Saturday, March 27, 2010

Miscellany links from/about Africa

How to Write About Africa - genius!

An excerpt - "Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction)."

Go read it it all, it's masterful.

The Economist
on the chances of a fair election in Ethiopia (slim to none). Not only that, the current Zenawi government is propped up by US aid (one of the largest recipients) and Zenawi is championed among the "new breed" of democratic leaders in Africa. Uh huh.

Last election was also marred with violence and arrests, tampering, etc... In my time in Ethiopia I never met a single person in the city who had voted for Zenawi and many of my students had stories about older brothers being arrested, etc... A friend of ours remembers being quarantined to their compound and listening as gunshots echoed through the city. Most people are thinking/predicting this next election will be even more unfair and violent...

Musical Break! Malian Rokia Traore. Not sure if I love the video but I love her music.

I'm a big fan of South African Desmond Tutu, the man is not afraid to criticize just about anybody if they're messing up. That includes Africans who discriminate against gay and lesbians ("Hate has no place in the house of God") and South Africa's ally the U.S., calling the war in Iraq an "immoral war". Speak it brother!

Africa's entry in the "Uncyclopedia" - more genius!

'The only thing positive about Africa is HIV."

African exports include: Ebola, Madagascar (the movie) and "Apos'trophes t'hat s'erve no' purpo'se".

Musical Break #2! Do you know where Mauritius is? Most people don't and would never have heard music from there - but this last summer at Toronto's AfroFest, Menwar wowed me and here's a clip of him playing at Montreal's International Jazz Fest. We're already stoked about this summer's AfroFest!

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention one of the best blogs about the continent, as well as where I found some of the articles, Texas in Africa. Go check it out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Free Speech in Canada

Recent news out of Ontario is that American conservative speaker/writer Ann Coulter is here. For those of you who might not know her, she enjoys "stirring up the pot" through right-wing rhetoric racism. She wrote the book, If Democrats had any Brains, They'd be Republicans and has been notoriously anti-Muslim, advocating that no Muslim should be allowed to fly, instead they should take flying carpets. I am not joking, there is no way you could make this stuff up.

Of course you can guess my reaction to such a person. She uses racism as a tool to incite people, blatantly using ignorant, inflammatory comments to make the news and sell books, and ignores the power of what she says. In today's speech, when a Muslim student asked her about her "flying carpets" comment, nothing that she didn't have one, Coulter told her "to take a camel" instead. And she made the news.

Still, her vast store of idiocy is not what this post is about. What I want to do is relate this issue and Coulter's recent foray into Canada to something else I had previously written about here.

British MP George Galloway was denied access to speak in Canada at an anti-war protest due to his attacks on Israel and connections with the Palestinian Hamas (who Canada labeled a terrorist org.) which include being part of the Viva Palestina convoy bringing food to Gaza to promote peace. At the time I noted that we had allowed George Bush to cross the border to speak, why were we denying Galloway? My question remains: If we allow people such as Coulter across the border to spew her vitriolic rants why was a British elected official (Galloway) banned?

I think part of the answer stems from what Galloway represents - a critique of Israel. He highlights atrocities in Gaza, sides with Palestinians and Arabs as a whole and roundly denounces American foreign policy that supports such atrocities... policy that Canada seems to agree with. I know Israel is a touchy subject but his views are not welcome and even less welcome than the racist rants of Coulter? He's involved in initiatives to promote peace and equality for Muslim people's and Coulter advocates against Muslim people. We talk about free speech in Canada but this one exclusion (Galloway) and one inclusion (Coulter) speaks to what is allowed in Canada, what is deemed acceptable, and what is allowable to say.

Free speech in Canada... as long as you agree with our policies and don't like Muslims.


No, I haven't gone and acquired a job at Starbucks (though the free coffee is tempting!) Instead, I am training Daija to go work at Starbucks and get that free coffee for me! What else are children for?

It's actually quite cute, every time I go to make coffee she wants to help. She puts the filter in for me.

She knows where I keep the grinder and the beans.

She pushes the button on the grinder until the beans are all done and then signs "all done".

Then, she gets to push the on button.

We smell the beans and she imitates me, saying "Mmmmmmmm."

The ultimate goal is to get her to the point where I can wake up and tell her, "Daija, go make Daddy coffee and bring it to him in bed!" Now I just need to teach her how to fry up bacon....

Monday, March 22, 2010


An interesting thought for the day from French philosopher Jacques Derrida (On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 2001):

"Yes, there is the unforgivable. Is this not, in truth, the only thing to forgive? The only thing that calls for forgiveness? If one is only prepared to forgive what appears forgivable...then the very idea of forgiveness would disappear."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tired Traveller

When we moved to Toronto we sold our car and committed to using transit as our primary mode of transport (secondary if you count our feet) and we weren't sure exactly how it would go. Nine months in (I know, where did the time go?!) and we quite enjoy transit for the most part, the subway system is fairly easy to navigate and you get to avoid the massive traffic snarls that ravage Toronto every day. Sure, grocery shopping takes a little more co-ordination and a little more time needs to be scheduled in for transport but it's way cheaper.

The only hiccup is Sunday morning when regular service doesn't start until 9am which is too late for my lovely wife whose work shift starts at 7am. So one Sunday a month we book our Zipcar (amazing!) and I drive her to work. Today was actually the first day we had to do it due to sickness, etc...

All 3 of us got up at 5:30am and drove mommy to work. Which was a little too much for our little munchkin who, while peering over the couch this morning, simply fell asleep. Doesn't look like the most comfortable position but she was out cold on the back of the couch!

I wish I could sleep as well as she does!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Part 3: Racism in Canada

Somehow the news just keeps revealing the deep-seeded racism that exists in leaps and bounds in our society, all coated over with a deep self-belief that we are somehow a tolerant and accepting society.

This quick blog makes for a the perfect part 3 of my trilogy on race and the construction of authenticity in Canada. Check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

A recent news article on sparked a massive wave of comments. It was in regards to a UofT student who was seen on a terrorist video from Somalia and has been rumored to have been killed in a battle with insurgents.

Off the bat, I am against violence, especially when done in the name of religion. Secondly, I am against the way the word "terrorist" has been used to construct the "bad guys" who are always Othered through race, language, religion, etc... Presidents and soldiers can senselessly kill people but they are never constructed as terrorists, put on watch lists or have their travel restricted.

Beyond this, I was appalled (though not really shocked) at the comments on the story. They speak powerfully to what I have already discussed in terms of creating "real Canadians" and "fake Canadians", all under the auspices of multiculturalism and tolerance.

One commenter says: I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm all for immigration but not including the following: Somalians, Tamils, Haitians and any other ethnicity that thrives on cultivating old battles on our soil. I know that not "all of them are radicalized" but enough of them are, and worse, those who aren't can and will be turned by others who freely enter our borders to do so.

He begins by stating his tolerance (he's "all for immigration") and then proceeds to spew one of the most openly racist and exclusionary statements I've heard in a while. He places violence in the hands of racial minorities, fueled by their hatred for others, disrespecting our soil. He tries to appear conciliatory by recognizing that "they" are not all "radicalized" but that so easily they'll all flip - like they're the 12 yr. old who will do anything if their friends tell them so. You want to exclude whole groups on the basis of.... violence? Exclude Americans then. Their gun violence is the highest in the world and they "cultivate old battles" in places like Iraq. Or how about any other nation that has had civil war (Canada can be included in this)? Oh, and for the record, my brother-in-law is Tamil - guess I should keep an eye on him in case he "turns"... it'll have to happen sooner or later.

In response to another comment that perhaps this man's experiences in Canada pushed him to extremism: WHAAATT!?!?!?! This is one of the most insane things I've heard. Canada has opened their doors and their hearts to allow these people into our country, many of them escaping a futureless life, poverty and persecution. How dare you make ignorant comments with a bite to the hand that feeds you.

Canada is constructed as the benevolent, gracious host who should be thanked. Not only did we "allow" certain undesirables to enter but we "opened our hearts" to all the Orphan Annies of the world, giving them a chance at a better life. They escape their "futureless life" (somewhere else) to come to Canada and a.... place where their credentials ignored, their job prospects truncated, their knowledge devalued... a futureless life? They escape poverty (somewhere else) to come to Canada and have.... poverty? They escape persecution (somewhere else) to come to Canada and.... face persecution? I'm certainly not trying to diminish the experiences of people who indeed have faced hardships in countries torn by war, famine, globalization, etc... but Canada is no walk in the park for immigrants (the article actually states that the subject of the story was born in Canada but most posters just assumed he was an immigrant - no way he was a "real Canadian"). Canada is loving and peaceful and people should thank their lucky stars to be here, subsequently showing their gratitude by never disagreeing with a thing, speaking English upon arrival, buying all their coffee at Tim Hortons and joining a local hockey or curling rink.

A final commenter stated: This man was not Canadian in any way shape or form. By calling him a "Canadian", CBC, you have degraded the word and yourself.

How do we define a Canadian? Born in Canada? Has a Canadian passport? Believes in peace, love and donuts? Speaks only English or French (preferably English)? Is White or at least acts as White as they can? Is being called "Canadian" some badge of honor that one has to win or earn? When a White soldier goes to Afghanistan and commits some crime do we question his nationality, wonder if perhaps he was never really Canadian to begin with? So many questions...

As a summary: Dionne Brand, a relatively famous Black Canadian writer, writes in one of her poems - "I don't want no fucking country". It's really not hard to see why certain individuals wouldn't want to align themselves with Canada, when in return Canada doesn't really want any part of them.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Your Friendly English Teacher

In this age of Facebook communication, Twitter-pating, and txt msgs, proper usage of the English language seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Bad English angers this particular dinosaur.

Here is my list of mistakes you will not make when communicating with me, please and thank-you.

Lose/Loose - You do not loose your ring. You do not loose track of time. Your clothing is not lose. Lose = to not win. Loose = to set free; not tight fitting. Correct usage: "I will loose the Hounds of Hell on you if you lose your ring because it is too loose." Wrong usage: "OMG, lol, like how in the world did i just loose my phone, now how can i txt my bfffe? (I saw this the other day, what the h*ll is a bfffe?)"

You're/Your/Yore - Your is possessive. You're is a contraction which is substituting for 'you are'. Yore is a long time ago. So it's, "No honey, those pants don't make your butt look big. You're beautiful." Guys especially, remember this.

To/Too - To is a preposition. This means it is a linking work for nouns, pronouns, etc... It does NOT signify 'as well'. As in, "No honey, those pants don't make your butt look too big. It's time to go." Guys especially, remember the grammar rule but strike any part of this phrase from your vocabulary.

There are others but I will leave it at this. I think you get the point. Never at any point are any of these interchangeable.

I feel better now.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Thumbs Out

My friend Matt over at Bing Dynasty often does his quick summaries as thumbs up/ thumbs down so I am ripping him off (imitation is a form of flattery) and here are mine:

Thumbs up (a.k.a. Aaaahnold approved):

- Apple smoked old cheddar from St. Lawrence Market - so good.

- Daija cuddling with me when she wakes up.

- Organic, fair trade, dark roast espresso - more than one shot, please and thank-you.

- My momma coming out here again to visit. And by visit I mean coming out here to babysit so Nolana and I can go out

- Building towers with Daija's Mega blocks

- This, one of the freshest new music videos in a while. From Nigerian born Afrikan Boy. H/T: Africa is a Country

Thumbs down (a.k.a. Joaquin says you fail):

- not sleeping well. Life is just that much harder with less sleep....

- soft, stinky poo. Not mine, Daija's.

- PCs that start to crap out on you after 2 years. If only I could afford a Mac...

- Feeling behind at school and never having the time to catch up, or even better, get ahead.

- The Flames struggling just to make the playoffs with a GM who thinks getting Matt Stajan is the answer. Ha.

- Tim Hortons. I don't get the national obsession.

- Nolana and Daija going to Victoria without me again. Victoria is such a great place...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Hey, I just said that!"

Do you ever have those moments when you're reading or watching the news or talking with friends and you hear something that sparks a sense of deja vu? I was reading an article today by Canadian and UofT scholar (he's actually in my department) Rinaldo Walcott about multiculturalism in Canada and instantly thought, "Hey, I just said that".

And, indeed I had in this blog about "Real Canadians". It actually also pertains at least remotely to last my last blog post, the letter to Mr. Ignatieff.

Here's some of the article.

Walcott states "Official [Canadian] policies of multiculturalism... exacerbate the problem of belonging (89)

Walcott quotes Ignatieff's Massey Hall Lecture where Ignatieff describes Canadian multiculturalism as seeking to protect the cultural rights of as many people as possible. Sounds good right?

But where do collective rights fit into this Liberalist schema of individualism? What about the cultural groups whose identity is firmly embedded in the collective? Group rights pose a major problem for Canada's version of multiculturalism, denying any collective rights to groups.

Walcott goes on to examine how the English and French are excluded from these ideas of multiculturalism based on their status as "Founding Nations" - their identity is beyond question, beyond the need for 'protection' by multiculturalism policies - They are "Real Canadians". He quotes Eve Mackey who says, "Canadian-Canadians are assumed to be white, disinterested in seeking special status of any sort, and certainly their cultures (if they claim a culture at all) are neither funded nor supported by the government apparatus" (92).

Not only does this echo my previous post but show how government focus on funding multiculturalism creates more separation. "Real Canadians" don't need funding or special privileges.... mostly because we are already given these things anyways through other channels. Heritage becomes a specifically non-white discourse that needs to be enacted and re-acted through parades, national costumes, cultural celebrations, etc... Non-white Canadians are positioned as outside of Canada and are "allowed" into Canada through government multiculturalism.

Despite disagreeing with many aspects of his article, it's always nice to hear someone else voicing the same things you are - makes you think you're not alone in left field!

Despite these recognitions of cleavage in Canadian society, we as voters are presented with dismal options. On one side is Liberalism which champions multiculturalism as the way - except that their version is predicated on individual right which only seek to fragment cultural groups and assimilate them into a homogeneous Canada and which creates "Real Canadians" and "hyphenated Canadians"; and on the other side are the Conservatives who can't even be bothered to put on the facade of multiculturalism or inclusiveness in completely ignoring any issue that is not white, straight, upper class, and male. Uggggghh.

Especially after such national fervor that the Olympics inspired, it is hard to see how Canada or its people could be accused of racism - Hell, we let the Natives dance! Our medals has Native motifs and so did our hockey jerseys! It's easy to say that racism is in the past.

Dionne Brand says, "Only the brazen can say, "I was not here, I did not do this and feel that." One hears that all the time in Canada; about what they feel they are and are not responsible for. People use these arguments as reasons for not doing what is right or just. It never occurs to them that they live on the cumulative hurt of others. They want to start the clock of social justice only when they arrived. But one is born into history, one isn't born into a void" [italics mine] (A Map to the Door of No Return, 82).

Beyond this, not only is Canada built on the exploitation of others it still continues today in less explicit (sometimes) ways. It's impossible to choose impartiality or neutralism as a position.