Morality Clauses and Twitter

January 18, 2019

Lionel Shriver has a fascinating piece in the Spectator USA about “morality clauses” in modern publishing contracts; clauses that void contracts “if, in a magazine’s ‘sole judgement’, they were the subject of ‘public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals’.”

Shriver gives an account of the use of such clauses in Hollywood to control writers, directors, and stars, and which in part led to the McCarthyite blacklists.  He goes on to note:

In kind, today’s broad, nonspecific publishing opt-outs in the event of an author’s incurring ‘disrepute’ readily extend to thought crime — and the contemporary basket of ideological no-nos does nothing but burgeon. Off the top of my head, too-hot-to-handle topics now include anything to do with gender, sex, race, immigration, disability, social class, obesity and Islam (surely that list is too short).

The reason for their recent resurgence?  Twitter, says Shriver.

Enshrining mob rule in legal contracts can only further embolden the cranks, the kooks, the grumps — the sanctimonious, the embittered, the aggrieved. As word spreads that outrage on digital steroids can not only hound and intimidate writers, but can consign years of their hard work to the bin, the Twits are further motivated to crucify anyone who breaks their imaginary rules …

Yet this is a much larger matter than writers whingeing about their writery problems in their little writery world. It’s an issue for readers, of course, but it extends beyond readers as well. All forms of employment are now altogether too contingent on not attracting the contumely of the crowd.

Shriver concludes with advice for publishers:

It’s time for folks with institutional power to exercise independent judgment, rather than immediately disavowing overnight pariahs who only yesterday were their friends and colleagues. To refuse to respond to every mob at the door by picking up a baseball bat and joining the throng. You know who you are.

Well worth the read.


Bravo to Gillette!

January 16, 2019

 

This is a very brave corporate statement in support of #MeToo, noting that a large number of men need to change their actions and their thinking if we are ever to rid ourselves of a domineering patriarchy.

I’m not dumb enough to think they put this out without massive research in focus groups and elsewhere where they learned that it would not be a fatal mistake to launch such an “attack” on its own target market.  However, I am intelligent enough to recognise that Gillette didn’t need to do this, didn’t need to take the risk but did it away because it was the right thing to do.

The risk, of course, comes from the response to the ad by the large number of unreconstructed males, the very same group who perpetuate the problems highlighted in the ad.  A wide variety of these responses can be found most easily in the 1,650 comments on the YouTube video.

Some are simply sticking their head in the sand and hoping it will go away:  “RIP Gillette”, “Goodbye Gillette”, “buy anything but this product”, “you just lost a customer for life”, “what a bunch of fools”, etc.

Others were more expressive: “it feels like Gillette is calling me a rapist”, “the entire country is sick of feminism,” and the ad is “dripping with contempt for men.”

But the antediluvian rednecks were loudest: “Men get treated like they’re bad just for being a man,” for example. (Compare and contrast: “Nazis get treated like they’re bad just for being Nazis.”) Those responsible for the ad should be “put in camps to be worked to death”. They say the ad is “misogynistic and racist” but is “still not quite gay enough.” “Now we can’t even shave without radical feminist ideology.”

It is “left wing propaganda” paid for by “your liberal masters,” and is “a garbage political narrative.” One even suggested that “big corporation sides with communists in the culture war.”

How can the idea of treating people as people rather than as sexual or dominatable objects be considered “radical”?

Unfortunately, the number and extent of these comments proves that there is a genuine need for more public service messages of this kind.


News Addictions Anonymous

December 14, 2018

The always useful No Tech Magazine led me to Rolf Dobelli’s “Avoid News” essay in which he declares that the instant overwhelming availability of news leads to terrible evils for the mind and the body of the ordinary human being.

He proves to my satisfaction that the regime of news misleads us systematically, is irrelevant, limits understanding, is toxic to the body‘s limbic system, increases cognitive errors, and inhibits thinking.  It also changes the brain, is expensive and manipulative, makes us passive and decreases creativity.  He ends by describing a regime of news abstinence in which the body is gradually cleansed of the news disease.

I believe it all.  He’s nailed it.  I urge everyone to read it.  But I still can’t live it.

My name is Jak and I am a news junkie. I used to abuse news through every source, but now I’m mainlining it via Twitter and the radio.  TV is still useful for non-news material, but I don’t get any news from it any more.  The revolution is being tweeted. CNN and Fox are irrelevant, replaced by individuals using instant alerts with links to dozens of stories and broadcasts and background, expanding outward as far as the market will handle.

I accept Dobelli’s conclusions about the addiction’s negative effects. And I will stop.

But not  just yet.  Please.


Pandora’s Seed Fails To Blossom

December 13, 2018

I spent a week reading “Pandora’s Seed: The Unforseen Cost of Civilization” by the National Geographic Society’s Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells, and I was thoroughly disappointed.

I’m guessing that if it was a reader’s very first introduction to the disasters caused by the Neolithic Revolution — hierarchy, stress, planet destruction — then perhaps some of the chapters would be of value. But for the many who have studied this topic for a long time, including a couple of mentions on this blog, this was little more than a recap.

There was too much of the Sunday supplement style of writing, describing flights to exotic locales, cab journeys, and the minutia of other scientists’ looks.  I sometimes thought I was reading the lead-in to a People profile. He did have the occasional good line; perhaps the best of which correctly describes agriculture as “a virus, expanding in influence despite its negative effects on human health.”

But this was generally too shallow a dive for me.


Dirtiness Is Next to Godliness

December 11, 2018

When I was a kid, I bet I ate a whole field’s worth of dirt as I played.  My mates and I mucked around in the Thames which, in those days, was little better than a sewer; we got colds and upset stomachs and simply ran them off, more as likely in pouring rain.  Sometimes we got real diseases like mumps and measles but they were considered age appropriate and we all knew it would be over in a week or two.  If any of us had suggested we had an allergy to peanut butter, say, then we would have been stuffed with it until we got over it.  We spent our childhoods shaking hands with every germ and bacteria on the ground and in the air and we grew up to be a fairly healthy generation.

These days parents protect their kids from any kind of contamination and we have the sickest kids in history, I bet.  Many parents pride themselves on keeping their home environments as — or more — sterile than hospitals.  And yet their children have allergies to this and contra-indications to that.  They are as clean as they can be and they are sick as dogs.

I believe there is a direct relationship between the health of kids and the amount of dirt they eat.  The more bugs they collect early in life, the better immunities they develop later; and the more sniffles they get as a child the less likely they are to show hypochondriac tendencies as adults.  To put it another way, the less a household pays in cleansing and sanitizing and “protecting” their kids, the less they will need to spend in health care costs later.

This change from healthy dirt to dangerous prophylaxis has occurred within my lifetime.  How did it come about?  Marketing and capitalism, that’s how.

By the 1940s and 1950s, major industrial cleaning companies had developed a whole range of cleaning solutions.  No one really needed them, but the marketers set out to convince parents, mothers especially, that they were doing their children great harm if they did not use their products.  They used fear as the primary motivation — not only fear of sickness in their kids, but more viscerally the fear of appearing to be a bad mother. And they succeeded perhaps beyond their wildest dreams.

And now we are all paying for it, with a generation of children with allergies and neuroses and medical conditions that were almost unknown fifty years ago.  It sure did the Johnson & Johnsons and the Hoovers of the world a lot of good financially, but is this really progress?

 


Reason #234 NOT to use Facebook

November 18, 2018

This article from the New York Times is long and important.  It looks at the management practices espoused by Zuckerberg and Sandberg, and the serious issues that arisen.

” … as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives …

While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation.

Facebook’s internal investigation on the extent of Russia interference in the 2016 elections was thorough and devastating, and Zuckerberg and Sandberg decided to hide as much of it as possible, But pressure from Congress was too much:

After stalling for weeks, Facebook eventually agreed to hand over the Russian posts to Congress. Twice in October 2017, Facebook was forced to revise its public statements, finally acknowledging that close to 126 million people had seen the Russian posts …

In March, The Times, The Observer of London and The Guardian prepared to publish a joint investigation into how Facebook user data had been appropriated by Cambridge Analytica to profile American voters. A few days before publication, The Times presented Facebook with evidence that copies of improperly acquired Facebook data still existed, despite earlier promises by Cambridge executives and others to delete it. Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg met with their lieutenants to determine a response. They decided to pre-empt the stories, saying in a statement published late on a Friday night that Facebook had suspended Cambridge Analytica from its platform. The executives figured that getting ahead of the news would soften its blow, according to people in the discussions. They were wrong.

For anyone interested in how these huge corporations manage the politics of their business, this is a detailed study.

 

Previous Reasons NOT to Use Facebook.


Another Side to The Invasive Species Stories

October 23, 2018

We see a lot of stories on the media these days about the negative impacts of invasive species, dominating anf decimating “local” species. But what happens if the invasive species actually becomes a fan favourite? Here is the lede to an interesting cultural history of smelt fishing:

“40 years ago, smelt fishing on the Lester River [Minnsota] was something else entirely. “There were people all over the place, bumper to bumper on London Road,” said Don Schreiner, fisheries specialist with the Minnesota Sea Grant. These now-tranquil shores were once home to a circus tent that housed an all-night smelt fry and a party atmosphere so wild that Schreiner’s parents wouldn’t even take him and his siblings down to the beach. In addition to hangovers, the smelt also brought a tourism industry. There were professional fishermen catching and selling smelt. It was a huge cultural event. “And then,” Schreiner said. “It crashed.”

Starting around 1979, smelt numbers in Lake Superior plummeted. In ’78, commercial fishing companies took in nearly 1.5 million pounds of smelt. A decade later, the haul was 182,000 pounds. There is no commercial smelt fishing on Lake Superior today. But because the smelt in Lake Superior are an invasive species, their decline is actually a sign that the lake is becoming healthier, ecologically speaking. From a cultural and economic perspective, though, the North Shore isn’t what it was. So is the decline of smelt something to celebrate? And if so, who should be throwing the party?

This excellent article goes o to show that, as with so many things in our complicated world, it is useful to have second thoughts about one’s first impressions.


Lascaux

September 12, 2018

On this day in 1940, the Lascaux caves in central France were discovered by four teenagers. As they entered the long shaft down into the cavern, the boys saw vivid pictures of animals on the walls.

 

When the site was made available in the later 1940s, this cave art was wildly popular with the public. More importantly, it allowed everyone, both public and scientists, to understand more clearly that the so-called “cave men” were far more than the mindless brutes of previous imagination.

At about 17,000 years old, the Lascaux images are far from being the earliest known cave art today — several caves in Europe and Indonesia have art from about 40,000 years ago, and a recent “sketch” on a rock in South Africa may be much older.  However, the enormous trove of images (more than 900 animals identified) at Lascaux combined with the encouragement of tourist traffic to the location has allowed this cave complex to become the best known of all cave art.

Today marks an important anniversary in our understanding of who we are and where we came from.


Important Consultations On Substance Abuse

September 5, 2018

The Feds are looking for input to improve the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy.  The details are here on the Health Canada site.  They are looking to hear from:

  • people with lived and living experience with substance use, including those in recovery
  • Indigenous peoples, organizations, communities and leadership
  • substance use healthcare professionals and service providers
  • experts in substance use prevention, treatment, harm reduction and drug regulation/enforcement
  • civil society and community groups working in areas related substance use, or social determinants of substance use
  • substance use researchers and academics

The consultation time period started today and goes on to 4th December.

Thanks to Dorothy for letting me know about this.

 


Reason #232 NOT to use Facebook

April 4, 2018

After all the scandal and revelation over the last couple of weeks of bad governance at Facebook, I am shocked and amazed that anyone still has an account there.

I truly believe that people are mindlessly surrendering themselves to the corporation for a quick buzz and constant contact. It is sad. Sad mostly because these chickens WILL come home to roost for everyone concerned. This may all seem a little like some titanic battle over how elections are run and won (correct at one level), but it has very important aspects much closer to home to do with your personal identity, your ability to freely choose, and your possible futures.

I would have hoped that the shenanigans revealed this week would make these series of posts irrelevant.  But I haven’t seen the kind of mass move to leave FB that reasonably should have happened by now.  So, I guess, I’ll just keep count of the staggeringly large number reasons NOT to use Facebook.

 

Previous Reasons NOT to use Facebook


Reason #231 NOT to use Facebook

February 15, 2018

Facebook’s latest “data protection” gizmo actually tracks everything you do online, might store it forever, and definitely feeds all the information to the company for its own use. An article in WIRED explains that Onavo

“falls far short of the privacy protections that VPN users reasonably expect … Onavo is more pervasive than standard VPNs, and attempts to be on all the time instead of just when you want a little extra protection. This seems like a way for the app, and by extension Facebook, to track your browsing all the time, not just when you’re on the social network …

‘Onavo collects your mobile data traffic,’ reads the App Store description. ‘This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analyzing your use of websites, apps and data. Because we’re part of Facebook, we also use this info to improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences.’ If you’re looking for the privacy benefits of a VPN, this is not what you want to hear …

‘Unlike other providers, Onavo Protect tries to keep the VPN connected all the time, and channel all internet traffic,’ says Ankur Banerjee, a technology architecture delivery team lead at the management consulting firm Accenture. ‘Even turning the VPN off is buried deep inside the settings of the app rather than making it front-and-center on the app home page. They could spin this as saying they’re trying to keep the customer protected all the time, but the obvious thing they are perhaps trying to do here is ensure that the user forgets Onavo even exists’.”

Sounds like business as usual for Facebook.

Previous Reasons NOT to use Facebook


The Scythe, Modernity, and the Crash To Come

February 4, 2018

For those of you who are keen on fighting back against the tyranny of modern technology, you could do a lot worse than read Dark Ecology” by Paul Kingsnorth.  It is a fairly long piece (by internet standards) but worth every minute you spend with it.

Each summer, Kingsnorth teaches the use of scythes in England and Scotland and in this article he uses the scythe as a surrogate for other simple tools when compared to modern machinery.  He explains the delight one gets in using a scythe, but remarks that most people use brushcutters these days:

“Brushcutters are not used instead of scythes because they are better; they are used because their use is conditioned by our attitudes toward technology. Performance is not really the point, and neither is efficiency. Religion is the point: the religion of complexity. The myth of progress manifested in tool form. Plastic is better than wood. Moving parts are better than fixed parts. Noisy things are better than quiet things. Complicated things are better than simple things. New things are better than old things. We all believe this, whether we like it or not. It’s how we were brought up.”

He really hits the nail on the head when he confronts critics who claim that he and those like him are simple-minded back-to-the-earth idealist dreamers:

“Romanticizing the past” is a familiar accusation, made mostly by people who think it is more grown-up to romanticize the future. But it’s not necessary to convince yourself that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers lived in paradise in order to observe that progress is a ratchet, every turn forcing us more tightly into the gears of a machine we were forced to create to solve the problems created by progress…

Critics confuse “a desire for human-scale autonomy, and for the independent character, quirkiness, mess, and creativity that usually results from it, with a desire to retreat to some imagined ‘golden age.’ It’s a familiar criticism, and a lazy and boring one. Nowadays, when I’m faced with digs like this, I like to quote E. F. Schumacher, who replied to the accusation that he was a ‘crank’ by saying, ‘A crank is a very elegant device. It’s small, it’s strong, it’s lightweight, energy efficient, and it makes revolutions’.”

Kingsnorth looks closely at the “green movement” of the last century, noting how badly it failed:

“The green movement, which seemed to be carrying all before it in the early 1990s, has plunged into a full-on midlife crisis. Unable to significantly change either the system or the behavior of the public, assailed by a rising movement of “skeptics” and by public boredom with being hectored about carbon and consumption, colonized by a new breed of corporate spivs for whom “sustainability” is just another opportunity for selling things, the greens are seeing a nasty realization dawn: despite all their work, their passion, their commitment and the fact that most of what they have been saying has been broadly right—they are losing.”

Worse, he says, we now have neo-environmentalism, often described as simple “ecopragmatism” but which is “something rather different” as described by the PR blurb for Emma Marris’s Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, one of the movement’s canonical texts

For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal is to preserve nature in its pristine, pre-human state. But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature.

Or, as Peter Kareiva, says:

“Humans degrade and destroy and crucify the natural environment, and 80 percent of the time it recovers pretty well.” Trying to protect large functioning ecosystems from human development is mostly futile; humans like development, and you can’t stop them from having it. Nature is tough and will adapt to this: “Today, coyotes roam downtown Chicago, and peregrine falcons astonish San Franciscans as they sweep down skyscraper canyons. . . . As we destroy habitats, we create new ones.” Now that “science” has shown us that nothing is “pristine” and nature “adapts,” there’s no reason to worry about many traditional green goals such as, for example, protecting rainforest habitats. “Is halting deforestation in the Amazon . . . feasible?” he asks. “Is it even necessary?”

Kingsnorth responds:

“If this sounds like the kind of thing that a right-wing politician might come out with, that’s because it is. But Kareiva is not alone. Variations on this line have recently been pushed by the American thinker Stewart Brand, the British writer Mark Lynas, the Danish anti-green poster boy Bjørn Lomborg, and the American writers Emma Marris, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Schellenberger. They in turn are building on work done in the past by other self-declared green “heretics” like Richard D. North, Brian Clegg, and Wilfred Beckerman.”

Kingsnorth argues that these neo-conservatives are misunderstanding the problem, probably deliberately:

“What do we value about the Amazon forest? Do people seek to protect it because they believe it is “pristine” and “pre-human”? Clearly not, since it’s inhabited and harvested by large numbers of tribal people, some of whom have been there for millennia. The Amazon is not important because it is “untouched”; it’s important because it is wild, in the sense that it is self-willed. It is lived in and off of by humans, but it is not created or controlled by them. It teems with a great, shifting, complex diversity of both human and nonhuman life, and no species dominates the mix. It is a complex, working ecosystem that is also a human-culture-system, because in any kind of worthwhile world, the two are linked.”

“The neo-environmentalists, needless to say, have no time for this kind of fluff. They have a great big straw man to build up and knock down, and once they’ve got that out of the way, they can move on to the really important part of their message. Here’s Kareiva, giving us the money shot in Breakthrough Journal with fellow authors Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz:

Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.

There it is, in black and white: the wild is dead, and what remains of nature is for people. We can effectively do what we like, and we should.”

He looks at the future through the eyes of the past:

“Look at the proposals of the neo-environmentalists in this light and you can see them as a series of attempts to dig us out of the progress traps that their predecessors knocked us into. Genetically modified crops, for example, are regularly sold to us as a means of “feeding the world.” But why is the world hungry? At least in part because of the previous wave of agricultural improvements—the so-called Green Revolution, which between the 1940s and 1970s promoted a new form of agriculture that depended upon high levels of pesticides and herbicides, new agricultural technologies, and high-yielding strains of crops. The Green Revolution is trumpeted by progressives as having supposedly “fed a billion people” who would otherwise have starved. And maybe it did; but then we had to keep feeding them—or should I say us?—and our children. In the meantime it had been discovered that the pesticides and herbicides were killing off vast swaths of wildlife, and the high-yield monoculture crops were wrecking both the health of the soil and the crop diversity, which in previous centuries had helped prevent the spread of disease and reduced the likelihood of crop failure.

It is in this context that we now have to listen to lectures from the neo-environmentalists and others insisting that GM crops are a moral obligation if we want to feed the world and save the planet: precisely the arguments that were made last time around.”

“What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of ongoing collapse, which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green “solutions” being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, barring some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilizational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around us.”

This is a sad pass we have come to.  Humanity has been too clever by half.


Reason #230 NOT to Use Facebook

January 22, 2018

According to a fascinating piece by Cory Doctorow, the dictatorship in Cambodia has been using Facebook to undermine the opposition in that country, by suppression, false news, and violence.

“The Cambodian government has cultivated a deep expertise in Facebook’s baroque acceptable conduct rules, and they use this expertise to paint opposition speech as in violation of Facebook’s policies, using the company’s anti-abuse systems to purge their rivals from the platform. Offline, the government has targeted the independent press with raids and arrests, shutting down most of the media it does not control.”

And they seem to have been directly aided by Facebook itself.

“[L]ast October, Facebook used Cambodia in an experiment to de-emphasize news sources in peoples’ feeds — a change it will now roll out worldwide — and hid those remaining independent reporters from the nation’s view.

Opposition figures have worked with independent researchers to show that the government is buying Facebook likes from clickfarms in the Philippines and India, racking up thousands of likes for Khmer-language posts in territories where Khmer isn’t spoken. They reported these abuses to Facebook, hoping to get government posts downranked, but Facebook executives gave them the runaround or refused to talk to them. No action was taken on these violations of Facebook’s rules …

[T]he decisions made by Facebook can seem mysterious and arbitrary. But for the Cambodian government, that process has been streamlined by Facebook. Duong said every couple of months, his team would email an employee they work with at Facebook to request a set of accounts be taken down, either based on language they used or because their accounts did not appear to be registered to their real names, a practice Facebook’s rules forbid. Facebook often complies, he said.”

The Cambodian regime is anti-democratic and is well-known for suppressing human rights and for its corruption. Facebook obviously doesn’t care.

 

Other reasons NOT to use Facebook.


Revisiting Les Sapeurs Du Congo

January 8, 2018

The other day I was crawling through the series of connected tubes (according to ex-Senator Ted Stevens) that George Bush called “the nets” when I came across an extraordinary group of people, dressed as 1930s French gangsters, in the heart of a poverty-stricken and war-ravaged African jungle.

sape1

I thought that was interesting enough, but then I discovered they were part of a recognizable social group in Congo Brazzaville.  They are known as the Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (SAPE).

sape3

Sape is French slang for “dressing with class”. The French often use the expression “il est bien sape” to talk about a sharp dressed man. The term “sapeur” is a new African word that refers to someone that is dressed with great elegance.   La sape has emerged directly from a specifically Congolese history.  George Aponsah says that

The Sape emerged from the chaos that was the Congo during the reign of Mobutu. It was really one way of coping with a society that had broken down. For a young person growing up at that time, there wasn’t much to grasp hold of to help you feel better about yourself. Politics was out, so you found a lot of cargo cult religions in the Congo. The Sape is essentially one of these. The distinctive look of the sapeurs was also a rebellion against one of Mobutu’s dictatorial decrees, which was that everyone was expected to dress in a very traditional, standard African costume – the abacost.

Hector Mediavilla casts its origin much further back:

The arrival of the French to the Congo, at the beginning of the 20th Century, brought along the myth of Parisian elegance among the Congolese youth working for the colonialists. Many considered the white man to be superior because of their technology, sophistication and elegance. In 1922, G.A. Matsoua was the first–ever Congolese to return from Paris fully clad as an authentic French gentleman, which caused great uproar and much admiration amongst his fellow countrymen. He was the first Grand Sapeur.

third version has it that

It is the result of the admiration which followed the return of african soldiers who helped France fights the First World War. As they returned clad in european style garnments, they aroused the curiosity and admiration of their fellow countrymen who in turn sought to dress the same way to look good , far from the idea of imitating the colonial master, or seeing him as superior being.

Whatever its background, la sape has taken hold among a certain group.  In an album dedicated to la sape, Papa Wemba, one of Zaire’s top singers, sang: ”Don’t give up the clothes. It’s our religion.”  A 2006 piece by Edmund Sanders has the following description of the cult-like hold sape can have on its adherents (what George Amponsah calls “the cult of cloth, the cult of elegance”):

sape4He struts down the muddy, trash-strewn alley like a model on a catwalk, relishing the stares and double-takes from passersby.  In a country where many survive on 30 cents a day, Papy Mosengo is flashing $1,000 worth of designer clothing on his back, from the Dolce & Gabbana cap and Versace stretch shirt to his spotless white Gucci loafers.   “It makes me feel so good to dress this way,” the 30-year-old said when asked about such conspicuous consumption in a city beset by unemployment, crime and homelessness. “It makes me feel special.”

But Mosengo can scarcely afford this passion for fashion. He worked eight months at his part-time job at a money-exchange shop to earn enough for the single outfit, one of 30 he owns, so he’ll never have to wear the same one twice in a month.  He doesn’t own a car. He lets an ex-girlfriend support their 5-year-old son and still lives with his parents, sleeping in a dingy, blue-walled bedroom that is more aptly described as a closet with a mattress.  Friends, family and his new girlfriend implore Mosengo to stop pouring all his money into clothes and liquidate the closet.  “Man, we could buy a house with the money,” said Dirango Mubiala, his clothing dealer, estimating that Mosengo spends $400 a month.

Mosengo won’t budge. “This is just what I am,” he said from behind a pair of oversized white Gucci sunglasses. “I’m a Sape.”

New York Times report from 1988 noted that:

With outfits easily costing three times the average monthly salary here of $300, sapeurs resort to renting, or ”mining,” out their clothes to friends for a night. A 24-hour rental for a designer suit is about $25.

I can’t possibly do justice to this fascinating culture in a post ike this.   Luckily there are resources out there to find out much more, most of which have galleries of images.   My first encounter was through the wonderful “The Congolese Sape” essay and gallery by Hector Mediavilla.  But see also an article by James Brook in 1988, and the Interview with George Amponsah and Cosima Spender in 2004.  Papy Mosengo’s story is from the 2006 article by Edmund Sanders.

 

[first published here in November 2008]


Fran Lebowitz

June 26, 2017

A few weeks ago I caught Fran Lebowitz being interviewed on a late night talk show.  I had heard of her but never read any of her work.  She was quite interesting in the interview and I duly ordered a copy of The Fran Lebowitz Reader from the library. I guess others had seen her interview because I was third in line for the only copy. I finally got it last week and began to read.

The book is a series of short magazine-style pieces, reprints of her books Metropolitan Life and Social Studies, some  of which were first published as magazine articles in Interview, Mademoiselle, and British Vogue.  I enjoyed the first few pieces, and I can see why she was considered a sardonic wit, perhaps a new Dorothy Parker. Unfortunately, I quickly became bored with the style and the viewpoint; after a dozen or so pieces, you knew what was coming in the next chapter, and the writing seemed no longer witty but, rather, repetitious and small minded.

I suspect part of the problem is the fact that these were written in the 1970s and 1980s. Our television schedules these days are full of brash, outspoken commentary by highly intelligent women. Compared to them, Lebowitz in this collection comes across as little more powerful than a pre-sensimilla spliff. And, like a forty-year old roach, her writing hasn’t aged well.

That’s a shame because I was looking forward to it.


Reason #227 NOT to use Facebook

May 19, 2017

Because of their censorship in Malta.

Facebook has deleted four posts from a Maltese journalist and they blocked him from his FB account because — well, why is still an open question (“Facebook is investigating the circumstances of the deletions and declined to comment”).

“The posts, which were written in Maltese, contained allegations of wrongdoing by prime minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri, and minister of energy Konrad Mizzi. Each post included images of documents from the Panama Papers leak … The deletions raise questions about how Facebook moderates journalism.”

 

Sure looks as if the local  FB office wanted to protect the power elite.

Previous Reasons NOT to use Facebook.


Reason #226 NOT to use Facebook

May 11, 2017

During the Presidential campaign last year, Mark Zuckerberg occasionally complained about Trump policy ideas, especially those that hurt his own business (like immigration reform).  However, FB was also a major source and platform for much of the fake news that helped swing the campaign to Trump.

There has been much talk this year that Zuckerberg will run for office in 2020. What as, one wonders. Many of Trump’s polices, such as tax reform, will do little but make Zuckerberg even richer than he already is,  and it cannot be a coincidence that he has had “multiple” telephone conversations with Trump since the inauguration.

Now, Facebook has attacked and censored a group that supports women’s right to choose by assisting them to access medical supplies (I wonder how many big pharma companies are banned from FB for promoting “drug use?)  This is music to the far-right GOP base and provides yet another reason NOT to use Facebook.

 

Previous Reasons NOT to use Facebook


Reason #225 NOT to use Facebook

January 20, 2017

Because Mark Zuckerberg is a billionaire bully-boy trying to force Hawai’ians off their land. He thinks that his $100 million is more important than the rights these folks have built up over generations. And he is trying to buy the law to get what he wants. As one local says:

“he moves in and acts just like the Evil Rich White Man taking from the Hawaiians. That is so gnarly. Zero respect.”

 

Previous Reasons Not To Use Facebook.


Reason #224 NOT to Use Facebook

January 2, 2017

neptune_in_bolognaI guess I had some hope that a new year would bring new sense to the censors at Facebook. But no; here we are just two days into the year and already they are censoring well-known works of art.

If anyone had been a tourist in Bologna, they will have seen the magnificent 500-year old statue of Neptune in the square named for the old god.  A local artist wanted to use a picture of the statue to decorate her FB page. But FB said no. This glorious statue they said, “violates Facebook’s guidelines on advertising. It presents an image with content that is explicitly sexual and which shows to an excessive degree the body, concentrating unnecessarily on body parts.”

Once again, FB’s managers show themselves as dull-witted as any Victorian. What is in their minds is what is “dirty”, not this piece of art that has stood unmolested in the public square for 500 years.  We can only assume that these idiots – and I am sorry but that’s what they are — keep their eyes closed as they wander around Italy and Greece. More likely, they don’t visit these sites because they don’t want to be upset: they stick to EPCOT and Six Flags.

 

Previous Reasons NOT To Use Facebook editions.


Reason #223 NOT to use Facebook

November 22, 2016

anti-facebookBecause they have developed or are developing software to allow the Chinese government to censor Facebook in China. This is their commitment to free speech, eh?

Zuckerberg says it is better to be “part of a conversation”, which is Silicon Valleyese for “we can’t make a profit in China unless we let the government screw with our members’ values.

It is good to read that some FB employees are quitting in protest but, frankly, FB can simply offer more money to attract more coders and systems managers whose resumes do not include any social conscience.

 

Previous Reasons NOT to Use Facebook.