Archive for the 'General Mischief' Category


Vancouver: A Van Covered in Protest

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Vehicles captured my attention on several occasions while I was in Vancouver, with its “sky train,” compact taxis, cruise ships, yachts, and buses — most were vehicles for commerce, tourism, and leisure. During my first night I was drawn to loud music blaring several stories below from what must have been the longest stretch limousine I have ever seen, easily at least twice as long as the regular stretch limousines one can see, and this one was apparently a stretch Hummer. Young men in tuxedoes, followed by young women in ball gowns, all stepped in, coming out of what may be Vancouver’s most expensive hotel. I then realized that some of the windows of the limousine were in fact LED screens, projecting psychedelic patterns to the beat of the music, with graphic equalizers at two points on the side of the car. As it filled with about 20 young people, the lights at the front and the back of the vehicle began blinking and pulsing brightly. This must have been a group going to a prom, an American import in a country of mimics living the American Dream in Canada. The whole production, between hotel suites, clothing, and the car must have been in the many thousands of dollars, all to celebrate four years of feigned attention in class. If this is a recession, it is not hitting nearly hard enough, or, as we know is the case, it is not hitting all classes with equal ferocity.

Next, the Norwegian cruise ship. I had not seen a cruise ship since I was in Dominica, and it was “good” to know that I was back in a place that hitches its economic fortunes to the perceptions of others. Apparently I missed the disgorging, as few people were to be seen in the vicinity of the ship. I then headed to a district called Gastown, mostly to see why others have made such a big deal about it (and having seen it now, I still have the same question). On the way there, a very captivating sight, a refreshing change: the protest van. It really put the “Van” in Vancouver for me.

There was no sign of its owner, this blog on wheels. It occupies a prominent position in a central parking space, bordering a sidewalk that all tourists must pass when walking from the cruise ship terminal toward Gastown. Indeed, several were there photographing and videotaping it, quietly, and without comment. The signs are fixed to boards that are themselves screwed into a supporting structure that is itself fixed to the sides of the van, all sides of the van. A canoe sits on top of the van because, after all, this is still Canada, eh.

As one can see from the slide show, the persistent theme of the signs is imperialism and occupation (so right away my eyes turned sympathetic, needless to say). The main topics have to do with Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, oil, and torture. There is a fair amount of artistic work — hands that stick out of the van pointing at the viewer, small auxiliary signs jutting out from the corners of the van, individual words decorated (frequently with dripping blood, the Star of David, or the American flag). Yet, a quote that should have been attributed to Hunter S. Thompson, was instead erroneously attributed to Thomas S. Hunter (a good sign, perhaps, that someone has not fully learned American cultural references). Less forgivable to the pedant was the fact that the designer forgot to run a spell check on his van — again, just like a blog.

Another persistent theme across the signs was “Google ->”. On almost every sign there is a recommendation to the reader to look up a particular phrase in Google. What irony for “the real world” that the extracts from the “virtual world” staked a space in it. More irony, with this slide show that pulls the van back into the virtual world, where one will soon be able to Google “protest van” and come up with images of the van referencing Google. Our distinctions between the real and the virtual seem evermore threadbare.

If one needs a van for physical representations of what would otherwise be recognizable as blog posts…then you realize what is coming next? The Twitter protest bicycle, with short tweet-like statements affixed to each spoke on the wheels, to the frame, along the handle bar. If anyone sees the Twitter bicycle anywhere, please drop me a line, preferably 140 characters in length or less, and I promise to RT you.

In the meantime, here is a small sample of some of the images used in the slide show, at higher resolution:


“Sweet” Nationalism: Suspending Critical Disbelief for a Moment

I know many Trinidadians have become quite sour about current circumstances and prospects, a degree of hostile resignation set in a long time ago. And yet, nonetheless, in select moments you get these bursts of nationalistic enthusiasm, even love, as comes bursting forth from this video with the music of Carl Jacobs, the song being “Sugar Island.”

My favourite part: the Hindi words sung flanged.


Ethnographic Wining: A German in Trinidad

Of course, it’s Monday Morning Madness again, and on this blog when “we” (readers, correspondents, myself) are not laying intellectualized explosive devices on the highway of imperialized knowledge, we’re wining!

This is probably the fourth time that wining has been the subject of a post, and this time it comes thanks to a German comedian, Oliver Pocher, who visited Trinidad and produced a short “documentary” on wining, based on his participation in J’ouvert celebrations that come immediately at the end of Dimanche Gras at the start of the annual carnival. Not knowing about wining, he is lucky to find some kind young ladies who are willing to teach him generously. His task is also to “translate” the dance for his German audience … I am not sure he chose the right word! In my view, he has the perfect spirit needed to undertake ethnography in Trinidad, and if you’re not lauging and joking as part of your research, then you probably should be thinking of doing your work elsewhere.

The start is in German, addressing his home audience, and then switches to English. Enjoy!


A few more notes on “wining”

Following up on the last post that featured wining, a Trinidadian blogger in the UK, Sheree Mack, who authors the Every Day Creativity blog, has posted two items on wining. One is a simple poem, akin to a soca road march at Carnival time, and with some key lyrics that coincidentally will reappear in my post for tomorrow. The second lists the various wining moves that one commonly hears called for in soca tunes:

Wine up: to wine vigorously
Wine down: to wine while lowering the bottom to the ground in a squat
Wine around: to wine in a circular motion, or to move around while wining
Tief a wine: to creep up behind or in front of someone and wine on them surreptitiously
Give (someone) a wine: to allow someone to wine on you; a pity wine
Wine back: to actively participate in a wine initiated by someone else
Small wine: a short wine
Hard wine: a particularly vigorous wine, usually on someone
Slow wine: a wine to a slow song, or on every other beat
Sweet wine: a wine that feels good, arousing


Re-Animalizing the Human / Humanizing the Animal

Related to one of the earliest posts on this blog, it was very exciting to see an announcement on the AAA Human Rights Blog, “Great Apes Receive Human Rights,” that speaks of some very interesting news of the extension of human rights legislation to cover gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos. The BBC in “Should apes have human rights?” speaks of the growing international movement to grant personhood to animals. (Talk about the “monkey smashing heaven.”)

In addition, the environment committee of the Spanish parliament voted to extend human rights to great apes. According to Donald McNeil in The New York Times, “When Human Rights Extend to Nonhumans:”

The committee would bind Spain to the principles of the [United Nations’] Great Ape Project, which points to apes’ human qualities, including the ability to feel fear and happiness, create tools, use languages, remember the past and plan the future. The project’s directors, Peter Singer, the Princeton ethicist, and Paola Cavalieri, an Italian philosopher, regard apes as part of a “community of equals” with humans.

Also of especial interest in the NYT piece is the following extract on changing definitions of “human,” supremacy and colonialism:

Ten years ago, I stood in a clearing in the Cameroonian jungle, asking a hunter to hold up for my camera half the baby gorilla he had split and butterflied for smoking.

My distress — partly faked, since I was also feeling triumphant, having come this far hoping to find exactly such a scene — struck him as funny. “A gorilla is still meat,” said my guide, a former gorilla hunter himself. “It has no soul.”

So he agrees with Spain’s bishops. But it was an interesting observation for a West African to make. He looked much like the guy on the famous engraving adopted as a coat of arms by British abolitionists: a slave in shackles, kneeling to either beg or pray. Below it the motto: Am I Not a Man, and a Brother?

Whether or not Africans had souls — whether they were human in God’s eyes, capable of salvation — underlay much of the colonial debate about slavery. They were granted human rights on a sliding scale: as slaves, they were property; in the United States Constitution a slave counted as only three-fifths of a person.

The BBC (same link above) also lists what its sources consider to be the key features of the great apes that make them eligible for benefiting from some human rights (such as the freedom from murder and torture):

  • Gorillas, bonobos, orangutans and chimps are great apes
  • Chimpanzees and bonobos differ from humans by only 1% of DNA and could accept a blood transfusion or a kidney
  • All great apes recognise themselves in a mirror
  • Elephants and dolphins show similar self-awareness
  • Great apes can learn and use human languages through signs or symbols but lack the vocal anatomy to master speech
  • Great apes have displayed love, fear, anxiety and jealousy
Perhaps my only unease stems from the argument of genetic correspondence and statistics. What is the numerical figure for non-humanness? I also am not totally confident about the impact of such legislation, given that our current human rights laws are not enforced with respect to certain humans, such as Muslim detainees in Guantanamo.
To me the idea that apes, monkeys, and humans were tightly related was very obvious since I was a small child, before I knew of anything called genetics. Moreover, what other children I knew also agreed with was that dogs shared, exchanged and communicated with us in such a way that, again, there was a strong sense of common bonds. To sit through a religion class, in a Catholic school, roughly around the age of seven, and hear the priest declare that “dogs have no souls,” “dogs don’t dream they just twitch in their sleep,” and “when dogs die they go nowhere,” left so many of us in class mortified and shocked that the priest could state such nasty lies, that I can assure the reader that there and then, in that very moment, he alienated at least two dozen Catholics for good. The rest of my years spent in Catholic schools would witness an endless series of challenges to Catholic doctrines from students, rebellious and pointed questions, met with looks of discomfort and very feeble attempts at any defense by priests and teachers. It was as if they themselves could not believe what they were preaching.
Far from the Catholic Church, but unfortunately not far enough, introductory anthropology textbooks still contain the standard statement about the uniqueness and specialness of humans as opposed to “animals.”

“You can’t shoot kids … but you can pound them” — How insurgents are made

This is the last video in this series, the previous one being “Why can’t we shoot these kids?” For those of us who are not, and have not been in Iraq, this is one of the few ways we have of “seeing” events on the ground.

This is a group of British soldiers — when and where in Iraq is not specified — and it seems that they are responding to some protesters. A group of young boys is dragged into what appears to be a base, and then pummeled. A large group of fellow troops return from the streets and walk past, and nobody interferes. It may not meet some definitions of “savage brutality” (in which case, pardon me for saying this, but someone needs to get their nuts kicked by an army boot) but I doubt this will “win hearts and minds.” For a young boy, one can imagine that this experience will leave a lasting impression. We also do not know what happens after the video ends, whether the boys are released, or further detained, etc.

Unlike the last related post, I should not neglect to mention that there is little someone like myself can do to verify this video, to contextualize it, to interview the troops, and to figure out if the cruel narrative of a man who seems to be having an orgasm at the sight of vanquished boys was added after the video was made by someone who was not present. Personally, I have been given no reason to doubt its authenticity, but one can never be absolutely certain with materials posted on YouTube. Having said that, I thank RAIM for bringing my attention to this video.

And in Canada today, the release of the Guantanamo interrogation tapes of Omar Khadr, captured as a young boy in Afghanistan and abused. This is Canada’s continuing scandal of neglect and participation in the violation of the same international laws it claims to hold sacred.


Monday Morning “Mor Tor”: Wine it up just so…for the Video Notes from the Indian Diaspora, Part 2

I need this video as background for at least two coming posts, especially for readers unfamiliar with Trinidadian or Indo-Caribbean cultures, with their dances, and some of the terminology that is used. This post follows the previous (Video) Notes from the Indian Diaspora.

This video, featuring Rikki Jai, begins with an Indian wedding. The idea of teaching a bride how to “wine,” shown in this video, comes up later. So what is “wining”? It is not connected with dining, nor is it a misspelling of “whining.” It is a way of gyrating the hips, and more than that, the bottom, or what some Trinidadians call a “boomsie.” The really good winer is the one who can virtually unhinge her boomsie — showing that the boomsie is working it up, as if all on its own, can be emphasized by dancing with a bottle on one’s head. The bottle stays in place, the boomsie does not. Wining of the kind you see here is dancing reserved for women only. Women who do this professionally and regularly appear in commercial venues may be known as “winer girls.”

Some will claim, in the cultural politics of inter-group competition, that wining originates with East Indians. That may or may not have some truth, but let’s put it this way: if they are not monopolists the video shows they can be specialists. There is also a very thin girl in a mid riff and bright green shorts in the video — that is an example of a “tiny winy,” that will come up again. Many chutney soca performances are accompanied by expert “winer girls,” and in a cultural milieu where women’s bottoms are highly valued, their motions count.

There are different wining motions, and even speeds, but one of the classic motions involves doing a (sideways figure eight) motion with one’s bottom, as if washing windows. I will leave viewers to detect other motions in the video. And one more hint, “show me your motion” will be the centrepiece of another coming post.

Finally, note that this example of chutney soca is sung in both English and Hindi, which shows, to some extent, the success of the revitalization of Indian culture. Even those of us on the outside get to learn some Hindi thanks to these musical productions, the way I recently learned from youtubing my way through Bollywood that “bindiya chamke” means “glittering dot,” as one example.



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July 2018
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trinidad street graffiti images courtesy of; all other photos courtesy of caribbeanfreephoto, under Creative Commons licenses.


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