On that Amazon vs. Hachette kerfuffle

Books, Culture, Entertainment, Politics and Current Events

I really like Stephen Colbert this week. (Well, more than I usually do.) Most people don’t care about what’s happening between Amazon and Hachette (which is understandable, but unfortunate!), but when Colbert goes to bat… well, demons run when a good man goes to war. You can read all about his war against Amazon here, which is the latest development in the ongoing kerfuffle between the mega online bookseller and book publisher Hachette. The stakes? The future of a great publisher, the livelihood of everyone who works in the book industry, including authors, and, ultimately, readers like you.

The sticker Stephen Colbert wants you to download from The Colbert Report website (http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/) and put on things you don't buy from Amazon.

The sticker Stephen Colbert wants you to download from The Colbert Report website (http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/) and put on things you don’t buy from Amazon.

There are valid points on both sides of the issue (after all, low low prices on Amazon get people buying books, but they don’t really support the publishing industry in the process of providing great books in the first place), but I’ll just say that I think Amazon could benefit from understanding how much work and money goes into creating books, and how valuable publishers (and editors and agents, etc. etc. etc.) are to that process.

Speaking of which, John Green also weighed in on the issue (on the anti-Amazon side), and — oh, what a coincidence! — I just saw The Fault in Our Stars movie last night. It was screening a day early as part of The Night Before Our Stars special event, with a live, post-movie Q&A with the cast and crew being fed into a few hundred theatres around the U.S. and Canada. I really enjoyed the book (yes, there are good YA novels that well-read adults can enjoy and no, I’m not ashamed) and I thought the movie was a very faithful adaptation. And I have the tear-stained tissues to corroborate that.

A potpourri post for Friday the 13th

Culture, Entertainment, Politics and Current Events, Travel

Random movie association: 8 reasons why the Twilight series is like Pretty Woman

I know it’s a stretch, but listen!

  1. Edward (in Pretty Woman) never eats or sleeps (almost never sleeps). Neither does Edward (in Twilight). In fact, Edward watches Bella eat in that restaurant, and Edward watches Vivian eat breakfast after their first night together.
  2. Bella has little to no confidence and is dazzled by Edward’s world. Ditto for Vivian.
  3. Bella gives up her “horrible” life to live in his. So does Vivian, for a little while, and we can assume that she continues to do so after the end of the movie.
  4. Edward (Twilight) sparkles. Edward (Pretty Woman) sparkles with money.
  5. Both Edwards are well-off with fancy things. Both Edwards “save” their respective ladies in a fancy, silver car.
  6. Bella and Vivian have friends who they think they’re better than.
  7. Bella and Vivian are both forcefully kissed by a guy – Jacob and Stuckey.
  8. Bella and Edward wait until they’re married to have sex. So do- wait, never mind.

Genius that was never meant to be read

In July, news surfaced that despite Franz Kafka’s desire to have his manuscripts burned after his death, a crazy legal battle is underway to open ’em up and take a look see. Meanwhile, people can’t wait to get their grubby little hands on Salinger’s mysterious unreleased manuscripts.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think if a writer didn’t want their work read, we should leave it that way. As much as it would be exciting to read them, and as much as it might bring a little more artistic beauty into the world – I still think it’s disrespectful.

On that note, I really like what Mark Twain did: leaving instructions not to publish his autobiography until 100 years after his death. That’s badass. Plus, we have his permission to read it.

I hope it’s as awesome as it sounds

A bunch of millionaires and billionaires have pledged to give giant chunks, or in some cases “the vast majority,” of their fortunes to charitable causes. It’s all part of The Giving Pledge, apparently started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and there are 38 rich folks who are participating.

Questions! I assume the money will be donated after they die, but what if they get wrapped up in legal limbo? Also, what do they mean by “charity”? It would be horrible to see all that money go to waste by going to foundations or organizations that don’t know (or don’t care about) using the money properly, or it just recirculates in wealthy circles, or it ends up in the hands of corrupt dictators and dirty politicians in the developing world. Just saying you’re giving your money “to charity” is hardly enough. Also, how much are these people actually giving? I don’t see any specific numbers; we’re taking a lot on faith, here.

BUT, I think it’s a great gesture and I hope their promises pay off one day. Go George Lucas!

I can’t tell if this place is really cool, or really lame

It’s called Hicksville, and it’s a trailer park-themed artist retreat in and around Joshua Tree, California. I want to go to there.

I Hope It’s Worth It: Toronto’s G20 Protests

Politics and Current Events

Walking through the streets of downtown Toronto yesterday was like being transported to some dark alternate reality. Instead of hipsters and tourists, there were riot police and onlookers taking photos of smashed store windows and anarchist graffiti sprayed on abandoned streetcars, their drivers having jumped the ship at the first signs of chaos.

Of course, if you were watching the news on T.V. (or if you were following Twitter at the time), you would have been told two things: 1) the day started peacefully, and 2) the vast majority of protestors were peaceful demonstrators. But that being said, it wasn’t exactly Woodstock out there, either.

The march leaves Queen's Park.

When the organized and scheduled march left Queen’s Park shortly after 1 p.m. on Saturday, it was exactly what I imagined it would be. Groups from Greenpeace to Oxfam to CUPE marched with banners and chants; individuals carried signs and posters promoting every cause under the sun; and hundreds of photographers and onlookers took thousands of pictures from the sidelines. Oh, and one guy teetered atop the statue at Queen and University.

As the march passed by rows of police officers – some in riot gear – guarding the southern border, some yelled out calls of “shame!” and others just stopped to take pictures. The only real confrontation I witnessed was between a handful of protestors and one guy in a suit with an “Everything is O.K.” sign who seemed to be spewing pro-G20 rhetoric. That’s it.

Then the march reached Queen and Spadina. There was a giant sign with a green arrow that seemed to be directing the march north up Spadina, but hundreds of people (possibly thousands) congregated around the intersection, climbing up streetcar shelters, chanting and waiting. A flare was set off in the middle of the crowd at the intersection of Queen and Spadina, and the smell of pot and – I think – vinegar was in the air. There had been talk earlier from some groups about heading towards the security fence, so I assumed part of the crowd was diverting for that reason. So I waited for whatever was going to happen next.

Then a group of cops ran through the crowd in a flash. Everyone around me broke into a run towards the action, cameras at the ready. When we arrived at the scene, protestors and cops seemed to be at a stand-off. People were yelling “fuck the police!” and, on closer inspection, a police car had been vandalized. The windshield was smashed, along with its headlights and the lights on the top. After a few minutes, riot police marched in and the day seemed to take a drastic turn at this point.

As soon as the first signs of violence appeared, it was as if the crowd split into different fractions: onlookers, media, protestors who seemed bent on aggravating the cops to the point of violence, and the rest of the protestors who held up peace signs to cameras and sat cross-legged in front of rows of riot police. But for everyone, the march wasn’t about Tibet or free education or environmental concerns anymore – it was about yelling “these are our streets” to the police, taking pictures of smashed windows and graffiti, and wondering what was going to happen next.

"They're more afraid of us than we are of them."

You couldn’t walk 10 feet on Queen West without seeing a smashed window. You also couldn’t navigate through the streets without being confronted by a row of faceless riot police. Towards University, we found abandoned streetcars with anarchy symbols over the TTC logo (with what I hope was locally produced, organic spray paint). Mailboxes were strewn across the street and there seemed to be more curious onlookers taking photos than protestors.

Trying to leave the area to go home ended up being a difficult task. At every turn, a row of riot police were in a confrontation with angry crowds. Anyone will tell you that the vast majority of protestors were peaceful, but most of the people on the streets were bent on verbally attacking the police, practically begging them to demonstrate some of that notorious police brutality to justify our animosity. I understand the whole “fuck the police” mentality and the tradition of police prejudice that demands that, but I was still surprised by the level of hatred that radiated from the crowds towards the officers. Later, watching unmasked men and women trash police cars on T.V., I was still in awe.

It needs to be noted that in every instance where we were blocked from moving by rows of riot police, the officers never communicated with the crowd. There was a complete lack of communication from the police; no instructions of how to mediate or assuage the situation. All anyone could do was face the police and chant. Even those who were just trying to go home – like me – couldn’t get past the police blocking our way. I understand – to a degree – why they can’t break the lines to let a couple of well-intentioned people pass by, but it’s still frustrating when we assume the police want us to disperse, but at the same time prevent us from doing so.

Eventually, however, we managed to squeeze past the police lines and out of the hot zone. Reading my Twitter feed on my iPhone and getting texts from others in the crowd, I continued to hear rumours of tear gas being deployed, cop cars being set ablaze and more and more property being damaged. As we headed south, the last I saw of the police was a group in riot gear pounding their shields and advancing on the crowd.

I don’t need to relate anything else that happened yesterday, or that continues today, because you can watch all that on the news. But let me end with a couple more things to note:

Black Bloc: If one more person explains to me that there is no “black bloc group” and that it’s actually a tactic where people hide their faces and destroy symbols of capitalism before disappearing into the anonymity of the crowd, well, I’m going to smash your face in. I understand the definition, but I have to make the case that there was a specific group intent on destruction and violence yesterday. During the march from Queen’s Park, there was a very distinct group of people clad in black clothes and masks who physically obstructed photographers from taking their pictures. My half-serious, half-joking explanation was that they were probably planning on doing something illegal later on. These same people were later seen setting flares off at Queen and Spadina. The definition of “black block” may be a tactic, but there was a very specific group employing this tactic yesterday.

Us vs. Them

The Police: I think I may scrutinize the actions of the police this weekend for days to come. Why were cop cars left abandoned in streets, just waiting to be vandalized? Why were people able to completely destroy the cars, set them ablaze and then watch them burn to the ground well before any firefighters or police showed up? Why were the police concentrated in certain areas where the worst protestors were doing was trying to hand them flowers? They were obviously prepared for black bloc tactics, but could they have done more to prevent the damage that was done? Did they allow it to happen to create public condemnation of the protestors? Were innocent onlookers and media hurt during confrontations with more violent demonstrators? (I guess we’ll have to wait for confirmation on that.) And what was going through the heads of the officers while all this was going on?

From my perspective, the protestors and the police slipped seamlessly into their ascribed roles from the start. Crowds yelled “fuck the police!” and “shame!” while holding up peace signs, while the police remained defensive, waiting for the crowds to get violent and understanding that the only way to hold on to their precarious control was to be intimidating and unsympathetic. There was no other way for things to unfold, it seemed. We the Protestors, they the Man. And the issues lost as casualties in the fray.

The Media: Today, local media is abuzz with 500+ arrests, burning police cars and unfazed diplomats. There’s no doubt that your Facebook status is correct: Violence is ineffective. It obscures the message (although, to be fair, there were dozens of competing and unfocused messages being shouted from the crowds of the march well before chaos broke out, the effectiveness of which is also questionable, but that’s another blog post). Violence also drains public sympathy for protestors and their issues. This doesn’t need to be said; I think we’re all in agreement. And I suppose the media is limited in what it can report because a crowd yelling “Free Tibet” just isn’t as relevant as violence in our streets. So I suppose all I can do is shrug my shoulders and sigh.

Now, I hope the focus returns to the actual G8/G20 Summit. Let’s see what the fucktards have actually accomplished while we were tearing the streets apart. Toronto paid a high price for this summit, so I think we deserve an appropriate return on our investment. Time to pay up, Harper.

You can see my photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zalinaalvi/sets/72157624365003924/

Two steps forward, two steps back

Culture, Politics and Current Events

Let’s do some feminist math, in honor of (the last hour of) International Women’s Day:

Book is published that shows it’s possible to turn female oppression into opportunity – now in its 20th printing: +1

It’s called Half the Sky, and it’s written by New York Times superheroes Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas D. Kristof. Read it.

Gold medalist with a penis drinks beer and is awesome. Gold medalists with vaginas drink beer and have to apologize: -1

And that’s in addition to the fact that hardly anyone even cared about women’s hockey at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (although that would include me; see Hockey! post). Also, while official pucks that were used in the men’s gold medal game were going for $3,000-$5,000 on eBay (with one day left in the auction, I didn’t see what they ended up being sold for), similar pucks from the women’s gold medal game went for less than $500. Even taking into consideration the Sidney Crosby Factor, that’s still pretty sad.

Kathryn Bigelow is the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director: +1

And it only took 82 years. In any case, I’m also enjoying the fact that she directed the gritty war drama, and her ex-husband directed the movie with all the pretty blue colours.

No one wants to dress Gabby Sidibe for the Oscars: -1

At the same awards show, controversy surrounds what designer is going to dress full-sized best actress nominee Gabby Sidibe (for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire). I think this issue has more to do with the inhuman standards of fashion and the superficiality of Hollywood culture than feminism, per se, but, again, both those things affect women more than they do men, so fair enough.

I guess I’d call it even.


Culture, Politics and Current Events

I don’t normally watch hockey, or any sport, for that matter. But this past week, I watched four men’s hockey games during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. I was watching when we got crushed by the U.S., annihilated Russia, barely beat Slovakia and – with extremely bated breath – I was watching when Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal in overtime on Feb. 28, breaking the hearts of millions of Americans (especially that of U.S. goalie Ryan Miller).

Sidney Crosby realizes he's won gold.

I don’t want to be accused of fake, or temporary, or crowd-induced patriotism… also known as Olympic Hockey Fever. I also hope I don’t sound like a bad feminist because I didn’t follow the women’s hockey as closely (who also won gold!). But I have to admit I got really caught up in the drama, the suspense and the excitement, before and after we won. I couldn’t help it. When Zach Parise tied the game with just seconds left, I thought I was going to cry. I nearly stopped breathing while we were in overtime. I clapped so hard I hurt my palms when I realized we won. I typed Facebook and Twitter statuses without looking away from the T.V. And then I teared up at photos of crowds cheering and celebrating in Vancouver and Toronto.

And yet, when I watched that first game against the U.S., I had to Google “power play.” I didn’t know who these players were, and I had to rely on the announcers to walk me through what was happening. What I did know, however, was that I hated Zach Parise and Ryan Miller with the passion of a thousand suns. And I knew that WE. HAD. TO. WIN.

I don’t care that I’m a tourist hockey fan. Or an Olympic sheep. I enjoyed every moment – a whole series of exhausting, terrifying, exhilarating, and proud moments – that I experienced with millions of other Canadians. I’m glad that I can tell people what I was doing and where I was when Canada won gold. Being a part of all that was worth all the stress. And there was a lot of stress. Did you see that goal that tied the game? SCREW YOU, PARISE!

And now back to my normal life.

Good segregation?

Politics and Current Events

Part of being a “cultural mosaic” (hold the eye-rolling until I’m done, please) necessarily assumes some level of difference. If it wasn’t so, we would have a “melting pot” instead. Difference isn’t a bad thing; belonging to a certain group based on that difference – ethnic, religious or otherwise – isn’t bad, either.

So when does it get bad? When the word “segregation” enters into the discussion? It certainly brings some awfully negative connotations with it: ghettos, white-only bars/buses/schools etc. But is it possible that what makes that kind of segregation bad is that it’s forced? When it’s one group saying to another, “you stay there, we’ll stay here” out of hate, or fear, or both.

So is it possible that there’s good segregation?

The Star ran an article today about a housing subsidy in York Region for buildings that limit residency to certain religious and ethnic groups (specifically, one Italian, one Jewish and two Muslim). Not surprisingly, the issue brings up issues of segregation and discrimination, basically that certain groups of people are getting subsidized rent ahead of thousands of other seniors and families who are on waiting lists simply because they meet the ‘minority’ requirements of these buildings.

Two key questions:

Q. Why are the buildings allowed to rent to only certain groups?

A. The buildings are often built by that particular community through fundraising and volunteering. Plus, the buildings are required, among other things, to provide culturally-specific programs in the building. Not much different than the way we segregate some schools, I suppose.

Q. Is the housing subsidy discriminatory?

A. Critics say ‘yes,’ because taxpayers’ dollars are going into facilities that aren’t open to everyone. Supporters say ‘no,’ because it’s seen as a “leg up” for these minority groups, plus the Human Rights Commission says the buildings aren’t discriminatory.

Setting aside the housing subsidy issue for the moment, I’d like to focus on the buildings themselves. If there is such a thing as “good segregation,” do these buildings fit the bill? Shouldn’t people be allowed to live, or study, in facilities that are catered to their beliefs or cultural practices?

Part of me would like to say ‘yes.’ Another part of me worries that although we have the right to segregate ourselves willingly, it seems counter-productive somehow. Aren’t fear and hate born out of ignorance, and doesn’t segregation breed ignorance?

Regional Councillor Joyce Frustaglio, who helped raise funds for the residence built for seniors of Italian descent, was quoted in the article saying “people feel more comfortable among their own.”

This should worry you. You should not feel comfortable hearing that people feel more comfortable among their own, however true it may be. Because even in the instances when we choose to segregate ourselves, we’re still saying, “you stay there, we’ll stay here.”

Oh, Canada, how could you?

Politics and Current Events

You’ve heard about this, right? Canadian Suaad Hagi Mohamud was stranded in Kenya because KLM Airlines and the Canadian Border Service Agency thought she was an impostor ’cause her lips supposedly didn’t match her passport photo? It finally took DNA testing to prove she was who she says she was. But you already know this story.

When stories like this get a lot of media attention and people get really riled up about such blatant injustices, I always wonder about a few things:

1) Why this story? There are so many human rights abuses and just generally crappy stuff happening every second of every day every-freakin’-where, so why this story? Why this woman? How does this story become water-cooler material? I feel almost manipulated when I get upset reading about stuff like this, ’cause I know that shit happens all the time, but I feel particularly upset about this specific woman.

2) What happens now? She’s finally coming home, so is that the end of the story? Will the Canadian Border Service Agency change any of their policies? Will they find a scapegoat, pay some public retribution and wait for the storm to pass? PM Harper said the agency is being asked to provide a full account of their actions. To what end? The pessimist in me wants to cry ‘shenanigans!’ at this PR song-and-dance routine.

3) What’s the attention span for cases like this? I have to admit, when Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained in North Korea, the situation eventually fell off my radar. That is, until they were released. And I’m sure most people who were outraged at first eventually stopped thinking about it, too. Of course, I remind myself that there are always that group of people – politicians, journalists etc. – who continue to pay attention and take action long after the general public have lost interest in stories like this. It’s a small consolation. I guess it’s not realistic to keep the public outcry going strong for every injustice.

Frankly, I feel rather blue about the whole thing. Maybe there will always be an imbalance between people who look “Canadian” and those who don’t. Could I, as a brown woman from a Muslim family, ever become prime minister of Canada? I’m gonna’ have to say no (but feel free to argue with me on that point).

I always think of this story when I’m on this subject: When I was in grade 5, I had to give a speech, and I chose the subject of holidays. I talked about the origins of Victoria Day and Halloween, and ended the speech by expressing a hope that one day Canada will celebrate all holidays in addition to Christmas and Easter, including Muslim holidays. Afterwards, my teacher said I had done a good job, but explained that in Canada, we celebrate Christmas, and I could celebrate my holidays in “my country.”

I didn’t say anything in response to that because I was confused. Up until that point, I did not realize that Canada wasn’t my country. Unfortunately, that leaves me a little dispossessed. If I don’t belong here, where the hell do I belong? That’s the crux, my friends. What kind of country is this, if its own citizens can’t feel as though they belong?

Activism and You!

Culture, Politics and Current Events

I recently checked out the rally against George W. Bush (and a little against Bill Clinton), who were speaking at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Friday. What looked like a couple of hundred protestors (many of whom were onlookers, it seemed) gathered outside the centre to throw shoes at a giant Bush poster, sing protest songs and demand that Bush be tried as a war criminal. (They were also tough on Clinton for allowing US sanctions that caused the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children.) You can learn more through the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War


Zalina Alvi, 29.05.09

Zalina Alvi, 29.05.09

I went because of my growing interest in activism. I’m particularly interested in the fine line between being perceived as an idealistic hippie and a rational, yet concerned, human being. From my perspective, I think it’s unfortunate that people who genuinely care about the welfare of other people, even if they live in other countries, or about the longevity of the environment, for examples, are typecast. I know I’ve told my fair share of hippie jokes. It’s one thing to disagree with the politics of protesters, but I feel as though most people just don’t care or they see activists – people who ACT – as extremists. I think back to people who are revered today, like Mahatma Gandhi, and I wonder how different his ideals and tactics were from the people who organized this rally.  

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer prize winner, is a great example of someone who actively campaigns for change in a successful and “non-hippie” way. He is definitely a member of the system, but he works really hard to campaign for rights and freedom for all people, particularly women and developing nations. This is the kind of activism I want to strive for, not because I’m afraid if I tie myself to a tree that I’ll be embarrassed, but because I think its counter-productive to campaign in a way that puts off the average person, and as a result, hurts your cause.

But at the same time, that brings up the Sri Lankan protests in Toronto this last little while. I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of people were more concerned with traffic woes and inconveniences, than with the issue at hand. But if you’re going to try to enact change through protest, there’s no such thing as a protest that doesn’t inconvenience people and that’s also effective. You can’t always work from inside the system.  These are our choices and I think the pros of that kind of action definitely outweigh the cons. But maybe that’s my youthful idealism. 

So I guess we need both, the protestors and the Nicholas Kristofs.

Kristof actually recently wrote on his Facebook fan page about youth activism today: “Just spoke to Lawrenceville School about the world and how to make a difference. I’m struck that while there has always been student activism, it was mostly protest in my day, while these days it often includes an element of starting an organization to do something positive as well. It’s the social entrepreneurship revolution, and I’m in awe of it.”

I think the reason why young people are more inclined to the social entrepreneurship side of activism, is because there’s this growing belief in our culture that in order to change the system, you have to be a part of it. Less than 10 years ago, the campus paper at York University, Excalibur, fought to keep the Toronto Star off campus, and, according to the woman who organizes a yearly Star workshop for student press, they wore ripped jeans and had an air of defiance when negotiating with the big city newspaper; today, newspaper staff put on suits and ties as they hobnob for business cards and contacts. But that doesn’t mean student press doesn’t care about the same ideals than those of yesteryear; it’s just a different approach.

Meanwhile, I recently saw a documentary called “Rachel” at Hot Docs, about a young American woman named Rachel Corrie who joined the International Solidarity Movement, and was subsequently killed while trying to stop an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003.

My initial reaction was to be impressed with Rachel’s commitment to a cause she believed in, politics aside. I thought it took courage, and yes, some reckless idealism, to go there and stand on the front lines the way she did. Some others I spoke with, though, thought she was youngandnaive (yes, as one word). Is it a tough distinction? Perhaps. Maybe you need to be a little reckless to believe in change at all. If that’s the case, I don’t mind being a little like Rachel Corrie. I think, ideally, we would all be idealists.