Stripping down to the basics

nanaimo sunset

Nanaimo sunset

The weight has lifted

As we settle into our new—albeit temporary—life on Vancouver Island, many encumbrances melt away.

We’re renting our home, so we don’t worry when the air conditioner fails and we don’t even take out the rubbish—our comforts are woven into our housing agreement.

We get very little mail: newspaper subscriptions and most of our magazines have been converted to online channels, except for the beloved New Yorker and Economist which have now arrived in paper form.

My e-mail correspondence has been reduced to a trickle and I have yet to hear from anyone at my new campus after work and on weekends.

Seems my Canadian counterparts are better at separating work-life from home-life than my American colleagues—including me.

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May I have your permission to land?

eagle

Eagles and whales greet visitors to Departure Bay

When visitors arrive in Nanaimo in their canoes, they ask permission to land.

We learned this traipsing through Departure Bay, the waterfront of our new and temporary digs on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

We found a carving that faces the inlet.

Two eagles, and two whales, greet visitors arriving in the Bay: a huge wooden portal created from red cedar by local carvers.

According to the plaque, the Snuneynmuxw First Nation (I am told the pronunciation is Snoo-NAI-muk or Snuh-NAY-mow) and the city worked together to install the display.

The plaque says the eagles represent strength and wisdom, and they protect the land. The whales represent good luck and guide visitors to safe harbor.

We asked permission to land.

We arrived safely in Nanaimo after a brief delay at the border to get my permits sorted so I could work on my research through the end of 2019.

The staff at Vancouver Island University have taken me under wing, providing me a coveted working space, and pointing out the koi pond and favorite walking trails.

Our home host hails from Oman via Shiraz, so I practice my pigeon Persian on him.

In exchange, he brings us homemade hummus and dried mulberries, which my pal Alistair calls Toot-e-khoshk.

Tonight I will make Persian chicken.

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20 August 2019

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Revenant Redux

mouse

If you saw the film, The Revenant, you know the character is mauled by a bear and left for dead.

And then returns.

The word revenant comes from the French, for return: I will return–je reviens.

In my case, the mouse has returned.

La souris est revenue.

I found evidence this morning.

A tiny bottle of face oil had been unscrewed and left on the fuzzy mat underneath the bathroom sink.

The bottle is so tiny it could pass as a milk container in a small house that belongs to a wee doll. A doll’s doll.

Just a few drops of oil fill the bottle, which is a freebie given to folks like me who buy face products.

This morning I found the open bottle on its side, next to its lid, along with three itty-bitty mouse droppings—the size of miniature black rice—on the fuzzy mat at 5 a.m.

There’s a mouse in the house.

Not only had the mouse gotten into my lotions and oils: she pawed at the toilet paper, leaving a trail of fluff in her wake.

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When News is Like Magic

granny

What you don’t see can hurt you

James Tankard, one of journalism’s key scholars, talks about news reporting as a “magician’s sleight of hand.”

Tankard means that we muggles pay attention to the rabbit and the high-top hat, while oblivious to the gloved hand we cannot see.

Like Tankard, I study how news framing can obscure the core issues of a topic—let’s take the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests as an example—by replacing them with hype and rhetoric.

The hype looks like, feels like and reads like click-bait.

And by click-bait I mean the most tantalizing bits of a story that hardly skim the surface.

In the case of DAPL, attention is drawn to the brutes blasting water, rubber bullets, stun grenades and attack dogs on unarmed protestors.

Researchers who study news coverage of the pipeline say attention peaked in November 2016 when powerful fire-hoses soaked water protectors in freezing weather for six hours, injuring 300 and hospitalizing 26.

Reporters focus their lenses on the cruel treatment of folks defending their health and civil rights but fail to look beyond the immediate drama to expose the rotten core.

Despite the protests, the pipeline—which runs through four U.S. states—was completed with little fanfare after the incoming administration took the reins in 2018 and shredded President Barack Obama’s official decree that would halt the construction.

Today the pipeline flows at the rate of 570,000 barrels each day, with a market price of $59.58 per gallon: that’s just short of $40 million per day.

Imagine trying to thwart a venture that rakes in $40 million each day.

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When Censors Take On Indigenous America

gwhs-mural-1

The school board in San Francisco voted to paint over the mural

The Case of the San Francisco Mural

Should we censor art when it offends our sensibilities?

The Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati made headlines in 1990 when it displayed photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe: images of human nudes and acts of sadomasochism.

The images proved a flashpoint for opinions on obscenity, homosexuality, erotica, pornography and—of course—art.

The Museum was sued on obscenity charges, and won the case, despite enthusiastic pressure from a citizen protest group led by a conservative North Carolina Senator: Jesse Helms.

Today’s New York Times carries an opinion piece about an artwork that derides settler expansion of the Indigenous United States.

A mural painted with funds from the WPA—Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration—shows George Washington, along with a trio of Founding Fathers, pointing toward a lush landscape where armed settlers are headed—and who step over the body of an Indian.

Painted in 1935 by Victor Arnautoff, a Russian-American with an impressive portfolio, the mural expresses the artist’s duty as a “critic of society,” “according to the artist.

This week the San Francisco Board of Education voted to paint over the mural at a high school in the Richmond District named, appropriately, George Washington High.

From my perspective, painting over the mural turns a blind eye on the history of settlers who considered native peoples hindrances in their pursuit of uninhibited freedoms.

In his book, Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond says that 90 percent of Native Americans perished once settlers arrived.

While the mural may offend someone’s sensibilities, it reminds us that the pages in history when American Indians suffered at the hands of folks in authority remains today.

The best contemporary evidence is the choice of vocal citizens, a government, and an energy corporation to divert an oil pipeline away from the settler city of Bismarck, North Dakota, and reroute it a half-mile from an Indian reservation and under its water supply.

Yes: we need a reminder that American Indians continue to live in dreadful conditions ignored by mainstream America.

And the problems won’t be solved by a coat of paint.

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29 June 2019

Mural by Victor Arnautoff (1935) from a photo downloaded from KQED and credited to the George Washington High School Alumni Association

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Two-Eyed Seeing

Inviting Natives to the Table

caribou

One of the world’s leading scientific journals devotes space to Native Science this week.

The article in Science begins with the cry, “Don’t shoot the leaders.”

The entreaty comes from aboriginal hunters of North America who learned to avoid killing caribou that lead migratory packs.

Without their trailblazers, the pack would get lost.

Native, aboriginal and indigenous knowledge systems often get short shrift from mainstream scientific communities.

But native know-how, gleaned from centuries of experience, often proves the most credible way of navigating daily life.

The Science article, called “Two-eyed Seeing,” encourages mainstream scientists to work collaboratively with indigenous peoples when problem-solving, particularly in the areas of health, risk and the environment.

The idea of two-eyed seeing emerges from the Mi’kmaq principle called Etuaptmumk.

Albert Marshall, an elder of the Mi’kmaq community, says the term means learning to see with two eyes: one from traditional knowledges, and one from Western ways of knowing.

Because indigenous knowledges emerge from a certain place or location, aboriginals are best-equipped to understand when local fish populations diminish and why certain plant species thrive.

The article reaches out to mainstream scientists to invite native knowledge-keepers to the decision-making table.

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24 June 2019

Caribou illustration by John Woodhouse Audubon (1812-1862). Original from the New York Public Library. Digital image by rawpixel (copyright free)

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Save the ship

queeg

… Not the captain

A columnist recently made a brilliant reference that only a cinephile would know.

Paul Krugman writes:

I gotta say, it was very clever of Nancy Pelosi to steal Donald Trump’s strawberries, pushing him over the edge into self-evident lunacy.

I got the reference only because—like many of my college brethren of the 1970s—we watched our fill of Humphrey Bogart films.

The strawberry incident marks Captain Queeg’s obsession with fruit that went missing on his battleship, The Caine.

The 1954 film—from the Herman Wouk novel that earned a Pulitzer Prize—features Bogart, who plays the hapless captain where the crew mutinies.

The Caine Mutiny reveals, ever slow slowly, the captain is losing his marbles.

Literally.

Throughout the film Bogart illuminates the metaphor by fondling marbles like a taxi driver in Cairo fondles worry beads.

Bit by bit, the captain’s sanity unravels.

Like any narrative worth its salt, the movie builds to a courtroom climax where the captain becomes unmoored.

Krugman’s metaphor is an apt one: we have a lunatic commanding our ship of state who’s afraid his strawberries are being pilfered.

The Caine’s crew courageously wrests control.

Sentient, thoughtful and moral warriors reject the captain’s shenanigans and impeach his sanity by declaring a mutiny.

But unlike the film, our country’s crew stokes the captain’s madness.

As I write this, I hope for warriors who have the guts to confront the lunatic with the tools at hand and strip him of command.

Save our ship and get rid of the madman.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlV3oQ3pLA0

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29 May 2019

#thecainemutiny

#hermanwouk

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#littletheories

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