Monthly Archives: August 2008

Local via Ethiopia

From the Montreal Mirror:

Local via Ethiopia

Berhanu Wassihun offers up a taste of his home country, grown in Ontario

by DREW NELLES

When Berhanu Wassihun moved from Ethiopia to Canada in 1990, his agriculture degree didn’t help much in his job search, and he felt unfulfilled. “I started gardening, because I didn’t like the taste of the food,” Wassihun says. “Why didn’t it taste like it did back home? So I started growing carrots and potatoes, and the taste was exactly what I knew.”

Read the rest.

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Self-Determination for Some

From mediascout.ca:

Self-Determination for Some
August 28, 2008
by Drew Nelles

It’s buried deep beneath coverage of the US Democratic National Convention and federal election speculation here in Canada, but an idea that’s been gaining steam over the past weeks keeps surfacing: the “new Cold War,” as the Times of London story printed in today’s Citizen calls it. Growing tensions between the West and Russia came to a head this month when Georgia and its mighty neighbour clashed over the breakaway Georgian republic of South Ossetia. Today, tempers… Read more »

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Crashing the Party

From mediascout.ca:

Crashing the Party
August 26, 2008
by Drew Nelles

Leave it to the Democrats to somehow let their young, charismatic nominee slide into a dead heat with a Republican septuagenarian who isn’t sure how to use the Internet. This year’s US election was supposed to be a cakewalk for the Dems, but so were the 2000 and 2004 elections, and there’s nothing the party does better than self-destruction. As the Democratic National Convention kicked off yesterday, the Big Seven are all giddy at the prospect of the party’s implosion, and… Read more »

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Roadsworth, revisited

An article in the latest Walrus on the “renaissance of cute” in street art got me thinking about Roadsworth. Roadsworth used to spraypaint beautiful, unauthorized stencils around Montreal: owls perched on nothing but shadows, zippers peeling the streets apart, giant footprints. I have a love-hate relationship with street artists like Banksy, whose work is undeniably deft but excruciatingly unsubtle. There aren’t many ways to interpret an image of children digging a hole through the West Bank separation barrier.

Roadsworth is different. His work – some of which is still visible, albeit faded, around the city – blends in seamlessly with the concrete landscape. Most stencils build on something that was already there; a crosswalk or dotted lane line or lamppost shadow. His works are the organic outgrowths of the city’s mundane, everyday features. A devil, deep in thought, straddling the street; it doesn’t scream “political statement,” but it is. One man decided, on his own, to make the streets look a little nicer.

Roadsworth is more blunt about his art’s role than his actual art ever is. “Public space belongs to everybody, but who’s allowed to use it? It’s all about ownership and private property,” he once told the McGill Daily. “It’s the corporations that seem to have the biggest share of the public space, and I find a lot of the shit that goes up way more offensive than some kid who draws his name on a wall.”

He’s right, of course, but that doesn’t get you off the hook with the law. Roadsworth (aka Peter Gibson) was arrested in 2004, caught red-handed, more or less literally. He got off relatively lightly: at first, he faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and exile from Montreal, but after a public outcry he managed to get the punishment down to $250 and 40 hours of community service.

Roadsworth has been back, in various authorized forms, in the following years. Commissioned work in schoolyards might be a little less badass, but it’s no less beautiful. There’s a documentary about Roadsworth coming out, too. Of course, there’s more to street art than just protest – it can be an agent of gentrification and all that – but maybe that’s where Roadsworth’s community service and commissions come in. Beautifying the basketball court: there’s no better way to show the community you care.

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Is Holy Fuck the new Young People Fucking?

From mediascout.ca:

Opening Ceremonies, Open War
August 8, 2008
by Drew Nelles

Millennia ago, when the ancient Greeks started the Olympic tradition, various warring Greek states would set aside their arms and compete in the athletic arena. That tradition has fallen by the wayside, as the Beijing Olympics began today, and so did what seems very close to becoming a new all-out war. This morning, Russia joined the battle between Georgia and its breakaway South Ossetia region, rolling into the area in support of the rebels. Russia has already reportedly bombed a Georgian… Read more »

Again, an interesting item at the bottom:

TORIES VS. THE ARTS, TAKE TWO
The Post
and the Citizen front a deft scoop on the Conservative government’s plan to cancel a federal arts travel fund for ideological reasons. An anonymous official tells the Citizen’s David Adkin that the $4.7-million PromArt program, which covers selected travel costs for artists and speakers promoting Canadian culture abroad, will be axed because the cash “went to groups that would raise the eyebrows of any typical Canadian.” The official and a Conservative memo specifically cite the examples of Toronto experimental band Holy Fuck, prominent left-wing journalist Avi Lewis, and pop-rocker Tal Bachman, all of whom received grants. The memo describes Lewis as a “general radical,” and also singles out grant recipients the North-South Institute as “a left-wing and anti-globalization think-tank” and author Gwynne Dyer, a grant recipient, as “a left-wing columnist and author who has plenty of money to travel on his own.” But the article also points out that plenty of grant money went to relatively uncontroversial groups, like the Canadian Museum of Civilization and various ballet theatres. The Conservatives’ focus on Holy Fuck because of the profanity in its name certainly seems misplaced; the band is instrumental, so it’s not as though its lyrics could be deemed offensive, and given Canada’s status as an indie-rock exporter in recent years, Holy Fuck is just the kind of band this country should promote on the world stage. In any case, Adkin points out that this move is sure to inflame the Canadian arts community, which is already fuming over the Conservatives’ plan to deny tax credits to films deemed offensive.

This is obviously a Tory conspiracy designed to make the party look as lame as possible. Lewis is no radical, but he’s one of Canada’s best, and his pedigree alone (husband of Naomi Klein, son of Steven Lewis) gives him plenty of mainstream-lefty legitimacy. The Holy Fuck thing is just awesome.

Something I didn’t point out in MediaScout was that the Post, in its print edition of the article, refers to the band as “Holy Fuck Music,” a mistake since corrected online. Apparently, they were confused by the domain name of the band’s website, but you’d think the Post’s philistine newsies could’ve double-checked with the paper’s not-bad Arts team. Anyway, I wonder whether this will do for Holy Fuck what C-10 did for Young People Fucking.

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For sale: one national newspaper

In today’s Globe, Lawrence Martin discusses what the apparently-imminent sale of the National Post would mean both for the paper and the country’s media. What I like best is Martin’s frank acceptance that newspaper ownership shapes content. Not everyone shares that view. I once took a class on media and politics; the professor, a hardscrabble conservative, insisted that not enough empirical tests had been done to determine how corporate ownership affects news content. He argued, for example, that the case studies in Manufacturing Consent couldn’t be taken as representative – that they were chosen because they were flashy and obvious.

But read a CanWest or Newscorp outlet, and it can be hard not to feel like an Asper or a Murdoch is whispering in your ear – especially given the degree of editorial involvement the Aspers reportedly have. I appreciated my professor’s enthusiasm for challenging received wisdom. But with or without an empirical study, it will be interesting to see how the Post changes, if and when it changes hands.

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Rita MacNeil, security risk?

From mediascout.ca:

The Big Seven’s Beijing Blowout
August 6, 2008
by Drew Nelles

In case you didn’t get the memo, word is that China is on the rise, and the upcoming Beijing Olympics are its coming-out party. Also, in case you’ve been under a rock (or behind, say, an Internet firewall), what was supposed to be Beijing’s flawless emergence as a global superpower has been marred by demonstrations, crackdowns on dissent, terrorist attacks, media restrictions, lung-scorching smog and forced displacement. It’s not just the sports sections that are bursting… Read more »

Check out this item at the bottom:

RITA MACNEIL, SECURITY RISK?
The National
, CTV News and the Star go inside with the revelation that the RCMP included singer Rita MacNeil in its spying on the women’s movement during the 1970s. A pair of academics recently discovered declassified documents describing MacNeil as “the one who composes and sings women’s lib songs,” from spy notes taken at a 1972 meeting in Winnipeg, where the not-yet-famous Maritimer was representing the Toronto Women’s Caucus. All reports see MacNeil more bemused than concerned by the news: “I don’t know what [the Mounties] were up to or why they decided to keep a file on me. It could have been fear,” she tells the Star. “In those days they weren’t used to women talking about equality, subsidized daycare and empowerment.” The RCMP’s now-defunct spy branch, the Security Service, kept tabs on a number of movements from the 1960s through the 1980s – including labour, civil rights, and students’ movements – in an apparent attempt to uncover Communist infiltration. The CBC’s online article includes some unfortunate (not to mention insulting) quotes from the RCMP at the time: An officer refers to the “so-called exploitation of women,” and a memo from the Winnipeg conference describes the meeting as “consisting of about one hundred sweating, uncombed women standing around in the middle of the floor with their arms around each other crying sisterhood and dancing.” Espionage bungles are rarely so amusing, however, as when the fearful agitator goes on to host family-friendly variety shows and Christmas specials.

While funny, it’s also interesting. Undercover police infiltration still occurs in activist circles, as last year’s Montebello agents-provocateurs scandal makes clear. This means that some people take security culture seriously – sometimes, too seriously.

Last summer, I travelled to Halifax to report on the demonstrations against Atlantica, a proposed East-Coast free-trade initiative. There, I stayed in an organizer’s house with a few random people. One was a guy from Ottawa I drove up with, whose name was Evan but who inexplicably introduced himself to everyone else as “Rusty.” The others were a couple, a man and a woman from Toronto who decided to move to Halifax. They seemed nice enough at first, but quickly proved petty and possessive. They clashed on and off with Evan, who was off-kilter in a harmless sort of way. One morning, the woman – I forget both their names – screamed at him to leave. It wasn’t her decision to make – she didn’t live there. But she told Evan that the hosts didn’t want him around anymore.

Then she turned to me and said, “Drew, I don’t care if you stay, I don’t think you’re a cop.” I had no idea what she meant, but Evan and I quickly packed up and left. Then Evan told me: for some reason, she had been telling everyone – including our hosts – that I was an undercover cop, there to infiltrate the movement. At first I was insulted, but then I remembered that she was crazy.

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