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.

AFTERWORD from Chuck Dunning on Facebook



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.