Monday, April 19, 2010

Streetlight People

Arnel Pineda
(image stolen from

It's 3:AM Monday morning and I'm procrastinating again. Big consulting contract is several days overdue and I must get it done before the start of the business day. But instead I'm on youtube looking up old classic rock clips. I've been through the entire Queen catalogue and moved on to the Queen covers. Now I'm into the category of music that a a girl I once dated used to call "butt rock".

I'm not sure what "butt rock" is supposed to be. I always failed that particular ex's quizzes on the matter. Apparently, Kansas is "butt rock" but Alice Cooper is not. Neither is Foreigner, but Journey definitely is. I really don't understand her classification system.

Anyway, speaking of Journey, this is probably old news to most of you, but have you heard that they have a new singer? I'm a great fan of powerful stadium voices, and there are few modern rock voices as petrifyingly awesome as that of Steve Perry, the founding singer of Journey.

Here we are, more than 20 years after the reign of Journey atop middle America's "butt rock" charts. Steve Perry left the band a long time ago. They went through a few interim singers, but no one captured the public's imagination. Then the band saw a Youtube clip of a Filipino street kid singing in the Hard Rock Cafe in Manila, and were blown away by his raw power.

Long story short, the new lead singer of Journey is the formerly impoverished, self-trained long-haired Filipino dude named Arnel Pineda. How good is he? Check out this clip from last year:

Eerie, no?

So why do I care? What relevance does Arnel Pineda have to the regular themes and topics of Deonandia? Well, for one thing, I get a kick out of how the media refers to him as "that Filipino kid". Arnel is exactly my age, 42. He's no kid. More to the point, he's a 40-ish, short brown man from the poorer part of the developing world. I gotta say, that's more than enough to get me rooting for him. In fact, his tale is a classic one of beaten-down underdog who aspires to stardom; a classic Americanesque fairy tale that, one would think, would be embraced by anyone still holding to the fading myth of the American Dream.

Arnel, you see, was the eldest of several children. His mother's illness and early death bankrupted the family, forcing all of them out of school and Arnel, literally, onto the streets. It was music, specifically Arnel's otherworldly voice, that lifted him from squalour, and that has allowed him to lift his family and others from dire straits indeed.

The sad part, though, as alluded to in this article, is the degree to which racism has entered the fray, even with respect to something as irrelevant as who fronts a washed up 80s band. When Arnel was announced as the new Journey singer, US fan forums across the Internet lit up with peals of protest, along the lines of "Journey is an 'all American' band" that should not be tainted by a singer of the wrong race and nationality. I wish I'd kept the original links; can't find them right now.

It's interesting and sad that nationalism continues to be conflated with race, particularly in nations, like the USA, that were constructed in the modern era from commercial and philosophical principles rather than ethnic ones. It's further sad that so many people feel the need to conflate their artistic tastes with racial overtones.

I'm reminded of when I lived in the USA, almost a decade ago. I was on a few local dating sites back then and was constantly shocked by how many White women had in their profiles, "I prefer to date all American men, so Caucasians only, please." My objection isn't that someone has or expresses their racial dating preferences --that's a personal choice-- but rather the bewildering conflation of race with "all American". It was a meme I saw and heard a lot, both in dating profiles and in casual conversation.

The same sentiment is repeated in the current "Tea Bag" movement among the American Right, whose verbiage includes the sentiment of wishing to "take back their country from the current President". Is it not his country, too? I wonder how much of that sentiment is informed by racial prejudice, either acknowledged or subconscious; that their country is White and does not belong to a Black man, let alone a Northern, educated, liberal Black President.

So I will continue to watch the reception of Arnel Pineda carefully to see how prevalent this conflation of race with things unrelated to race becomes. Until next time, here's Arnel's first public performance with Journey, in Chile in 2008:

Apparently a big screen biopic about Arnel's life is coming soon to theatres near you. It's title? Don't Stop Believing, of course.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Coulter Affair

Three important facts to note:

  1. I'm a professor at the University of Ottawa
  2. Politically, I'm liberal on philosophical points, particularly relating to foreign policy, and conservative on fiscal matters. But I'm probably best described as Left of centre, if you really need me to pick a side.
  3. I think Ann Coulter is delusional, hypocritical, possibly narcissistic, dangerously disingenuous, and a seething cauldron of unexamined --nay, proud!-- hate.

And if you strongly disagree with point #3, you will probably cite points #1 and #2 in your inevitable actions to refute what I'm going to say for the rest of this post. I do tire of these games, and have no intention of entering into any kind of debate with anyone over anything to do with Miss Coulter.

As you probably already know, Coulter is on a pan-Canada tour. Why? Who knows. Maybe Americans --flush with purpose and a renewed skepticism of knee-jerk hate after a Democratic and supposedly liberal President gave them all health care-- are no longer in the mood for Coulter's particular brand of idiocy. Maybe she feels that Canada, North America's only nation now with a retrograde conservative leadership, presents better hunting grounds for a niche in which to sell Coulter's smear-jobs-of-the-week that she packages as books.

I don't care why she's coming. Lots of people come here. I don't have a problem with it, especially since I'm presently in Mexico and thus far away from her.

The problem, of course, is that Coulter is known for her so-called "hate speech". In the past, she has publicly called for the invasion of Muslim countries, the murdering of their heads of state and the forced conversion to Christianity of Muslim civilians. In a rehearsed public speech, she called John Edwards a "faggot". These are two examples off the top of my head. To cite more would require me to go back and read her columns again, and I really don't want to put my ageing and addled brain through such torture.

Do her words qualify as hate speech? Sure, why not? I'm on record, though, of being opposed to Canada's hate speech laws and hate crime laws. I think that a crime is not made more criminal simply by being hateful; and I think that hateful speech should not be legally punished until a link can be shown between such speech and an actual criminal act. Otherwise, people should be able to say whatever (non-libelous things) they want to say.

But that's just me.

So where are we? Ann Coulter, known for her hateful speech, is coming to Canada. Of more immediate concern to this blog post, though, is that Ann Coulter was coming to the University of Ottawa.... my generous and gracious employer whom I'd never dream of disparaging :)

Now, I don't know why the following happened. I have some theories. Here's one. The university knows its students, knows that they are mostly a Left-leaning activist lot who would get quite riled up by Coulter's (deliberately) provocative statements. Statements that may dance on the border of hate crime, or maybe even cross over into that realm, would be carefully parsed and legal action would be demanded of the university by these passionate students. So perhaps to save itself such trouble, perhaps to avoid more administrative burden in an institution already known for its overwhelming mass of bureaucracy, the university issued the following letter to Ann Coulter:

"Dear Ms. Coulter,

I understand that you have been invited by University of Ottawa Campus Conservatives to speak at the University of Ottawa this coming Tuesday. We are, of course, always delighted to welcome speakers on our campus and hope that they will contribute positively to the meaningful exchange of ideas that is the hallmark of a great university campus. We have a great respect for freedom of expression in Canada, as well as on our campus, and view it as a fundamental freedom, as recognized by our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I would, however, like to inform you, or perhaps remind you, that our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or "free speech") in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States. I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here.

You will realize that Canadian law puts reasonable limits on the freedom of expression. For example, promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges. Outside of the criminal realm, Canadian defamation laws also limit freedom of expression and may differ somewhat from those to which you are accustomed. I therefore ask you, while you are a guest on our campus, to weigh your words with respect and civility in mind.

There is a strong tradition in Canada, including at this university, of restraint, respect and consideration in expressing even provocative and controversial opinions and urge you to respect that Canadian tradition while on our campus. Hopefully, you will understand and agree that what may, at first glance, seem like unnecessary restrictions to freedom of expression do, in fact, lead not only to a more civilized discussion, but to a more meaningful, reasoned and intelligent one as well.

I hope you will enjoy your stay in our beautiful country, city and campus.

Francois Houle,
Vice-President Academic and Provost, University of Ottawa"

I don't know if the letter was meant to be public. But it has been reproduced in many Right-leaning forums, the National Post among them. Poor Dr Houle was now on the radar of the vicious, bitter and petty extreme Right-wing blogosphere, for what really is a polite letter.

Now, many Coulter supporters read this letter as a veiled threat of criminal action. There's nothing veiled about it. I think it's quite a reasonable letter, but it is clear in its intent and implications. If some of Coulter's speeches in the USA were spoken in Canada, they might very well constitute hate crime under our current laws. The letter did not discourage her from coming or threaten to ban her if she didn't promise to "play nice". It just suggested that the university would feel compelled to add to its ridiculous administrative burden if Coulter did indeed give her standard US campus presentation on Canadian soil.

So far, so good.... Except that Coulter, seeing a chance to gain some press over what would have otherwise been yet another barely noticed campus tour, saw her opening. She re-printed the letter on her column, with the provocative --and incorrect-- title, "Canadian University Provost Wants To Send Me To Jail... For a Speech I Haven't Given Yet". At that point, what transpired next was fairly predictable for anyone who's observed the shenanigans of the bored and angry far-Right as much as I have.

Now, being in Mexico, I haven't been privy to all the details of what's happening on campus. But essentially, citing fears for Coulter's personal safety, "organizers" cancelled her appearance. The "organizers", as I understand it, were a campus-based student group. This is important: the university never cancelled Coulter's appearance; her own representatives appear to have done so, or at least a campus group in coordination with Coulter's representatives did so. Keep in mind that I have no facts beyond that which are published in the papers, and I'm observing all of this from Mexico. So, really, what do I know?

Okay, now on to the really predictable part. With the appearance cancelled, Coulter retained none other than Ezra Levant to --here it comes-- represent her in a human rights complaint against the University of Ottawa.

Now, I have talked about Ezra Levant many times in the past in this space. There was Ezra's seeming tolerance of hate speech on his own website. There was more of the same. There was Ezra's attacks on former Liberal leader Stephane Dion. There was Ezra's seeming blind love for all things George Bush. Oh, I've talked about him many many times before. One of his supporters even suggested that Ezra would one day track me down and beat me up. (Yeah, I laughed, too. I'm not that hard to find.)

Now the important thing about Levant, at least with respect to the current topic, is that he styles himself as an uncompromising defender of free speech. This, in and of itself, is a great thing. Who doesn't love a defender or liberties? The problem is that his support only seems to extend to people who want to say things that he agrees with.

For example, when George Galloway was banned from speaking in Canada --a true and obvious denial of free speech!-- Levant said of the issue:

"I don't see this as a free speech issue; I see it as a sovereignty issue -- keeping out an undesirable foreigner who has no right to be here, and who boasts about violating our criminal code."

"Undesirable foreigner who has no right to be here"? Sounds like a certain skinny blonde firebrand with a hate-on for Muslims. Someone "who boasts about violating our criminal code"? Again, if Coulter brags in her column that the things she says would get her arrested in Canada, I think that that constitutes "boasting about our criminal code." How about it, Ezra?

(By the way, read my whole take on the Galloway affair here.)

Levant is claiming that his reasons for taking on the Coulter case is to show how duplicitous the human rights tribunal process is, and that it is biased against conservatives. I don't know if that's true. But I think Levant lost pretty much all his credibility with not only his failure to defend Galloway's right of free speech in Canada, but his active support for the denial of those rights. Levant would be more convincing if he were more consistent with his views and appplications of his principles.

What about Coulter? Since I started writing this post about 10 minutes ago, I received an email from her automatic listserv (someone thought it was funny to sign me up; I actually kind of enjoy deleting her emails). You can read her current column here (which is exactly what she wants you to do; so I guess I'm helping her out, as well.) It's interesting how the mighty have fallen. Once a syndicated columnist at leading papers, a promising lawyer, someone who, I think, even worked at the White House briefly, Coulter is now calling out members of the SFUO --the University of Ottawa's student federation! Picking fights with undergrads? Really? Oh Ann.

So Coulter is denouncing someone's decision to "deny" her he opportunity to spread her extreme views on a college campus. Hmmm, this sounds vaguely familiar. Let me see... Columbia University once compared Coulter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Why it this relevant? Because Ahmadinejad once spoke at the Columbia campus, despite conservatives trying really hard to prevent him from doing so.

In fact, prior to the Iranian leader's appearance, conservative forces rallied under the leadership of such Coulter compatriots as Michelle Malkin, who issued this call for supporters to send a message to the university administration that Ahmadinejad was not welcome on campus.

When Coulter herself was asked about Ahmadinejad's Columbia appearance, she said this:

"You know, I give a lot of college speeches, I know how colleges behave, and there is the least free speech on a college campus as any place in America. It is like Iran—so for them to be saying they are allowing this guy to speak because of free speech, you know, your head explodes."

Er... what? Further in the same interview, Coulter suggested that by allowing Ahmadinejad to speak, Columbia was "aiding the other side." At least that's the way I read it. Coulter is a master of dancing around topics so deftly that it's hard to pin her down to any particular viewpoints, except that liberals are sissies and Muslims are evil.

The president of the University of Ottawa, Mr Allan Rock, a seasoned diplomat, issued the following statement to all members of the university community today:

"On Tuesday, March 23, an appearance by Ann Coulter was scheduled on our campus, organized by the International Free Press Society Canada and the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute.

The University of Ottawa has always promoted and defended freedom of expression. For that reason, we did not at any time oppose Ann Coulter's appearance. Whether it is Ann Coulter or any other speaker, diverse views have always been and continue to be welcome on our campus.

Last night, the organizers themselves decided at 7:50 p.m. to cancel the event and so informed the University's Protection Services staff on site. At that time, a crowd of about one thousand people had peacefully gathered at Marion Hall.

"Freedom of expression is a core value that the University of Ottawa has always promoted," said Allan Rock, President of the University. "We have a long history of hosting contentious and controversial speakers on our campus. Last night was no exception, as people gathered here to listen to and debate Ann Coulter's opinions.

I encourage our students, faculty and other members of our community to maintain our University as an open forum for diverse opinions. Ours is a safe and democratic environment for the expression of views, and we will keep it that way."

It doesn't sound to me like anyone's free speech was being curtailed. In fact, all official missives suggest that Coulter was openly welcomed to the university campus. I think what actually happened was that when Professor Roule sent that ill-advised letter, the Coulter-ites and their hypocritical self-styled supporter of "free speech for people I agree with", Ezra Levant, saw this as an opportunity to manufacture an event and make both Levant and Coulter briefly relevant again.

That is all. Nothing more to see here. Ignore the pests and they'll just go back to screaming about Communists and evolutionists in their basement meetings.

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bread And Circuses

Apparently there was a hockey game tonight, something to do with the Olympics. Judging from the noise on the street outside, I gather the favoured team won.

I don't really care. Seriously, I don't care.

I don't begrudge any of you your joy; that is your right. This post is not about me being a curmudgeon and wanting the noisy people outside to quiet down so I that can finish writing the grant that's due tomorrow. People need to celebrate occasionally; I get that. Rather, this is about something a bit more disturbing.

Last week, back when the Canadian men's hockey team lost to the Americans (or so I'm told; I didn't watch it), the great national soul-searching that resulted was rather sickening. One particular Toronto newspaper had on its cover, in 4 centimetre high red letters, "OUR NATIONAL PRIDE IS AT RISK," or something like that. What followed were 6-10 pages of sports coverage and endless analysis about whether Canada would be able to rise above the shame of having a group of its favoured millionaire adolescents lose at a game.

All right. Fair enough. Whatever. I watch cartoons, German porn and reality TV. I'm in no position to pretend to be more sophisticated or enlightened.

But we are a lucky society indeed if our "national shame" is defined by a game. You know what else happened over the same time period that this "national shame" was getting 'round-the-clock coverage? The public supplement to the Iacobucci Report was released.

The Iaocobucci Inquiry's report is an official study of the complicity of the Canadian government in the illegal detainment and torture of Canadian citizens Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin. You can read it at

Not surprising to any of us familiar with the present government's xenophobic tendencies, the Iacobucci Inquiry found that "Canadian officials likely contributed" to the "mistreatment and torture" of the named individuals. I won't go into the details of how they contributed; you can read that bit yourself.

But here's the thing: In the thorough, brow-wiping analysis of our gripping "national shame" (i.e., hockey game) that the aforementioned newspaper examined with such gravitas, was there a single mention of the Iacobucci report or its findings? None that I could see. In fact, I barely heard tell of it any of the mainstream media outlets that I follow, whereas discussion of the hockey game has been fairly overwhelming.

In this same period, a UN report on the status of women found that Canada had dropped from 10th place to 73rd place worldwide, among nations striving for the equality of women.

In this same period, Canada still has a prorogued Parliament, quite contrary to the overwhelming desire of the populace. Yet, our "hard working" Prime Minister can be seen nightly in the stands of the Olympics in his ridiculous red-and-white sweater, mouthing the national anthem. Get back to work, ya bum!

So you'll forgive me if I'm not filled with "national pride" right now. You'll forgive me if I'm not inspired to wave the Canadian flag and hoot and holler down the street with the rest of the revellers. I have a hard time swallowing the pablum of manufactured patriotism while no one seems to care that the same society that produces millionaire medal-winning hockey players also formally engages in the criminal torture of its own citizens, the degradation of the status of its women, the cynical stymying of its Parliament, and yet suffers no repercussions for this transgression.

Bread and circuses indeed.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

In Memory of Bo

No, not this Boe:

But rather, this Boa:

Boa was the last living speaker of the language Bo, named for the tribe of Bo, of the Great Andaman peoples who once populated the Andaman and Nicobar islands off of India.

If this link works, you'll be able to see a video of Boa singing in her now extinct native language.

Maybe it's hard for a non-academic pointy-head to appreciate the singular tragedy of Boa's passing, but give it a shot. Beyond the sad tale of military decimation by the British, then the effects of paternalistic colonial-style policies by both the British then the Indian governments, leading to the literal extinction of complete races of these aboriginal peoples, there remains the tragedy of our lost links to human pre-history. Yes, as with all things, the passing of Boa is being characterized first and foremost as a loss to the selfish modern world, and not so much as the legacy of a brutal crime committed by the modern world.

Very few anthropological links remain to human prehistory. It's remarkable how little we actually know about how the human animal lived, felt and thought prior to the innovation of writing and thus the recording of history. To examine such times would help answer some of the most fundamental questions of human existence having to do with what is natural and what is constructed. The perhaps thousands of years of human language prior to the advent of civilization a mere 6-10 thousand years ago reflect a sentient mind emerging from the grace of naturalism and into the realm of instrumentalism and exceptionalism.

With the passing of Boa goes one of our last connections to a language that reflected that ethic. In fact, it's believed that the language of Bo predates the Neolithic period, thus pre-dating what we define as civilization.

The continued paternalistic treatment of the surviving Andamanese concerns me greatly, as does modern civilization's treatment of extant tribal Aboriginals globally. In my review of the movie Avatar, some commenter made the annoying and all too common criticism, "I’m wondering why we don’t call Europeans in Europe with family ties dating back centuries aboriginals as well".

Well, fool, we don't call them that because the word "Aboriginal" refers both to a lengthy historical attachment to a place (typically lasting thousands, maybe tens of thousands of years) combined with a modern political, geographical and cultural marginalization of that extant and threatened race. I'll never understand why so many people feel threatened when the plights of such vulnerable peoples so rarely manages to make it onto the public agenda.

Species, peoples, cultures, languages, religions and ideas all go extinct. That's the way of things. But, you know what? It's not necessarily the fact of it that should worry us. It's the how of it. The Andamanese tribals are the victims of centuries of genocidal policies. As far as I can tell, one tribe remains.

You know what the first image I found when I Googled "Andaman"? This one:

Yeah, it's a British tourist ad. Boa is dead. Her race is extinct. And her ancestral land is now the domain of drunken, shagging chavs from England.

In Other News

My latest article is up at India Currents.

And I've begun to archive my haikus!

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bits of Tid

Mysterious lights appear over Norway. Clearly, an alien space ship opened a hyperspace jump gate in the upper Earth atmosphere. Judge for yourself:

In unrelated news:

In even more unrelated news, a student who shall remain unnamed has honured me (I hope it was an honour) by naming her pet mouse somewhat after me. Introducing.... "Rayrat":

Apparently, Rayrat lives in a cage with three lovely lady mice. It's important to me that my namesake is, as the kids say, gettin' some.

Lastly, D-Mack sends us the Top 10 Science Fiction Disappointments of the decade. The article is retarded. Yeah, I said it.

Today's Real Topic

Now, in today's serious bit of news, I just came from the press conference for the unveiling of my artist friend Jenn Farr's newest project, a very important depiction of the cell in which Canada's recent "extraordinary extradition" victims were kept and tortured while being held in Syria. The endeavour is spearheaded by Kerry Pither, author of Dark Days.

It's one thing to read about modern torture and to have polite, fashionable discussions of it at cocktail parties and on the Internet. It's another to physically experience the actual conditions. If you can get a chance, visit the installation. Here are a couple of quick pics snapped on my Treo:

The installation is called "El Abbar", which means "the grave", and is a precise recreation of the cell in which several Muslim Canadians were held and tortured by Syria, with collaboration (as concluded by the Iacobucci Inquiry) by Canadian agencies. Those held include Ahmad El Maati, Abdullah Almalki and, of course, Maher Arar.

The cell is tiny and dank. The walls are thin enough to overhear the torture of those held in adjacent cells. Sometimes so many would be stuffed into a single cell that they would take turns sleeping. I'm told that cats would pee on the prisoners from the grate above, and of course the odours of filth and decay were ubiquitous. One of the artist's intents was to re-create the smell of the place, as well, but that was eventually not pursued.

It's ironic that the press conference for the unveiling of this object was coincident with one by Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter McKay, someone I would charge as complicit in the abuse of the men held in these cells.

I think it's important for all Canadians to recognize firstly the horror of these conditions, and the fact that innocent men were held there against their will and tortured repeatedly; and secondly the extent to which Canadian authorities were --and continue to be-- complicit in these ongoing abuses.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Arrrrgh! Almighty Zod really doesn't want me to walk. My L4/L5 lumbar disc has re-herniated and I am in agony.

But enough whining.

Two things come to mind today. Have you heard the recent news about Hilary Clinton? Video here:

Essentially, a Congolese university student asked her about what Bill Clinton's opinion on something would be, and Hilary snapped back annoyedly: "My husband is not secretary of state. I am... You want me to tell you what my husband thinks? If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channelling my husband."

There are several thoughts that arise from this event. First, the fact is that the student had actually asked about President Obama's opinion, not President Clinton's opinion. The translator had screwed up, apparently. One hopes that the student received an apology for undeservedly receiving Clinton's wrath.

Second, now we see why Obama could never have chosen Hilary as his VP. The spectre of Bill would have always been present. It would have been a three person administration, with Obama's being the smallest personality!

Third, yes, it was a sexist question... maybe. If it had been asked of any other woman, it would certainly have been a sexist question. But, Zod amighty, your husband is Bill Freaking Clinton! Everyone wants to know what he thinks about anything vaguely political! Hilary, your husband might not be Secretary of State, but I don't think anyone doubts he would be an excellent one. This has nothing to do with your abilities, or with your status as a woman, but more to do with Bill's enormous shadow and diplomatic greatness.

If Margaret Thatcher's husband had risen to the equivalent post in the UK, you'd better believe he'd be constantly hectored about what Margaret would have thought, as well!

Lastly, the Secretary of State is supposed to be the USA's top diplomat. A diplomat is supposed to be sensitive to the ways of thinking of othersrs. While visiting the Congo, Hilary was asked a question by a Congolese that is not an untoward question in that culture. Yes, she has a right to be offended, but surely she could have expressed her unhappiness a little more.... diplomatically?

If I were more clever, I'd work in a "ducking from sniper fire" comment somewhere. Instead, I give you leave to insert your own joke.

Item two today is the Chris Kattan miniseries vehicle Bollywood Hero. I haven't seen it, and maybe it's good. What I do know is that in New York last week, I saw the miniseries pushed heavily in the media. It was particularly heralded by Indians as further evidence of their "arrival" into the mainstream, that an SNL regular would choose to star in an overtly Indian vehicle.

The story, such as it is, concerns a failing American actor who chooses to restart his career by starring in a Bollywood production.

My problem is that this has nothing to do with the "arrival" of Indianness. It's more of the same Orientalism dressed up in miniseries clothing. The star is not Indian, but American. It's not even a real star, but a C-list Chris Kattan. The heart of the story is not the Indian production, but the journey of the white American. It's the Razor's Edge and City of Joy all over again, but without the depth and importance.

Okay, gotta go lie down again.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Until I Have Time For a REAL Post...

Check it out...

An sign of intelligence from space? Now if only we could find a sign of intelligence here on Earth. (BOW! HELLO! TRY THE VEAL, I'M HERE ALL WEEK!)

(Video of alien intelligence here.)

The BBC apparently stands for "British Broadcasting for Christ" because it's received 115 complaint emails since announcing its new Head of Religion is a Muslim.

Um... why does the BBC need a "Head of Religion"?

I'm sure many of you have seen this:

Well, it's a lie!!!

So revel in your pervishness, my droogies.

Remember my review of the new Star Trek movie? Recall that it's a JJ Abrams project, much like two of my favourite TV shows: Lost and Fringe. Well, I just finished watchin the season finales for both shows...

...Wow! Now that's writing! HOWEVER... JJ is showing his unmentionables. All three products --Fringe, Lost and Trek-- rely heavily on either time travel or alternate realities. I'm a little sick of this science fiction crutch. Suddenly I'm not too optimistic about the continuing resolution of either of the TV shows. I'll let you know.

I'll leave you with some Facebook goodies. First up is my new profile pic, the Hasselwat:

And lastly, here's the profile pic of my friend Sara F. Looks like he's been out all night drinking, no?

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Thursday, March 19, 2009


Image courtesy of Dawn L. Does it count as a Daily Perv Link(TM)? Sure, why not.

From E.K. Hornbeck comes this story of John McCain's idiot daughter complaining about her love life. Cry me a river, baby. Sample of her idiocy: "I am not only turned off by people who voted for Barack Obama, but I am also turned off by people that voted for my dad." Really? So you're essentially turned off by pretty much anyone who voted... unless he spoiled his ballot or voted for a loser third party candidate.


Meanwhile, Nadya "Octomom" Suleman's story is so ridiculous that I found myself talking about her to my class of first year undergrads today. Here's an interesting take on our own hypocrisy when dealing with her.

Speaking of Octomom, I think I found my Hallowe'en costume for next year:

And here's the "Octomom" Denny's special: "14 eggs, no sausage, and the guy next to you has to pay for it."

Meanwhile, know of an interesting immigrant in Canada? Why not nominate him/her for the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards?

Meanwhile, Brad Parker sends us this great collection of art work done by prisoners in New Delhi. Here are two of my favourites:

By the way, everyone and his/her dog has been sending me this article about inter-racial dating. I'm not sure why. I have no comments.

I have no more meanwhiles for you today.

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Football Team With Guns

You know, in the past four days I've been given three traffic tickets. One of them I really deserved: I was parked illegally in a campus lot, and they caught me red-handed. Another, I was definitely innocent, parked between two parking signs (confirmed by my passenger).

In the third, I made what appeared to be a legal right turn in downtown Ottawa, but was pulled over and dinged for an "illegal right turn". While waiting for my ticket to be written, I sat in the car for about six minutes, during which time I watched the same cop pull over about five other vehicles for the same infraction. Clearly, we all can't be blind. Was there really a sign?

Then I took a good look at each of the other drivers as he (they were all men) was directed to park near me and await his ticket. We were all visible minorities, more precisely men of dark skin. Coincidence? Quite possibly. Maybe we darkies are all visually impaired when it comes to street signs. Or, to be more demographically precise, maybe non-white men between 30 and 55, traveling alone, are more likely to be scofflaws?

In Toronto a week ago, I was pulled over by a cop for no particular reason. He later stammered out a weak explanation of, "Um, you're driving a rental car and I thought I should check it out."

Really? Driving a rental car is now grounds for being pulled over? And remember this story about being interrogated by a traffic cop over a lost passport three years earlier? How does a traffic cop get access to my federal travel documents from his vehicle computer, and why does he feel the need to express his power trip by bringing it to my attention?

Another common characteristic to all of these incidents (minus simply finding tickets on my windshield, of course) is the attitude and behaviour of the policemen involved. Gruff condescension is the norm, not respectful concern for society.

I don't know what's going on. I do notice however, that something has changed within me regarding my perception of policemen. When I was younger and saw a cop walking or driving by, it made me feel safer. I was happy to see him. Now when I see one, I get tense and try to avoid eye contact.

These experiences are almost akin to those continuously experienced by non-white people at borders and airports. Just last November, as I was the only non-white person traveling with a medical team to Guyana, I was stopped four times in one leg alone, consistently the only member of our team singled out for scrutiny. Random search, my ass.

Do keep in mind that I have never been charged or investigated for a crime, beyond traffic violations. Few would argue that I'm not an involved and visible member of civil society.

As a friend put it, something has changed in the way our society selects and trains policemen (and customs people), it seems. Years ago, he argues, they were chosen for their paternal characteristics (they were all men, after all). Middle aged, wise-cracking dudes were the norm. Now they mostly seem to be 25 year old thugs with brush cuts. A more discourteous description is, "a football team with guns".

Mind you, I've had some very positive experiences with policemen, as well. But, as in all things, when enough negative experiences arise, those are the examples one remembers and that one slots into a pattern. (Is this unscientific? Let's let Nasty Nicky B figure that one out for us.)

All of this is weirdly in contrast with my experiences dealing with members of the military in pretty much every country I've visited, including the USA. I have found soldiers to be remarkably well mannered and deferential.

Perhaps this is all yet one more reason I should consider running for public office one day.... if the questionable content on this blog hasn't already disqualified me!

In Other News...

I had an interesting visit to a student massage clinic last night. The therapist I was assigned was blind. Well, good for her. What a great career for a visually impaired person, since she can feel her way through it quite well. We had a good laugh about her having to struggle to "drape" me appropriately. Frankly, why should I care whether or not I'm exposed to a blind person?

It did get a little weird, though, when she tried to give a happy ending to my big toe.

(Kidding! I'm kidding! ...mostly.)

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mr. Jindal's Neighbourhood

Okay, okay, I will write about Cuba soon enough! But first, let's get to something a bit more topical...

Slumdog Millionaire won the Oscar. So what? Who cares? Well, it is sort of important. I enjoyed the movie, but it wasn't great. It was no Chariots of Fire or Citizen Kane or American Beauty. It's a just a well-filmed, colourful romp through Mumbai. The characters were shallow, the plot predictable and the "message" --if there was one-- was tagged on and superficial. Like all tiresome Danny Boyle movies, it has way too many scenes of people running. And running. And running. And of course a scene of someone diving into shit, 'cause that appears to be one of Mr. Boyle's obsessions.

But that's not why this matters. It matters because it further solidifies the arrival of all things South Asian into the Western (and thus global) mainstream. If you haven't figured it out already, India is the future. Ironic for a nation so steeped in the past, no?

Now, how's this for a segue? Further indication of the arrival of Indians was the US Republicans' choice this past week of who would deliver the rebuttal to President Obama (praise be upon him) after his first televised speech to Congress. They chose --drum roll, please-- that doofus from Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, a 37 year old American of South Asian origin.

I don't like Jindal. I wrote about him briefly here. He's a freakin' Creationist with a science degree. I know his type all too well, the kind of self-serving South Asian who got into politics, not because he wants to serve, but because it's a good career move. Enough with those cookie cutter bastards!

Even with how much I dislike the man, I was braced for the racist comments. On cue, here was Ann Coulter:
"Even Gov. Bobby Jindal, whom I suppose I should note was the first Indian-American to give the Republican response to a president's speech, began with an encomium to the first black president. (Wasn't Bobby great in Slumdog Millionaire?)"
Really, Ann? Weren't you great in The Machinist and TransAmerica? Is your only cultural reference for Indians a pop movie made by an Irishman and starring a Brit? You have no other historical or political reference or connection to make? This is it? This is what your vaunted Ivy League education and personal media empire have wrought for you?

But back to Jindal. Well, we all know now that he tanked. Even those who are supposed to support him, like the National Post, gave him a fail. This, my friends, is officially the nadir of the US Republican party. Their choice of Jindal showed the baseness of their thinking: "Well they've got a darkie, so we should counter with our darkie!" Because that's the only reason I can see for selecting the clearly out-of-his-league Jindal for this task.

Take a look at his pathetic 3rd grade performance:

As one of the commenters put it, how out of touch are these idiots? The frakking Governor of Louisiana is criticizing the new President for spending money on disaster preparedness. Katrina, anyone? Idiots.

PS, Apropos of nothing, R.I.P. Philip Jose Farmer, one of the finest and most underrated American science fiction writers in history.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

One Man Come In The Name Of Love

"I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today."

Happy MLK Day: ever more special this year, because of what tomorrow holds.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Et Tu, Canada?

Greetings from the Porter lounge at the Island airport in Toronto. I'm grabbing the first flight out to Ottawa in order to make my class today. (So if any of my students are reading this, you'd better show up!)

When I was living in the USA in the aftermath of 911, one of the unique perspectives granted me was the blatant discriminatory treatment given to travelers of my skin colour. It was a relief to return to Canada where such practices are rarer, or at least not as obvious.

Indeed, it's a mantra among many of we hued folk never to take a flight through the USA if we can avoid it, in fear of the humiliating disrespect shown by customs and immigration troglodytes.

Yesterday's return to Toronto, via Trinidad, from Guyana was a bit eye-opening and disappointing. During our 20 minute layover in Trinidad, I and my 5 White compatriots had to walk from one section of the airport to another. Within a span of less than 5 minutes of this walk, I (and only I) was singled out for a "random" security search TWICE.

Once at the gate, there was a youngish Black woman screaming at the top of her lungs, complaining about her multiple "random" searches, as well.

Well, that was Trinidad, right? Maybe some dude matched my description. Or maybe someone was having a little fun. Who knows. Surely, a more serious and advanced nation like Canada would be fairer.

Hmmm. During our departure from Toronto 2 weeks ago, I (and only I) was singled out for another "random" search. At that time, I actually complained, and miraculously the security dude (another abashed brown guy) apologized to me and, in a moment of fascinating brown solidarity, decided to take the next man in line instead. He happened to be a member of our
party, a white dude. But had I not voiced my displeasure, it would have been me... again.

Upon arrival to Toronto last night, we were met by an extra barrage of passport control officers right off the plane. (I think the Trinidad flight is known as a drug gateway). My White compatriots were waved through without incident. But I, holding up my Canadian passport, was stopped and was asked, "Are you Canadian? What are you doing here?"

Because, as we all know, only White people can be Canadian, and only Canadians are White. Maybe she assumed my passport was a forgery.

After we passed customs, we went to wait for our bags. There was another line of thugs in uniform there. Again, my White friends walked right through, but I was taken aside and interrogated.

"Where do you live?"
"What do you do?"
"What are you doing here?"

You would think the Canadian passport and the answer, "I'm a professor at the University of Ottawa. I teach global health and epidemiology and I'm returning from a huminatarian medical mission in Guyana with my colleagues, those fine looking young doctors and nurses over there", would warrant a pass. But no, more menial and frankly irrelevant questions like, "Where were you born? " arose.

Miraculously, I was not selected for a deeper search of my possessions. But I had already identified and set aside my bags from the group possesions, in full preparation for that eventuality.

Sadly, this is not my first enounter with what appears to be racial profiling at Canadian airports. The practice appears to be accelerating.

I have lived in this country since I was 2 years old and have been a citizen for 3 decades. I have paid a shitload of tax dollars to this country. I speak idiomatic, accent-free Canadian English, demonstrably better than many native-born Canadians, and am functional in our other official language. I am a 41 year old University professor who does not dress outlandishly. I have no criminal record. I sit on several corporate Boards of Directors and am a visible, active member of Canadian democratic society. Through my business activities, I have employed fellow Canadians and have contributed to the growth and health of our economy. I have proudly worn the maple leaf as a representative of my country abroad, as a participant in official Canadian projects and as an honoured guest of foreign nations. In the media of Guyana, the nation of my birth, I am referred to as "Canadian", not "Guyanese". I have given much to this country, arguably more than others of my generation, and I have been vocally grateful for the bounty that this country has given me.

Moreover, yesterday I was returning from a humanitarian mission in the name of Canada, an activity that brings further distinction and honour to this nation.

What more must I do to be recognized as Canadian? And what of those non-White Canadians less publicly active than me? What must they do?

Yes, customs agents are universally dickish, and I suspect they are selected for their dour personas. But I suspect more that they are indoctrinated into their paranoia by an official training programme. I would really love to observe that programme sometime.

I think it's about time they started selecting their targets based on behaviour, rather than skin colour.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Where Were You When President Obama Was Elected?

It's 11:oopm Nov 4th, 2008, and Barack Obama has been elected the 44th President of the United States. Welcome back to the world, my American friends. You have one fewer reason to hang your heads. You elected George Bush twice, convincing us that you had all lost your minds. But now you turn around 180 degrees and show the world a remarkably new and encouraging, sane and rational face.

I find that a certain wet substance is blurring my vision at this historic moment. Four decades ago, Martin Luther King was killed for advocating for basic civil rights for Black Americans. There are Blacks who voted today who were not allowed to vote when they were younger. There are graves visited regularly where are buried selfless heroes who were murdered for registering Black voters in the 60s. There are Black Americans who voted today who, as youths, were not permitted to go to school, not permitted to use public bathrooms or drink from public water fountains, and not permitted to ride in the front of the city buses.

Not so long ago, Black Americans were property. They were legally considered three fifths of a human being. Debate even raged over whether they possessed souls. It is truly a heavenly wonder that this same nation has elected a Black man as its leader, within living memory of some of those dark days.

It does not matter that this particular Black man does not have a family history of slavery, having as his origins a direct Kenyan lineage that bypassed the American slave trade. The truth is that any non-White person living in the USA inherits the legacy of slavery. A Black man in America is a Black man in America, regardless of his actual origins.

Much has been made of Obama's biracial nature, of how he has supposedly chosen to be considered Black for political reasons; he is, after all, equally White. But the truth is that historically American law has decreed anyone with more than one eighth African heritage to be Black; that's how they decided who had to sit in the back of the bus. And the further truth is that, due to generations of the rape of slaves, every Black person in America has some White blood in him.

Regardless of your political stripes, you must be moved by the ascension of a Black man to the Oval office. Forever more, Black children in the USA will have as their role models not just singers and athletes, but now the President of the United States. The image of what it means to be American will be profoundly changed, as the First Family will now be comprised of Michele Obama and her two Black daughters. Take a moment to visualize that.

Why is this important? Well, when I lived in Washington, DC, seven years ago, I was dismayed to find on local dating sites White women whose profiles said they were only looking for White men (which is their right) because --and here's the catch-- they prefer to date "all American men". These were not cartoonish redneck racists, but average women working in offices in the nation's capital. The lesson was that so many of the White mainstream unconsciously and reflexively equate "all American" with "White". The same is true among a lot of people in Canada, too.

This is the hurdle that all visible minorities deal with: convincing the mainstream to change its iconography, language and symbolism to be inclusive of our identities. Yes, it's important. To see a Black First Family will be a transformative, revelatory experience in both the USA and Canada. Today's decision has essentially modified what it means to be American.

And what of John McCain? His very generous concession speech was a taste of the old McCain, a man who would have made an excellent President. It's his bad luck to have been saddled with the regressive figure of Sarah Palin and to have been forced to run against the epic, historic character.

We should all remember where we were at 11pm on November 4th. I was in my parent's living room in Toronto, watching the BBC. I chose to be alone lest others see my sissy tears. Where were you?

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Monday, October 20, 2008

R.I.P., Rajiv Dharamdial

The above photo is of 14 year old Rajiv Dharamdial, known as Ravi, who was stabbed to death last week while walking home from school in Brampton (which is pretty much a part of Toronto, for those of you reading this from outside Canada).

Rajiv was sort of a distant cousin of mine, though not a blood relative; at least not to my knowledge. I'd never met him, nor even knew that he existed. But the singular tragedy and consequence of his departure is not lost on me.

This blog post will be automatically reproduced on my Facebook page, where some of Rajiv's true blood relatives will see it. To them, I offer nothing but sympathy and shared rage. A lot of crime, while detestable, is sort of understandable. Child murder is certainly not in the "understandable" category.

Rajiv was stabbed to death by two Black youths. This is relevant because the defining curse of all things Guyanese is the mindless and futile discontent between Indians and Blacks. It is one of the many reasons so many of use emigrated from the violence and poverty-plagued land of our birth.

While Rajiv's death may or may not have had a racial dimension to it, given the history of racial strife intrinsic to the legacy of all Guyanese, even those --like Rajiv-- who were born abroad, it is necessarily an issue that comes to mind, awash in the grief of his violent end. Thus it behooves us to acknowledge the potential role of race as this case unfolds; to do otherwise serves no good purpose.

So let us hope for four things: (1) that Rajiv's murderers are brought to justice; (2) that we find out that race was not an issue in the event, lest we conclude that Guyana's sins have migrated north; (3) that nothing like this ever happens again; and (4) that Rajiv's parents are miraculously granted some degree of peace in the wake of such unimaginable tragedy.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Page Three Boy

If you're having any doubts that George Bush's Amerikkka is slipping further along the path to an Orwellian paranoid police state, take a gander at this innocent article. Excerpt:

One of my colleagues was in the gathering crowd, trying to figure out what had happened. She heard my description—a Middle Eastern man driving a white Beetle with out-of-state plates—and knew immediately they were talking about me and realized that the box must have been manuscripts I was discarding. She approached them and told them I was a professor on the faculty there. Immediately the campus police officer said, "What country is he from?"

"What country is he from?!" she yelled, indignant.

"Ma’am, you are associated with the suspect. You need to step away and lower your voice," he told her.

Yeah, campus cops who think they're FBI. Great. The warmongering set likes to make comparisons between the modern Bush era and the "greatest generation" of WWII. Well, back then (when they weren't interning Japanese citizens), folks inspired each other with tales of courage and comfort. Today, we get highway signs reminding us to "report suspicious activity".

As Bill Maher put it, "For some inexplicable reason Republicans have taken to comparing Bush to Harry Truman -- a comparison that would make sense only if Harry Truman had A) started World War II and B) lost World War II."

In other news...

  • The first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials saga has been voted the best children's book in 70 years. I heartily extend by congratulations, as both a fan of Pullman's writing and an admirer of his courage in extending this controversial vision. The 20th century saw three great fantasy sagas in the English language: The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials. Most North Americans have yet to discover this gem, but they will when the movie comes out. The runner up --Tom's Midnight Garden-- is, however, my personal choice for best children's book. That one inspired me for many years from early childhood onto adolescence.

  • Have a look at the Let's Talk Science June newsletter. There's a special section on me! Page 3--- I guess that makes me a Page 3 boy!

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Fractured What?!

(Note: Before reading this post, please consult the very serious disclaimer.)

OK, scroll down to where they talk about me, but don't laugh.

The return of an old favourite: our daily perv link!

Here is an article on the various injuries one can acquire while doin' the nasty. For a long time, I've had a mortal fear of getting a "fractured penis". Oh, this is real, my droogies. Just look at this... or don't.

As has long been anecdotally suspected, the statistics now show that, at least in Australia, women are punished more leniently for paedophilic crimes than are men. Hmmm.

Thanks to Rondi for this video of female Arab psychologist Wafa Sultan givin' it to 'em on Al-Jazeera television. What's amazing to me about this clip isn't so much the content of Sultan's words or the responses of her detractors, but rather the fact that on a cable news show a guest was allowed to speak for many minutes on end without an annoying big-haired host interjecting with some inane comment. Makes me want to subscribe to Al-Jazeera!

As I've already reported here, courtesy of Darth Vadum's on-the-spot journalism, proto-nazi Ann Coulter has taken to publicly using the offensive term "raghead" in her various appearances around the US. As one commenter on the right-wing Western Standard Blog put it:
"Ah, dear Ann Coulter. She reminds me of an aging porn star who, as her beauty fades, must resort to increasingly depraved sexual acts in order to turn a buck. Ann is at the stage where she's doing beastiality [sic]."
What is amazing about all this isn't that Coulter is predictably a publicity whore and clearly a racist in the old-fashioned knuckle-dragging "me hate you because you look strange" mold, but rather that the blogosphere has erupted with comments coming to her defence! Most common are the type typified by another commenter on the Western Standard Blog:
"During WW2 we called the enemy Krauts and Japs and Nips etc etc...Big deal"
That's right. It is now okay to openly defend the usage of racial slurs. If we do otherwise, the terrorists will have won. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since it's also de rigeur to openly advocate for the legality and morality of torture. How did we get here? My God, how did we get here?

This reminds me of one of Charley Reese's best observations: that during wartime, to dehumanize the enemy is to prolong the war; in order to negotiate for peace, it is necessary to see your opponent as desiring of peace, and for him to see you as trustworthy, not driven by primal hatred. It is not so far-fetched, then, to suggest that the neocons' thirst for war-without-end (in the finest Orwellian tradition) is a factor behind the increasingly common incidents of high-profile Conservatives resorting to racist and dehumanizing epithets for their nominal "enemy". It is thus not surprising to see shadow-born bigots now emboldened to take their stupidity and hatred into the light, like this fool.

We in Canada are buffered against much of this nonsense by our comparative lack of modern racial tension. But we are a bunch of hypocrites in many ways, not the least of which being our stance on the American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Want to see what I mean? Hold your nose and go here:

The site is real. It is registered to the military attache resident in the Canadian embassy in Washington, DC.

While the Canadian public has repeatedly stated its opposition to being a part of the US's so-called "Global War On Terror", and while our governments have supposedly acquiesced to this desire, we are nonetheless marketing to the USA that we are in-step with their war plans. As proudly mentioned on the site, Canadians are responsible for "5,000 tactical airlift, patrol and (ship-based) helicopter sorties" in the Persian Gulf region since 2001; I wonder what operations and theatre hose sorties were involved in, hmmm? Cough-Iraq-cough.

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