Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Letter Home

Aisling Brennan, a 12-year-old Irish primary school girl, is the winner of the Young Travel Writers Competition at this year's Lismore Immrama Festival of Travel Writing, sponsored by Aer Lingus. Here is her winning "Postcard to Home", a delightful read:

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Economic growth poses threat to the environment

Irish Independent, August 10, 2019
The Celtic Tiger did much to sustain the myth that if the economy grows it will benefit all. This same ill-grounded confidence is peddled by Britain's Brexiteers, although it is generally agreed by many economists that the benefits of growth do not trickle downwards; on the contrary, a form of osmosis known as greed tends to facilitate a relentless upwards trickle. Even hardcore economists find it difficult to say "trickle down" with a straight face.
The economic divide between the beneficiaries of the fruits of economic growth and those who just observe it, has generated a political divide that reinforces the advantage over the poor of the better-off.
What is becoming evident is the fragility of democratic institutions as divisions between competing views of wealth creation and distribution vie with one another. This is significant in relation to the persistent insensitivity to the impact of the misuse of the earth's resources, where again the poor of the earth are but hapless spectators.
One of the legacies of the heady Celtic Tiger years was an emerging awareness of the significant long-term threat to the environment that rapid growth and development pose. This includes the threat of irreversible damage to ecosystems, land degradation, deforestation and loss of biodiversity.
In Ireland, our future was hijacked and forfeited to powerful companies who ministered to various forms of rogue capitalism. The housing bubble resulted from reckless gambling; our country was securely in the hands of a powerful elite who had no thought for tomorrow. The rest of us were nurtured by the rhetoric of orthodoxy and resignation.
For some economists, poverty is assumed to be the price we have to pay if our economy is to thrive. The religious minded may be content to pray for the poor. However, there is little sense in praying for them while the rest of the world preys on them. As the poet Yeats would say: "The poor have only their dreams."

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Mass Shootings Are Terrorism

The New York Times, August 7, 2019

If one of the perpetrators of this weekend’s two mass shootings had adhered to the ideology of radical Islam, the resources of the American government and its international allies would mobilize without delay.

The awesome power of the state would work tirelessly to deny future terrorists access to weaponry, money and forums to spread their ideology. The movement would be infiltrated by spies and informants. Its financiers would face sanctions. Places of congregation would be surveilled. Those who gave aid or comfort to terrorists would be prosecuted. Programs would be established to de-radicalize former adherents.

No American would settle for “thoughts and prayers” as a counterterrorism strategy. No American would accept laying the blame for such an attack on video games, like the Texas lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, did in an interview on Sunday when discussing the mass shooting in El Paso that took 20 lives and left 27 people wounded.

In predictable corners, moderate Muslims would be excoriated for not speaking out more forcefully against the extremists in their midst. Foreign nations would be hit with sanctions for not doing enough to help the cause. Politicians might go so far as to call for a total ban on Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Even a casual observer today can figure out what is going on. The world, and the West in particular, has a serious white nationalist terrorist problem that has been ignored or excused for far too long. As President George W. Bush declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we must be a country “awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution.”

There are serious questions about how the United States has approached Islamic extremism, but if even a degree of that vigilance and unity of effort was put toward white nationalism, we’d be safer.

White nationalist terror attacks are local, but the ideology is global. On Saturday, a terrorist who, according to a federal law enforcement official, wrote that he feared a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” was replacing white Americans opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso. In a manifesto, the gunman wrote that he drew some inspiration from the white nationalist terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 51 people dead. The F.B.I. is investigating the El Paso mass shooting as a possible act of domestic terrorism. The motive behind another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, is under investigation.

In April, another terrorist who opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, Calif., echoed the words of the Christchurch suspect, too, and appeared to draw inspiration from a massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall. The alleged Christchurch terrorist, for his part, wrote that he drew inspiration from white supremacist attacks in Norway, the United States, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

An investigation by The Times earlier this year found that “at least a third of white extremist killers since 2011 were inspired by others who perpetrated similar attacks, professed a reverence for them or showed an interest in their tactics.”

White supremacy, in other words, is a violent, interconnected transnational ideology. Its adherents are gathering in anonymous, online forums to spread their ideas, plotting attacks and cheering on acts of terrorism.

The result is an evolving brand of social media-fueled bloodshed. Online communities like 4chan and 8chan have become hotbeds of white nationalist activity. Anonymous users flood the site’s “politics” board with racist, sexist and homophobic content designed to spread across the web. Users share old fascist fiction, Nazi propaganda and pseudoscientific texts about race and I.Q. and replacement theory, geared to radicalize their peers.

While its modern roots predate the Trump administration by many decades, white nationalism has attained a new mainstream legitimacy during Mr. Trump’s time in office.

Far more Americans have died at the hands of domestic terrorists than at the hands of Islamic extremists since 2001, according to the F.B.I. The agency’s resources, however, are still overwhelmingly weighted toward thwarting international terrorism.

The nation owed a debt to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, to take action against the vile infrastructure that allowed the terrorists to achieve their goals that horrible Tuesday. We owe no less of a debt to the victims in El Paso and to the hundreds of other victims of white nationalist terrorism around the nation.

American law enforcement needs to target white nationalists with the same zeal that they have targeted radical Islamic terrorists. Ensuring the security of the homeland demands it.

There can be no middle ground when it comes to white nationalism and the terrorism it inspires. You’re either for it or against it.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

CHAMPS D'AMOURS: 100 Years of Rainbow Cinema

CHAMPS D'AMOURS 100 Ans de Cinéma Arc-en-ciel is a free exhibition at Paris' Hôtel de Ville. In collaboration with La Cinématèque Française. From June 25 to September 28, 2019 Chief curator: Alain Burosse

1919 ORIGINS. The first allusions to gay and lesbian characters and storylines to hit movie screens took the form of relatively ridiculous transvestite caricatures in playful burlesque comedies. At one time or another, every comic star of the 1910s (Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Fatty Arbuckle, Max Linder and Charles Chaplin) adorned themselves in the opposite gender’s finery to act out a storyline or a misunderstanding. The transvestite tradition is still very much alive today and comedy remains one of the genres that regularly welcomes LGBT characters. Other more serious work surfaced in the subsequent decades, including tragedies (The Wings, Mauritz Stiller, 1916; Michael, Cari T. Dreyer, 1923; and Pandora’s Box, Georg W. Pabst, 1928). These films created new hard-life stereotypes of gay love that was doomed by its very nature to calamity and death. These forays were quickly stifled and banned during the period that followed –a time marked by the rise of fascism in Europe and the strict censorship rules of the Hays Code, introduced in the United States in 1934. While French cinema remained an exception to the rule, gay people almost vanished from the movies. Rare portrayals were coded or hostile, and came from the fringes of an experimental, emerging form of cinema. At long last, in the 1960s in Great Britain, where homosexuality was still illegal, this situation was contested by the film Victim (Basil Dearden, 1961) and by Dirk Bogard, who played the lead role and had the original idea for the film.

On June 28th 1969, the same day as Judy Garland’s funeral (the singer of the gay anthem Over the Rainbow) the Stonewall riots broke out when a police raid sparked a rebellion from the regulars of a gay bar in New York City, marking the beginning of a worldwide militant gay movement. However, cinema had begun its transformation much earlier: in Hollywood, the Hays Code had slowly crumbled away, and in Germany angry young directors (Reiner Werner Fassbinder, Peter Fleishmann, and Rosa von Praunheim) had begun to use gay themes to shake up movies made by the overly-conventional middle-class Federal Republic from 1966 onwards.  This period –which coincided with the sexual liberation resulting from May 1968– led to the emergence of major works by great moviemakers who no longer feared tackling gay issuse in their films, as typified by the three masterful Italian directors: Pier Paolo Passolini (Teorema, 1968), Federico Fellini (Satyricon, 1969), Luchino Visconti (Death in Venice, 1971). The post-Stonewall period also saw the first films emerge from directors who mixed feminist and lesbian themes (eg. Chantal Akerman, Barbara Hammer and Ulrike Ottinger). In mainstream cinema, there was a rise in the number of gay and lesbian characters and they were often treated sympathetically. Famous directors also affirmed their own sexuality (eg. Patrice Chéreau with L’Homme blessé, 1983, or André Techiné, with Les roseaux sauvages, 1994) and new plots tackled hitherto unexplored themes (bisexuality, adolescence, romance and couples, etc.). New types of film-making opened up to portraying LGBT lives: in Spain with la Movida movement and Pedro Almodóvar in the 1980s, in Israel, South America, and several countries in Asia.

The burgeoning number of characters and LGBT themes in film has grown continually over the last twenty years. As a result, ground-breaking portrayals of gay and lesbian lives have flourished across all genres and in almost all areas thanks to new approaches, in particular those representing the queer viewpoint. The work and directors belonging to this movement have received unprecedented recognition from the general public and movie critics alike. This was clearly demonstrated in France and abroad by the popular acclaim of La vie d’Adèle (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2014), 120 battements par minute (Robin Campillo, 2017), and Una mujer fantástica, Sebastián Leili, 2017), and by the number of prestigious awards those films have collected (Palm d’Or, César awards, Oscar Award for best Foreign Film, etc.). Furthermore, a film with a gay theme –and since the young man at the heart of the story was black he had double minority status– was awarded with the Oscar for Best Picture in 2017: Moonlight, by Barry Jenkins. All this goes to show just how far we have come in terms of recognition and visibility since Different from the Others (Richard Oswald, Germany) made its own, very solitary, militant contribution a century ago.

CUT! Hollywood’s censors were not content with merely thrusting gay and lesbian characters into the closet. They also tried outright to eliminate any storylines deemed to portray same-sex desire too blatantly. Thus, an overtly lesbian dance scene was retrospectively removed from the epic The Sign of the Cross (Cecil B. DeMille, 1932), while a suggestive dialogue between a senator and his slave was cut out from Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960). All around the world, censors have clamped down in more ruthless ways, imprisoning directors they deem scandalous in some places (Sergei Paradjanov in the Soviet Union) and banning films elsewhere (Rafiki, Wanuri Kahui, 2018, in Kenya). In India, the film Fire (Deepa Metha, 1966), which tells a lesbian love story was not suppressed by State censorship, instead nationalist Hindus ransacked cinemas and forced the government to order the film to be temporarily withdrawn from cinemas. In France itself, Zero for Conduct, by Jean Vigo (1933), was banned from cinemas for twelve years because of its anarchist leanings and the ambivalent relationship between the two students. Lionel Soukaz toyed with the limits of censorship in Ixe (1982), a collage film that brings together an erect penis and the pope in a whirlwind of images. But censorship often strikes in unexpected forms: through family pressure (Mishima, a Life in Four Chapters, Paul Schrader, 1984), through the rejection of topics producers consider “too gay” (Behind the Candelabra, Steven Soderbergh, 2010), and through fear of displeasing a political regime. A very recent example of this is the American film Boy Erased (Joël Edgerton, 2018), which tackles the subject of “conversion therapies” –its producers decided not to distribute the film in president Bolsonaro’s Brazil, where such practices are encouraged!

MASK! How can you show what you are banned from portraying? Hollywood directors who wanted to include gay and lesbian characters in their storylines faced this quandary from 1934 to the beginning of the 1960s because the Hays Code that had been adopted by the major production companies banned “sexual perversion” (amongst other things) from the big screen. In 1981, Vito Russo’s seminal book and eponymous documentary The Celluloid Closet (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 1995) revealed the multitude of ruses that had been employed to recycle codes and stereotypes entrenched in the collective subconscious: mannered, overly-elegant characters with no sentimental attachment, double-entendres, potent friendships, lingering glances, etc. It reveals traces of comedy (the Laurel and Hardy “couple”), film noir, Western and epics. It was about making the invisible visible, but often also involved using the images to imply that these different characters, always inhabiting a shady world and rubbing shoulders with criminals, posed a potential threat to the American family and society. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of the art of blurring the lines and managed to introduce intriguing, unsettling and seductive characters to many of his plots, including Rebecca (1940), North by Northwest (1958), Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (1951).

EVERY KIND OF LOVE IN THE WORLD To Western cinema’s portrayal of gay, lesbian and trans people we must add portrayals from other places, where long-silenced stories are now finally emerging in increasing numbers of countries year on year: Kenya, Iran, Guatemala, Nigeria, Chile, South Africa, South Korea, Guinea, India, China, Taiwan, Cuba, Israel, Brazil, Mexico, Senegal, Japan, Argentina, the Philippines, Egypt, etc. Even in the most hostile political contexts, LGBT characters are being created and storylines with gay content are being written in all languages, all around the globe. Ambitious films made by movie makers residing at the heart of the system, such as Chinese director Chan Kaige (Farewell, my Concubine) or Israeli Eytan Fox (The Bubble), are coexisting alongside films produced secretly by activists who want their minority voices to be heard. Far from contending themselves with simple on-screen portrayals and a quest for visibility, these film directors from all corners of the world are bringing us dissident representations, making no concessions, braving bans and refusing self-censure to expand our field of vision. Is it just a coincidence that one of the few films about intersex people came out of Argentina: XXY (Lucía Puenzo, 2007)? Movies from around the world take all forms and cover all angles: the denunciation of ambient homophobia, the comic re-use of stereotypes, tragedies and, above all, romance. These love stories, which may be light or dark, and do not always have an unhappy ending, tell audiences that LGBT love is possible, even if it is difficult under regimes that discriminate against or repress gay, lesbian and trans people. Cinema offers role models, and gay and transgender people’s need to see portrayals of themselves and of their love stories and sexual adventures are key in every part of the globe. In the same way, it is still essential that we fight prejudice by showing girls kissing girls and boys making out with boys (and vice versa) on the big screen and that we broadcast these images to the broadest possible audience as a way of asserting that minority love is part of every kind of love in the world.

Monday, July 01, 2019

As Cities Limit Traffic Pollution, Madrid Reverses a Driving Ban

A protest on Saturday over the Madrid government’s suspension of a low-emissions zone in the city center.CreditJuan Medina/Reuters

A protest on Saturday over the Madrid government’s suspension of a low-emissions zone in the city center.
CreditCrJuan Medina/Reuters

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

El inglés impreso en el pecho

El buen tiempo atrae a las camisetas de manga corta y cuello redondo. Gente de todas las edades las compra en los mercadillos pero también en las tiendas de lujo, es de suponer que con distintos precios. Los días de sol constante arrojan a las calles españolas esas prendas desenfadadas a las que suele acompañar un atuendo más bien deportivo.
Rara vez se repiten en ellas el diseño o la combinación de colores, cuando se trata de tejidos policromados; ni las imágenes que llevan estampadas por delante o por detrás. Cada cual elige el modelo que más le gusta, así como el mensaje que desea transmitir a quienes se crucen en su camino y no circulen mirando al suelo o hablando por teléfono, o las dos cosas.
La disparidad estética de las camisetas alegra estos primeros días de calor. Pero esa variedad de tonos, dibujos, fotografías y frases que se ven sobre la prenda confluyen en una cierta homogeneidad cuando uno intenta leer lo que llevan escrito: casi todos los mensajes están expresados en inglés.
Solamente el 27,7% de los españoles sabe hablar, leer y escribir en esa lengua, si nos fiamos de las respuestas que los encuestados le dieron al Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS) a finales de 2016. Sin embargo, nos encanta simular que todos lo hacemos. La publicidad se llena de términos en inglés, las revistas de moda disfrutan con inundar sus páginas de anglicismos, los diarios se olvidan a menudo de traducir los suyos, los comercios de las ciudades eligen nombres y rótulos en aquella lengua. Y qué contentos nos quedamos.
Últimamente se han sumado las camisetas veraniegas a esa general fascinación que nos hace parecer políglotas. En ellas leemos: “All power to the people”, “Air needed”, “Better than yesterday”, “Keep calm and happy goat”, “Big smile, deep breathe”, “Good music, dark chocolate”, “Happy hour”, “Future important woman”, “Everythink I like is either expensive, illegal or won’t text me back”… La vicepresidenta del Gobierno, Carmen Calvo, lució hace poco en público este lema, más deducible: “Yes, I’m a feminist”.
Ninguno de ustedes necesita la traducción de esa selección de frases, porque todos saben inglés, igual que quienes visten esas camisetas, pero el apartado 2.23 del Libro de estilo de este periódico obliga a aclarar las citas expresadas en otras lenguas. Así que ahí van unas equivalencias: “Todo el poder para la gente”, “Se necesita aire”, “Mejor que ayer”, “Mantén la calma y feliz cabra” (yo tampoco lo entiendo), “Gran sonrisa, respira hondo”, “Buena música, chocolate negro”, “Hora feliz”, “Futura mujer importante”, “Todo lo que me gusta es caro, ilegal o no me devolverá el mensaje de texto”... y “Sí, soy feminista”.
Están en su libertad quienes portan tales carteles ambulantes, claro. Ante ello, uno apenas puede preguntarse si en realidad desearán comunicar algo, o simplemente les gustará la estética de la tipografía estampada en la camiseta. Imagino que más bien lo segundo, pues en el primer caso se toparán con que gran parte de los transeúntes con quienes se cruzan no saben qué significan las palabras impresas. Y como generalmente transmiten buen humor, se perderán el chiste y seguirán en su tristeza.
Con todo eso, lo original ahora es el español. Una vez vi a una mujer con una camiseta cuya inscripción se leía en castellano (“No hay pan para tanto chorizo”), y me entraron ganas de darle un abrazo. Me corté, por si acaso se trataba de una inglesa. (El País, 23 de junio de 2019)

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

DUMP TRUMP and other slogans

U.S. President Donald Trump says U.K. protests were ‘small’ and ‘fake news,’ but pictures tell a different story. He severely downplayed the size of the crowds protesting his state visit to the U.K., calling them “small” despite pictures showing thousands of demonstrators in central London: