Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blinky's got competition

No longer can Blinky claim to be the most famous mutant fish. At least not in Alberta.

Mutated fish alarms delegates at northern Alberta water gathering
Days before a conference on water quality began in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., last week, residents say a strange fish with two mouths was found at the nearby lake.

The deformed fish, which residents say children had caught off the dock at Lake Athabasca, has since been turned over to park wardens at Wood Buffalo National Park. Some residents, including officials from the Mikisew Cree First Nation, took photographs of the fish over the weekend.

It was found just days before the Keepers of the Water conference began Friday in Fort Chipewyan. The conference wrapped up on Sunday.

The event brought together western and northern Canadian aboriginal leaders and environmental activists, all of whom expressed concern with the quality of water in the Athabasca River, downstream from oilsands development in Fort McMurray.

"It's already mutating the animals, the pollution that they're causing. We need to do something quickly," Shaylene Wiley, a 16-year-old Mikisew Cree delegate, told CBC News during the weekend gathering.

"It's scary when you think about it," delegate Lionel Lepine added.

"For me, personally, it does piss me off, you know, knowing that it's not under my control right now. It's the Government of Canada that has the control over it; they have monopoly over our land. But industry … somehow they got the licence to pollute."

Said one commenter: 'That's one political fish! One blind eye to ignore the reality of the tar sands and two mouths to talk like politicians from Alberta when they defend the oil industry.' --HuntingTheSnark

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pray At The Pump movement brings down our gas prices

Praise be to Market Forces Rocky Twyman and his homedude, God. The Pray at the Pump movement, previously blogged about here, is taking credit for the recent drop in oil prices.

I'm not making this up.
[Twymans's] first pilgrimage to the pump was prompted by fellow volunteers at the First Seventh Day Adventist Church in Petworth, a working-class neighbourhood of the US capital, who were struggling with higher gasoline prices.

He led them down the block to the local Shell gas station to pray. And over the months since then, he has held similar prayer meetings at pumps all over the US.

Prayer warriors

"We were down in Huntsville, Alabama. We finished praying," Mr Twyman said. "Immediately the owners came out and changed the gas prices. They brought it down. We had marvellous success down in St Louis, Missouri."

Still, they don't believe in prayer without action and have been advocating a change in driving behaviour: "So we've encouraged people to car-pool more and organise their days more, because it's a combination of faith with these other factors."

Saturday, August 09, 2008

If Orwell Were a Blogger

Today I saw the first post of the Orwell Diaries (in which he catches a snake). Originally written August 9, 1938, now published in blog format. Keep an eye on the blog, as each of his entries is published exactly 70 years later. The idea is to get an impression of the man behind the words.
What impression of Orwell will emerge? From his domestic diaries (which start on 9th August), it may be a largely unknown Orwell, whose great curiosity is focused on plants, animals, woodwork, and – above all – how many eggs his chickens have laid. From his political diaries (from 7th September), it may be the Orwell whose political observations and critical thinking have enthralled and inspired generations since his death in 1950. Whether writing about the Spanish Civil War or sloe gin, geraniums or Germany, Orwell's perceptive eye and rebellion against the 'gramophone mind' he so despised are obvious.

Orwell wrote of what he saw in Dickens: 'He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.'


Friday, August 08, 2008

The Inside and Outside of Bodies and Transgression of Boundaries

I'm reading a really interesting book right now by Robyn Longhurst, called Bodies: Exploring Fluid Boundaries. She is attempting to embody geography, to bring material bodies into academic discourse, and she makes some very interesting points. So I thought I would like to share a few cool quotes.

First, on "managerial bodies in public space", she writes:
I argue, first, that highly tailored, dark-coloured (often black, dark grey or navy) business suits function to seal the bodies of (men and women) managers. Firm, straight lines and starched creases give the appearance of a body that is impervious to outside penetration. They also give the appearance of a body that is impervious to the dangers and threats of matter from inside the body making its way to the outside. It is considered inappropriate for matter to make its way from the inside to the outside of bodies (for example, farting, burping, urinating, spitting, dribbling, sneezing, coughing, having a ‘runny nose’, crying, and sweating) in most inner city workplaces. This suited, professional, respectable body, however, can never be guaranteed. Like all bodies it is continually monitored and disciplined but inevitably proves itself to be insecure.

It made me wonder, why are we disgusted and/or embarrassed and/or frightened by the transgression of things on the inside of our bodies appearing on the outside? For instance, blood:

An advertisement for sanitary napkins (pads)... showed blue liquid being poured on and seeping into the pad. The aim seemed to be to demonstrate the pad's absorbency... Although the pad is designed to absorb menstrual blood (various shades of red) the advertisers choose to use a blue liquid to illustrate the product's absorbency capacity.
If advertisers were to use red fluid to represent blood they might invoke in viewers and potential customers feelings of dirtiness, disgust and even death that would dissuade them from purchasing the product. Clear blue liquid, on the other hand, is often associated with purity and cleanliness. There are potential links with running water, the colossal cleaning capacity of the ocean, blue granules in cleaning products and laundry powers, and blue rinses (both for clothes and for (often wealthy) elderly women’s greying hair). It is also inevitable that a connection may be made with the term ‘blue blood’. Blue blood refers to

that which flows in the veins of old and aristocratic families … who claimed never to have been contaminated by Moorish, Jewish, or other foreign admixture; the expression probably originated in the blueness of the veins of the people of fair complexion as compared with those of dark skin.(Compact Oxford English Dictionary 1991:147)

On all accounts blue blood seems to be preferred over and above red blood.

But of course, women leak red. This transgression of bodily boundaries relates also to pregnant women in public places. She says:

When pregnant women occupy the public spaces (of Rational Man) they are often represented as ‘matter out of place’ (Douglas 1966:35). Women are often thought to threaten and disrupt a social system that requires them to remain largely confined to private space during pregnancy. Pregnant women can be seen to occupy a borderline state that disturbs identity, system and order by not respecting borders, positions and rules. The pregnant body, it is thought, threatens to expel matter from inside – to seep and leak. The pregnant woman may vomit (morning sickness), cry (she is constructed as ‘overly’ emotional), need to urinate more frequently, produce colostrum which may leak from her breasts, have a ‘show’ appear, have her ‘waters break’, and sweat with the effort of carrying the extra weight of her body. Even more than these leakages, she ‘threatens’ to split her one self into two – another human being is about to cross the boundary of the ‘eroticised orifice’ – the vagina (Grosz 1990:88). The pregnant body is neither subject nor object but rather exemplifies the impossible, ambiguous and untenable identity of each. Consequently, the pregnant body is often constructed as abject. It is a body that is considered dangerous and to be feared. It is also considered to be a body that needs to be controlled.

There are many ways in which attempts are made to control pregnant bodies. First, the fetus is often treated as though it were a public concern. Pregnant women’s rights to bodily autonomy are considered to be questionable. Second, this leads to pregnant women’s stomachs being subject to public gaze and often touch. Their ‘bodily space’ is frequently invaded. Third, pregnant women tend to be constructed by lovers, husbands, partners, friends, family, strangers, health workers and themselves as being in a ‘condition’ in which they must take special care in order to protect the well-being of the fetus. Fourth, pregnant women are subject to dietary regimes in an attempt to control what enters their bodies.

This reminded me of a recent public lactation "incident", which you can read about here:
Dozens of nursing mothers crowded into a downtown Vancouver H&M clothing store over the lunch hour on Thursday to protest the way the chain treated a breastfeeding mother last weekend.

Manuela Valle said three store employees told her last week that H&M policy did not allow her to nurse her eight-week-old baby in the store because it might offend other customers, and ushered her to a backroom.

Breastfeeding advocates reacted by organizing a protest — dubbed a "nurse-in" — at the store on Thursday.

The comments are interesting. Aside from mostly supportive comments, there are the usual reactions to "women's issues", from disagreement ("I think this is getting to the point of ridiculous. Of course breastfeeding is natural. But I don't think its too much to ask to cover up while doing it.") to dismissive ("Lighten up folks, lighten up! There are so many far more serious issues that all of us, including nursing moms, need to focus our time and energies on that this issue pales by comparison.")

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Conserving Racism: The Greening of Hate at Home and Abroad

This is a very interesting piece:
Conserving Racism: The Greening of Hate at Home and Abroad

By Betsy Hartmann

The greening of hate - blaming environmental degradation on poor populations of color - is once again on the rise, both in the U.S. and overseas. In the U.S., its illogic runs like this: immigrants are the main cause of overpopulation, and overpopulation in turn causes urban sprawl, the destruction of wilderness, pollution, and so forth.

Internationally, it draws on narratives that blame expanding populations of peasants and herders for encroaching on pristine nature.
This is part of what is at play whenever people in the rich countries bemoan the high birth rates of many poor countries. Once again, those with the least power (poor women of colour from the global south, in particular) make a convenient scapegoat for all manner of problems that we do not want to take responsibility for. There's also a certain paternalistic bourgeois white supremacy when we see Them as the problem and Us as the solution to all the world's problems. We just have to figure out what to do about Them before They wreck our Nature.

For example, the rush to blame China and India for the high cost of gas, food prices, and global warming. See, China is closing in on the USA as the biggest fossil fuel consumer and greenhouse gas producer. Still, the average Chinese person has around 19% of the impact of the average American. Not to mention the emissions in China have little to do with people's individual lifestyles and much to do with industrial manufacturing... mostly of crap to be consumed by Americans, Canadians and members of other wealthy nations. Not that China is a saint, but I find it interesting how we love to blame them.

The article documents the involvement of some environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Conservation International (CI) with some pretty right wing campaigns. For example:
With USAID assistance, CI and the World Wildlife Fund are promoting a conservation campaign in the region focused on identifying illegal settlements -- often Zapatista communities -- which are then forcibly removed by the Mexican army. These efforts are complemented by the government's aggressive female sterilization campaign in the region. CI's close ties to bio-prospecting corporations raise questions of just who the forest is being preserved for.
She puts this in perspective:
Coercive conservation measures, of course, are nothing new. From colonial times onwards, wildlife conservation efforts have often involved the violent exclusion of local people from their land by game rangers drawn from the ranks of the police, military and prison guards. To legitimize this exclusion, government officials, conservation agencies and aid donors have frequently invoked narratives of expanding human populations destroying pristine landscapes, obscuring the role of resource extraction by state and corporate interests.
This is so true. For example, I was recently studying how in South Africa (but not only there!) the creation of national parks caused significant dispossession of indigenous peoples' land. The racialist ideas around pollution were often driving conservation movements.

Hartmann continues by outlining several myths that help to drive this coercive conservation: man versus nature, the wilderness ethic, the degradation narrative, and scarcity. For example, the myth of the romantic and nostalgic wilderness ethic:
The ways in which wilderness is constructed have a number of problematic outcomes. The ahistorical myth of wilderness as "virgin" land obscures the systematic forced migration and genocide of its original Native American inhabitants.

By locating nature in the far-off wild, it allows people to evade responsibility for environmental protection closer to their homes. And it is geographically parochial, blinding many Americans to the complex ways in which people relate to the land in other countries and cultures. Critiquing the wilderness ethic does not mean one is opposed to national parks and nature protection - rather, it calls for equitable and democratic processes to ensure local communities are not pushed off their lands and robbed of their livelihoods.
Also popular is the degradation narrative in which
...population pressure-induced poverty makes Third World peasants degrade their environments by over-farming marginal lands. The ensuing soil depletion and desertification then lead them to migrate elsewhere as "environmental refugees," either to ecologically vulnerable rural areas where the vicious cycle is once again set in motion or to cities where they become a primary source of political instability.
It blames poverty on population pressure, and not, for example, on lack of land reform or off-farm employment opportunities; it blames peasants for land degradation, obscuring the role of commercial agriculture and extractive industries; and it targets migration both as an environmental and security threat. It is a way of homogenizing all rural people in the Global South into one big destructive force, reinforcing simplistic Us vs. Them, West vs. the Rest dichotomies.
You should probably just go read the whole thing. H/T Lisa, commenting on Feministe

Saturday, August 02, 2008

NYPD Officer Assaults Cyclist during Critical Mass

This is nuts.

But wait, it gets worse. Initially the cylist was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer. The police officer said in an affidavit that the cyclist deliberately ran into him (though you can clearly see the cyclist trying to go around him). The cyclist was held in custody for 26 hours.

At least the cop's father is proud of him: "These people are taking over the streets and impeding the flow of traffic. Then you gotta do what you gotta do," he said, not having viewed the video.

I must say: hooray for citizen journalism!

Disclaimer: it is possible the cyclist did something else really really bad earlier and the cops were specifically looking for him. Like maybe he was a terrorist with a ticking time bomb. It better have been that bad because a hit like that could have killed the guy (helmetless onto pavement!)

More at Democracy Now, Gothamist and the NY Post