Friday, March 30, 2007

Children and the Traumas of War

Three Stories about Iraqi Children:
On an Iraqi morning Khaled, 11 years old, went, as he used to do everyday, to the nearby school in central Baghdad. What was unusual this time was by the end of the first lesson blasts rattled the school snatching the children's innocence from their faces.

It was horrible. Windows shields smashed hitting the children's soft bodies. Khaled, like others, hide himself under desks that could not withstand the falling ceiling and its fan. Exercise books, pencils, blackboard and the pupils' dreams were all buried under the falling ceiling. All went to the sky except for Khaled and his colleague who lost an arm. The tragedy is still preoccupies this little Iraqi child, though the incident occurred sometime ago. He is not the only to suffer from similar experiences, as scores of kids his age share with him the same experience. Many are still paying, along with their families, the endless war bill. The rest of the story

There are millions of stories like Khaled's, in Iraq and other war-torn countries. Children are killed and forced to kill. They are orphaned. They are raped. They lose their homes, schools, and any sense of stability. They are hungry, sick, and frightened. And often, very traumatized. Without rehabilitation and healing, they can sometimes grow up to perpetuate the violence, because they don't know anything else.

Iraqi boys in a refugee camp in Baghdad play with toy guns.
Photograph: Namir Noor-Eldeen/Reuters

Abdul-Muhammad and his five younger brothers, aged between six and 12, should have been at school. But their mother, Sayeeda, like thousands of parents in Iraq's perilous capital city, now keeps her boys at home. Three weeks ago, armed men had intercepted their teacher's car at the school gates, then hauled him out and slit his throat. Just like in their game.

"That day they came home and they were changed because of the things they'd seen," said Sayeeda as she ladled rice into the boys' bowls. "The youngest two have been wetting their beds and having nightmares, while Abdul-Muhammad has started bullying and ordering everyone to play his fighting games. I know things are not normal with them. My fear is one day they will get hold of real guns. But in these times, where is the help?" The rest of the story

These children are paying the price of wars they did not start - some adults somewhere sitting safely in their offices, war rooms, and white houses made the decisions that cause innocent children to suffer. When you ask children, they overwhelmingly say they want peace.

Just 8 years old, Noor fell victim to an all-too-common crime in Baghdad. Kidnapped from school, she was held for ransom – beaten, blindfolded, and locked in an empty room – for four days.

Her father raced to come up with the money, fearing she would be yet another casualty in the city's plague of abductions. A driver by occupation, he sold the family's car to give his tormenters what they wanted: $8,000 for his daughter's life.

Noor and her family fled Baghdad. But three years later she was still haunted by her memories. They joined some 1 million Iraqis now living in Syria – among them an untold number of children struggling to cope with the emotional wounds of war.

For Noor, and many other Iraqi children like her, there appeared to be no place to turn until a Syrian psychiatrist, risking his job at a state institution, defied authorities and decided to help. The rest of the story

Meanwhile, even American kids are suffering because of war: As Iraq war cost climbs, 9 million U.S. kids lack medical coverage. There's enough money to ensure all Iraqi kids are dead, displaced, or scared, but apparently not enough to keep American kids healthy - really, click this link to put the cost of war into perspective - it's truly disgusting.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Now Europe Will Never Know Why We Should Teach the Bible in School!

This Week's Time Magazine Covers:

Ah... this is giving me nostalgic memories of Newsweek last fall:

Why all the fluff on the cover of American magazines? Do they think scary covers won't sell or something?

Thanks Wonkette

Amazing Photographs from China

"Humanizing China" - from EastSouthWestNorth

From the Survival Page:

It is necessary to purchase admission tickets in order to pick garbage

A mountain resident carries his wife home. She just had her tubes tied.

Postman delivering mail on difficult rural route

From the Relationships page:

A peasant is about to transplant his kidney to his diabetic son

Chatting with an admirer on the other side of the barbed wire fence of the factory

Modern garbage

From the Desires page:

The lucky winner at an instant lottery game

Sales distributors receive news of a ban

Curbside beauty parlor

Via Neatorama

Monday, March 26, 2007

Somalia & Oil

ZNet Commentary
Somalia: An Oily Cliché© March 25, 2007
By David Barouski
Today, it is a reflexive cliché to claim the United States (U.S.) is off on another oil-acquisition conquest anytime they invade an Arabic nation.

In the case of Somalia, the cliché may neverless be true.

Read the whole thing

The Somali Government has been reinstalled in Mogadishu and though violence is constant in the city, the government has moved forward. Many of the cabinet members are dual citizens, with the majority coming from Canada. Others are former warlords.

The Deputy Prime Minister is Hussein Farah Aideed, the son of the late warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed. In contrast to his father, Hussein is actually a naturalized American citizen and a former U.S. Marine who served in the Gulf War. He even served as a U.S. emissary during Operation Restore Hope, where he met with his father several times.

Somalia - Another Resource War Dressed up as a "Clash of Civilizations" and Darfur as a Resource War

If You Prepare for War, That's What You are Likely to Get

Anthony Arnove:
Eugene Debs wrote in a letter to the New York Sun in 1915, "If... the United States were to prove in good faith that it is opposed to the barbarism and butchery of war by issuing a proclamation of peace, and itself setting the example of disarmament to the nations of the world, its preparedness would be, not only in accordance with its vaunted ideals, but a thousandfold greater guarantee to the respect of its neighbors and to its own security and peace than if it were loaded down with all the implements of death and destruction on earth."

Howard Zinn:
Debs was talking about "preparedness" because the war in Europe had begun and, although the United States was not yet in the war, people were beginning to talk about preparedness for war. The American military is building up, and Debs sees this coming. He argues that the best thing we can do is to declare our belief in peace and to stop preparedness for war. You prepare for war, and then the momentum is created for going to war. We have seen that repeatedly.

Quoted from Terrorism and War, and interview with Howard Zinn.

Also see Sunk Costs, a concept in Behavioural Economics. In Sum: If you pay for it, you wanna know it isn't going to waste, even if what you use it for is irrational and doesn't benefit you.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday Funday, the Second

Good news from the Canadian Government!

The Conservative Party has just released its new child care plan:

And our troops are getting brand new high tech army gear:

Pics from Modern Mechanix

Canada: Enemy of the United States of America? You heard it first on Fox, so you know it's true. What else can we learn from Fox today? Well, high gas prices should be blamed on liberals, you shouldn't drive and drive, Fox hearts GWB - he's the best president eva, and Al Gore's movie will destroy the economy. Here's the last roundup, in case you missed it. (Don't forget the rule: if the headline has a question mark, Fox thinks the answer is "yes") Via The Vanity Press

Captain America wanks

How do they get the birds to cry while they're sleeping? (Video) and speaking of endangered, better get ready for the Global Warmings:

And finally: toys that should never have been invented.

Previous Friday Funday

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What's Bush Reading Lately? A Photo Essay

Someone Get this Man a Chomsky... Stat! The security of the world depends on it!

Bush's Book List

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 by Andrew Roberts, who "proudly declared himself 'extremely right-wing' in a recent Financial Times interview" and who calls the war on terrorism "the Manichean world-historical struggle" against fascism, including "Totalitarian Islamic Terrorist Fascism".

Roberts believes almost all the advances of freedom in the 20th century have been made by the English-speaking peoples. The Iraq invasion was just another example of English-speaking countries doing what the UN should have done. (read more in this gushing review)

America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It by Mark Steyn, Toronto's favourite racist (although he moved to New Hampshire, no doubt to get away from the scary diversity here, oh and he calls himself a "culturist" not a racist). In his spare time Steyn keeps himself busy preparing for the upcoming Muslim takeover of the world.

Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime by Eliot A. Cohen, which "argued that the greatest civilian wartime leaders, notably Abraham Lincoln and Churchill, had a far better strategic sense than their generals"

Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground by Robert D. Kaplan, who thinks the world is one big Western, and the US military is operating is trying to civilize "injun country".
In one way or another, each affirms core neo-conservative ideas: the essential beneficence of U.S. (and Anglospheric) power even if the "natives" are ungrateful; the supreme importance of both "will" and military might in wielding that power, particularly against enemies that can never be "appeased" or "contained" and that, in Roberts' words, are motivated not so much by legitimate grievances against U.S. policies, as by "loathing of the English-speaking people's traditions of democratic pluralism"; the evils of "liberalism", "secularism" and "moral relativism" of western societies that undermine their will to fight; and the catastrophic consequences of retreat or defeat.

All of these also play to Bush's own Manicheanism and self-image as a courageous, often lonely, leader in the mold of a Lincoln or Churchill, determined to pursue what he believes is right regardless of what "old Europe", "intellectuals", "elites", or even the electorate thinks about his course and confident only in the conviction that History or God will vindicate him.

And let's not forget The Stranger by Camus, "a classic novel about a westerner that kills an Arab for no good reason and dies with no remorse" as summarized by Jon Stewart.

I'm sure we can all agree, we'd prefer if he the leader of the free world got back to basics:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Inventing Whiteness

Who is white? What are the criteria? Is it the paleness of one's skin? If that were the case then Takao Ozawa (1922) would have been granted naturalization, since his skin was white. But he was Japanese, so the Supreme Court determined that white meant Caucasian.

So a white person is someone who is Caucasian? Well... not exactly. When an immigrant from India, Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), attempted to gain citizenship by arguing that he was Caucasian. He was rejected, using a weird non-definition of white, appealing to the authority of the common man, whoever he is: "the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences" between a South Asian and a white person.

As any sociologist will tell you, race is meaningful only as a social construction. There's no significant difference between "races", except for their shared experiences (i.e. ethnicity or cultural differences of course, but mostly the shared experience of being discriminated against, being designated "other"). Whiteness in America was constructed as a legal system designed to economically benefit a small elite, by entrenching disadvantages for most groups.

It was also designed to "divide & conquer", to prevent the feared solidarity between white indentured servants and black slaves. (see People's History of the United States)

There's no essential "white". Neither is there a monolithic group of "non-whites". The connecting thread among so many diverse groups is that experience of being excluded from certain things that white people take for granted - being marginalized.

For a really interesting discussion about the complexities of marginalization, read Intersectional Identity by Thinking Girl.

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Check out this research project: Discrimination in the Job Market: Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?

Also read the 10th Erase Racism carnival.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Validating the Suffering of the Palestinians

Susan Nathan explores how to address the suffering of the Palestinians without pointlessly resorting to comparisons of whose suffering is worse. Showing how the Palestinians are suffering validates the Palestinian experience, but it in no way reduces the horrors experienced by Jews in the Holocaust.

It asks for all people to open their hearts, and recognize the common quality to all such human tragedies.

The apparent inability of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora to address the true roots of the Middle East conflict and accept their role in the Palestinians' suffering is given an alibi by their fears, which are in turn stoked by stories in the media of the ever-present threat of anti-Semitism, a Jew-hatred in both Europe and the Arab world that, we are warned, has troubling echoes of the period before the Second World War. A disproportionate part of the media coverage of anti-Semitism concentrates on tarring critics of Israel with this unpleasant label. Anyone who has disturbing things to say about what Israel is doing the the Palestinians is, on this interpretation, an anti-Semite. I have little doubt that the motivation of Israel's defenders in many cases is to silence the critics, whether their criticisms are justified or not.

My own critique of Israel - that it is a state that promotes a profoundly racist view of Arabs and enforces a system of land apartheid between the two populations - risks being treated in the same manner. So how does one reach other Jews and avoid the charge of anti-Semitism? Given the sensitivities of Jews after their history of persecution, I think it helps it we distinguish between making a comparison and drawing a parallel. What do I mean? A comparison is essentially a tool for making quantitative judgments: my suffering is greater or lesser than yours, or the same. Jews have a tendency to demand exclusive rights to certain comparisons, such as that nothing can be worse than the Holocaust, because it involved the attempt to kill a whole people on an unprecedented scale. Anyone who challenges that exclusive right, for example by suggesting that Israel is trying to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from their homeland, is therefore dismissed as an anti-Semite. The debate immediately gets sidetracked into the question of whether the argument is anti-Semitic rather than whether it is justified.

Drawing a parallel works slightly differently. It refuses, rightly, to make lazy comparisons. Israel is neither Nazi Germany nor apartheid South Africa. It is unique. Instead, a parallel suggests that people can find themselves in similar circumstances, or that one set of events can echo another. Even more important, the emotions people feel in these circumstances may share some of the same quality. That common quality is what allows us to see their suffering as relevant and deserving of recognition, without dragging us into a debate about whose suffering is greater.

From The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide, written by Susan Nathan. Emphasis mine.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Iraq is a Humanitarian Disaster, too

Photo: Wathiq Khuzale/Getty, from IraqSlogger. An Iraqi man looks at blood-stained shoes of the victims of a car bomb explosion on March 10, 2007 near Sadr city Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, Iraq.

  • the worst refugee crisis in the world, nearly one in five Iraqis is dead or displaced
  • a destroyed economy. 50-70% unemployment. Shortages of all basic necessities affect everyone: food, water, fuel, electricity
  • ...has increasing levels of violence. October 2006 had at least 6000 civilian casualties (double Oct 2005). The number of daily attacks on US troops has also doubled in the same time frame.
  • blamed for its own problems

Happy 4th Birthday, Iraq Occupation.'s worth thinking about what all those horrific figures will look like next March, on the fifth anniversary of the invasion, and the March after, on the sixth, and the March after that…

From Electronic Iraq and TomDispatch, Billboarding the Iraqi Disaster.

Anthony Arnove looks at the numbing numbers four years into the war and puts them next to the better known - and equally numbing - numbers in Darfur, comparing the response in US progressive circles to both tragedies.
Why is it that we are counting and thinking about the Sudanese dead as part of a high-profile, celebrity-driven campaign to 'Save Darfur,' yet Iraqi deaths still go effectively uncounted, and rarely seem to provoke moral outrage, let alone public campaigns to end the killing? And why are the numbers of killed in Darfur cited without any question, while the numbers of Iraqi dead, unless pitifully low-ball figures, are instantly challenged -- or dismissed?
Looking at what the US attack on Iraq has unleashed, and at widespread appeals for US military intervention in Sudan, Arnove notes: "The focus on Darfur serves to legitimize the idea of US intervention at the very moment when the carnage that such intervention causes is all too visible and is being widely repudiated around the globe."
Read the Whole Article

Friday, March 16, 2007

On Hijabs' n Things

So now we have yet another controversy over what some women wear on their heads.

Makes me think of something I read a few days ago. Exerpted from Sand Gets in My Eyes:

The Biker and the Old Woman: A parable of the veil
An animal rights guy is walking down the street with a bucket of red paint when he passes a Hell’s Angel wearing colors and dressed in a full set of leathers.

“Hey Dude,” he says with a smile. “Nice chaps.”

A block later, that same animal rights guy passes a little old lady in a mink coat and throws the red paint on her.

“Animals died for you vanity!” he shouts.

The point of Butchie’s parable was that both the biker and the old lady were wearing animal products, but the activist knew better than to go after the big, macho male offender, choosing to go after the helpless, frail female one instead.

She goes on to quote William Bennet (yeah I know):
“To go after women donning their veils is to attack the problem at its weakest — and frankly, least important — link (again, when the veil is freely chosen). While Muslim women are being beaten, while honor killings are extant, and while mosques, universities, and madrassahs are fomenting actual terrorism, Muslim women assuming a dress code is not where our — or our allies’ — focus should be. Go after the men who do these things — that’s where the fight is.”

Geez, don't we have more important things to get upset about? Like women in miniskirts or something?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Waste Makes Want, by Skeletonwoman,

Exerpts from Waste Makes Want, by Skeletonwoman, (a community for & by the homeless in Canada):
You call barbarism an economy and inhumane living conditions are alluded to as the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Do you expect the destitute to dine on your abstractions or choke down more peanut butter& jam sandwiches and leftover donuts, while another generation of humanity lives and dies in the streets alongside their elders?
Were you absent when sharing went on in kindergarden? Were you the little monsters who grabbed stuff out of other kids hands and liked to make they cry? Now it's time to grow up !
How much longer do you intend to pretend that mothers are "unemployed" when parenting is the most important work there is? It's ludicrous pretend that mothers are not working and to require them to be trained to sit in front of computers in cubicles all day, while strangers raise their kids according to schedule to become the robots of the future? Who wiped your ass when you were a baby?
We have no use for the planned obsolence you pollute the planet with or the military might of your vile drug war fought under the guise of helping the woman of Afganistan whose lives are worse than ever.
Are you proud of your accomplishments? Are you teaching your children how to rob the poor and keep it for themselves? Are you instructing them to peck away at the middle class social structure as well? How are parents supposed to explain the scourge of corporate capitalism to little kids who ask what happened to their schools? Are your own children looking forward to following in your footsteps? Or are they contemplating the possibility of joining the ranks of the poor, in an effort to achieve the social and economic justice everyone is entitled to? We will see what we will see as we continue to live off the scraps of corporate capitalism.

(Emphasis Mine) Read the Whole Thing

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On Privilege and What We Can do About It

Came across this excellent post today: "Check my What? On Privilege and What We Can do About It. Some tips on going from pro-equality in spirit to pro-equality in deed".

A really good explanation of what privilege means, with some concrete suggestions of how to deal with it. Tells us to accept the fact that privilege exists, learn to listen so we can understand what our privilege means, and then gives tips on how to communicate (including some tips on respectful language, and dealing with minority spaces). One of the most important specifics is, I think, is the advice to recognize "it's not about you". Basically anyone who has any sort of privilege oughtta read it: men, white people, heteros, rich people, etc.

It seems to be an opportune time to post about this, considering the conversations that have been raging in this corner of the blogosphere lately. More to come.

Read the whole thing.

Also recommended for a good primer on some of the effects of privilege vs. discrimination: The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the US Racial Wealth Divide, previously blogged about here.

UPDATE: Check out Classified: How to Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use it for Social Change. You can even download a whole copy here.

Janusz Korczak on Parenting: Inspiring!

I heard this on NPR (listen here) and was touched by this brave and loving man's story.
Janusz Korczak was a Jew born in 1878 in Warsaw. He went on to become a physician and one of Poland's most famous writers — not only of parenting guides, but of children's books, too.

A new book, Loving Every Child, compiles Korczak's writings, some of which were originally published in the 1920s.

Korczak was also the director of two orphanages. After the Nazis took control of Poland in September 1939, he received offers of refuge but refused to leave his young charges, who were forced into a Jewish ghetto. And when those 200 or so children were rounded up for deportation to the Treblinka concentration camp, Korczak famously accompanied them in a dignified march to the train station. Most of them, including Korczak, perished in Treblinka.

Sad, and beautiful story. I love, though, the descriptions of his orphanages... He asked the children what they would like in a home, and proceeded to create just that. He recommends acceptance and love for children as they are, rather than so much concern for who they will someday be. Advice that was well before its time.

More on Janusz Korczak.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Reality of People in Gaza: Could You Live Like This?

Via Window into Palestine:

One thing this video shows particularly well is the psychological implications for Palestinian children.

Aside from the violence, and the restrictions on movement, the sanctions on the Palestinians are also extremely oppressive. They get sick from dirty water and there's no medicine to make them better. Rates of malnutrition are increasing. People in Gaza can't even fish anymore, which means about a third of their meager dietary protein is now gone. It is truly a humanitarian crisis.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

URGENT UPDATE RE: KEVIN (Canadian child in Texas prison)

Just received from Verbena-19:

People of Canada, my fellow bloggers:

In light of new information that I’ve just received, I beseech you to contact our Canadian Immigration Minister Diane Finley by phone/fax/letter/email ASAP! A little boy’s health is quickly deteriorating and his life may be at stake!

As of Friday night, Kevin is still awaiting news from the Canadian Government as he waits in his cell in Texas.

Please read the information below and ACT NOW!!


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Blog Against Sexism Day

Whew there have been a LOT of people Blogging Against Sexism Today.

Just a few notable posts:

  • Kate Sheppardreminds us how women's issues are deeply connected with environmental issues
  • Kuri has some interesting observations about power/authority/hyper-masculinity
  • A Liberal in DC notes Canada still has a long way to go in terms of gender parity in politics
  • All About Pamusement has an excellent post on the hypocrisy of the Harper government towards women
  • Sand Gets in my Eyes on women's struggles in Saudi Arabia (where she is currently living)
  • Brit Bravo blogs about CodePink - women against the war
  • tigtog offers up examples of some of the more insidious forms of sexism
  • The Road to Surfdom shows us a particularly nauseating example of sexism
  • Thinking Girl offers a thoughtful (and sad... and true...) post about the challenges facing women.
  • Polly Jones gives us the answer to all our childcare problems

Men blogging against sexism today:

And since we are blogging against sexism, I thought it appropriate to list some Women Bloggers I like, in no particular order:

Recently discovered blogs with women authors:

(There's lots, and many are indeed Canadian, despite Kinsella's "memo to Canada: WE NEED MORE SMART FEMALE BLOGGERS NOW!")

Lastly, don't forget to read The 33rd Carnival of Feminists

p.s. if I got anyone's gender wrong, please let me know in the comments. After all it is notoriously difficult to be sure about anything on the Internet

  • April Reign covers the death of Doris Anderson
  • Idealist Pragmatist offers up a video of Stephen Lewis on women's rights
  • Inside the Box: women of inspiration
  • An Arab Woman Blues brings us a message from "liberated Iraq"
  • Afghan Lord marks International Women’s Day by describing the suffering of Afghanistan’s women.
  • The Cylinder blogs about IWD in Palestine
  • Hope and Onions has an amazing "30 stories from 30 places, in order to demonstrate the breadth of women's experiences around the world". This will take some time to read, but is well worth it.

Solidarity With All the World's Women

As a fairly privileged woman living in Canada, I think today (March 8th, International Women's Day) I'd like to express my solidarity for all the world's women. There's such a vast range of different experiences; many women are fighting battles I've been fortunate enough not to have to fight. Despite our differences, we still have our shared womanhood in common.

North America
Here in North America, we are defending against the loss of the liberties we fought so hard for. "Feminist" has been rebranded as a dirty word. The right of a woman to choose when and if to have children is constantly under attack. Violence against women, and women's poverty are still urgent issues. In Canada, essential women's programs are being cut. Our aboriginal women face special risks.

The current state of women in Iraq is covered in a recent report by MADRE: Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq. (Listen/watch more at Democracy Now):
A groundbreaking report on the incidence, causes, and legalization of gender-based violence in Iraq since the US-led invasion. Amidst the chaos and violence of US-occupied Iraq, women — in particular those who are perceived to pose a challenge to the political project of their attackers — have increasingly been targeted because they are women. Today, they are subjected to unprecedented levels of assault in the public sphere, "honor killings," torture in detention, and other forms of gender-based violence.

Because my country is one of the current occupiers, Afghanistan has particular importance to me. The women of Afghanistan are in a grave situation, with some of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, on top of decades of war and extreme oppression. The courageous feminists at RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) are incredibly inspiring, working for peace, freedom, and democracy. Their projects include womens' literacy, orphanages, education, human rights, health care, and more. (Canadians Support Afghan women)

The diversity of Africa makes it tough to write anything short, but a few of the issues women there are facing include poverty, violence (also sexual violence), AIDS, and slavery. Let them tell it in their own words: Read some African women's blogs.

This year, women marking International Women's Day were beaten and arrested. Despite the ongoing oppression of women in Iran, there is a strong and vibrant Iranian women's movement fighting for their rights, on their terms.

The truth is, there's not enough to room to write everything I want to say to express my solidarity with my brave and beautiful sisters all over the world.

So check out Amnesty International, CBC, Labourstart, and InterPress Service for much much more.

(Last Year's Post)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the US Racial Wealth Divide

For every dollar in assets possessed by the average white family in the United States, the average family of color has less than a dime. This event asks why the distribution of wealth in our nation is so uneven; whether public policy, even when well intentioned, reinforces existing inequalities; and whether or not race and ethnicity continue to play a pivotal role in defining the haves and have-nots in our society.

Meizhu Lui, executive director, UFE
Betsy Leondar-Wright, communications director, UFE
Michelle Cromwell, professor, social systems, Pine Manor

Listen Here - Free streaming audio or mp3 download, approx 1h 25m.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Joy of Giving: An Alternative Economic Theory

Mauss' conclusions were startling. First of all, almost everything that "economic science" had to say on the subject of economic history turned out to be entirely untrue. The universal assumption of free market enthusiasts, then as now, was that what essentially drives human beings is a desire to maximize their pleasures, comforts and material possessions (their "utility"), and that all significant human interactions can thus be analyzed in market terms. In the beginning, goes the official version, there was barter. People were forced to get what they wanted by directly trading one thing for another. Since this was inconvenient, they eventually invented money as a universal medium of exchange. The invention of further technologies of exchange (credit, banking, stock exchanges) was simply a logical extension.

The problem was, as Mauss was quick to note, there is no reason to believe a society based on barter has ever existed. Instead, what anthropologists were discovering were societies where economic life was based on utterly different principles, and most objects moved back and forth as gifts – and almost everything we would call "economic" behavior was based on a pretense of pure generosity and a refusal to calculate exactly who had given what to whom. Such "gift economies" could on occasion become highly competitive, but when they did it was in exactly the opposite way from our own: Instead of vying to see who could accumulate the most, the winners were the ones who managed to give the most away. In some notorious cases, such as the Kwakiutl of British Columbia, this could lead to dramatic contests of liberality, where ambitious chiefs would try to outdo one another by distributing thousands of silver bracelets, Hudson Bay blankets or Singer sewing machines, and even by destroying wealth – sinking famous heirlooms in the ocean, or setting huge piles of wealth on fire and daring their rivals to do the same.

All of this may seem very exotic. But as Mauss also asked: How alien is it, really? Is there not something odd about the very idea of gift-giving, even in our own society? Why is it that, when one receives a gift from a friend (a drink, a dinner invitation, a compliment), one feels somehow obliged to reciprocate in kind? Why is it that a recipient of generosity often somehow feels reduced if he or she cannot? Are these not examples of universal human feelings, which are somehow discounted in our own society – but in others were the very basis of the economic system? And is it not the existence of these very different impulses and moral standards, even in a capitalist system such as our own, that is the real basis for the appeal of alternative visions and socialist policies? Mauss certainly felt so.

In a lot of ways Mauss' analysis bore a marked resemblance to Marxist theories about alienation and reification being developed by figures like György Lukács around the same time. In gift economies, Mauss argued, exchanges do not have the impersonal qualities of the capitalist marketplace: In fact, even when objects of great value change hands, what really matters is the relations between the people; exchange is about creating friendships, or working out rivalries, or obligations, and only incidentally about moving around valuable goods. As a result everything becomes personally charged, even property: In gift economies, the most famous objects of wealth - heirloom necklaces, weapons, feather cloaks – always seem to develop personalities of their own.

In a market economy it's exactly the other way around. Transactions are seen simply as ways of getting one's hands on useful things; the personal qualities of buyer and seller should ideally be completely irrelevant. As a consequence everything, even people, start being treated as if they were things too. (Consider in this light the expression "goods and services.") The main difference with Marxism, however, is that while Marxists of his day still insisted on a bottom-line economic determinism, Mauss held that in past market-less societies – and by implication, in any truly humane future one – "the economy," in the sense of an autonomous domain of action concerned solely with the creation and distribution of wealth, and which proceeded by its own, impersonal logic, would not even exist.

Mauss was never entirely sure what his practical conclusions were. The Russian experience convinced him that buying and selling could not simply be eliminated in a modern society, at least "in the foreseeable future," but a market ethos could. Work could be co-operatized, effective social security guaranteed and, gradually, a new ethos created whereby the only possible excuse for accumulating wealth was the ability to give it all away. The result: a society whose highest values would be "the joy of giving in public, the delight in generous artistic expenditure, the pleasure of hospitality in the public or private feast."

The whole article, Via Porcupine Blog

Psychological Torture as bad as Physical Torture

Archives of General Psychiatry (vol 64, p 277):
...the findings challenge the common perception that psychological torture is less distressing than physical torture. "Implicit in this distinction is a difference in the distressing nature of the events. The evidence takes issue with that," he says. "And since psychological torture is as bad as physical torture, we shouldn’t use it." (New Scientist)

All I can say is: "duh". How can anyone think mock execution, starvation, or rape threats are ok?

The US psychological torture system is finally on trial.

To understand the effects of trauma, I recommend Judith Lewis Herman's Trauma and Recovery.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Afghan Women: Used by the Taliban, Used by Us

It drives me crazy when women's rights are used as an excuse for the occupation of Afghanistan. Well, I suppose widowing a woman is one way of liberating her: liberating her from her husband, provider, security, and very possibly from love ...

Yes, it bothers me that women under the Taliban were so oppressed. But somehow I have a hard time believing that the best thing for them is killing those women, their sons and daughters, their brothers and husbands. Liberating women by waging war is like curing a paper cut by cutting off the finger.

War is so horrific, and it has a particular set of special consequences that are visited upon women.
The harm, silence and shame women experience in war is pervasive; their redress, almost non-existent. The situation of women in armed conflict has been systematically neglected.
Along with the deepening violence women experience during war, the long-term effects of conflict and militarization create a culture of violence that renders women especially vulnerable after war. Institutions of governance and law are weakened and social fragmentation is pronounced. Until the state's security and legal infrastructure are rebuilt, women's security is threatened inside and outside of the home, where they are subject to the rule of aggression rather than the rule of law. (Unifem PDF)

The display of concern for women's rights by the White House, and by our own government is cynical and insincere. This is painfully obvious because they do everything they can to set back the women's movement at home. But they have no problem USING the women of Afghanistan when it serves their purpose.

When it comes to equality for women, Stephen Harper is all for it — as long as the women are in Afghanistan.

Last May, the Prime Minister told Parliament that ensuring equality rights for women was one of the key reasons Canada is waging war in Afghanistan.

Certainly Harper's claims of championing the rights of burqa-clad women have helped him sell that unpopular war to Canadians. (

The women of Afghanistan have suffered through decades of war and occupation, the incredible oppression under the Taliban, and now more years of war and occupation by us. An increasing number are turning to suicide because they see no other options. Again and again they are used.

The Taliban used the "women's question" to enforce its own agenda. The imperialist occupation forces have also used the agenda of gender equality to ultimately pursue their own interests: the occupation of Afghanistan for strategic geo-political reasons. (RAWA)

To support women in Afghanistan means recognizing their real needs: short term and long term. Ideally, we'd ask them what they want instead of imposing it. My guess is they need peace first. They also need a rebuilt infrastructure and economy, and support for the courageous women and their indigenous women's movements.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Keep Up the Pressure - Bring Kevin Home

Broadcast on Democracy Now, tirelessly followed up by AnneMarie and others, the story of Kevin, the 9 year old Canadian boy in an American immigration jail has now been taken up in some mainstream media outlets such as the Globe and Mail.

Apparently it is not yet enough. Peter Mackay, who is now aware of the issue, recently said:
"We've taken the opportunity to review how we can be of assistance to him but there have been no decisions taken as of yet," [Mackay] said.
Ultimately, it will be up to Citizenship and Immigration whether they're admitted to Canada, said MacKay, adding that he's been told the family won't be deported to Iran until "we have an opportunity to assess all the various options."
"This is in many ways a personal decision that the family have yet to make," said MacKay.

The family made the decision a long time ago. They want to live in Canada. Kevin was born here, this is his home. His parents, denied status, were tortured in Iran. They are only in the US by accident. Truly they have done nothing wrong. They have harmed no one. They just want a home in Canada where they can be safe and build a life for their son. Regardless of your agreement with that, their 9 year old son has most definitely committed no crime. He just wants to go home.

The Canadian government should be ashamed of themselves. Keep up the pressure. Write Peter MacKay. Write your MP. Keep blogging, keep writing the newspapers. Check in for updates.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Problem with Bill Gates' Philanthropy in Africa...

...Is that it appears to help, but in the end does more damage.
Bill Gates, the world's richest man, on Friday delivered a snub to the ethical investment movement by saying his foundation should concentrate on grant giving, rather than judging the social impact of businesses in which it invests. (FT)

Now Gates is investing in a project called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which seeks to fix the problem of hunger by promoting high tech farming.
But promoting technological solutions that have done so much damage (like GM Crops) is simply irresponsible. Besides, there is a an abundance of food in the world, it is just distributed unfairly. Things like unfair trade policies and subsidies are a huge part of the problem. Monocultures and environmental degradation in vulnerable regions is another.
From Stuffed and Starved via zmag
The Gates solution ends up exacerbating the problems facing the poor, shoring up institutions and companies that scalp poor farmers. And then they offer a band-aid, one that helps the wound go septic.

Philanthropy isn't meant to be like sausage-manufacturing - yet every step of the way in the Gates plan for Africa, from endowment investment to the agricultural spend, induces nausea. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Microsoft's chief software architect has spent a career developing technological patches, and then patches for those patches, and so on. If one were uncharitable, we might see the Foundation itself as a patch for his falling personal stock in the 1990s. It does rather seem that Gates' generosity is charity in its worst form, a mode of self-aggrandizement. Such is the narrow vista, and greatest tragedy, of the world's richest man. (The Rest)

There is a major flaw in the Gates vision; the solution to major third world problems like hunger is not charity - it is justice. Imagine the benefits if Gates put his considerable money and influence behind programs for justice instead of these controlling, damaging acts of "charity".

Why We Must Struggle Against All Forms of Oppression

A comment posted by brownfemipower on her own blog entry: Denying people food is a Male Thing.

ONe of the incidences that I had the pleasure (not) of participating in with a white feminist involved her showing me pics of an Afghani woman who had twin children, one boy and one girl, and she feed the boy breast milk and the girl watered down formula. She didn't think that she had enough milk to feed two kids, so she gave the girl formula–and of course, she’s freaking poverty stricken and can't come up with enough water to make the formula–and of course, when you're starving, what do you do, but portion out and restrict the food you do have? So anyway, the girl wound up dying.

The white feminist I was talking to was positive that this horrific thing happened because Afghani culture values men. Well, it's true that in a patriarchal culture, men are valued. But when you are a single afghani mother who can't forage for food on your own and you’re starving to death isn't there also a very real legitimate reason that you value male life? Do we really think that a well off Afghani woman in Canada that has plenty of food is going to starve her daughter to death and lavish breast milk on a son?

Desperation *creates* and/or *reinforces* gender imbalances–many times, those gender imbalances didn’t exist prior to the introduction of "desperation". Look in Iraq, for example–women are now confined to their houses in ways that they weren’t under saddamn. Is a little girl that requires food but can do nothing to help *get* the food really going to be valued?

and then, really, in the case of this woman, it really pissed me off that this white woman was decrying the sexism, but NOT the fact that a mother has to water down formula to make it last longer or deny her child all together because she simply doesn't have water. Those conditions of extreme horrific poverty were created BY US and the USSR. Do we have no responsibility at ALL in that child's death?

I think this anecdote illustrates nicely the connection between patriarchy and economic injustice. All forms of domination and oppression are connected, and ALL have to be struggled against. That is why Condoleeza Rice represents nothing for our struggles: as a black woman she has been invited into the "other side" of the racist, patriarchal, classist divide. That does not eliminate the divide. Frustrating: white wealthy women (who can choose to be stay-at-home moms because of their priviledged social position) and support right-wing parties and say feminism is dead. Grrrr...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Media Face Off: China's Stock Market vs. Migrant Workers in the News

China migrant 'underclass' emerging
According to Amnesty International "China's millions of migrant workers are denied access to healthcare, education and good working conditions and are fast becoming an 'urban underclass'".

But all we hear about is the freakin' stock market crash. Search for China Stock Market in Google News today, and you get over ten thousand results:

Now, search for china migrant workers. Under 600 results.

It's even worse if you search for china underclass: 107 results.

Just a simple example of how capital gets far more coverage than labour. china business gets 32,766 results today while china labour gets 1,710.

Ever notice there's a business section in all newspapers, but no labour section? This makes no sense when you think about the proportion of people who work for wage or salary, compared to those who own a business or live off of investments. Somehow the interests of capital and those who own it have become paramount, overshadowing the interests of everyone else.