March 11th, 2010

[MUSIC] Freemasons and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, "Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)"

I never would have encountered the song "Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)", last summer's big hit song from the United Kingdom by Freemasons (the band, not the society) Sophie Ellis-Bextor, if not for drood's year-end roundup of his earworms.

"Sophie didn’t release an album this year," drood blogged, "but her collaboration with the Freemasons showcases her two greatest strengths: the capacity to make catchy dance music, and her ability to pronounce the word dance in the most patrician manner possible." Indeed.

I'd encountered some of the Freemasons' remixes before, but I only would have run across "Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)" because of drood's recommendation, and yes, she does have quite a few catchy songs that I like listening to."Murder on the Dance Floor" is a particular favourite of mine. I listen to them only on YouTube, however; I don't own physical copies of the music and I don't think that I will. I'm not sure why this is the case, even though "Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)" is a song that marks the beginning of this decade for me. (No, in case you're wondering it certainly does not reflect my relationship, thank you very much.) It just feels more mature for me to not feel the need for an unnecessary and costly backup. I don't need to own a copy to make sure I'll always have it; I can trust in the resiliency of the Internet and the durability of content on so many platforms; I can relaxl. It's fun, really.

Now, off into this beautiful warm spring day! Deterraforming might be doing bad thing sto the world but so far it's producing a wonderfully and precociously warm March. Perhaps I should finally outfit my mp3 player with some batteries.

[BRIEF NOTE] On the Ainu cultural revival

In the Wall Street Journal, writer Lucy Birmingham wrote an article about how Ainu artists are making Ainu culture living, combining Ainu cultural elements with modern artistic forms: literature, pop music, graphic and plastic arts.

Koji Yuki was 20 years old when he turned against his father and buried his Ainu identity. That was the year Shoji Yuki died; a radical activist, he had long fought to win legal rights for the Ainu, Japan's underclass, and have them recognized as an indigenous people. More than a century of government-backed racial and social discrimination and forced assimilation had stripped the once-proud hunter-gatherers and tradesmen of their identity and livelihood.

The Ainu cause had torn apart the Yuki family. "My father divorced my mother when I was young and devoted himself to the Ainu liberation movement," says Mr. Yuki. "I couldn't understand the way he lived his life."

Years later, Mr. Yuki changed his mind about his father's efforts, and today the son is himself a powerful voice for the Ainu. But he speaks through culture rather than politics, as one of the leaders of a remarkable revival of Ainu arts, dance and music -- with a cool, contemporary edge.

[. . .]

The Ainu eventually settled in Japan's north, and for centuries their villages dotted Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands. (These were seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, though Japan has disputed the claim for four of the Kuril Islands.) The Ainu culture fell victim to Japanese expansion in the 1800s, and most Ainu now live in Hokkaido, the second-largest of Japan's four main islands. In 2006 the Hokkaido government put the number of people of Ainu ancestry there at about 24,000; the national census doesn't include such a count, but after generations of intermarriage the total is far larger. Many hide their Ainu identity, still fearful of discrimination.

Handsome with a powerful gait, Mr. Yuki, 45, reveals a shyness as he explains his work as a hanga (wood block print) artist. "Hanga is not part of the Ainu traditional arts, but woodcarving is," he says. "So I asked my favorite Japanese hanga artists to teach me. I might be the only Ainu doing this professionally." His prints are mainly of animals native to his Hokkaido homeland, such as the deer, fox, bear, owl and magnificent red-crowned crane. The island, known for its severe snowy winters (it's a popular ski destination), is the site of breathtaking mountain ranges, volcanoes, lush forests and crystal lakes, and unique flora and fauna. It's easy to understand the Ainu reverence for nature and the animistic belief in spirits.

"My prints are based on traditional Ainu legends, mainly animal spirits," says Mr. Yuki at a one-man exhibition in Tokyo. "The bear is especially important." Among the Ainu, the bear is considered the most sacred of animals; one of the works in the exhibition is "Hepere Cinita," or Dream of the Baby Bear. (All the works in the exhibition carry titles in the Ainu language.) His "Sarorun Kamuy," or Crane God, he says, "represents the Ainu's desire to return to their roots, like the great cranes that migrate back to Hokkaido every winter."

He created the work in 2008, after the Ainu won official indigenous status from the Japanese government. That followed the U.N. General Assembly's passage in 2007 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and came just before a 2008 Group of Eight wealthy nations summit in Hokkaido.

Mr. Yuki the hanga artist and carver is also a musician, founder and leader of the Ainu Arts Project, a decade-old community-based music group. "We're a native rock band based on traditional Ainu music," says Mr. Yuki, explaining that he was inspired by the aboriginal Australian band Yothu Yindi and Native American bands. The 25 members, from kids to seniors, perform 50 to 60 times a year. They sing mainly in the Ainu language and dress in the splendid Ainu attusi robe. Along with the guitar, drums and bass, they play the Ainu tonkori (like a zither) and mukkuri (similar to a jew's harp).

"We've chosen a rock sound because we don't want people to associate the Ainu with just old tradition," Mr. Yuki explained. "With hanga, music and singing I can convey the traditional Ainu culture and spirit with new expressions, just like Oki and Mina Sakai."

I'm pessimistic about the long-term prospects for the survival of the Ainu of Japan, for the same reasons that I'm pessimistic about the survival of the Sorbs of Germany: there are too few members of the group, too many have assimilated, the language that defines Ainu identity is spoken regularly by hundreds of people at most, and there's little identification with Ainu culture by ethnic Japanese. There's just far too much of a discontinuity between modern Hokkaidō, so overwhelmingly Japanese, and the pre-Meiji Ainu island whether as a Matsumae clan protectorate or as the ephemeral Republic of Ezo. One might as well expect Ontarians or New Yorkers to identify themselves as descendants of the Iroquois.

Still, the Ainu are present, are increasingly visible, and are--as the above article demonstrates--making an impact on wider Japan, producing new innovative Ainu cultural forms that are becoming popular among a wider Japanese audience. Who knows? Maybe the Ainu could take on something like the importance of the Livonians of western Latvia, recognized as having contributed to the formation of modern Japan's territory and culture even as it faded itself.

[LINK] "Is Russia's 2014 Games site a disastrous choice?"

Sochi, the Russian resort city on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea where the 2014 Winter Olympics will take place,is famously warm. The Toronto Star is the first Canadian paper I've seen publish an article questioning the good sense of the choice of Sochi, following from opposition figure Boris Nemtsov's criticism.

Foreign Policy: So why do you believe it is a mistake to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics in your hometown, Sochi?

Boris Nemtsov: In all of Russian history, I can think of only one example as crazy as this. After he visited Iowa, (Soviet Premier Nikita) Khrushchev, told farmers around Murmansk, above the Arctic Circle, to grow corn in the frozen tundra. (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin is now repeating Khrushchev's experience.

He has found one of the only places in Russia where there is no snow in the winter. He has decided to build these ice rinks in the warmest part of the warmest region. Sochi is subtropical. There is no tradition of skating or hockey there. In Sochi, we prefer football, and volleyball, and swimming. Other parts of Russia need ice palaces – we don't.

FP: But isn't the construction good for the local economy?

BN: It is disastrous. Roughly 5,000 people have been forced out of their homes to make room for the Olympic facilities, and thanks to the corruption and incompetence of authorities, have not yet been adequately compensated for their property or been given equivalent housing elsewhere, as they were promised. Billions of dollars have simply disappeared. All this sacrifice is for facilities that will most likely not be used when the Games are over.

FP: What are the problems besides the weather?

BN: These Olympics will be an economic and ecological catastrophe. A road being built from Sochi to the ski areas in the nearby mountains will cost around $130 million per kilometre. This is now one of the world's most expensive roads and a symbol of corruption. The road will also pass directly through environmentally sensitive areas under the protection of UNESCO.

Putin seems to think he can buy success. When Sochi was awarded the Olympics at the 2007 (International Olympic Committee) meeting in Guatemala, he promised to spend $13 billion on them. Vancouver has only spent $2 billion. It's certainly possible that with the level of corruption in Russia, $13 billion is what will be needed to get anything done after everyone has had their cut, but we don't think this is very good for Russia, or for the world.

Sometimes, it seems like God doesn't even want the Olympics in Sochi. Putin's close friend, the oligarch Oleg Deripaska, attempted to build a sea cargo port in Sochi, but a huge storm in the Black Sea (in late 2009) destroyed it. They should have taken this as a sign that God doesn't want this to happen!

It is worth noting that Vancouver's climate is the warmest of any Canadian city, and yet the Olympics were fairly successful. There's no need for alarm yet.

[BRIEF NOTE] On two ways of reforming "O Canada"

Talk of rewriting the English lyrics of "O Canada" has almost entirely disappeared, partly because there wasn't any perceived need for the change, partly because it's starting to look like the Conservative minority government might have been hoping to distract the electorate from allegations that Canada was transferring captured Afghan combatants to Afghanistan security forces to be tortured for information. Regardless, at least according to this Toronto Star article, the proponent of the anthem reform--Conservative Senator--seems like she didn't have hidden motives. ("Seems"?)

Nancy Ruth says she pumped her fist, hissed an exclamation and then thanked the Prime Minister on his way out of the room.

"I had no idea," the Conservative senator says of her surprise at hearing the federal government would ask Parliament to examine the original lyrics of the English version of the national anthem so that "O Canada" could pay some attention to daughters as well as to sons.

The woman behind last week's anthem furor was in her front-row seat of the red chamber and could barely contain her excitement when she heard her proposal summarized in last week's throne speech.

Officials confirmed later last Wednesday the government would ask a parliamentary committee to study whether "In all thy sons command" should be changed to the gender-neutral "Thou dost in us command."

On Friday, however, it dropped the plan, citing an outpouring of opposition from Canadians.

So this Wednesday, Ruth plans to bring a set of new – but not unrelated – suggestions to her colleagues in the Conservative caucus.

Ruth's crusade to rejig the national anthem should come as no surprise to anyone who knows her. The sister of former lieutenant-governor Hal Jackman, Ruth is a long-time feminist who dropped the last name Jackman in the 1990s in a protest against patriarchy. A millionaire Toronto philanthropist, she came out publicly as a lesbian in 1993 during a run for provincial office as a Progressive Conservative candidate.

"Language is the power of the ruling class to define reality in its own terms to make invisible all others!" Ruth, 68, a short woman with grey hair and a contagious cackle shouts to the rafters in the empty Senate chamber. "I haven't got the exact quote, but it's like that."

The paraphrased message was delivered by feminist Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether and Ruth says she took it to heart when she first came across it three decades ago.

That philosophy inspired her quest to render the Canadian national anthem more gender-neutral – an issue that she says has been kicking around for decades – and she suggested the idea to Harper before the holidays. She says he had asked his caucus for low-cost proposals and other bright, shiny objects that could be put on the agenda for the coming months.

Ruth may have a point, although it's not a very popular one among my circle of friends. It's a pity that it got used as part of a desperate effort to try to cover up possible crimes.

My attention this afternoon was caught by Edward Keenan's tailored version from eye weekly, even if it doesn't scan all that well.

O Canada!

Our home and native [outdated terminology and lack of possessive attribution] aboriginal peoples' land!

True patriot love in all thy sons [gender restrictive] in all thy sons, daughters and transexual offspring [oh, wait, I see you have a suggestion already covering this] thou dost in us command [imperialist language] inspire consensus.

With glowing hearts we see [insensitive to the sight-impaired] become aware of thee rise,

The True North strong [this is masculine-value normative and insensitive to the differently powerful] empowered and free [does not fully reflect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms]  free subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed
by law as can be demonstrably justified in a
free and democratic society

From far and wide [is this a crack about weight? In any event, it's nonsensical and leaves out those who are not from far, such as aboriginal peoples] not from far,

O Canada, we stand [neglects the differently abled] exist on guard for thee.

God keep [intolerant of varied belief systems] This is our land glorious and free subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed
by law as can be demonstrably justified in a
free and democratic society

O Canada, we stand exist on guard for thee.

Canada, we
stand exist on guard for thee.

I wish that the version of the anthem published in eye weekly was on the web, musical notation and all. It's glorious.

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the Guergis and Jaffer Affairs

One major PR problem facing the Conservative government, separate from the prorogation of parliament and the apparent covering up of torture in Afghanistan, has been the misbehaviour of married (and somewhat) prominent young Conservatives Helena Guergis and Rahim Jaffer.

Guergis, currently federal MP for the Ontario riding of Simcoe-Grey and Minister of Status for the status of women, engaged in a certain incident on the 19th of February in Charlottetown Airport.

According to witnesses, Guergis and an aide arrived at the airport very late for their flight to Montreal and became verbally abusive to staff. During pre-boarding screening, witnesses claim that Guergis refused to remove her footwear, which set off the alarm as she walked through the metal detector.

When Guergis was asked again to take off her footwear, she allegedly "slammed her boots into the bin provided," and said, 'Happy fucking birthday to me. I guess I'm stuck in this hellhole.'".

A letter sent to MP Wayne Easter further described the incident, saying, "as the footwear cleared the X-ray conveyor [Guergis] then allegedly shouted at her aide to 'Get those for me. I'm not walking around here in sock feet.'"

When an Air Canada employee reminded her that passengers are expected to be at the airport two hours before departure, Guergis allegedly shouted, "I don't need to be lectured about flight time by you. I've been down here working my ass off for you people."

On February 25, she issued an apology. Guergis said she was concerned "I'm going to be stuck in this shithole because of you!", after being asked to remove her boots and when after being told that passengers are advised to show up at least two hours before departure, she said, "I've been down here working my ass off for you people.". After realizing the boarding gate had closed, by the time she arrived, she allegedly tried to enter a locked door but a security guard stopped her.

Guergis later apologized under pressure. She didn't have much choice, since her' husband Jaffer, a Reform/Conservative MP from a riding in the Albertan capital of Edmonton from 1997 through 2008, was arrested and charged in September 2009 on charges of drunk driving and cocaine possession. On Tuesday, Jaffer got off quite lightly, having plead "guilty in a provincial court in Ontario to careless driving and received a $500 fine and no criminal record."

The Conservative government has staked its reputation on being a law-and-order party, on pushing criminals firmly. How, then, it's being asked, can leading members of the Conservative Party--elected officials, even--get away with offenses that ought (so it is believed) to have resulted in an airport tasering or a criminal record for cocaine possession? The other parties are having great fun with this

Helena Guergis and Rahim Jaffer were compared to the notorious criminal duo Bonnie and Clyde today as Liberals questioned why the couple has not had to account for their behaviour.

This was the third consecutive day in Question Period the Liberals have made an issue of the actions of Mr. Jaffer, a former Alberta Tory MP, and his wife, Ms. Guergis, a junior cabinet minister .

“The calls for public accountability from the status of women minister and Rahim Jaffer are growing everyday,” Quebec Liberal MP Marlene Jennings charged. “They are being called the Bonnie and Clyde of the Conservative Party. They are young, Conservative and above the law.”

While the nickname is certainly provocative, it is not an entirely accurate comparison as Bonnie and Clyde eventually did pay for their actions, dying in a hail of gunfire.

During intense questioning today, Ms. Guergis sat quietly in her seat, often looking down and frowning. From across the floor, one MP described her as looking “agitated.”

This week, Mr. Jaffer was fined $500 after he pleaded guilty to a charge of careless driving. More serious charges, including impaired driving and cocaine possession, were dropped. The opposition wants to know why the former MP received such a light sentence.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson handled the Jaffer queries, saying the matter was investigated by the Ontario Provincial Police and was handled in a provincial court.

Then it was up to PEI Liberal MP Wayne Easter to follow up. For the second straight day he was firing off questions about Ms. Guergis’s outburst last month at the Charlottetown airport.

The minister has released a written apology for her behaviour, in which it was reported she tried to get through a security door and referred to the island as a “hell hole.” But that is not good enough for Mr. Easter. He is demanding the Prime Minister fire her from cabinet.

“We are still waiting for the Prime Minister to act on the irresponsible actions of his minister responsible for the status of women,” Mr. Easter said. “Does the Conservative sense of entitlement know no end? Insult a province, just say the minister’s emotions went astray. … What’s next Prime Minister, get-out-of-jail free cards for the entitled?”

Most of the legal commentators on Jaffer's case say that it doesn't look like he received special treatment, that errors on the part of the police officer--likely the speeding that was used wasn't sufficient cause for a stop and search--are responsible for the light punishment of Jaffer. This hasn't made things easier for the government, which may yet--I suspect, perhaps I hope?--have to do something like remove Guergis from Cabinet to look somewhat credible again, as James Travers noted earlier.

Of course there's no more evidence that Jaffer got a sweetheart deal than there is that budget-balancing Liberals care more about criminals than victims, that Jack Layton's patriotism is suspect or that Colvin is anything other than a conscientious, unusually courageous civil servant. After all, every year thousands of charges are dropped in courtrooms across the province and country for sound legal reasons.

Still, it's more than awkward for "do-the-crime, do the time" Conservatives that Jaffer, once the front-man for the Conservative caucus and still the husband of testy junior cabinet minister Helena Guergis, is so widely seen as escaping the full weight of the law. Self-evident in their equivocal support for a former colleague and member of the Conservative family is the certain knowledge that they, too, are now victims of public suspicion, clinging perceptions and snap judgments.

In this case, those judgments carry the extra lash of irony. Way back in 2006, Conservatives used Liberal "entitlement" as a stick to beat power out of the then natural governing party. Since then, Stephen Harper has spared no effort or expense (two GST cuts set Canada's course toward deficits long before the financial collapse) in connecting his party with what is paternally known in the national capital as "ordinary Canadians."

About the last thing Conservatives now need is to be seen as the newest members of a privileged Ottawa elite preaching high standards for the rest of us while imposing on themselves more, well, flexible rules. That's known as hypocrisy, rarely a political asset and fast becoming a liability.

My guess? Getting shown up in hypocrisies like that will make sure that Canada won't be getting a Conservative majority government for a while. Yay minority governments!

[BRIEF NOTE] Lithwick on Nussbaum on empathy

Some days ago, Towleroad linked to a Dahlia Lithwick review essay in Slate that examines Martha Nussbaum's arguments in her recent From Disgust to Humanity, a book (drawing on her earlier 2004 Hiding from Humanity) that takes a look at the relationship between imagination and human rights.

New Hampshire state Rep. Nancy Elliott, at a recent state Judiciary Committee meeting on a proposal to repeal the state's same-sex marriage bill, described the issue of gay marriage as follows: "taking the penis of one man and putting it in the rectum of another man and wriggling it around in excrement." Rep. Elliott continued, irrelevantly, "and you have to think, I'm not sure, would I allow that to be done to me?" (Elliott has since apologized for the portion of her remarks in which she falsely claimed that because gay marriage had been legalized, New Hampshire's fifth-graders were being taught to have anal sex in the public schools.) Last month at the trial over California's ban on same-sex marriage, one witness who supported the measure testified that homosexuals are "12 times more likely to molest children." And recently, while addressing the proposed repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council warned Larry King if gay soldiers could serve in the military, "we might have to return to the draft" because other soldiers would refuse to serve. Perkins noted that he had showered together with 80 other men during his own time in the military, and he'd feel threatened by a gay man showering there with him.

Welcome to Martha Nussbaum's politics of disgust: an America in which national policy can be discussed at the level of Beavis and Butthead, chasing each other around in circles with a stick that once touched poop.

Why? Lithwick's central point is that Nussbaum thinks that bigotries and their remedies are the products of imagination, the key difference (I suppose) being the existence or otherwise of empathy with the person being imagined. Do they want to rape you and your children and destroy everything you cherish? Or not?

As she traces the genesis of the fear and disgust American feel toward homosexuals, she describes what she calls "projective disgust"—the magical thinking that allows us to believe that things that disgust us (i.e., male homosexuality) are contagious and that heterosexual sex is somehow better and less messy than it really is. So the reason male (as opposed to female) homosexual sex is ultimately experienced as so revolting and so terrifying, Nussbaum contends, is that it is viscerally threatening; it raises the possibility of being penetrated and violated. The very "gaze of a homosexual male is seen as contaminating because it says 'you can be penetrated.' "

What Nussbaum is really saying here is that Perkins experiences discomfort at the prospect of showering with 79 straight men and one gay one because in his imagination, "the very look of a gay man can be contaminating." In his imagination there has been an assault, even though nobody really wants to assault Tony Perkins in the shower. Elliott, too, lost in her fantasy of being personally assaulted by excrement, cannot help but experience gay marriage as a physical assault of herself. This isn't rational. It's fantasy and magical thinking, and that's what makes it so initially counterintuitive to claim that this type of irrational logic—the abundance of wild imagination that leads us to conclude that every gay man wants to invade our homes and assault our kids—can be conquered only by yet more imagination.

What Nussbaum really means, I think, is that we must replace one set of fantasies—about homosexuals as aggressive outsiders who seek to defile us—with the reality that they are just like us, people with aspirations and dreams and desires. In a sense she is using the word imagination in the first instance to describe a solipsistic experience: the subjective fear that the misunderstood "other" is coming to defile you. At the cure stage, however, imagination stops being a solo sport and becomes a way to reach beyond your own experience. Instead of dwelling on the other as other, you find some point at which his dreams and yours look similar. It's a profound idea: that we might use empathy and imagination to see people as they really are.

As Lithwick points out, the growing ability of straight Americans to empathize with their queer fellows and recognize their inherent rights to happiness has deconstructed those noxious myths. It's not all about bodily fluids, theirs' or others'.

Recent polling has shown, for instance, that 75 percent of Americans now support allowing openly gay Americans to serve in the military, a massive jump from the 44 percent who supported it in 1993. And one of the most reliable predictors support for gay military service is personal acquaintance with an openly gay person: Among poll respondents with a gay friend or family member, 81 percent are now in favor of allowing them to serve. In a country more polarized than ever on virtually every social issue, we have been curiously willing to take gay rights seriously.

Perhaps that's because, as Nussbaum suggests, we have been so willing to hear compelling personal narratives, ranging from the fictional Will of
Will and Grace to the stories of politicians and athletes and friends. She especially credits the arts—such as Sean Penn's exuberant portrayal of Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant's film Milk—with sentiment-shifting power. She also assigns a catalytic role to the courts. Nussbaum invokes the dawning public awareness of how black schoolchildren experienced "separate but equal" as an assault on their self-image in the Brown v. Board of Education decision. She cites the striking down of anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia as another turning point, spurring a broader recognition that the pursuit of passion, fulfillment, and happiness belongs to all couples. It has often been the judiciary that has pushed Americans to imagine a reality, and a dream of equality, larger than their own experience.

I'm sure that Nussbaum would say that her model of bigotries ("They seek to claim privileges which aren't theirs, to intrude on our territories, to destroy the things that we most cherish for inhuman reasons") and their legal remedies ("They're doing things the way that we do them, they're people we like, they're people who care") would apply far more generally beyond queers in the United States, to relationships between groups all around the world in space and in time. If you're a Xhosa or a Tamil family wanting to move into a white-only neighbourhood in South Africa under apartheid, you're contaminating their territory; if you're Avi wanting to marry Samira in Israel, you're disrupting the ritualistic continuity of at least two communities; if you're from Turkey and you want to join your husband in Denmark, you want to destroy the country you're moving to; if you belong to a First Nation in Canada and you keep suffering in social exclusion, you're claiming too much when you want something to be done.

It's easy enough to ignore these issues; it's only a bit more difficult to say them and pretending that the saying changed something. I wonder what Nussbaum has to say about praxis.