Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Local Kids Being Fabulous and the Adults Who Mentor Them

Yesterday, I learned that some local high school students have been raising money to free 120 people (so far) from slavery in India. The article and how you can support their efforts can be found in the Seattle Times. Hurrays to teacher Eric Ensey and International Justice Mission (IJM), a Washington, D.C., charity that seeks justice for the poor in developing countries.
Then, today I learned about school guidance counselor Jamshid Khajavi, and his fabulous frisbee team at Gatzert Elementary School. These students, from immigrant, often homeless situations, have transformed themselves into winners at the national level, focused on working and achieving.

Politics, Religion, Personal Choice, & Literature

By Night in Chile By Night in Chile by Roberto BolaƱo

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book was interesting and the first of Bolano's that I have read. It is an edited stream-of-consciousness story about an individual who who was young in the 1940's/50's and his experience of change in Chile and the role of the literati through Allende's Chile and his subsequent assassination. Politics, expediency, morality, religion all are characters in this book.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Torture Memos are Killing Me

Last week, NPR ran a series on the Torture Memos. There was an Op-Ed piece by Ali Sufan in the NYT. See Frank Rich's opinion piece in Sunday's NYT. At the time the Bush administration first began justifying it's horrific and horrifying behaviour, revulsion, anger, dis-ease was an automatic response. And the horror continues, as well as shame and embarrassment. Two cultural pieces that make one think long and hard about the question of what each of us would do in compromised situations are 1) a review in Saturday's NYT of an exhibit at New York Public Library "Between Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under the Nazis". and 2) Nancy Pearl's review of Janice Y. K. Lee's new novel "The Piano Teacher." And finally, listen to Jacki Lyden's interview with reporter Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who finished her assignment reporting from Baghdad for NPR. The connections between all these news items are both obvious and nuanced: but they remind each of us to be wary of smugness, propaganda, and how easy it may be to be sucked into a swamp.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oh Madiba, Madiba

Madiba, how Zuma and the ANC have co-opted you inorder to win the election on Wednesday, and the people have fallen for it. Surely Graca Machel tried to stop them from using you. Read the excellent piece in the Weekend FT by Alec Russell on Jacob Zuma. The BBC has been interviewing voters these last couple of weeks and the disappointment with the ANC and its short-comings is palpable. Many women interviewed in Alexandria said that they would not vote...all those empty houses just sitting there. All those empty promises of opportunities. All those noises about transparency, no corruption. The Mail & Guardian has up-to-the-minute information and analysis on the election. But, there is little doubt about the outcome.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Another Enduring Legacy of Apartheid

Young men: uneducated, unemployed, underemployed. In 1976, black students in South Africa began a boycott against the Apartheid government's edict that they be educated in Afrikaans, rather than English and their home language, and that their curriculum continued to be dumbed down inorder to make it impossible for them to compete with whites, and even Coloureds, for better paying jobs. This led to years of intellectual stagnation which consequently led to the rise of a culture of anti-authority, anti-discipline, and unemployability, especially among males. At about the same time, sanctions against the Apartheid government led to many manufacturing plants to close up shop and take their business to other countries. Of course, the immediate consequence of this was the loss of highly skilled, relatively well-paying jobs, as well as the loss of union power in these sectors.

When the first free election was held in 1994 and Mandela began to lead the nation out of bondage, hopes rose high for a better future for all: jobs, housing, education, electricity, running water. This was a huge burden for the new government to undertake, and to date, the results are mixed. The tragedy that cannot be easily rectified is the lasting effects of little or no education and a skilled workforce. Many of the new jobs being created by returning factories require a skill level that (in the early years after 1994) the South African work force no longer had. These skilled factory jobs were gobbled up by Soviet trained workers from Mozambique and Angola, and as the years went on form other African countries as well as immigrants from other former Soviet satellites. Bringing the education system back up to standard for all students has been a major undertaking, but that does not solve the problems of those who lacked even basic employment development skills and training and education between 1976 and 1994.

One of the negative consequences of all of the above is the rising crime rate and continued lack of sufficient employment opportunities for all, especially young males. This has led to a rise in the proliferation of gangs. There was a very interesting BBC report on 15 April 2009 about gang members, current and former, in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town...unfortunately, I cannot find the reference! These young men felt they had no choice but to "stab and steal". They lost count of the number of people they stabbed or shot, had no idea as to whether or not their victims were dead, got high out of boredom, and most felt it was pointless to respond to any of the several outreach programs aimed at skill development..both life skills and employment skills. The young men interviewed were 24!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Valiant Effort

On 17 March 2009, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Washington State's oldest paper, delivered its last print edition, becoming yet another big-city newspaper statistic. The paper was the first to migrate to an all-web format. In the meantime, a number of former P-I staff members set about creating a brand new online presence and today debuted the Seattle PostGlobe. Two other regional media sources have joined forces with Seattle PostGlobe: NPR affiliate KPLU and Seattle Weekly, a former news powerhouse that succumbed to dating and sex-services advertising in order to stay afloat. Seattle PostGlobe is hoping to develop a subscription/membership base. It will be interesting to see how this works out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie, author, poet, member of the Spokane tribe in Eastern Washington, has a great sense of humour, is a good writer of adult and children's fiction, and is an excellent conversationalist. Listen to him on today's Weekday on KUOW. Alexie is refreshing to listen to because he will talk about anything, is not afraid of being "non-PC", and allows open and honest querying in search of truth, which means we all have to take our limps, be honest in our own assessments, and not hide behind euphemisms and jargon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Of Rites, Rituals, and Memories

Read Nathan Englander's op-ed piece in today's New York Times, The Passover Song. His book, The Ministry of Special Cases is a damning look at Argentina's dark days. His previous collection of stories, For The Relief of Unbearable Urges, is a warm, loving look at people and their foibles. For more information about him, click here.

Books about War

Last weekend's FT included an article by Stefan Wagstyl reviewing five books about the war in/on Bosnia. About a different war, read Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Making a Transition Gracefully

There was an article in today's Seattle Times about the wonderful Angela Sterling, photographer extraordinaire of dancers. I have mentioned her before in this blog, but her talents are worth lauding again. She was a dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) until she injured her back. In transitioning into photography, she wanted to be able to show dancers, their bodies, and dancing in a way that rewards them for all the hard work they put into craft and instrument. She succeeds magnificently! The photo to the right, of Lucien Postlewaite of PNB, is a fine example of her art. To see more of her work, check out both the article referenced above in the Seattle Times and her website.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Reader

The Reader The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I will be interested to see the film version of this book. The book is very thought-provoking; there are no easy answers. What shapes a life? This book explores how is it we do not see/are unable to anticipate these things as they are happening and what consequences they will have. The author did a very good job concealing his hand and the allowing the outcomes to unfold and blindside me: I only anticipated one of the key mysteries.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Grupo Corpo

See Grupo Corpo! Saturday night at Meany Hall, University of Washington, Seattle. Check Grupo Corpo's website for further engagements. In this time of economic stress, do what you can to support the arts and artists: they make life more interesting and teach us so much about ourselves and each other. See the review in the Seattle Times.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Moving? Buyer Beware

Never, and I repeat, NEVER, use Able Moving Company in Chicago or Nationwide Moving & Relocation Services. My brother just experienced days of nightmares over what these companies did to his furniture and other household goods. First, communication was negligible. Second, the packers/movers arrived unprepared: no packing paper to wrap dishes and other breakables, even though my brother paid extra for cartons for this purpose and discussed this with his Nationwide representative, Ms. Roper. Third, the breakables were packed with negligence and minimal packing material. Most egregious of all: two legs were broken off a sideboard BEFORE it even left the house: bound too tightly. Three legs were broken off a small side table upon arrival at the destination. Dishes were broken upon arrival; my brother has been unable to open the boxes with the china, not wishing to see what is inside. He has no recourse. He barely got a cursory apology from Able Movers. Nationwide was essentially AWOL after they got his money. If you need to use a moving company, find, and interview, a local agent for one of the larger van lines and you will not be sorry. Read the fine print, take out extra insurance, get references.

Books Reviewed in the FT and NYT

The Weekend FT gave a rave review to Lark and Termite by Jayne Ann Phillips (see my review in March). Phillips was praised for the beauty of her prose, her exquisite sense of time and place, and the ability to provide words to the wordless. Also reviewed was Who Will Write Our History: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto by Samuel Kassow. Eva Hoffman is the reviewer and her books are themselves worth discovering and reading. Kassow diligently worked to record life in the Ghetto for all those who would and would not survive. He organised reporters and archivists to save items of daily life, words, quarrels, activities, stories. This is the first translation into English of this amazing labour of life and love. Barry Unsworth reviewed 'Laish' by Aharon Appelfeld. Unsworth is another favourite author of mine (his most recent book is Land of Marvels). 'Laish' is the story of a journey where no one is interested in the journey/process, just the destiny. The narrator is a 15 year old boy, Laish, and someone worth spending a journey with.