January 9th, 2006

[REVIEW] Solomon and Gaenor

In my review of Brokeback Mountain, I cited the Welsh-language S4C movie Solomon and Gaemor. When I caught it sometime in the first part of 2000 at Charlottetown's City Cinema with erins_pub and london_calling, as part of our Shakespearean history plays class. The film is set in the mining valleys of South Wales in 1911, as Jews fled the Russian Empire in the hopes of better and safer lives and as the increasingly class-conscious Welsh working class began to organize against exploitation in the mines. starring Ioan Gruffudd plays Solomon, son of a traditional Jewish family trying to make a living as peddlers in the bleak cityscape, while Nia Roberts is Gaenor, daughter in a religiously conservative and politically conscious mining family. Gaenor meets Solomon at the door of her home when he's playing the role of a door-to-door salesman, and they fall in love. One would have hoped that, perhaps, their love and their family's common experience of suffering would have been enough to ratify their love, but things don't work out that way, not at all. Solomon and Gaenor is a wonderful story of tragic love, made all the more unique by the fact that it's filmed almost entirely in the Welsh language. Everyone likes a good sob story, it seems, and the high production values and generally convincing acting make this film, like Brokeback Mountain, a better than average sob story.
  • Current Music
    Klaus Nomi, "I Feel Love"

[LINK] Faithless' "I Want More," and North Korea

Even though the remarkable insensitivity towards the victims of the Bhopal disaster evidenced by the writers and some of the regular commenters at Samizdata seems, alas, to be not atypical, some contributors make interesting points. Take James Waterton, who links to the music video of Faithless's song "I Want More." The "I Want More" video makes extensive and quietly critical use of North Korean state propaganda video, as Waterton notes in his commentary.
  • Current Mood
    Faithless, "I Want More"

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Are animal and human rights the same thing?

Partly inspired by my recent encounter with Temple Grandin (1, 2, 3), I've begun to wonder about the relationship of animal rights to human rights. To me, it comes down to empathy: When we discover that cuttlefish communicate abstract concepts using their chromatophores, that African grey parrots can spell and carry on a conversation, that killer whales are capable of gratuitous coordinated cruelty, and that elephants can paint very well indeed, it becomes difficult to justify their gratuitous exclusion from the community of sentient animals. If these bright animals can think about themselves and their environment in ways comparable with those of humans,

In November, I made the conventional enough argument that, in the modern world, people see other people who deliberately lack empathy as evil because this lack is willed, that it is a conscious denial of the self-evident truth that other people are as complex as oneself. If only out of self-interest, it's a good idea to engage in the Golden Rule. Because non-humans obviously don't share the same characteristics of body or mind as most human beings, the Golden Rule doesn't immediately seem relevant. This is where in-depth and creative researches of the sort described by Grandin come in, demonstrating either the similarity of certain sorts of minds to humans' own or the rationality of animals' actions in their own mental contexts. This isn't quite the same thing as the human tendency to recognize pandas as cute, for instance, and to devote resources and importance to ensuring the survival of the panda that are out of all proportion to the actual ecological importance of the panda, although it does have to be said that pandas' triggering of so many positive feelings in human beings is another sort of resonance: Their morphology might not be human, but it is cute and something we'd like to keep around.

I wonder if it could be said that, in the countries of the First World, the concept of animal rights is granted greater validity than that of human rights. Many of the same people who would support the passage of laws against the mistreatment of pets are the same people who wouldn't have a problem with mistreating human beings belonging to outgroups. Hitler did love his dog Blondie, after all. That said, there does seem to be a growing recognition that respect for other individuals, human or non-, is of a piece. After all, serial killers are known for their frequent cruelty to animals. Is it possible to be truly committed to the basic precepts of human rights and to neglect animals, at least animals of comparable mind? The reverse question can also be posed. I suspect that the answer to both is "no," that empathy is at the root of both concepts of rights such that they are inseparable. It may be as impossible to use self-consistent reasoning in supporting the one and opposing the other, at least as impossible as reconciling Alain Finkielkraut's belief in 2000 that empathy is necessary in the 21st century and his statements in 2005 that unhappy people of immigrant stock in France should go back to their ancestors' homelands on the grounds of a common logic. In certain critical respects, the cuttlefish is indeed us.

[LINK] The decline of Cantonese?

Over at Foreign Dispatches, Abiola Lapite linked to David Pierson's Los Angeles Times article "Cantonese is Losing Its Voice". According to Pierson, the Cantonese language historically dominant in Chinese-American communities thanks to Cantonese-speaking China's historic dominance of emigration is losing ground, as speakers of other Chinese regional languages arrive in large numbers and Standard Mandarin becomes a lingua franca for all Chinese. Given the similar demographics, I wouldn't be surprised if the Mandarinization described in this article is taking place in other overseas Chinese communities. Singapore, with its Speak Mandarin Campaign, might simply have been ahead of its time.

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] My vote in the 2006 federal election

The only reason that I didn't vote in the 2004 federal elections in my electoral district of Davenport is that I was in the process of moving to my new Toronto home from Kingston and couldn't figure out even if I could vote in the Kingston and the Islands electoral district. Not that it mattered, not really, since the popular incumbent Liberal candidate Peter Milliken beat the Conservative candidate almost three votes to one. This year I had no excuse apart from sheer apathy. I can scarcely be accused of that.

I headed down to Elections Canada's Davenport outpost on 35 Lisgar Street an hour and a half ago ago, with my passport, my old expired Prince Edward Island learner's permit with the deer-in-headlights photo, my birth certificate, and a couple of bills to prove my current residence. I presented myself at the door of the nondescript storefront with the dilemma of my late registration, and was told that I could vote by special ballot. After quickly filling out a form, I went behind the voter's shield and considered.

  • I wasn't going to vote for the Liberal Party of Canada's candidate Mario Silva because of the sponsorship scandal. The Toronto Sun claimed on the front page of today's paper that the leaders' debate tonight will determine the outcome of the election, but I'm simply too fed up with the Liberals' casual scandal and corruption to want to collaborate with them. Besides, there's no sign that they're facing a collapse at all comparable to that of the old Progressive Conservatives in 1993. I don't need to waste my vote trying to bolster them.

  • I wasn't going to vote for the Conservative Party of Canada's candidate Theresa Rodrigues, again not because of any particular hostility towards her but because of her party. The Liberals, at least, suffer only from squalid corruption in the context of generally positive macroeconomic and foreign policies. I have profound philosophical differences with the CPC, never mind their interest in attacking me via their hopes to revoke same-sex marriage. Besides, Rodrigues only got a quarter the votes of the NDP candidate. Again, waste not want not.

  • None of the minors rated consideration. I didn't vote for the Marijuana Party, as marijuana certainly isn't important enough to me to justify voting for a single-issue party. I likewise decided not to vote for the candidates of either the Communist Party of Canada or the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) despite the fun of watching minor parties split fiercely over ideological issues since mass murder in the name of the proletariat, besides being morally abhorrent, doesn't work. As for the Canadian Action Party, their platform of 1970s-style Trudeau nationalism with teeth is so dated.

  • The Green Party of Canada's Mark O'Brien was briefly appealing. I believe that Canadian federal politics suffers from an excess of umbrella political party, and that Canada was be a more effective democracy if it had more political parties. The Green Party is doing well: The last up-and-coming Canadian political party, the National Party of Canada of Mel Hurtig, got in 1993 less than half of the votes nation-wide of the Green Party in 2004. That said, I decided not to vote for O'Brien since, it seems to me, it isn't the left that needs to be fragmented in Canadian politics so much as the right. I would have been happy if the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives had managed to partition Canada between themselves on west/east lines instead of fusing. I wish the Green Party the best, but I just couldn't support them. I wonder how many other Canadians felt likewise.

  • This left me with the New Democratic Party and their candidate Gord Perks (Perks' eye columns, his official site, and his Wikipedia entry). In the 2004 elections, the NDP's candidate Rui Pires came tantalizingly close to Mario Silva's vote total, and it is imaginable that with the NDP's record of achievement in the past parliament and popular disgust with the Liberals, the NDP could win Davenport.

So, I inscribed Perks' name on my ballot, sealed it in its envelope, then sealed that envelope in another I'd previously addressed, then passed the sum total to the Elections Canada worker. I need to be able to engage myself with Canadian politics, to be morally justified in doing so at least.
  • Current Music
    Public Enemy, "Fight the Power"

[BRIEF NOTE] The Problem with the Federation and the Prime Directive

As depicted in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "First Contact", which saw the abortive first contact with the Malcorians, as soon as the Federation's various remote-monitoring and on-planet espionage units determine that a given planetary population is on the verge of independently developing interstellar flight first contact is initiated. Said surveillance units will ensure that, if anyone from outside tries to intervene whether through conquest or trade, violence or friendliness, the outsiders will be repelled. When all is ready, the planetary government is formally contacted, information about the existence of the Federation exchanged, and if all goes well, the Federation sets up building a constructive relationship with the new planet that will hopefully end in the planet's assimilation into the Federation.

Isn't this a canny sort of imperialism? It's a nice way to co-opt emergent civilizations into your own without risking the development of any competition, all on the Federation's own terms. I know it's silly to be critical of Star Trek, but still. Did Roddenberry realize what he was doing, really?
  • Current Mood
    thinking of science fiction