Cultural Respect & Discrimination

The International Herald Tribune site has published a thought-provoking article on the role of women in Iran and their achievements. The author, Roger Cohen, has travelled recently to the country and had a privileged look on the revolutionary part many women are playing there.

He tells of the piteous moments he witnessed:

...a slender woman clutching her stomach outside Tehran University after the blow; a tall woman gesticulating to the men behind her to advance on the shiny-shirted Basij militia; women shedding tears of distilled indignation; and that young woman who screamed, “We are all so angry. Will they kill us all?”

Many of us Western girls know prejudice, scorn and even hostility, but few know it to that extent. Many of us fear walking in certain parts of town, not always really dangerous ones, nourishing mostly imaginary fears of attack and robbery. All of us know how annoying and disgusting it feels to be called names on the street just because we are women, but in such parts of the world, women face much harder challenges than that.

Let's all of us, both men and women, when we hear of such accounts reconsider the ordeals we face daily, and even if our lives are as hard as theirs, value the counterbalances we have, which they don't.

It's so easy to claim that our problems are worse than everybody else's, despite the (relative) freedom, knowledge, joy and support we have. Though regarding their problems in all their seriousness doesn't end ours, it should give us strength and solace to know that there are others carrying their burdens, not wasting time with defeating thoughts.

This closing remark in Cohen's article is sobering:

I asked one woman about her fears. She said sometimes she imagines an earthquake in Tehran. She dashes out but forgets her hijab. She stands in the ruins, hair loose and paralyzed, awaiting her punishment. And she looked at me wide-eyed as if to say: do you understand, does the world understand our desperation?

A hijab is just a piece of clothing, but such a deep meaning it has. Just as clothes can express all the character of the one who wears them, they can also tag the wearers with all the shame, guilt and humiliation society intends for them. It has been so from the loincloth of slaves to the Star of David stitched on the sleeves of Jews during the Holocaust era.

It's all too easy for us in our advanced countries disregard what it must feel like to be hived off like that, when we are used to expressing our wildest dreams (and nightmares) in our daily wear, and trivial as it is, such freedom shouldn't be taken for granted.

Some of the comments are as challeging as the article itself. For instance, this one by Tom Wonacott:

But your commentary is heresy to multiculturalists - and offensive to Muslims, Mr. Cohen. Multiculturalists teach us that one culture is not better than another, just different (cultural relativism). Multiculturalism celebrates and teaches respect for all cultures - even those cultures traditionally criticized because of their poor human rights record - like Iran.

Judging what is moral in another culture is “unfair” since we must judge the culture by our standards of morality. For example, gender discrimination is not tolerated in our society, but inequality of the sexes is the norm in most Islamic states or within the caste system in parts of India, thus gender bias is culturally sensitive. Thus, you are an insensitive, cultural supremacist, Mr. Cohen. Keep up the good work…

Yes, we must give respect as we like to receive it, but according to Tom, there's no common truth, no common sense at all. And if each can bend truth according to their whims, then there's no right or wrong, or so such a shallow concept would lead us to believe. But there's one seemingly insignificant fact that proves that, at least in this matter, cultural respect is not lacking on those who condemn the hijab, and all such discriminatory clothes: There are local women rebelling against it, and everything it embodies.

Yes, there's a great number of women who are resigned to it in Iran and all the other countries that keep such customs, but the amount of women who show their displeasure is considerable, not taking into account all those who fear expressing their resentment. And they don't do that because they are influenced by some Hollywood movie in which women wear miniskirts, but because that is clearly offensive.

The very act of wearing such clothes in the intemperate heat of those countries is unhealthy. I wonder if any of those men who agree to its use, including Tom, would put up with wearing that under a torrid 40°C sun!

As for the gender discrimination, does culture excuse people to discriminate against others for difference in gender, sexual preference, culture, race, nationality, religion, disability or any other form this many-headed monster has taken? Can any of us give some evidence of being inherently better than anybody else? And if we're all equal in nature, such disparaging attitude isn't supposed to be fought? Well, one can always choose to ignore reality...

This other comment, by seattlesh, sums up any argument we can use to counter such simplistic ideas:

Yes, there are those in every nation that... understand the desperation. Ask any person of color, any gay or lesbian or working mother here in the US. Ask a union worker who has fought for a shred of dignity and recognition for his or her accomplishments and contributions to their employer after being outsourced and cast aside.

Ask one of the millions of people who live in fear because they lack basic health care. Ask the university student and their parents about the staggering student loan debt that they enter the adult world with. Ask the returning disabled veteran unable to obtain proper physical and psychological care. The fight never stops. There is always someone to demonize or try to control by those drunk on power and their sense of entitlement.

The Iranian women will prevail. Iranian society and the power elite cannot eradicate their knowledge that they have gained through higher education. The information age brought on by computers and the internet is an unstoppable train. As we all know from Sir Francis Bacon's famous quote, "Knowledge is power".


Highlight: Cory Ench

Cory Ench is a graphic artist that has an impressive online gallery with fractal art. He and his wife Catska (who's an amazing artist too) have been working on both digital and paper mediums, as illustrators for publishing companies, such as Tor. He was awarded several prizes, the International Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest was one of them, when he was one of the 15 finalists worldwide who were selected to be included in the exhibition that was held in Spain, in 2007. On his profile, Cory Ench says that his "experience in art has been a creative journey of many roads. Over the last 30 years I have experimented with drawing, watercolor, oils, acrylics, printmaking, photography & sculpture, among a variety of other media. With excitement I watched the computer graphics technology evolve into a formidable tool which I wield today with as much joy as I do a paintbrush." He has a BFA from Cornish Institute of the Arts (Seattle), but he considers himself mostly self-taught. He even studied anatomy in the University of Washington Medical School in order to perfect his skill. Here is a sample of what you find in Cory Ench's site.


Power To The People 2: Finding Meaning

Last Wednesday, the Independent site published an article about the ways in which internet has been used for raising people's awareness for social causes, money for campaigns and helping startup entrepreneurs all around the world, also in the lowest social classes.

It is a very important report, both for its contents, which give an overview on the several ways internet is "letting individuals express their inborn generosity", but also for certain key comments it features.

Take, for instance, this statement by economist Robert Fogel:

People have enough to live, but nothing to live for; they have the means, but no meaning."

Is that the reason behind people's yearnings in all aspects of their lives? Are they looking for meaning when they become some band's die-hard fans, or when they identify themselves so much with their jobs and the companies they work for, that they lose their own identities, and as a consequence, when they are let go, they feel depressed and suicidal, as if they had died in the process?

Instead of looking for a meaning in such unreliable and sometimes even fickle things, shouldn't we look for a meaning within ourselves, in those feelings, skills and knowledge we have and can develop, which nothing can take away from us, and which can be useful not only to our immediate circle of influence, but to unknown thousands worldwide?

I think that's one of the most important aspects of internet: it has given us a means through which we can find meaning in our lives beyond the mundanity of our daily toil.

This is the one place where it doesn't matter where you come from, whether you're a man or a woman, poor or rich, good-looking or ugly, old or young, white, black or blue, you can reach out to others like yourself and even help those who in "real life" would frown at you, just because you don't fit their normal standards. And I mean it, when I say help those people, because the selfish and intolerant are the ones who need most help.

Another interesting excerpt:

The reason more people are trying to find meaning in social contribution... [is that] ...despite 50 years of GDP growth... we haven’t got any happier. Quite the opposite, mounting evidence of unhappiness is all around us, like rising crime (one in three young British males are convicted of a crime before their thirtieth birthday), alcoholism (since 1950, more and more people are dying from liver cirrhosis), clinical depression (on the up since World War II), youth suicide or days off work.

The data above mentions only Britain, but you know that every prosperous country has the same problems. For years now, the bourgeois commonplace idea that if-I-have-money-I'll-be-happy has shipwrecked. This is one of the most absurd ideas in the sense that, though a decent income is essential for well-being, some of the most important things in life can't be bought. I wonder if the reason why crime is rising, people are drinking and using drugs more, there's more depression, suicide and addictions than ever before, is because the system has collapsed.

With the system defunct, we have basically two kinds of people: those who manage to keep up, by renewing themselves, recycling ideas, finding new meanings, and among these are the ones who volunteer, or contribute to society somehow, and then there are the weak ones, those who lose themselves, who are unable of filling the gap left by the system, because they have misconceptions and limitations that prevent them from finding a positive way out. Could they find a way out if they applied themselves? Of course. There's no such thing as being constrained to accept failure.

Instead of wasting time complaining about the sun that never shines and envying the neighbor's greener garden, we should find ways - or make them up, in case they're not available - to make the world better. After all, the good things we have nowadays are the result of what our forefathers did (as much as the crappy things).

The article also has this inspiring quote from Einstein:

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

This quote is echoed by the article's author, Andy Hobsbawm, when he says that:

"The only way to tackle something that affects all of us is together, so some level of global consciousness is going to need to take place if mankind can defeat a problem of this scale."

Whether it's a stranger we'll never meet, a problem in a country with a culture so strange to us as to be incomprehensible, we can't claim it doesn't affect us anymore, we can't fool ourselves by imagining that problems that happen in France won't happen in Brazil, because they already do. We can't keep nourishing delusions of superiority anymore, because we live in the world not in an isolated piece of land in another dimension.

The world isn't united by peace and love, but by suffering and need. One day that will be inverted, if each one of us does our part now.


Highlight: Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland

Tim Burton is producing yet another masterpiece, this time a dark psychedelic version of Alice In Wonderland. The Guardian has published a gallery with the first pictures from the movie. Here is a selection of them:
Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. According to the Guardian: "...Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, resembling a dayglo-version of Adam Ant in his heyday, with a bit of Ronald McDonald thrown in for good measure, looks enough to have most small children running screaming from the room in terror" Hehe... Indeed. :b

Helena Bonham-Carter as the Red Queen. Spooky!

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland... What did you expect? Summerland??

Read more news about the production here.


Who's afraid of AIDS?

Are you one of those who think that AIDS is a disease of the past, or maybe one that only homosexuals, prostitutes and promiscuous people get? Actually AIDS still kills and it isn't a disease of the "outcasts" either.

If you think such things about this notorious infection, don't feel bad about it. There are many who think that HIV doesn't cause the disease, despite all evidence proving the contrary.

New Scientist has published two relevant articles on it. One is about the 5 myths of HIV and AIDS, showing the pros and the cons of each myth. The other one is a point-blank report on the present occurrences of the disease.

It tells of how denialism is present in the internet, misleading the gullible:

"Denialism has been relegated to the fringes of the internet, but it isn't of no consequence," says John Moore, an immunologist at Weill Cornell Medical College, Ithaca, New York, and one of the world's foremost AIDS researchers. "It can still cost the lives of unsuspecting people."

Internet is a great democracy, something like an "all-men's land", and being so, much of what is published in it is foolish, superstitious, wicked even. How can you know whether what draws your attention on the web is worth your time or not?

The only way is to question every piece of information, research reliable sources, compare facts, go deep into the matter. It's no easy task, but don't get the impression it's boring. If you keep your mind open, you'll certainly find much more than what you first went looking for.

Back to the article, another interesting point is the answer to the accusations that the so-called "AIDS myth" is kept because there are reputations at stake and it's lucrative to pharmaceutical companies. The article says:

It is certainly true that the scientific peer-review process can slow down the acceptance of new theories. And pharmaceutical companies hardly have a spotless record either. Yet the clinical and epidemiological evidence for the viral cause of AIDS is overwhelming, from virologists who see HIV under their microscopes, to doctors the world over who witness AIDS patients begin ART and make dramatic recoveries.

That's what makes the difference between fact and fiction. There's a thin line between both, but if you look hard enough you will find it.

Check this site for more information on the disease and how to prevent it: http://www.avert.org/prevent-hiv.htm

Take care!


Highlight: Northern Lights From Space

The Telegraph has published a gallery with pictures of the Northern Lights taken in the last few years from the ISS and several space shuttles. They are extremely beautiful. Follow the link to view the gallery.

The Northern Lights, or Auroras are caused by the emissions of protons above 80km (50 miles) in the atmosphere, "from ionized nitrogen atoms regaining an electron, and oxygen and nitrogen atoms returning from an excited state to ground state.

They are ionized or excited by the collision of solar wind particles being funneled down and accelerated along the Earth's magnetic field lines; excitation energy is lost by the emission of a photon of light, or by collision with another atom or molecule.

Source: Wikipedia

Power To The People

No one can deny that internet has revolutionized the way people communicate and socialize with each other all over the world, and recent news have showed the momentum it is gaining through playing a vital part in the fight for freedom in reactionary countries.

This week, the IHT has reported on how a Chinese waitress got public support, after being arrested for defending herself with a knife from an official who tried to rape her, killing him. Several other cases of power abuse in China are being reported online, despite all the control the government has on internet content.

The news inform that:

...Ms. Deng’s case eclipsed them all, racking up four million posts and counting, he aid. Her story resonates with millions of Chinese who not only are fed up with low-level corruption but also prize chastity in young women, causes that transcend politics.

“Deng Yujiao is a metaphor for someone who fights back against officials, and of course the officials are those who spend the taxpayers’ money, who are so abusive to ordinary citizens and so corrupt,” he said. “It’s almost a stereotype of the online image of officials. That’s why this case becomes so big.”

The methods used by the local police to stop the spread of information were heavy-handed:

On May 22, Beijing censors ordered Web sites to stop reporting on the case. Four days later, television and the Internet were cut off in Yesanguan, the town where the attack occurred. The official explanation for the shutdown was as a “precaution” against lightning strikes.

Spurred by the Internet frenzy, Chinese journalists had converged on Badong County. But after censorship was imposed, local officials began screening outsiders, and some journalists seeking to report there were beaten. Mr. Wu’s blog was shut down by censors.

As for the officials:

The two surviving local officials who were involved in the assault have been fired, but no charges were brought against them.

So much for their "good policing".

Still, people are reacting:

Last month, a group of young people abruptly appeared in the middle of downtown Beijing, carrying on their shoulders a woman wearing a mask and wrapped in white cloth. They laid her on the ground and arranged signs around her, then took pictures.

The signs read, “Anyone could be Deng Yujiao.”

The photos immediately appeared on the Internet.

Go nonconformists!

The IHT also reported on how Twitter was used by the US government to give a slight push in the exchange of information in the country. Should they be meddling with the elections there? Maybe, maybe not, however it seems that the people there are struggling to keep the little freedom of communication they have, so maybe this meddling is not bad at all, as it's shown in the article:

An account called StopAhmadi wrote on Tuesday evening, “We need ppl around world helping to raise the issues put pressure on Iranian gvmt.” It posted links to pictures from Tehran, including one that showed a man bleeding profusely from his chest, surrounded by protesters.

Even the politicians have been using Facebook and such for their own promotion, so if they didn't have anything to hide or fear, they wouldn't be worrying so much about what people are talking about in the internet now, would they?

A BBC journalist said:

“We’ve been struck by the amount of video and eyewitness testimony. The days when regimes can control the flow of information are over.”

So we hope!


Highlight: Adam Brockbank

Adam Brockbank is a concept artist, who worked in the production of several mainstream movies, such as Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets (among others of the series), Tomb Raider, Alexander and Inkheart.

Unfortunately, there is very few personal information about Adam Brockbank on the web (as far as I could find) and no interviews. But I happened to uncover some background:

Like so many other concept artists, Adam Brockbank first got interested in art through comics, especially Marvel's Silver Age series. Brockbank spent 7 years learning painting, and joined the film industry as a storyboard artist, later working on concept art. [1]

If you know of any interview or articles about him (with some text and not only his amazing concept art) let me know. Thanks! :)

Here are some of his works:

Tomb Raider 2

Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets


Visit Adam Brockbank's site for more great concept art.


Racism Rears Its Ugly Head

Recession has been haunting the world again, and just as in the past, the weak elements of our society are freaking out and throwing the blame on those they fear or can't understand.

A few minutes browsing the internet brought news of the latest displays of racism, hatred and pettiness from those who obstinate in thinking themselves better than others, entitled to hurl their discontent at them.

Here is some of these news:

Romanians fleeing racism seek sanctuary in Belfast church hall - Western Europe has become a dangerzone for immigrants, and last Tuesday several Romanian families, with small children, had to take refuge in a church to escape the attackers... It seems they are also neo-nazis, which comes as no surprise, as this is just the sort of thing they've always done. Their distorted notion of self-importance is pathetic... May the authorities really do something about it, as they've promised.

Above the negative part of the news, one detail that stands out is the stance of the Irish who had the decency of helping those families. One of them declared: "It is a sad indictment of our society, but hopefully we can show them a different side to Northern Ireland and a caring side to Northern Ireland."

At Tomasky talk: Race and Republicans, Guardian's American Editor, Michael Tomasky talks about the Republicans and their biased jokes on African-Americans in the background, while under the spotlight, they try to look convincing as open-minded people who want to "reach out to people of color" in the US. *sigh* How long will we have to stand this kind of thing?

Tomasky comments: "to reach out to people of color, you actually have to meet some first, and if you meet some, you'll learn that these things actually aren't that funny." Is it really so hard to imagine what is like to be in someone else's shoes, and learn to respect and accept differences? Some people seem to think so...

Then, on not-so-new news, we have the following links, telling of similar racist and social attacks on the other side of the planet:

Curry Bashings - Attacks against Indian students in Australia.

The article reports that: "According to A.F.P., there have been 70 attacks against Indian students in Melbourne in the last year alone – in addition to attacks in Sydney – prompting Indian students to hold demonstrations against the violence."

Eta - A pejorative term, from Japan’s feudal era, used to refer to burakumin – the country’s “untouchable” class.

Thanks to Google Maps, the regions that had been inhabited with such "untouchables" (those who did jobs associated with death, such as working with leather, butchering animals and digging graves) can be found in an old map that has been made available, which has called worldwide attention to a shameful kind of social discrimination.

According to the article, "Japan’s caste system was abolished almost 150 years ago but... human rights advocates claim that descendants of Japan’s burakumin – some 3 million people – still suffer prejudice. It is not uncommon for potential employers, or parents-in-law, to hire agencies to check for buraku ancestry."

Well, if you think that there's war only in the Near East and Africa, think again. I didn't mean the violence that plagues the streets of our cities, but the war that's being fought in our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, homes and inside ourselves.

With all this darkness around and inside us, what should we do about it? Hide? Kill ourselves? Perhaps shrug and ignore it all like so many sheep? Go out in the streets and preach at the top of our lungs?

Nothing of that changes anything, but if we start by realizing the misconceptions we nourish on our minds, and question them, look into things to see what they actually are, then we may change something. Then we may be ready to start spreading better ideas, instead of age-old mistakes, and hope, instead of despair.

JRR Tolkien, genius that he was, left some inspiring quotes, and among them, there's this one that is part of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, which in Cate Blanchet's voice sounds quite impressive:

"Even the smallest person can change the course of the future."

*yes, that means you too!*