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.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Whose flesh?

This post at Shakesville reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a friend regarding the flesh-coloured crayon in the Crayola box. (Wikipedia tells me that Crayola changed their 'Flesh' to 'Peach' in 1962, but I was born almost 2 decades later, and there was definitely a 'Flesh' in my box. Man, the Caribbean really did get the oldest, broken-down sh!t as imports.) So my friend and I were talking about our confusion as children over the Flesh colour in the box. She never bothered with it, she said, because Flesh was an odd name anyway. It's true. Even leaving the shade of the thing aside, who wants to use a colour called Flesh? It's like colouring with Meat. Or Carcass.

I, on the other hand, thought that by Flesh they meant tissue: the deeper layers of the skin. It was because whenever someone got a really bad gash on the playground, we'd all ooh and aah over the fact that you could see beyond the top layer of skin and blood, down to the flesh! That was what we called it, and that was an indication that this was a Very Severe Wound, and the sufferer might die, or at least miss an afternoon of school while he got 10 stitches. Thing is, that 'flesh', the bit of ickiness that was exposed with a bad laceration (which was probably fat, or something equally tame), was very nearly the colour of Crayola's Flesh crayon. So I, as a 5-yr-old, thought the crayon manufacturers oddly precise and a bit morbid (what 5-yr-old was hanging out drawing pictures of gaping wounds?), but didn't really think much else of it.

That was until teachers and camp counsellors started insisting that we use the Flesh crayon to colour in the skin of the people we drew, at which time I had to point out that the people I was drawing were not that colour; they were brown, like me; and, actually, like the teacher.

"No. That's the one you use to colour people. See? It says 'flesh', meaning skin."

In the interest of getting on with my masterpiece, I was willing to make a concession:

"Ok, well Maria (the light-skinned Black girl) can use it then. For her people."
"No. It's for all people. That brown is too dark. The people you see in pictures aren't that colour."

Indeed. This was part of the problem. I eventually got out my Ken and Judy book, and showed this woman that actually, a couple of the people you saw in pictures were that colour. I could have shown her a mirror. That would have worked just as well. Or perhaps not, since I'm assuming she had one at home but still hadn't managed to figure out what shade her skin was.

But the Flesh Dilemma was of course not limited to Crayola. As most people of colour know, Flesh means White flesh, and this notion was reflected in many of the products around us. No one I knew could wear Flesh panty-hose. My mother's shade was Cedar Brown, and if you were any darker than that, you had to settle for this kind of off-black thing that made you look as if you had just been rescued from a house fire. Going bra shopping with my mother, I noticed that bras came in black, white and flesh. The idea of brown as a neutral is strictly a 21st century concept, at least in my world, and one that has in some places not yet caught on. I know this because I overheard a woman describing her New Year's outfit recently. She was close to my complexion, and mentioned that she had worn flesh-coloured shoes "so nothing would clash". Flesh? Her friend asked. Yes, like this, she said, and pointed to a taupe wall.

They're not just crayons. Some of the messages we internalize as children, about our identities and the very visibility and validity of our person, never go away.

Jazz on the Hill Robin Thicke in The Champagne Room

So remember I said I would review the second jazz event I went to, Jazz on the Hill featuring Robin Thicke? Well, it turns out I don't have much to say, but I made the commitment, so I aim to follow through. It also turns out that the performer who struck me the most was the much-hyped and anticipated Robin Thicke, but not for the reasons you'd expect. It seems I live quite a Bizarro existence, because the Nation covered this event, and mentioned that the crowd was apathetic to the first act, warmed up a bit by the second, and was all in and ebullient over the third. For me, the reverse was true. BwaKoré, the first band to take the stage, impressed me considerably, and I could barely understand a word they were singing. (Of course, the latter could also be said of Robin Thicke, but with far less favourable results.)

BwaKore's music is beautifully multi-layered and delightfully hard to describe. To my ear, and by 'my' I mean someone who does not even pretend to be an expert on French Caribbean music, it sounds like a fusion of Martiniquan biguine, zouk and jazz: the bold, clear Creole vocals typical of zouk; the rhythmic brass and drum combo of biguine bélè, and the smooth bass and sax improvisations of jazz. What all this amounts to is a festival on stage you so wish you were a part of, you (and by 'you' I mean I) start to clap and mumble along with very little shame about the fact that you neither know nor understand the words. The vocals of lead singer Max Télèphe are truly something to experience. I have now purposed to listen to all their music, and to see BwaKoré live at least once more in my lifetime.

If, as the Nation's review suggests, the audience was a bit apathetic to this band, it could possibly have had something to do with the language, although quite honestly, their sound is so fresh and complete, understanding the lyrics is not essential to its enjoyment. It could also have had something to do with the fact that there was no prep for the featured acts. In the early days of the jazz festival, the producers took great pains to showcase young, local talent as openers for the headliners. It gave young talent a chance to perform before a large crowd and us a chance to get acquainted with our musicians, but it also gave the foreign acts a bit of a buffer - a set of ambassadors, if you like - who would introduce them and give them credibility with an audience who might be less than receptive. Now, acts are made to start cold, with just a standard, uninspired emcee's intro to launch them. Throw in the language barrier, and it's a daunting task. But be all that as it may, there was nothing that BwaKoré could have done better. I can't wait to have them back for the next show. Perhaps by that time, the jazz festival promoters will have been clued in to the notion that eschewing local acts in the interest of saving money (?) does not foster goodwill among your local music fraternity or among your audience, who are made to listen to inappropriate DJ selections where young musicians playing live to fill gaps in stage action would have made much more sense.

I'm afraid I can't say much about the second act, jazz keyboardist Lao Tizer and his band, except that their violinist Karen Briggs is an exceptional soloist, but apart from that, the contemporary, keyboard-led sound, though obviously well-executed, is perhaps not my favourite brand of live music. I felt a bit like an uninvited guest at a closed jam session, which, who knows, may have been what they were going for, but I couldn't quite get on board.

After some more puzzling DJ selections and some just adequate (if that) emceeing, Robin Thicke took the stage amid - speaking of puzzling - women's frenzied screams. Seriously, I did not understand what was occurring, and I want to relate this next part as quickly as I can because just thinking about it again makes me slightly ill with embarrassment. So the host announces Robin Thicke with the tackiest Thick(e) joke (yes, I can in fact mean what you think I mean, and I do) you can imagine, women run screaming from the hills to the stage, and out shuffles Robin Thicke in the tightest black pants you've ever winced at, a black shirt unbuttoned to mid-stomach revealing some kind of necklace, and dark sunglasses. The whole mood was very Ed Hardy. So Thicke takes the mic; it's on the stand so what is he to do but angle his body suggestively around it? And I'm sure he does an intro but it's all drowned out by screaming women who seem not at all bothered that there's a Chippendales show going on at the Jazz Festival. The first song I make out is something that seems to be called (Amazon now tells me) Shakin it 4 Daddy. ([Explicit] in brackets. No kidding.) The song is so pedestrian, it's like something from a Justin Timberlake SNL sketch.

To wit:
Cause she shakin it for daddy
(yeah) she shakin it for me
She shakin it for daddy (yeah)
She Shakin it for me
She liftin up ha ass
And she drop it ta the beat
She shakin it so fast for the cash ching-a-ling
She ready
And she lookin for a bankroll
She move it round and round like a merry-go
She be like i be i be i be on that money shit


And then this other girl grabbed me and she whispered in my ear
She said this other girl aint doin shit its crackin over here
She put my hand on her booty and the jiggle made me woozy
Now we bout ta make a movie
In the club goin' stupid

You jazz musicians think you have angst? You don't know what angst is until you've had to choose between two strippers. In the club. Goin'...stupid.

All the while, Robin, whose pants are too tight for survival, is engaged in this hilarious Cool Guy Shimmy the likes of which I've never seen before. He cannot dance. And while this particular song is no Hallelujah, you can tell he can't really sing either. His vocals are breathless and thin. He's strongest on falsetto, and trust me, that is no compliment. There are other cheesy songs about him being The Sex and all the ladies wanting It, all of which I'm assuming are from this last, cleverly-titled Sex Therapy album, and on he shimmies.

His backup singers are behind him, two women also in their tightest black and biggest hair, performing old Supremes two-steps not nearly as well as the Supremes did. Nothing about this act's sound or look is modern. It's as if Robin Thicke hasn't had, seen or read about sex since the early 90s, which would be fine, if only he could sing.

By the time the laughter and puzzlement fades among my friends, we've all started moving towards the exits, and Thicke decides to abandon the hilarity and stick with what works (although clearly the bachelorette party act worked for just about everyone but us). He performed Lost Without You, which was much better, and a few others from The Evolution of Robin Thicke. By then, we were over it. And as we left the park still chuckling, Thicke announced that he had run over time and the authorities were shutting down the show, which was possibly the most welcome thing he had uttered all evening.

Friday, 22 January 2010

"It is beneath you; it is next to me!" [Bespectacled hilarity]

I'm finishing some work and some blog entries to be posted later, but in the meantime, watch this Daily Show clip. Keith Olbermann is usually right, if melodramatic and more and more, giggle-inducing. After Olbermann's remarks that the new Mass. Senator-elect Scott Brown is “an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, tea-bagging supporter of violence against women”, Jon Stewart has had enough:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Special Comment - Keith Olbermann's Name-Calling
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Haiti updates post

                                                Stand With Haiti

As a follow-up to this post, the International Committee of the Red Cross has compiled a list for people seeking news in Haiti. Go here to register a search for your loved ones if they are not already on the list.

This will be the final and official update post on new contact opportunities, relief efforts and any other news related to the disaster in Haiti. You can also use this post to leave comments along with your own news and resources. And keep checking our Twitter updates as well.

More news on Haiti:

"The Obama administration announced Friday that it would grant tens of thousands Haitian nationals Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, an immigration benefit sought for years by Haitian activists, immigrant advocates and South Florida lawmakers." This is a very significant move, considering that last February, the administration was set to deport 30 000 Haitians to their storm-ravaged country.

Not just Port-au-Prince: the southern port city of Jacmel is also in need of help.

Update Jan 18th:

Ciné Institute Director David Belle in #Haiti reports CNN et al stories of looting greatly exaggerated:

Update Jan 19th
Paddy Allen at The Guardian has put together this map of where aid has been deployed in Haiti.

Update Jan 20th
Another aftershock, the largest, measuring 6.1, was felt in Haiti this morning. The epicentre of this morning's quake was Petit Goave, about 26 miles north-west of Jacmel.

Update Jan 21st:
More friends and colleagues lost in Haiti

Happy Errol Barrow Day

Today, January 21st, is Errol Barrow Day in Barbados, and a national holiday. With our independence in 1966, Errol Barrow became the country's first Prime Minister, and was in fact one of the greatest champions of the independence process and of the integration of the Caribbean region.

I remember that immediately after his death in 1987, our primary school school class was asked to write an essay about him, and our teacher then asked if I'd like mine to be submitted to the newspaper. Of course I said yes, and it was published. My mother cut the article out and took me into town with her to the framing place so I could decide how I wanted it framed. I chose an off-white frame with gold detail, and a week later, it was ready to be hung in the dining room. The text was on the left, Errol Barrow's picture on the right, and the article stayed in that place for years and years, only taken down when friends came to the house and my mother forced them to witness the proof that her daughter had been 'published'.

I tell that story because through that experience, Errol Barrow became probably the only national hero with whom I felt I had a relationship, even though I had never met him. I looked at his yellowed picture in that article for years, and saw him as a kind of uncle/grandfather who had done some pretty awesome things. I think that kind of intimacy with the Errol Barrows of our region should be encouraged in the way we teach young people about their lives and work, so that they're not just some woman or man in a textbook (come to think of it, Barrow wasn't in any of mine. We learnt about him in primary school from newspapers and our teachers' stories. And in secondary school, forget about it. The Renaissance was apparently more important); they're people who had thoughts and visions like the rest of us, and made them happen.

A year before Barrow's death, calypsonian Johnny Ma Boy (John King) became the 1986 Pic-O-De-Crop calypso monarch with the song Tribute to de Skipper, in honour of Errol Barrow. It is one of my favourite songs of all time. I was hoping to find a video online, but couldn't, and I would post the lyrics in my head, but I don't want to risk getting any of them wrong. (If anyone has either, please post in comments.) So instead, here's another song honouring Bajan culture: Gabby singing "Bajan Fishermen". It has nothing to do with Errol Barrow, but I like it.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I wanted to post some excerpts from my favourite sermon of his, The Drum Major Instinct, delivered on February 4th 1968. I'm not religious, but the speech isn't just about humility among Christians; it's about the dangers of classism and racism, of institutionalized privilege, and holds an important message for us all.
You can also listen at the link.

"This morning I would like to use as a subject from which to preach: "The Drum Major Instinct." "The Drum Major Instinct." And our text for the morning is taken from a very familiar passage in the tenth chapter as recorded by Saint Mark. Beginning with the thirty-fifth verse of that chapter

[...] Jesus goes on toward the end of that passage to say, "But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all."

The setting is clear. James and John are making a specific request of the master. They had dreamed, as most of the Hebrews dreamed, of a coming king of Israel who would set Jerusalem free and establish his kingdom on Mount Zion, and in righteousness rule the world. And they thought of Jesus as this kind of king. And they were thinking of that day when Jesus would reign supreme as this new king of Israel. And they were saying, "Now when you establish your kingdom, let one of us sit on the right hand and the other on the left hand of your throne."

Now very quickly, we would automatically condemn James and John, and we would say they were selfish. Why would they make such a selfish request? But before we condemn them too quickly, let us look calmly and honestly at ourselves, and we will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first.

[...] And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.

[...][L]et us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.

[...] And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession.

[...] Now in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good. And you know, we like to be praised for it. Now if you don't believe that, you just go on living life, and you will discover very soon that you like to be praised. Everybody likes it, as a matter of fact. And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is something of the vitamin A to our ego. Nobody is unhappy when they are praised, even if they know they don't deserve it and even if they don't believe it. The only unhappy people about praise is when that praise is going too much toward somebody else. (That’s right) But everybody likes to be praised because of this real drum major instinct.

Now the presence of the drum major instinct is why so many people are "joiners." You know, there are some people who just join everything. And it's really a quest for attention and recognition and importance. And they get names that give them that impression. So you get your groups, and they become the "Grand Patron," and the little fellow who is henpecked at home needs a chance to be the "Most Worthy of the Most Worthy" of something. It is the drum major impulse and longing that runs the gamut of human life. And so we see it everywhere, this quest for recognition. And we join things, overjoin really, that we think that we will find that recognition in.

Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. (Make it plain) In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you're just buying that stuff. (Yes) That's the way the advertisers do it.

I got a letter the other day, and it was a new magazine coming out. And it opened up, "Dear Dr. King: As you know, you are on many mailing lists. And you are categorized as highly intelligent, progressive, a lover of the arts and the sciences, and I know you will want to read what I have to say." Of course I did. After you said all of that and explained me so exactly, of course I wanted to read it. [laughter]

[...] There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. (Make it plain) And that's where I want to move now. I want to move to the point of saying that if this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct.

[...] It causes you to lie about who you know sometimes. (Amen, Make it plain) There are some people who are influence peddlers. And in their attempt to deal with the drum major instinct, they have to try to identify with the so-called big-name people. (Yeah, Make it plain) And if you're not careful, they will make you think they know somebody that they don't really know. (Amen) They know them well, they sip tea with them, and they this-and-that. That happens to people.

[...] Now the other problem is, when you don't harness the drum major instinct—this uncontrolled aspect of it—is that it leads to snobbish exclusivism. It leads to snobbish exclusivism. (Make it plain) And you know, this is the danger of social clubs and fraternities—I'm in a fraternity; I'm in two or three—for sororities and all of these, I'm not talking against them. I'm saying it's the danger. The danger is that they can become forces of classism and exclusivism where somehow you get a degree of satisfaction because you are in something exclusive. And that's fulfilling something, you know—that I'm in this fraternity, and it's the best fraternity in the world, and everybody can't get in this fraternity. So it ends up, you know, a very exclusive kind of thing.

[...] The drum major instinct can lead to exclusivism in one's thinking and can lead one to feel that because he has some training, he's a little better than that person who doesn't have it. Or because he has some economic security, that he's a little better than that person who doesn't have it. And that's the uncontrolled, perverted use of the drum major instinct.

Now the other thing is, that it leads to tragic—and we've seen it happen so often—tragic race prejudice. Many who have written about this problem—Lillian Smith used to say it beautifully in some of her books. And she would say it to the point of getting men and women to see the source of the problem. Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior. A need that some people have to feel that they are first, and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first. (Make it plain, today, ‘cause I’m against it, so help me God) And they have said over and over again in ways that we see with our own eyes. In fact, not too long ago, a man down in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizens Council. And so God being the charter member means that everybody who's in that has a kind of divinity, a kind of superiority. And think of what has happened in history as a result of this perverted use of the drum major instinct. It has led to the most tragic prejudice, the most tragic expressions of man's inhumanity to man.

The other day I was saying, I always try to do a little converting when I'm in jail. And when we were in jail in Birmingham the other day, the white wardens and all enjoyed coming around the cell to talk about the race problem. And they were showing us where we were so wrong demonstrating. And they were showing us where segregation was so right. And they were showing us where intermarriage was so wrong. So I would get to preaching, and we would get to talking—calmly, because they wanted to talk about it. And then we got down one day to the point—that was the second or third day—to talk about where they lived, and how much they were earning. And when those brothers told me what they were earning, I said, "Now, you know what? You ought to be marching with us. [laughter] You're just as poor as Negroes." And I said, "You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. (Yes) And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big because you are white. And you're so poor you can't send your children to school. You ought to be out here marching with every one of us every time we have a march."

Now that's a fact. That the poor white has been put into this position, where through blindness and prejudice, (Make it plain) he is forced to support his oppressors. And the only thing he has going for him is the false feeling that he’s superior because his skin is white—and can't hardly eat and make his ends meet week in and week out. (Amen)

And not only does this thing go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy.

[...] But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. "I must be first." "I must be supreme." "Our nation must rule the world." (Preach it) And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I'm going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.

[...] If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That's a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, (Everybody) because everybody can serve. (Amen) You don't have to have a college degree to serve. (All right) You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. (Amen) You only need a heart full of grace, (Yes, sir, Amen) a soul generated by love. (Yes) And you can be that servant.

[...] Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen)

And that's all I want to say.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

A renewed love affair with Cuban jazz

Oh right! I went to the Barbados Jazz festival this week, and I must tell you about it. The festival ran every day from January 11th, and ends tonight. I took in two shows: the dinner set at the Crane featuring Elio Villafranca, the Cuban jazz pianist; and yesterday's Jazz on the Hill with Martiniquan band Bwakoré, Tizer and Robin Thicke, yes the American dude, and no he's not a jazz performer but we'll get to that.

The dinner set was plenty swanky, with the proper amount of double-cheek kissing and wineglass brandishing before dinner. It was a mixed but generally older crowd of, say, my parents' generation. Everyone seemed happy to be there, and there was very little of the "I am so over this" eye-rolling that you find among the glitterati of my age group. That was a relief, but not enough of a relief for me to start hanging with my parents. I heard tell there was only one bartender during the cocktail hour, to the exasperation of some. Dinner was crowded and a little awkward to navigate, but tasty enough and well served by the staff, who seemed just as pleasant and mellow as the guests. There's something in that Crane air, I tell you.

At the start of the show, the host mentioned what was on everyone's minds: the earthquake in Haiti and the fact that the festival was engaged in its own effort to raise money for the country. There is a feeling of solidarity in Barbados and I'm sure across the rest of the Caribbean that is almost palpable in the wake of Tuesday's disaster. It's a sense that all we are is fortunate*, some of us more so than others, and that realizing this, there is no choice but to give, and what I hope is an extension of that, to stay committed to helping Haiti thrive in the long term.

When Villafranca took the stage with the rest of his quintet, he straight away set a very easy tone. We were all sat out under the stars on the Crane's stunning grounds, well liquored up and ready to hear some music, so his job getting us to loosen up could have been harder. Still, the unrehearsed, off-the-cuff introductions in his second-language English made us feel like we had wandered into his studio and were watching an oddly professional jam session, which was exactly as it should have been. His quintet included percussion, soprano sax and flute, congas and acoustic bass performing Cuban classics as well as original interpretations like Ogere's Cha from his debut album Encantaciones, and selections from his 2008 The Source in Between.

There is nothing ordinary about Elio's music. Even his take on the classics reflects the most refreshing amalgam of early Afro Cuban music like son and danzón, Latin and American jazz that you will ever hear. Throughout, there are shades of Hancock and Coltrane, and the clincher for me: an unmistakable Thelonious Monk flavour. He uses a light but steady hand as bandleader, and is always the star, even with the other instrumentalists' solos. Most of my Cuban jazz piano experience has included the dancey, more traditional sounds of Sacasas and Valdés, but if this is where new Cuban jazz is going, I'm definitely following.

A bit on Saturday's show in a subsequent post.

*There is a thankfully far less palpable sentiment of the Pat Robertson variety, which I'm quite happy to ignore.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Myriam Merlet

We received news yesterday of the passing of Myriam Merlet in Tuesday's disaster in Haiti. Merlet, a women's rights activist and Head of the Ministry of Women in Haiti, helped to call international attention to the widespread rape of girls and women as a political weapon in the country, where rape was only made a criminal offence in 2005. Merlet's essay The More People Dream appeared in the popular 2001 publication Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance.

We are saddened by the passing of one of our colleagues and friends. I imagine that in the coming weeks, there will be many tributes to those we've lost, and I look forward to contributing to those, to remembering the Myriam I knew, and her work. I want to reaffirm our solidarity in assisting Haiti, and in working towards the peace and security of all its citizens as they work to recover and rebuild not only now, but for years to come. I believe we appreciate that the support needed goes way beyond 'fixing' the fallout from Tuesday's disaster, and I'm hopeful that as a region, we will listen to the needs of the Haitian people, and stay committed .

Thursday, 14 January 2010

A story to share from Haiti

Some of us in the Caribbean region who have links to Haiti, a place we've worked, lived and visited, have made many friends there over the years. Among those friends are the amazing people at the St. Joseph's Home for Boys in Petionville. We heard yesterday that the Home was one of the collapsed buildings in the capital, and as we seek more information about the Home and many of our other loved ones, two friends and colleagues, Tonni and Cynthia, share this letter:

Dear Friends,

Many of you may remember in 2003 - 2004 Tonni [redacted] and I went down
to Port-au-Prince with only our cameras and dreams of making a
documentary on the reality of Haiti, one that focused on hope and not
misery. We were so very fortunate to have made incredible friends on
that journey, who not only sheltered us from harm but truly opened
their hearts, to share their stories and vision of hope for Haiti.

The news of yesterday's earthquake has devastated us, especially in
learning the St. Joseph's Home for Boys, which we featured in the
film, was one of the many buildings that collapsed. While both our
instincts are to get on a plane to Hispanola with camera in tow, to
help, and to tell the true stories from Port au Prince, we recognized
that what we needed to do right now is to share the one we already
documented. We spent a couple of weeks at St. Joseph's Home for Boys
in Petionville, Haiti (on the hilly outskirts of the capital),
capturing on film the lives and talent of these young orphaned boys.
Our documentary, Seeking the Soul of Freedom, which was inspired by
the Bicentennial Independence Celebrations, is a collage of intimate
stories of reconnection and hope for Haiti, and her people.

To watch the film visit
Part 1:
Part 2:

Because it is 15 minutes we had to break it into parts

For more information on St. Joseph's Home for Boys visit:
You may also want to check out for additional
information on the earthquake and all things Haiti

With all our love and prayers for Haiti,
Cynthia and Tonni

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Finding loved ones in Haiti

I wanted to give this item a separate post, rather than an update in the previous one. At you can ask and/or give information about people you know in Haiti. To use the site:
Please do a search for each person missing. If nothing is found create a post with the name as subject, location and details in the message. If you have info on someone posted here please leave a reply.

UPDATE: Via reader Camel: The Red Cross needs Creole-speaking volunteers for a 24-hour bank. Call Mr. Wilfrid @ 305-776-6900 ASAP. To those looking for loved ones in Haiti, the phone company Haitel and Digicel have restored service, so you may try to contact those with Haitel and Digicel phones.

Digicel users can also Text HELP to 5151 in Barbados. With each text, you donate $1 towards the Haiti Relief effort. Digicel phones only.The Facebook page for this effort is here, and provides the numbers for Digicel users in other territories.

Following the news in Haiti

Via Mark Goldberg at the UN dispatch, I'm following these twitter feeds to try and get more information: RAMHaiti, isabelleMORSE and troylivesay.

Ushahidi's Haiti microsite is also carrying a timeline of incidents as they are reported.

The US Geological Survey is reporting up to 24 aftershocks that have hit the country since the original 7.0 quake.

Images of the disaster are here.

Those who are able can help Haiti Earthquake Relief and donate $5 by texting YELE to 501 501. Or visit

UPDATE: The Miami Herald tells us how we can help relief efforts in Haiti. Awaiting news on any local/regional efforts to which we can contribute.

UPDATE II: Check out the NYTimes twitter list as well as my own updates/retweets in the twitter widget on the right.

Photo via AP

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

With news of today's earthquake, our thoughts are with our Caribbean brothers and sisters in Haiti, and their loved ones worldwide who are trying to make contact. The region and international community stand poised for news of any help needed.

Has Caribbean feminism failed? Or did it just never exist?

Last week, I sat down with two of my favourite male people, over some Guinness(es?) and some wicked, fried pot fish, to catch up on the happenings. The conversation soon got around to feminism, because these two male people are actually interested, and don't just pretend to be in the hopes that when they ask me "how's work?" I'll just say "You know, it is what it is. Pass the pepper sauce."

So they had some issues, among them my confession that in my work, when I talk about my theories of economics to people who are presumably non-sympathetic - or who at least start out that way - I avoid the term 'feminist'. I do not call my work 'feminist economics' outside my group of colleagues or friends because:

1) It is irrelevant, almost so irrelevant as to be counter-productive. I'm suggesting that in the traditional conceptualization of the economy, there are missing markets, and missing actors. Some of women's work, and some of the consequences of economic policy and activity on women, are rendered invisible, and if we are to obtain a true picture of the economy, maximize its productivity and advance development goals, we need to start thinking about that economy in different ways. This argument hinges on the idea that mainstream economics is lacking, whereas 'my' economics is more complete. To then present my views as 'feminist', to qualify them in this way, only marginalizes them, which is the opposite of what I'm trying to do.

2) It is inflammatory. 'Feminist' is a bad word. This is a surprise to no one. Many people I encounter are eager to distance themselves from what they see as feminist ideology, and are in fact relieved to have that basis on which to reject your ideas. If advancing that ideology without using the F word is going to improve women's access to economic goods, then I'm prepared to use other words.

3) It is not true. Based on the first point, if I believe that an economic model that values women's work and counts it as an economic input is a truer model, then what I do is just Economics, only properly done. (One could argue that insofar as feminism is a belief in the right of women to have political, social, and economic equality with men, all economics should be feminist economics, which is also true. And so we could argue each of those points, and probably both be right.)

This is an age-old argument, and while I call myself a feminist, language is an important part of the political strategy that gets things done. So using language like 'women's rights' and 'equity', and employing methods like first establishing the existence of a problem and then revealing that the majority of those experiencing this problem are women or men or children is often more expedient.

But they thought that I was wrong to do this, and that if feminism was not at all problematic, as I was suggesting, then I should use my work to make it visible as a movement. Because, they said, the feminism that everyone knows, and that men in the Caribbean are so turned off by, has been imported from the US and UK, with all their bra-burning and armpit-hair growing. They suggested that the women's movement in the Caribbean has failed to adequately represent its cause, to refocus the business of feminism within the Caribbean context, and to disabuse people of the notion of feminism as a foreign, outdated ideology. They believed that rather than treat as separate issues like violence against women and sexual and reproductive rights, we should frame them within the larger context of women's human rights, showing the linkages, and in that way, it would all become clear to the masses and we, the feminists, would win. I explained that we had done this, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. They were not convinced. I suggested that they were considering the issue as already-feminist men, assuming a reasonable, blank-slate audience that does not always exist. Again, they were not convinced.

I had, and have, several responses to this, including the idea that 'feminist', both as a qualifier and a noun, is not strictly tied to 'feminism' as a movement. There's some merit in what they say, as well as some confusion, I think, about what the advancement of women's rights in the Caribbean has looked like, and what it looks like these days. But I wanted to ask you first, readers and lurkers and bears, what you think, before I address these ideas in a subsequent post.

Are Caribbean people really thirsting for feminist knowledge, and have we simply been doing it wrong all along?

No rose for you!

Congratulations on temporarily finding the love of your life

I've watched The Bachelor once or twice, I think, when the series first started, and some time before I realized they would never cast anyone other than a boring White dude as the king of a harem of women. When I found myself yelling at the token, hopeful Black woman in the bunch "Go home! For the love of Drusilla*! He will never pick you!" I decided to call it a night.

But I still read with bemusement the recent story of the shameful ouster of one of the contestants because of an "inappropriate relationship" with a staffer on the show. As if the whole ridiculous premise - a man, in his search for The One, consecutively, and sometimes simultaneously, fondling (and more) a string of women who subject themselves to the whole charade in the hopes of becoming pseudo-celebrities - isn't itself inappropriate, at least according to my definition. And then there's the huge LOL factor of the show's host reprimanding a contestant for initiating a (presumably) real relationship because it might supplant or jeopardize a wholly orchestrated one. Sorry, lady. Around here, the whoring is for the dudes.

So here's how it went down. All emphasis mine:

The competition steamed up on Monday night's episode of "The Bachelor" as contestant Rozlyn Papa was sent home.


As the girls were making their bids to Jake to keep them around, "Bachelor" host Chris Harrison asked Rozlyn if he could speak to her privately.

He took her outside and said, "So, this is something we've never had to deal with in the history of the show."

"What's that?" Rozlyn replied.

"I am very sorry that we have to have this conversation, it's very awkward. I'm guessing you have some idea why I pulled you aside. Rozlyn, you entered into an inappropriate relationship with one of our staffers. That staffer is no longer working with us. Okay," Chris said.

Rozlyn replied, "Okay."

"Because of what happened, we feel it's now impossible to then now form a meaningful relationship with Jake. Out of respect for everybody here, the girls, Jake, yourself," Chris told Rozlyn.

Because otherwise, Jake might have formed a meaningful relationship with Rozlyn, even as he was forming meaningful relationships with thirteen other women. R-e-s-p-e-c-t, Rozlyn. Find out what it means to us here at The Lady Farm Bachelor.

"I mean I don't think that my personal life is really anybody's business," Rozlyn replied.

I feel you, Rozlyn. I mean, it's not as if you're airing your personal life for all of America and the rest of us poor bastards to see. Unless you're making a distinction between your actual, personal life and this farce of a show, in which case your response is filled with both irony and truth.

When Jake was told of the news, he appeared angry, saying, "I don't really know what to say, I'm just really disappointed. … Can I get my rose back?"

What? You mean you aren't here solely for my titillation? Give me my f**cking rose back, trollop.

Poor Jakey.

* Do not be alarmed. This is just a random reference to my favourite Buffy character, who is at once awesome (in the original meaning of the word), terrifying and hilarious, and must therefore be adored. And in case you're wondering, yes that is a Seinfeld joke in the title, and no, it will never die.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Nobody does racist like KFC

KFC claims that its ad showing a white Australian 'calming' a crowd of apparently scary West Indies cricket team fans by timidly offering them a bucket of chicken is certainly not racist, and that the criticism it has attracted is just the result of a cultural misunderstanding and misinterpretation by "a segment of people in the US".

Here's the ad:

And here's what KFC had to say:

"It is a light-hearted reference to the West Indian cricket team," the statement read.

"The ad was reproduced online in the US without KFC's permission, where we are told a culturally-based stereotype exists, leading to the incorrect assertion of racism.

"We unequivocally condemn discrimination of any type and have a proud history as one of the world's leading employers for diversity."

So the ad was not supposed to be viewed by Americans, but presumably only by racist Australians? Here's a question: was it supposed to be viewed by West Indians? Because I'm one, and I'm a cricket fan. And I'm pissed off. Hope that helps.

True, there isn't the same stereotype in the Caribbean - as there is in the US - that black people like fried chicken. But 1) the entire world and parts of Saturn are aware of the "black people like fried chicken" stereotype. You create an ad featuring groups of Black people that you're portraying as unruly and perhaps threatening (hence the white guy cowering in the middle); it doesn't matter that the people aren't wearing red, white and blue. They are Black people. That is going to offend Black Americans, and quite possibly Black people elsewhere.

2) Even in the absence of the fried chicken stereotype, that ad is offensive. Black people (Caribbean or otherwise) can apparently not be identified with, or spoken to with actual words (most of the West Indies team and their fans speak English as a first language, by the way). So they must be offered food. Cheap, unhealthy food offered by a White man in order to achieve some self-serving ends. That does not sound familiar at all.

3)Alright, so non-cricket-watching Americans don't get it. There's a rivalry, see, that has existed for decades, between the Australian and West Indies cricket teams. And here's an Aussie fan stuck in the middle of the West Indies section. However will he escape? Well, for starters, he could be shot eating some of the chicken himself. Two extra seconds of filming that may have saved KFC a lot of embarrassment. That way, the message could have been "See? Crappy fried food brings us together!" Rather than "Want to calm the natives? Offer them some heart disease chicken!" He actually utters the words "too easy" after the chicken has presumably worked its voodoo.

The overwhelming argument in support of the ad and attacking the stoopid Americans who dare to get offended is as follows: it was aired at a cricket match between Australia and the West Indies, so you won't get it because you don't get the Australian cricket culture. Well, there's another culture to consider here, which is kind of the point. And had I been at that cricket match when that ad was aired, I would have had some issues.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Weight-loss surgery for all!

Dr. Super is loving this.

Usually reserved for the most obese people, weight-loss surgery is unlikely to be a last-ditch option much longer. Technological advancements are turning it into a one-hour, incisionless procedure -- making it more attractive to moderately overweight adults [...]; overweight and obese teenagers; and normal-weight people with difficult-to-control diabetes. Several new procedures are already in human clinical trials.

I think we're all getting a little carried away and assuming that just because a procedure is easy to accomplish, its effects are also easy to live with after the fact. As many have discovered, and as this same article notes, even though the already low morbidity rates for this type of procedure continue to decline and operation recovery times become shorter, patients still have to contend with medium- to long-term problems, including "nutritional deficiencies, diarrhea, regurgitation and bowel obstructions."

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 19% of patients experience dumping syndrome, which is involuntary vomiting or defecation. Complication rates involving ulcers, wound problems, hemorrhage, deep-vein thrombosis, heart attacks and strokes range from 2.4% to 0.1%.

And where do we draw the line regarding preemptive surgery? One surgeon notes that "[p]eople 50 pounds overweight are the ones we should treat, before the problem gets worse," but isn't that number quite arbitrary? Unless we ascertain that at 50 lbs overweight (as opposed to 40 or 30), people start to see marked deteriorations in their overall health (in fact, we've been told that every 10 lbs packs its own share of doom), then the benchmark at which surgery becomes an option can arguably continue to shift downwards.

I suppose weight-loss surgery is now poised to enter the realm of cosmetic procedures, where if people opt to risk their lives and health in order to try and feel better about themselves, then they have that right. The rub lies in the fact that most elective cosmetic surgery is not covered by the majority of insurance plans or universal health care systems. And so it will be interesting to see - especially in the context of the raging US health care debate - how this particular argument evolves.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Blasphemy is still a thing

Secular campaigners in the Irish Republic defied a strict new blasphemy law which came into force today by publishing a series of anti-religious quotations online and promising to fight the legislation in court.

The new law, which was passed in July, means that blasphemy in Ireland is now a crime punishable with a fine of up to €25,000 (£22,000).

It defines blasphemy as "publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted".

Well. This is...medieval.

The law was passed back in July, so I'm late, but it's attracting attention again because Atheist Ireland has just responded to the new law by publishing 25 anti-religious quotations made by or attributed to famous figures, including Jesus Christ himself.

The justice minister, Dermot Ahern, said that the law was necessary because while immigration had brought a growing diversity of religious faiths, the 1936 constitution extended the protection of belief only to Christians.

Except this law doesn't protect religious belief as much as it simultaneously protects the right of some to be outraged and restricts the freedom of others to express thoughts and ideas. My saying, as Christoper Hitchens does, that god is not Great, does not prevent those who believe their god is great from continuing to do so. It does not prevent them from worshipping in their churches or confine their employment opportunities based on their religion. And how completely turned around is it to correct the fact that blasphemy considerations once extended only to the Christian faith by now extending it to all faiths, rather than - perhaps - completely removing from the constitution the outdated notion of blasphemy that obtained when the Church was still head of the State?

I'm sorry but "grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion" is a bit too vague for me. I'm going to need more guidance than that. And therein lies the problem with the legislation. It is wholly subjective and difficult to define and prove. Who determines whether the outrage was caused intentionally? How substantial is a 'substantial number of adherents'? Why is your protection from feeling outraged more important than my freedom to engage in reasoned (or not so reasoned, perhaps) discussion of religion and spirituality? Why must I, as a private citizen, be subject to the laws of a religion of which I am not a part? That is to say, what if it is outrageous among the Rastafari to say that Haile Selassie was not divine, he was just a man? Lots of Christians would be having boot sales in the church car park to raise that £22,000. What if scientologists got outraged by a claim that Xenu smelled funny and had bad hair? And this isn't even the old 'slippery slope' argument: the fact is, it is a dangerous thing to subject a population to scores of religious observations to which they are not privy. It is not like hate speech legislation, which aims to protect real, live people and their freedoms, rather than nebulous ideas of deity and religious tenets.

There is a way to protect religious practice and belief, and as Ahern notes, with the growing diversity of these, they should be protected. But these blasphemy laws are not it. There is a difference between feeling threatened in the practice of your faith, and taking offence because another's ideas are not aligned with yours. Hell, I offend my sisters all the time. Not on purpose, because I respect their right to exercise their religious freedom, but as a non-Christian who takes serious umbrage with some of the tenets of their religion, I'm bound to make that known in regular conversation. And that kind of exchange is healthy and necessary, among family but especially in public discourse.

You know, right-wing Christian fundamentalists in the US are probably all packing their bags to move to Ireland as we speak. Because this is the kind of thinking behind their claims that legalizing marriage among gays and lesbians threatens their religion, although no one has been able to articulate to me the process by which this happens. This is the kind of thinking that prioritizes religion over rights and freedoms, and it's a fairly ugly step backwards.

Friday, 1 January 2010


Welcome to 2010, people all.

I'm a resolution maker, because I like the newness that a fresh year brings as an opportunity to refocus and set new priorities. But I don't share them. I write them in a secret place and feel smug that my life is filled with intrigue. Thanks for being a part of the mongoose family during the last year. And here's to a 2010 of early mornings, long, happy days and peaceful nights. Let us onward.
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