Quotation of the week

“Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.”  – Ani DiFranco


Quotation of the week

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”  – Dorothy Parker

A little perspective

As always, Rachel Maddow brings some much-needed perspective—this time to the criticism of Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Gotta love her.


Quotation of the week

“Tampax: Helping you relax when Mother Nature attacks your slacks.”  – Saturday Night Live

“A child rapist is not a political prisoner”

Because I’m still incensed by Romoan Polanski, child rapist and fugitive, and his defenders, some of whom I am thoroughly disappointed to learn about (Natalie Portman, Sam Mendes, and Salman Rushdie signed the petition in favour of the child rapist and fugitive), I am linking to this article by Ariel Gonzalez and this article by Megan Carpentier, both of which were featured on today’s Huffington Post. Gonzalez’s article is short and Carpentier’s is a little longer, but please read these articles because they are very, very important (especially Carpentier’s). Here’s the first paragraph of Gonzalez’s article:

Right-minded souls who reject claims of mitigating circumstances in the case of Roman Polanski should follow the example of Fred Goldman. He’s the father of Ron Goldman, the waiter who was butchered along with Nicole Simpson, O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife. Since Simpson’s acquittal in 1995, Mr. Goldman has refused to utter the name of his son’s accused murderer. Instead he calls him “the killer.” This is what Polanski’s opponents should do on TV. Refer to him only as “the child rapist.” Remind people of what he is. Put his defenders on the spot. Notice how they avoid mentioning the specific crime to which he pleaded guilty. And when they do, they’re made to wish they hadn’t. (We’ll get to Whoopi Goldberg in a moment.) So let them bring up the Holocaust, Charlie Manson, Judge Rittenband. It’ll make no difference. Every time viewers hear “the child rapist,” their hearts will harden against any morally relativistic argument.

And here are some excerpt’s from Carpentier’s article:

In 1977, Roman Polanski offered to take pictures of a 13-year-old girl for French Vogue. He then gave her champagne and drugs, insisted she remove her clothes, and raped her. He has been carefully tending to his alternative mythology of that night ever since….

As part of the pre-sentencing period after his plea agreement, Polanski was allowed to fly to Europe to complete a movie, where he was photographed with another underage lover…who was 15…. Polanski then declined to return to the United States for sentencing….

Thereafter, Polanski gave an interview in which he excused his behavior by saying that his ephebophilic urges were universal to men: “Everyone wants to fuck young girls,” he told his interviewer, probably adding to the court’s concern that his behavior was continuing and would continue. Obviously, a legal system designed to protect women from rapists and sexual predators shouldn’t be keen to show leniency to a rapist as unrepentant and unapologetic as Polanski….

…rape isn’t about sex, at least insofar as most (normal) people understand sex.

Who would want to perform sexual acts on a crying, protesting, resisting woman? One rendered unconscious or semi-conscious? It’s grotesque to think about what rape is: a crying, fearful, unresponsive, protesting woman in pain, or one that simply lies there, unconscious, and must be moved like a rag doll to achieve her rapist’s ends. It’s not sex as much as its an assault, a penetration with a painful but non-deadly weapon. And people don’t want to think about Polanski in that way, for their own reasons–but that doesn’t mean it’s not exactly what he did to his victim.

And why would someone resort to it, we ask ourselves, when the alternative is better? The fact is that rapists don’t resort to rape: they choose it. Given all the women in the world who would have willingly had sex with Roman Polanski in 1977, he chose to rape an unwilling 13-year-old girl. He preferred it. Maybe he always preferred it, and this was the only child who ever came forward and called her rape by its name (a common occurrence among sex offenders: witness how long some Catholic priests continued to rape children without being caught).

Poor people, make way for sports!

Now that Rio de Janeiro has won its bid to host the 2016 summer Olympics, it will be interesting to see what happens to the 1.3 million impoverished people who live in the over 750 favelas on the hills surrounding the city.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

Favelas are essentially slums or shanty towns (“favela” translates into “slum” in Brasilian Portuguese) set up in the suburbs of a city by by the poor who have no other means of shelter. They have existed since the late 1800s after former African slaves were ‘freed’ but had no rights to land ownership, means of education, or means of employment. Poor and with no rights or place to go, they started setting up shacks in rural areas and over the years moved closer and closer to the cities in an effort to find work. Now, Rio de Janeiro has the second greatest number of favelas in Brasil after Sao Paulo — 612 for Sao Paulo and 513 for Rio based on the 2000 Brasilian census, although the number for Rio is now over 750. Nineteen percent of Rio’s population lives in favelas and the population growth in favelas is higher than the population growth of Brasil as a whole.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

Various governments throughout Brasil’s history have attempted to remove the favelas, beginning in the 1940s when many of them were destroyed in favour of public housing. When the public housing was not delivered, the favelas essentially went right back up on the grounds from which they were originally cleared. Again in the 1950s the government attempted to ‘clean up’ the favelas by building two large apartment complexes, which did not solve the problem of the need for favelas. In the 1970s, while under military dictatorship, the government once again tried to destroy the favelas and move their inhabitants to public housing. However, the poor could not afford even public housing, and so the favelas persisted.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

The number of people living in these slums is due largely to the economic divide in Brasil, which is among the biggest in the world. Over one third of the population lives below the poverty line. The poor and middle class continue to grow poorer while the rich grow richer and control the majority of the wealth.

And of course, drugs and gang warfare are huge problems in the favelas. Thanks to internationally successful films such as City of God (Cidade de Deus), Last Stop 174 (Ultima Parada 174), and to a lesser extent Favela Rising, most people have a sense of what life in the favelas is like.

It could be that getting the Olympics will be a good thing for the 1.3 million impoverished people in Rio. But it’s also likely that they will suffer (even more) from it, as the poor of Durban, South Africa are now suffering from being the host city to the 2010 World Cup.

Durban is one of the most highly populated countries in South Africa, and tens of thousands of people still live in shacks because, although housing is included in their Consititution as a basic human right, the poor have so far not benefitted from this because of the anti-poor sentiments in post-apartheid South Africa. Again, a huge gap between the rich and the poor (here this means between whites and blacks) is in evidence.

Durban's shacks.

Durban's shacks.

There is an organization in Durban called The Shack Dwellers Movement, which comprises tens of thousands of poor people who have been waiting for housing since 1994. Durban itself has 14 informal settlements of about 5,000 to 7,000 people each.

The Shack Dwellers are trying to fight for their rights to homes while they are being displaced by the government in order to build stadiums, malls, and freeways for the 2010 World Cup. The Slum Act, which was introduced by the government in 2006, essentially says that anyone who resists eviction can be fined or sentenced to prison terms. Evictions are occuring in great numbers now as land is being appropriated for the aforementioned stadiums, malls, and freeways in preparation for the big soccer matches.

Durban's shacks.

Durban's shacks.

The World Cup coming to Durban has meant the mass eviction of poor people and the destruction of their shack homes. The poor are being shuttled to transitional relocation camps on the promise of public housing about 50 km outside of the city (and 50 km away from their jobs, schools, and hospitals). In fact, this public housing does not exist and the poor are going to have to live in these relocation camps for at least 10 years.

The film District 9 is not an analogy for South Africa during apartheid; sadly, it is still a reality for many of the poor there. It’s a new apartheid.

Will Brasil’s successful Olympic bid provide the same fate to the favela dwellers in Rio as South Africa’s successful World Cup bid provided to the shack dwellers in Durban? Only time will tell.

Quotation of the week

“You can always cast yourself as unlikely when you’re fundamentally alienated in your worldview.”  – Rachel Maddow

Mind and heart

This post is dedicated to my friend, to whom I posed one of those unfair “would you rather…” questions the other night.

I asked her, “Would you rather be in a relationship with someone who was really intelligent but didn’t have a lot of heart, or someone who was all heart but had very little intelligence?”

She said heart. “Because the heart,” she said emphatically, “is where emotional connection comes from.”

But that’s technically not true. The heart is just a blood-pumping machine. The brain is where emotion comes from. Everything we feel and think comes from our brain.

However, it would be obnoxious of me to belabour this point because I know, and we all know, what is meant by “heart.” We weren’t speaking anatomically; we were talking about intelligence—being cerebral, and emotion—having heart.

The heart is considered the emotional, moral centre. Love, affection, generosity, compassion, and even courage are considered the domain if the heart. Intellect, reason, perception, conscience, sense, and even will are considered the domain of the mind.

I decided to play devil’s advocate with my friend because it’s fun. I said to her, “You would choose to be with a stupid person? You wouldn’t be able to have a conversation! What would you talk about?” She replied, “We would talk about our feelings. It’s more important to not be with a cold asshole. If I want cerebral,” she continued, “I can read a book or watch Rachel Maddow.”

This concept of a ‘brainy’ person being cold is not an uncommon stereotype. Many people, when considering someone whose mind rules their heart, imagine a cold, calculating, elitist, socially inept neurotic. But, many people, when considering someone whose heart rules their mind, imagine a flighty, unbalanced, moody, unintelligent person who makes spontaneous decisions with little consideration of facts and is a slave to their emotions.

Yet a person whose mind rules over their heart is also reasonable, stable, thoughtful, well-meaning, truth-seeking, open-minded, and considerate. And a person whose heart rules over their mind is also considered passionate, spontaneous, romantic, vivacious, and true to self.

Humans are emotional animals; as I’ve said before on this blog, emotion tends to trump reason. But the mind is important because it protects us from simply reacting to stimuli. We need to process, reason, and arrive at good decisions. The brain is the reigns and the heart is the horses. We need the control.

But the fact is, I had offered my friend a false dichotomy. She shouldn’t even have answered the question because it’s not an either/or thing. Seldom will we be confronted by a person who is only intellect or only emotion. Her point, though, was that if you had to choose between someone who was extremely smart but emotionally cold, and someone who was warm and caring but not very smart, you should choose the warm-hearted person because that’s more important in a relationship.

And this is what got me thinking about the societal stereotype of very intelligent people being cold. I think very smart people can be warm and have good hearts. It all comes down to balance. Deciding what’s important to you, in what quantities, and then I suppose being lucky enough to end up with someone who has everything you need in the right proportions.

Mind and heart, balanced. Like someone who is sweet and kind enough to come over to your house late at night when your grandmother dies, bringing you food and staying with you, but who also asks you every time she talks to you, “What book are you reading right now?”—that’s a pretty awesome person.