What days – feasts
of friendship, feminism
Sunday, 25 August
It began with a brunch
…chez Sheena with her loving extended family. Xander grins when we stand back to back: Ha! surpassed the height of this petite doting auntie.
After Ajay’s crispy bottomed eggs, (a specialty, observes Shanda,) and other treats, we visit Sheena’s garden of changes. Not many months ago, the backyard was a pile of dirt. We went seed shopping together in spring and now the lavatera and California poppies are blooming along with so much more. But it is the extravagant eye-popping self-seeding scarlet poppies towering over what grew before that astonish this end of August. Along with the burnished happy gardener herself exhaling with pleasure, arms outstretched with the breath-taking astonishment at it all. I leave the house when the chocolates emerge – ok I succumbed to a few.
thinking about pay equity and the Alberta election
and talking about our mothers
14:30pm Then it was off to visit Laurie and friends for an at-home and conversations with friends I’ve known for so very long as colleagues, in women’s organizations and a union. So good to see them and to know I’m no longer in the trenches anxiously preparing my syllabi.
Or arguing with people about whether or not to accept a reasonable bargaining offer the week before Jason Kenney’s UCP win. As though it would be business as usual bargaining in a world where the NDP guarantee of stable funding makes way for the hedge trimmers of a neoliberal reactionary CON. At this moment a few months after the election, the education sector is already suffering with promises of more private education, the destruction of a curriculum achieved through wide consultation and care, and a challenge to the lgbtq2s+ initiatives that became a key educational policy of Rachel Notley’s NDP. (This latter issue is worth a longer discussion. While as a bisexual person and someone who has supported queer issues over the course of my life, I obviously supported the NDP lgbtq2s+ commitments, the fact that this became the pivotal electioneering platform at times seemed ridiculous to me when there were other issues with broader appeal that slipped into obscurity even though they would have served the party better in the campaign.) Even though Kenney is waiting until after the federal election to bring down the hammer. I fear for the universities in Alberta. As I do for the sick and the poor and, frankly, every Albertan.
No pictures of this gathering as I was too busy chatting and eating Mustafa’s hummus and dolmades to memorialize. And the paragraph above is merely the inner monologue that tweeted in my head during the lunch since our outer uttered conversation avoided talk of union or provincial politics. Why ruin a good get together with bad news. Besides we had much personal news to catch up on.
How many brunch/lunches can I consume in a few short hours?
“She the People”
16:00 A Beer and a Performance: And finally, later in the day, I headed to the Fringe with Isabel as guests of Fiona and Sandi to see “She the People” at the Garneau. An hilarious comedy sketch bonanza. The theatre was packed. There was popcorn and beer. My favourite theatrical episodes were punctuated by the howls and shrieks of laughter from young feminists in the audience. A joyful noise to behold. Such promise. (Ever on the alert for the representation of older women, it was interesting that the only elder in the skits was a reactionary woman. She would have been a Kenney/Ford/Trump supporter had she voted in the non-theatrical world.
The Edmonton Fringe in its 38th year surpassed earlier number. On the 2019 Edmonton Fringe Festival: “147,358 tickets were purchased during this year’s edition of the event, generating $1.4 million for participating artists. ‘The staggering numbers land total box office revenue at $1.72 million,’ states a release issued Monday, adding that amount was an 18 per cent increase from 2018. During the 11-day run, the festival grounds received 848,263 visits where crowds took in street performances by a variety of buskers.”
This is a city I love.
Monday, 26 August
04:08am: All of this Sunday socializing that came before dictated an early night to bed night for me. And Monday morning came early enough as I was up at 4am – apparently my new wake-up call.
The hour seems to suit me now. Still on Ontario time, but happy for the long hours in the dark before break of day. Just thinking and reading and watching and writing.
04:30am: Brazil in the news
My favourite early morning juxtaposition of headlines must have made the journalists’ heads spin. First The Guardian live update documented the unfolding of the G7 in France with the orange anus skipping the climate meeting that hammered out a welcome though somewhat late collective response to over 3000 fires tearing across Brazil.
(Though any optimism about this collective gesture would be short-lived when the Brazilian leader rejected the G7 offer of $20m because the French leader Macron had been critical of Jair Bolsonaro’s Amazon fire policy. The dispute degenerated into a twitter fist fight when Bolsonaro insulted the appearance of Macron’s wife. This teen boy dispute puts the focus on women as appendages of powerful men – this is symptomatic of the G7 role of women in leadership save for Germany’s Angela Merkel.
Dateline Miami, Florida: Juxtaposed with this was a G7 news story about Trump. How predictable but still astonishingly transparent is the narcissistic self-interest of the US Pres who plots to host the next international gathering at his own Florida hotel. Priorities! Priorities. Foreign Affairs as reality TV game show.
Dateline Brazil: The fires are swallowing up the Amazon – its rich green lung charred into lifelessness along with gorgeous birds and animals. The Indigenous sovereign gardeners of this land are threatened with death and homelessness. The burning, a sign of human greed.
David Miranda is a journalist and Brazilian federal Congressman representing the state of Rio de Janeiro, husband to the renowned award-winning investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, and co-parent of their two children. Today he writes about environmental politics in Brazil and the headline does not mince words.
“Fires are devouring the Amazon. And Jair Bolsonaro is to blame” is his latest in The Guardian where Miranda writes:
“Deforestation is an affirmative goal of Bolsonaro. That can be achieved by cutting down trees or, more efficiently, by simply burning large areas that Brazil’s agricultural industry wants to exploit. It also means displacing the Indigenous tribes that have lived in those forests for centuries: people for whom Bolsonaro has repeatedly expressed contempt. Indigenous displacement from those lands has often been accomplished with violence against environmental activists and Indigenous leaders. And Bolsonaro’s priorities make deepen these crimes.”
“Bolsonaro’s choice for his environment minster, Ricardo Salles from the so-called New Party (Partido Novo), [who] exemplifies the radical and even violent anti-environmentalism fuelling these fires. Last year, Salles, while serving as a state environmental official in São Paulo, was found guilty of administrative improprieties for having altered a map to benefit mining companies.”
For context, it is important to return to Glenn Greenwald’s July 9 video interview with Democracy Now! This is an encounter with the remarkably effective fallout from Greenwald’s recent investigative work, a collaboration with the American and Brazilian Intercept digital news site and a popular Brazilian magazine that mined the information from thousands of secreted government documents that were made public.
These revelations documented the corruption of the Brazilian Justice Minister Sergio Moro who had been instrumental in jailing the former government leader, thus disqualifying him from the election. The Brazilian election had been manipulated in order to put in power the fascist Jair Bolsonaro whose regime is particularly noted for targeting LGBTQ2S+ people.
But the interview also explores how Glenn Greenwald and his family are under unofficial house arrest due to death threats against them. The machinations of Bolsonaro make Brazilian public space a potential death zone for the family. As Greenwald points out, the death threats are specific and detailed and filled with official information about them – information that can only come from government sources. In the closing moments of the interview, Greenwald waxes philosophical about the dangers of his work. But does not diminish the seriousness of the threats.
“Miranda belongs to the same party as the late Marielle Franco, an Afro-Brazilian lesbian feminist, and socialist politician who stood firmly against state-sponsored racism and violence in Rio de Janeiro. She was shot to death in March 2018 by a criminal gang which has been linked by police investigations to the Bolsonaro family.
Apparently signed by a well-known paramilitary group in Rio de Janeiro, the email Miranda received also demanded US$10,000 in bitcoins be sent by the end of June to avoid his mother’s killing.
According to security advisors, there are similarities between this message and emails sent to Jean Wyllis, another PSOL Federal congressman in the state of Rio de Janeiro, forced to abandon his office due to death threats made in January — the vacancy Miranda filled.”
06:00am Optimization – The Great Hack
06:00am: In the dark, digital housework feels like company – I chatted with WordPress folk intermittently for hours while learning how to create and manage this new blog. I’ve done it before but with new editing technologies, I like to know what is possible. How it works, and what optimization means and how analytics can enhance whatever. This audience interest became sinister sounding soon enough. For at about 6am, thinking I might fall back to sleep if I began to watch Netflix (an almost foolproof sleeping pill), I fell into the thrall of a documentary The Great Hack that explores our being in the world as digital commodities. It explores precisely what my blog research teaches me – the optimization of us. How to reach humans on the other end of these tapping fingers and distracted eyes.
The Vice reviewer Janus Rose regrets the narrow scope of the documentary: “But while The Great Hack’s narrative about privacy and information warfare will be eye-opening to many, it largely fails to illustrate the bigger picture. The real “great hack” isn’t Cambridge’s ill-gotten data or Facebook’s failure to protect it. It’s the entire business model of Silicon Valley, which has incentivized the use of personal data to manipulate human behavior on a massive scale.””
The film opens with an encounter with David Carroll, a design prof at THe New School Parsons School of Design, who played a role in the unmasking of Cambridge Analytica’s manipulation of the US Election and Brexit by pursuing the company through legal means demanding they reveal the digital information they had pilfered about him. (This is a failed goal, but a noble path.) Filmed in the classroom and at his children’s school, he lives a bifurcated life, a sign of the new masculinity. He is portrayed as a working academic parent motivated by his concern for his daughter whose face is never shown as though her anonymity might protect her from the invasive social media world we inhabit.
Near the end of the doc, Carroll observes that by the time his daughter is 18, 70,000 bits of information will have been harvested from her being in the world. In the introductory moments of the video, the protagonist/narrator’s body transforms into a series of video surfaces and he becomes a cubist plot of data points, a desiring machine dissolving into bits and bytes that explode into particles of knowledge by others about you and you and you and me too.
There is much to be discussed about The Great Hack. It makes claims about a number of international elections. And it chillingly outlines the manipulation of the Jamaican election into a campaign to convince one demographic group of youth not to vote. This was effective in shifting the behaviour enough to become a key factor that influenced the outcome of the election. Ethnic parenting patterns come into play here as the claim is made that a campaign to convince youth not to vote would not affect the South Asian Jamaican youth because they are too dedicated to obeying their parents wishes – and they wanted them to vote for the South Asian Jamaican candidate who won.
The Great Hack also explores how the Brazilian election influenced by one of these campaigns that focused on divisive hate propaganda. Thinking of how the Canadian election may be influenced. Certainly the youth vote has already been discouraged from having faith in the electoral process through the SNC Lavalin scandal. The future is too depressing. (Note to self: Resume canvassing for my local candidate.)
Along with a portrait of David Carroll, a second figure is a key subject and portrayed sympathetically. Brittany Kaiser, a mesmerizing young woman, comes undone during the film as she moves through this humiliating public crisis in her life. She is a whistleblower inside Cambridge Analytica and a young woman of contradictions. She first worked with Obama and later became active in the campaign that helped elect Trump. Her graduate degrees in International Relations initially led her to positions with Amnesty International. However she then became a key player in the manipulation of the 2016 election that led to rule by the orange anus.
Random House recently announced Kaiser will be publishing a memoir about her experiences. I look forward to this but I am sympathetic with the skeptical observations of Guardian Observer Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carole Cadwalladr in her review of the The Great Hack:
“The ambiguity of Kaiser’s involvement “echoes our own complicity”, Amer says, “because we all played a part in this. It’s not like it’s Cambridge Analytica’s fault that the entire democratic process has been commoditised and you can buy and sell all this data. It’s not Cambridge Analytica’s fault that the US election is a multi-billion-dollar market. Cambridge Analytica didn’t decide democracy was for sale, we allowed that. We built this world, so we should own it… and not just point fingers at people who exploited it.”
“It’s a neat argument, but some are perhaps more complicit than others. Noujaim and Amer treat Kaiser in good faith and call her story a “redemption narrative”. But to others – including Wylie, Cambridge Analytica’s former research director, and Carroll – she’s an unreliable narrator. The narrative, Carroll says, is one that has netted her a “high six-figure advance” for a biography coming out later this year. “I hope people can see the difference between those who are monetising the Cambridge Analytica story and those who are doing the work.””
“And the film’s omissions of parts of Kaiser’s story are a shame. I spent months tracking down ex-employees who claimed their lives were put at risk after Kaiser brought in a team of Israeli intelligence agents for the Nigerian election campaign who hacked the current president’s emails. Employees describe how they were directed to search through these to find damaging material to leak to the press. There were “uncanny” echoes, employees said, of what happened with WikiLeaks and Hillary Clinton’s emails in the US election 18 months later.”
Emma Briant, journalism professor at the University of Essex, and author appears as co-author to some of Cadwalladr’s articles. Briant interviewed “British electoral consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL Group” years before the facebook scandal: “As an expert in propaganda, I conducted interviews with key figures at SCL, Cambridge Analytica and LeaveEU for research projects on the Trump and Brexit campaigns long before the data scandal was made public. “As a sociologist, I learned how to navigate Cambridge Analytica and SCL’s subculture and used similar language to build an understanding of how the modern day “propaganda machine” works.”
Propaganda machine – our new home.
Facebook’s data lockdown is a disaster for academic researchers since the company has become more inscrutable over time – Zuckerberg’s response to criticism was to lock down facebook data. The only researchers with access to the data are those hired by the corporation. Two communications researchers Marco Bastos and Shawn T. Walker write:
“The public uproar clearly underscores how users’ data was poorly handled, but a lockdown is hardly the solution to a problem rooted in the weaponisation of social networks, where people use Facebook, Twitter and so on to spread disinformation. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has created a worrying side effect: restricting access to data is likely to facilitate further weaponisation, by turning Facebook into a de facto black box that is largely unaccountable to external oversight.”
What is the effect of these election manipulation and digital theft scandals? In a short TED talk in Silicon Valley, Cadwalladr outlines her analysis. Her talk is worth watching. On her appearance in the “belly of the tech beast,” she comments on the disengagement of the genius tech inventors:
“In an interview last summer, US journalist Kara Swisher, repeatedly asked Zuckerberg how he felt about Facebook’s role in inciting genocide in Myanmar – as established by the UN – and he couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.
The world needs all kinds of brains. But in the situation we are in, with the dangers we face, it’s not these kinds of brains. These are brilliant men. They have created platforms of unimaginable complexity. But if they’re not sick to their stomach about what has happened in Myanmar or overwhelmed by guilt about how their platforms were used by Russian intelligence to subvert their own country’s democracy, or sickened by their own role in what happened in New Zealand, they’re not fit to hold these jobs or wield this unimaginable power.
I walked among the tech gods last week. I don’t think they set out to enable massacres to be live-streamed. Or massive electoral fraud in a once-in-a-lifetime, knife-edge vote. But they did. If they don’t feel guilt, shame and remorse, if they don’t have a burning desire to make amends, their boards, shareholders, investors, employees and family members need to get them out.”
Which makes me all the more grateful for the poppies and the laughter of Sunday and the message from Helen that arrives Monday early afternoon with her bicycle-helmeted selfie propped on her wheels in front of Lake Ontario. She writes it is her first ride in a while as she stops to gaze water-side on the beauty of two visiting cormorants. Meanwhile I remain, of course, still in bed! Writing. And feigning activity, I send her a picture of my googled Albertan cormorant that elicits a digital giggle.
And in the midst of this there is correspondence with a friend I met in about 1970 or so in an undergraduate theatre production. His theatrical talent took him far and he is making a terrific film about precarious intellectual labour in Canada. He needs money to finish it up and hopefully everyone will pony up to give it to him. (Please donate.) Certainly this is the scandal of the contemporary academic work world – the increasingly numerous precarious workers whose lives are a shifting sea of debt in an odd job workplace culture that calls for expensive advanced education while offering a brutal exploitative lack of opportunity.
14:40pm: my grandmother’s library
And I have a chat with my mother about the fact her mother born in August would have been 130 or so years a few days ago – the information passed on to me automatically by my fruit-bearing electronic ancestral family tree. My grandmother was 28 when she married, after her early working life riding the buckboard to a prairie one-room schoolhouse in the footsteps of the great Quebec/Manitoba novelist Gabrielle Roy. And of course when my grandmother married, by law she had to give up her teaching career. My mother said grandma was very depressed much of her domestic life on the farm. Her well cared for leather bound poetry books of Coleridge and Wordsworth and Robbie Burns (she married a McTavish) languished in the basement of her home when I was a child.
And there you have the origins of my settler colonial aspirations as a lover of poetry. And that is the stuff of a longer tale I am writing.
And between hail and rainstorms, sporting a sweater and no umbrella, I visit my wonderful audiologist Essie who adjusts my old hearing aid. I discovered I had had a longstanding hearing deficit in one ear when Bao was young. Since then the hearing in this ear has diminished slightly over time. But today, Essie pumped up the volume slightly while we chatted about our daughters. Soon the city became all high notes and the scratch of upper registers, filling in the sonorous arc of a welcome range in this noisy world of ours.
16:10pm: hot Scotch Bonnets
And afterwards, a shopping trip to The Italian Centre where all things good arrive like mountains of peppers in summer from B.C. Established sixty years ago, the original store is an institution in this city and under the guidance of the Spinelli daughter Theresa has expanded across the city and the province.
When the NDP raised minimum wage to $15, there was an outcry from some business owners and Theresa Spinelli signed on to an organization that objected to the increase and later spoke about her position. I haven’t found it within myself to resist the hot Scotch Bonnets and other delights at the Italian Centre.
16:25pm: from here to (t)here
Then there was a brief but brim-full of love call with my coastal daughter whose laughter with her friends in her kitchen filtered through the airwaves to fill me to the brim again. This “letting go” lesson of motherhood is shared by many. The admiration of her independence and aspirations. And the anguish at the proximity that we have lost. Only the mountains separate us.
I wouldn’t have it any other way – geography makes space for insight. This spring and summer our conversations reveal how much she has grown in thinking through what matters.
18:37pm: home remedies: fruit flies (dropsophila), & jason kenney
One spanner in the works at home (aside from the large scale climate mourning and horror at the rise of autocrats and fascists) is the cloud of fruit flies that proliferated in the house around a bowl of tasty fresh peas inadvertently abandoned on the kitchen island while I was on holiday in foolish Ford’s Ontario.
My house provides a perfect incubator for fruit flies according to LifeDope.
“Drosophila also known as fruit fly were most widely used and genetically best-known of alleukaryotic organisms for genetic research to Thomas Hunt Morgan in 1909, because of many factors like, fruit flies had a generation time of 10 days (from egg to a mature adult). The organisms are very small so a large number of them could be kept and bread for experimental purposes. The easiest way to generate large numbers is by growing them on a medium made from instant mashed potatoes with a little yeast. Drosophila grows between the temperatures of 18 – 28°C. It grows best at 22 -26°C. At this temperature, the entire life cycle requires 8 – 14 days for one generation.”
These flies remind me of my beautiful neighbours – two women biologist friends who spent their scientific career working with fruit flies to research cancer among other things. We raised our daughters side by side. Their daughter became an arts-related filmmaker. And my daughter, a scientist. It is as though they looked over the fence into the neighbour’s yard and thought, that intellectual/creative grass looks greener.
I need a pied piper to seduce the fruit flies outside into the garden.
Not to mention someone to pipe Rob Ford in the east and Jason Kenney here at home towards some secret cave . Oh that these creepy bros so very excited by destruction might be walled into a mountain of shame.
(Note: While I eventually found possible solutions to the fruit fly infestation, the arrival of the UCP will be a much harder plague to eradicate.)
Simone de Bebe
And of course the days are punctuated by walks through the meadow and ravine with the cocky poodle who maniacally dashes to and fro challenging big dogs to a brawl.
Tuesday, 27 August
00:14am: On a happier personal note, I just awoke before midnight from a nap to the ping of a beloved former student’s note – now professor herself, she is coming for lunch if I ever emerge from this post again.
(Sleep hygiene – who cares? Life in retirement & older age provide unlimited hours for improvisation. A baby has a tighter schedule than I do.)
And in the midst of these two days, I managed to organize myself next weekend in two distinct marvelous places/spaces/cities at once. Both with friends I long to talk with in person.
I forgot about a long anticipated party to celebrate community and liberation. Not to be missed.
Scratching at my consciousness was a niggling thought that this day was already spoken for but who notes anything in a calendar in the middle of one’s first summer of retirement? But I was seized with such excitement (“boulverse” would be the French word), at the thought of witnessing a musical concert and film by and of the Kronos Quartet. Inspired by this Banff Centre facebook news from Yoke Sum, I suddenly made plans. This would have meant a good drive through the mountains to the Banff Centre on Friday and a visit with wonderful friends.
As it is, I have to survive with the splendid party at home. Such is the tedium of happy times in retirement it seems.
22:41pm: And bonus, Susan, an old friend in Calgary, just wrote to say she would be delighted to attend the concert in my stead. So all is well in the end.
Retirement lessons #1 (open to revision)
- Try to be more downbeat about your retirement.
- ENJOY – just don’t talk about it. (Pardon the battlefield comparison – not to diminish the tragedy of war. But perhaps when one stops working after 32 years in a large educational institution one experiences the kind of guilt that soldiers must feel when at home on furlough while their colleagues return to the battle zone.
- Write like a fiend. Though now that I have retired my blog post is only 4442 words. I might consider breaking it down.
- And don’t discuss orgasms. Too much pleasure for company.