Monday, 20 July 2015

U.S., Cuba restore full diplomatic ties after 5 decades

I just heard the news on CBC Radio. The full story had this little sting in the tail.

"U.S. calls for Cuba to improve on human rights and democracy."

It seems to me to be chutzpah of the highest order for a country which spies on its own citizens - and just about everybody else - as a matter of course. Where people are shot dead by police with little or no reason or consequence. Which incarcerates a greater percentage of its citizens than almost anywhere else, many of whom are innocent of the crimes of which they are charged. Which denies due process on a regular basis to large numbers of people held for immigration control purposes. Which still executes large numbers of people - and many of those have been shown to be innocent too. Which has programmes that captures, holds for long periods, tortures and refuses to release people in secret prisons around the world, including one in Cuba that is maintained because that puts it beyond reach of the US courts. Where people can have their cash and property seized as possible proceeds of crime, which is then used to fund police forces and other state activities, where the only recourse is a civil court system which is hideously expensive and tilted heavily in the state's favour, due to the politicisation of judicial appointments. Which operates both prisons and juvenile detention as sources of cheap labour and high profit for private corporations. Which regularly and as a matter of course interferes with the electoral process both through gerrymandering and voter suppression up to and including the election of a President (George W Bush) illegally.  Where money is equated with speech so that capital now dictates the political process. Which operates unmanned drones to spy - and drop bombs - on people who have been deemed to be terrorists based on little or no evidence - and none of which is subject to any form of democratic control or review.

While full diplomatic ties have been restored, it will continue to be illegal for Americans to visit Cuba - or even do business there. Which I find encouraging, since that preserves a country that is worth visiting to see what a place untrammelled by unlimited capitalism looks like. Yes, I know about Castro's prisons - and the fun he had emptying them into Florida when given the chance. But I also know about Cuba's health care and education systems which, I venture to suggest, perform at a much higher standard at a far lower cost than their American counterparts. The Cubans have shown themselves to be both resilient and innovative thanks to the US embargo that prevented them from being swallowed by the multinational consumerism so evident in most other places. They have also been fortunate not to become the sort of client states we now see in Haiti - or Greece.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

"White men don't understand ..."

"White men don't understand what gender and race have to do with anything. They don't experience sexism or racism."

 The quotation is from a tweet - and the context is

“Sandra Bland died because of a traffic stop and my mentions are filled up with angry white men denying white privilege and patriarchy.”

So from this you know that the tweeters are female and American.

And the reaction that this provoked in me could not be compressed into 140 characters or less.

I am a white male. I am also 66 years old and have immigrated from England to Canada. I have not been the subject of racism - in the sense that these women would understand it - and not, of course, sexism. But that does not mean that I have not experienced prejudice. That I do not have first hand experience of people who have made a set of judgements about me - who I am and what I must be thinking -  based on the very little information others have from first impressions. That I have not been refused service, or attacked physically and verbally, or denied that to which I am clearly entitled. That people have not closed ranks in my presence and ignored or belittled me simply because of who they judge me to be.

Indeed I would be very surprised indeed if anyone had not experienced being excluded, exoricated and even persecuted based on accent, appearance or probable origin. Anyone who has attended any kind of educational establishment would have seen - even if they had not been a victim of - the creation of the scapegoat. The Other. An alien on whom all scorn and blame may be safely laid. The individual who can be used by exception to identify the group to which he (or she) clearly does not belong.

There are many white males who will have been treated badly due to their social position, accent, sexual preference, size - even hair colour. There are places where, if you have red hair, you can expect attacks - verbal and physical - if you are "a ginger". Northern Ireland for many years - and continues - to practice religious intolerance. You will be judged by your supposed adherence to Catholicism or Protestantism - or even worse if you are seen to be "a Brit" - the enemy!

The British have long made a fetish about class: often determined by accent - but there are other signs and signals. "The way an Englishman speaks makes every other Englishman despise him" (G B Shaw via Lerner and Loewe). I went to a university where only 25% of the students had previously attended state schools. Do you think the other 75% were universally well disposed to this minority?

I have experienced bullying since I was 5. I was surprised at the common reaction to "Lord of the Flies". I thought everybody knew how appallingly little boys treated each other. The surprise to me was the discovery that little girls in a Canadian suburban elementary school could be even worse. I expected their high school cliques to be bad: I did not expect such exclusionary instincts to kick in on the under 7 soccer field!

The British seem to create clubs just so that they can exclude some people. Many groups can only identify themselves by knowing who they are not. Canadian identity, for instance, is simply not being American. Yes, I was discriminated against as an immigrant. Yes, I experienced exclusion based on ethnicity. Yes, I have been the subject of class prejudice and anti-semitism.

And do not imagine that these things stop when you leave school, or university. Bullying is common in most workplaces. Preference is given to insiders. It is often said that it is not what you know but who you know. You will be passed over for promotion or the plum assignment based on your lack of knowledge of something as irrelevant as hockey or baseball. Clubs are as strong here as anywhere. The Masons or the Knights of this or that do not exist to promote charity or fellowship, but to determine who gets shut out based on gossip and innuendo.

From what I have observed, I would say that homophobia is as powerful as any racial or gender prejudice. That stammerers and those with developmental issues, educational challenges or mental illnesses, or even physical disabilities, all experience the same kind of exclusion and glass ceilings as women or people with darker skin tones.

And they can be white men and not experience the benefits of white privilege or patriarchy.

Some white men understand only too well - and the others continue to benefit from it.   That is why we all need systems - laws - practices - conventions - that protect everyone.

We hold these truths to be self evident. That all men (which means "all human beings") are created equal.
What is hard is making that belief a reality.


Sunday, 5 July 2015

Bard on the Beach: King Lear

Set of King Lear at Bard on the Beach

This production comes from Calgary - where it ran over last winter - and it is thus very polished. We had seen Lear fairly recently from the National Theatre Live, so I was quite surprised by how much emotional impact I felt last night. Perhaps that is just the magic of live theatre over an electronic screen. The cast of Bard is also much more familiar to me from other performances, and this production has perforce to double up a lot of the minor roles, which also did not seem to matter very much at all. The plot of Lear is, I imagine, familiar to most people. Lear is losing his faculties and fears madness. And in other performances the relationship with his fool seems closer and more affectionate. I found it odd that Lear kept referring to the Fool as "boy" when he was a man as old as himself - or should I have interpreted that as simply evidence of senility? He has two appalling daughters - harpies the pair of them - and these two even manage to look like sisters. They epitomise sibling rivalry. But then there is also the other plot of the perfidy of Gloucester's illegitimate son Edmund against his legitimate half brother Edgar - who also takes refuge in madness, or rather its superficial appearance. Easier to believe in this performance than Kent suddenly adopting a Scottish accent and a bonnet as an effective disguise. The horrors are indeed convincing, and the death of Cordelia moving. At the end of Lear most of the cast has been killed off. Tragedy indeed. And one that somehow survived unexpected fireworks being let off on the other side of the inlet at the denouement: I know it was the 4th of July but I thought that fireworks have been banned.

There were quite a few empty seats last night - which is a pity. Bard is well worth supporting. But at least you can be fairly sure of getting in even if you have not already booked. While you are on line now go and check availability.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Photo books

Since the end of 2010 I have been putting together hardback books of the photos I take on our major vacations. Initially I did this because my partner was then a bit averse to using her computer to look at Flickr. Later on she got an iPad - but even then she doesn't like reading books on it. For her birthday this year I bought her matching editions of the first two parts of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantell, something she already had as ebooks, but had not opened.

The process of making a "dead tree" book from a Flickr "album" (as they now term sets) ought to be easier than it is. They have integrated their system with HP's Snapfish. Initially I was less than pleased to find that I had to upload much better quality images than I usually shared. Frankly I found that one of the few effective ways to cut down outright theft of my pictures was to publish only low res versions. But to get good quality prints, you need the highest resolution you can manage. So everything then depends on the quality of the internet connection, and the amount of traffic on the Flickr site. They have never ever managed to keep up with growing traffic and are regularly knocked offline by sheer volume of use (not denial of service attacks).

The last book Snapfish made for me was of the Grand Canyon trip. The finished volume was of such poor quality that I complained and they refunded my purchase price.

London Drugs offers an online printing service, but for Mac users the software is hopeless. It simply cannot cope with the new Photos app. That is a shame since it would be more convenient to pick up a book from their store than go through the waiting for the FedEx delivery frustrations.

Photos has its own built in printing service linked to Apple's online store. As you might expect, it is very easy to use if you have a MacBook Pro. Just look for the Project tab in Photos. The first product arrived yesterday. The price was roughly the same as I had got used to paying for Snapfish, but the quality is outstanding. That may be due in part to the 16 megapixel images I now get from my PowerShot A1400. Most of the images had been uploaded to Flickr, but I used the originals from the hard drive. Uploading to Apple did not take nearly as long as I feared. The book comes with both an illustrated dust jacket and a slip cover. I used as few words as possible - as the typos that crept into earlier book drive me nuts now.

I recommend Apple as the printer to go to for Mac users.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Comedy of Errors: Bard on the Beach

Bard on the Beach Bard on the Beach has opened with previews of a new production of "The Comedy of Errors". I saw this play in July of 2009, but this is a wholly new production, directed by Scott Bellis and based on one he did for Studio 58. The style is Steampunk: "a subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery." (wikipedia)

The costumes rely heavily on sunglasses and goggles, which means you really do not notice when people are doubling up on roles. The plot is, of course, ridiculous. Two sets of identical twins, who get split up by a storm at sea, who then have the same names, but when one set goes in search of the other is surprised when people mistake them for someone else, but do not put 2 and 2 together. And of course the actors cannot be identical though the two Dromios in this production (males played by females) do look very similar. The way twinship is established is through costumes, which, of course we all accept. Ben Elliot and Jay Hindle are physically rather different but as they only appear together infrequently in entr'acts for much of the performance that really doesn't matter.

Excellent performances from all, and some well handled stage business plus imaginative design of both set and costumes and the time flies by. This is actually Shakespeare's shortest play and the only time I found my attention wandering was during some of Adriana's longer speeches. Sereana Malani is cast a shrewish wife, but her Antiphon gives her plenty of cause for complaint: being late for dinner is the least of it. There isn't much opportunity to play her any other way, which is a shame and could be changed, I think, to provide a bit more of a rounded character. Her costumes are astonishing but cannot carry the entire show. Lili Beaudoin has a small but memorable bit as The Courtesan - and an even better costume!

I have booked all four shows this year, carefully spaced out at one a month. Quite simply, I am a fan of Bard and will happily go to anything they put on. But even so I heartily recommend this production. You do not need to be a fan to enjoy the show.  

Thursday, 14 May 2015

NTLive "Man and Superman"

By doing a Twitter search on #NTLive it is clear that in some parts of North America this was a very good performance indeed. Sadly at the Scotiabank Theatre in Vancouver tonight we did not get to see much of it. A few minutes of the first scene and then about twenty minutes of the last act, and the curtain calls. Then we sat in the pitch dark, until finally someone got up and went to find a member of staff. The lights came on, but no-one from the theatre said anything. Two members of the audience said that we could get refunds at the box office. The line up actually blocked the escalators: fortunately people behind us saw what was happening and formed the queue on the stairs.

Eventually we were given replacement tickets for the Encore performance, which is actually a Saturday matinee next month. We could have had the equivalent value in vouchers for regular film shows if we had preferred.

As I said the last time I reviewed an NT Live show, we were warned not to expect perfection. The cinema staff were clearly overwhelmed, and not in control of the broadcast. Hopefully NT Live will pull their socks up and try to actually run the complete show they advertise in all time zones. I wonder how long they will keep the audience coming back if they get this kind of treatment again.

UPDATE June 13

It is not often, these days, that I duck into a cinema on a warm, sunny afternoon. But I did that today after a very early lunch to secure our seats for the encore performance of Man and Superman. And the NTLive broadcast was flawless. It is a very talky play - and everyone is expected to speak very quickly, presumably to cut back on the running time. The sequence in the middle, when the protagonists become Don Juan and his circle arguing in hell with the devil was left in (most productions cut it to save time) and it worked very well indeed. What did not work so well was shifting a bit of very early twentieth century social realism to the present day, while leaving most of the text unaltered, because most of the social issues are no longer relevant. No-one seriously expects a man to ask for his daughter's hand before he asks the girl herself. Unmarried sex and motherhood is commonplace, and so on. I also know no-one who undoes the cuff buttons on his jacket to flip up the cuff like on a shirt. Or is that a thing in London now? Not just a great performance by Fiennes but a good supporting cast too. Not that there is much point in me reporting any of this here, now unless NTLive does more reruns in the future. I hope that they do, because it does justify a wider audience.

Monday, 11 May 2015

What is wrong with flickr?

The last time flickr updated its User Interface many complained. Flickr did not listen, and quite a few of my contacts abandoned the site. Some of us moved to other sites like Ipernity that looked the same - but it is not the technical issues that make a site, it is the sense of community. And somehow Ipernity fails to do that for me, and I notice some of my contacts try to keep a presence in both camps.

Having just returned from a trip to New Orleans, I have over 300 pictures. Not all of them need to be uploaded - and anyway there is a lot to be done as each one goes on to the site. The image may need some tweaking: I do not make a great deal of use of enhancements but straight from the camera is frequently not optimal. Sharing means posting to groups: adding tags, geolocation among them. Not just the file number in the title but something meaningful and preferably some commentary below it.

So there is a process of selection and curation involved, not just uploading. flickr is also touting its new uploader app for Mac. But what does is scour my hard drive for every single image which is then put into the cloud as my "camera roll". That is so time consuming that I still have no real idea if I have the ability to restrict what it uploads after that "collection" process starts. What I have found is that there are already many images - which show up when in "date posted" mode - that I had never intended to be on flickr. They also get in the way when trying to find images to upload when using flickr's other uploaders - there are at least two distinct ways to do that on their webpage. At one time there was a good deal of integration between Apple's iPhotos and flickr: that seems to have been lost. Perhaps not such a bad thing as it had more than once caused me to lose images completely. Once deleted from flickr they were also gone from both my hard drive and the back up - no idea how that happened but flickr blamed my use of "too many apps using the API".

This morning - as yesterday - attempts to upload from Apple Photo app timed out. No matter how much or how little I tried to upload. In case the fault lay in my wifi connection I even tried it over a wire, with no change. I have also tried both flickr's current uploadr and the earlier one both still active through their web portal. No joy there either. The site itself is still functional in other respects, not just for the MacBook but also the tablets and the phone. Just the uploads are screwy.

When things went wrong with Shaw, Telus, Air Canada and United I was able to get some help by simply tweeting. That doesn't work with flickr either.