so that the ringing seems to be coming from the opposite corner of the room and not from my purse. I tried that last night. It still doesn't work. In any event, I wasn't able to answer. There's no need to quiz me about it later. And what if it were the other thing? What if I was screening? Are you sure you want to trundle head first into this conversation when we run into each other later:

"I called you. Got your voice mail. Why didn't you pick up?"
"Well..the truth is, I hate you. Please refrain from calling ever again."?

There's one exception to this rule: my mother. (My father barges into conversation without so much as a hello and has stopped talking within 2 minutes flat, so this does not apply.) My mother can ask me any random silliness, and in fact does. It's part of the code when you're an adult daughter who doesn't speak to her mother nearly as often as she would like, and probably as you should. My mum has been known to start conversations with "I called the house today and no one answered. It rang 40 times. But I came by anyway because I thought someone might be home by the time I got here [5 minutes later]." And what can I say to that, besides "Oh man I'm really sorry about that. I told you I wouldn't be home remember...told you that this morning? But yeah...ugh...sorry."? So my mother can engage in the nonsense above. But if this describes any of you, and you're not my mother, please stop it at once.

Monday, 8 March 2010

International Women's Day

Last year, on International Women's Day, I wrote in support of the work of activists addressing Haiti's high incidence of rape. Today, the survival and well-being of women in Haiti remains high on the agenda of activists in the region and allies all over the world, especially in the aftermath of the earthquake. The women I've spoken to there are more focused than ever on rebuilding their country and their lives, and on continuing to work on securing safe, dignified, productive lives and livelihoods for all people. They inspire me not only to join them where they are, but to intensify my own work in Barbados and the Caribbean.

I see a lot of young women in my neighbourhood, on the streets every day, out and about everywhere, engaged in the business of growing up and figuring life out. And every day I'm reminded of how much there is to navigate, as a girl, and how overwhelming it can become if no one is creating the space needed to get through it all. That involves listening and encouraging their creative efforts and all these great things. But it also involves more tangible support, that has to do with their health care, their sexual and reproductive rights, their education, their safety and economic security. I don't have children. And even though I may at some point, and though I love my friends' children, I need not look that far into the future for my motivation to make things better now. I'm looking all around me, out my window right this minute, at the girls and women who depend on all our support to make their lives better today.

Happy International Women's Day.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The goat-dragon in the backyard

Work has been feeding on most of my daytime hours as I plow toward a deadline. I've started five posts which remain in draft, mocking me, so I haven't much to share apart from this small story:

In the backyard a few minutes ago, I dropped a clothespin. My sister's dog, Ellie, immediately pounced on it and started to eat it. I don't mean playfully chew on it; I don't mean toss it around with her mouth; I mean she genuinely tried to ingest the thing. I think she thought I had tossed it to her, and since I had tossed it to her, it must be safe to eat, and furthermore, delicious. Such blind trust. I wish I had that kind of superpower with human animals. Not that I would try to feed people clothespins. At least not most people.

Epilogue: I couldn't get the clothes pin away from Ellie, who is caught in an identity crisis that makes her part goat, part dragon guarding a cave just beyond King Arthur's kingdom. But thankfully, she got bored and stopped trying to eat the plastic snack. This is a relief. It could have gone so much worse.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

The houses that slavery built

There is a thing happening now that is confusing to me. Perhaps you can help me understand it. The Barbados National Trust is a local charity concerned with "the preservation of places of historic and architectural interest or of natural beauty and ecological importance". One of their programmes in an open house initiative, in which the public is invited to view not only historical homes, but also "newer, luxurious Bajan-Style villas". You pay some money, enter the property, engage in due amounts of oohing and aahing, and there. You've had your open house experience.

It has seemed to me over the years that most of the people who attended the open houses were tourists, along with those locals and expatriates with a particular interest in architecture or museums. But there seems to be an effort afoot this year (I can't say with any surety that the effort is peculiar to 2010, but I am just noticing it in the campaign's publicity) to encourage more locals - your, ahem, average Barbadians - to participate. The CBC Evening news ran a segment this week showcasing the first open house of the season, and this is where I'm going to fail you on the details, because I don't recall the location, and I don't have a clip or article to show you. I have nothing, in fact. You essentially have to take my word - paraphrased as it is - that this is what happened:

Dr. Karl Watson, a UWI historian and local champion of historical and environmental preservation, was in attendance at the event, as expected, and as the camera panned around to show who the guests were, was giving his thoughts on the importance of open houses and the like. He was pleased with the turnout, and the fact that there seemed to be more locals there, because Black Barbadians should take an interest in seeing the homes that their ancestors had built. Sounds harmless enough, although Dr. Watson being a White man does tend to nuance his telling Black Barbadians in which parts of their heritage they should take an interest. But let's accept this and move on.

The reporter on the story also heard from the owner/resident of the property - also a White man, this time of non-Barbadian provenance - who was chuffed that people had taken the opportunity to come out and see his home, because when he first moved (t)here he had spoken to the people in the village from time to time, and they had said no, they'd never been inside, and had no idea what it looked like, a fact by which he seemed surprised.

Right then, so this is what the invitation translates to: I, as a descendant of slaves, should be interested in paying for the privilege of being allowed inside the homes built from the toil of my enslaved ancestors, in order to observe the inordinate wealth in which slave owners lived at that time (especially as compared with slaves, who literally owned nothing, including themselves), and in which White owners of these properties continue to live today. Yeah. Thanks.

Now I might be wrong about a fact or two. Perhaps in the interest of getting more locals in, they waived fees for those coming from the surrounding areas. I don't know if that's true. It would make sense if they had, and if it's true, feel free to correct me. But it doesn't change what is wrong with some of the absurd statements I heard in that newscast. Barbadians are famous for our reluctance to have anything to do with the history of slavery (incidentally, Dr. Watson is also making absurd statements in the article linked here, although I'd like to think the cluelessness is a result of something lost in the journey from the newsroom. Barbadians don't want to cut sugarcane because they see it as a relic of slavery? I can't think where they would get that notion). And I have my own thoughts on that - on the idea that engaging in any discourse that recalls the horrors of slavery is necessarily an undesirable thing - but I understand it. A few have tried to widen that discourse, to demonstrate that it might actually be a useful and empowering one, but the jury's still out on that. So I get that there's a need - as far as some of us are concerned - to stimulate Barbadians' engagement in learning about our heritage. But here's what I don't get: a group of privileged, often White, sometimes non-Barbadian, sometimes non-descendants of slaves telling me in what parts of my heritage and consciousness-raising I should engage as a Black Barbadian. And worse, encouraging me to do so in an environment that reinforces the racial and economic hierarchy that existed in the time of slavery. I'm meant to mill about a rich, White man's property - one that was built by slaves - as said rich, White man looks on - and then go home feeling honoured to have been allowed?

I say all that in the first person because there were Black Barbadians there, who said on camera that they live nearby, and had been curious about the place, so they took the opportunity to go in and see what was what. One woman, when asked her impressions, basically said (I'm paraphrasing again) that the stuff inside didn't seem all that ornate and she was expecting more expensive things, but overall it was nice, which made me chuckle.

I am not against the work of the National Trust in preserving and showcasing historic sites. I think it's a great thing. But here's the thing: when the only commentary you have to make on race relations in Barbados - both old and new - involves telling me how to experience the history of slavery on your terms, in an immediate environment not unlike the actual environment at that time, where the property built by Black slaves was occupied and enjoyed by the wealthy White, and you do not see or acknowledge what is problematic about that picture, then that's where I have a problem.

I was speaking to my friend about it last night, and I told her "I am going to call that man - Dr. Watson - on the telephone." And she agreed that I should. So I will. I'll let you know how that turns out.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

In which I run out of ways to caption the inferior reporting of the media on intimate partner violence

In a post last March, I wrote this:

Ok, I promise that someday I'm going to stop being annoyed by the idiotic ways in which journalists write about violence against women, but apparently today is not that day.

Well, neither is today. In fact, I lied ok? I'm never going to stop, not as long as such ways persist.

From a Nation article yesterday:

IN A DISPUTE between a man and his girlfriend, it was the woman's clothes that came out the loser.

Nealson O'Neil Mason got so hot under the collar after an argument with his girlfriend that he went and torched $600 worth of her clothes.

Actually, no. It was the woman who came out the loser - of at least $600 worth of property, and perhaps her own sense of security, among other things. The url for this article, by the way, carries the caption 'burning hot love'. See how it's all supposed to be cutesy and punny and clever? Except the destruction of property is an act of violence, possibly not the only one in this three-year relationship, since Mason
has 14 previous convictions for drugs, assault, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, threats and theft.

Also problematic is the passive language of the headline: Girlfriend's clothes torched in lover's tiff. First off, an incident in which property is destroyed is a lot more than a lovers' tiff. And second, the clothes didn't spontaneously combust. Someone set them on fire, and that someone was a pissed off partner. Even if one needs to include the words 'alleged' or 'accused', could we at least have some agency represented here? Instead of acting like the violence was something that happened to the alleged (see how that works?) perpetrator?

The Nation reporter and the accused seem to have something in common, though, since he - the accused - also doesn't think it's that big a deal.

"I would like to say on that occasion, me and my girlfriend was having a dispute so I just separate myself and I burn up she clothes," Mason explained.

"It ain't no need to get lock up or nothing so," he added.

Well, that settles that. I'm getting the impression that this guy sees the destruction of his partner's property as a kind of coping mechanism - a way to avoid 'real' violence - since he 'separated himself' and just burnt her clothes. And one can only hope that in the course of the trial, someone will remember to mention that destroying property is also controlling, violent, illegal activity, and not something to be made light of or joked about. Let's also hope the Nation's court reporter is there that day.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Another shoe etiquette standoff. This time with fancy font

So this post at Gawker almost inspired me to email Brian Moylan to inform him that I wrote pretty much this exact post a year ago. "Ha! We have the same brain! You should hire me at Gawker and pay me lots of money!" But I did not.

I was, however, extremely tickled to read in a subsequent post that the offender he references (on second thought, I could never work at Gawker if I had to cover the comings and goings of this creature called the socialite, or worse, random successful-but-not-famous people whom I know because they are successful but who do not know me because I, presumably, am not. I do not understand it as an occupation. Why do the Brian Moylans of this world care if rich strangers make their guests remove their shoes? Keep it general, Brian. Or at least anonymous. It makes for funnier, far less creepy reading) is protesting his criticism on the grounds that she had put NO SHOES PLEASE on the invitations. And this is her defense! "I am not to blame, because, you see, I included a tacky little note advising guests that their shoes would not be welcome. And I also reminded them after they RSVP'd. So I am clearly beyond reproach."

I have to say that had I received an invitation that said "NO SHOES PLEASE", I would have wondered for a full 40 seconds whether I was meant to show up barefoot to the event (Is it a theme? How do I travel on the streets shoeless? Do I leave them in the car? Is this a hoax? ) before I threw the thing on the pile of papers I use to flick bugs outside.

That's all I have on that. As you were.
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