Friday, December 15, 2006

U.N. OKs Bill to Protect Disabled Rights

Another one of those weird coincidences. While here doing this human rights training there's this piece of good news about the UN approving the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Sadly and frustratingly, the same can't be said for the much delayed UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People which Canada has thus far refused to support. And it's been 23-years-in-the-making. And, what's more, is that those 23 years included the UN's "Decade of Indigenous People" which ended two years ago. An earlier post of mine is worth following for some wonderful speeches by indigenous people.

Culture Collective

I just received an email from some friends at Living Folklore. They're promoting an arts group that i certainly want to learn more about: Culture Collective. It was founded by the family of Dan Eldon, a young photojournalist and artist (he kept remarkable journals and my friends and family know how important journal writing/book-making is to me), who was killed in Somalia while covering the conflict there in 1993. I'm struck by some odd coincidences. Dan Eldon spent many years right here in Nairobi where i have just received my friend's email about this and from where i am currently writing this post. Also, it was only seven week ago that another young journalist, Brad Will, was killed by assassins while he was covering the teachers' strike in Oaxaca, Mexico. Who knows what coincidences signify? And i don't really believe in coincidences. This year, as some of you know, has been a remarkable one for strange and wonderful happenings in my life.

Kalahari Bushmen Victory

How remarkable that while we're meeting here learning together about human rights education that in Botswana there should be such a remarkable victory for the Kalahari Bushmen - a hunter-gatherer society that have been forcibly relocated from their ancestral lands by the Botswana government. This is a remarkable victory for indigenous peoples. You can read a couple of excellent articles about it in The Guardian: Kalahari Bushmen win land battle and Bushmen win rights over ancestral lands.

A week of workshopping

Well, things are wrapping up and winding down and the 20 human rights educators are finalizing their program plans even as i write this. We'll all be heading home tomorrow, me to Toronto and the participants to all points African. It has been a remarkable week of learning together, sharing stories, laughing, getting to know each other. this is a unique experience for me, never having facilitated a workshop made up exclusively of African participants. What a privilege it is to be able to work for such a group. And moving to consider the context of their work and the courage it takes to commit oneself to being a human rights educator. What is an choice that can be made with relative security in a north american context is anything but in these countries.

The Maasai Market and the Art of the Hard Sell

Circulating around Nairobi is he Maasai Market - a street market that moves from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. On Tuesday's it s found across the street from the Meridian Hotel where i've been staying this week. Tomorrow it will be near the Hilton Hotel and i hope to find it. I know many people will be coming to Nariobi from around the world in January for the World Social Forum and the Maasai Market will be something many will want to check out. Prepare to bargain - those of us raised in economies where virtually all prices are fixed might want to bone up on some principles of haggling. Not that i have any particular skill. The market is crowded, noisy, fascinating. There are numerous vendors and at least as many brokers - men who spot likely customers and are remarkably aggressive about selling you things. Its all pretty good natured. But it is also overwhelming. At one point i had at least five guys competing simultaneously for my attention, each pushing various goods in my arms and face. If you're white then you stand out pretty obviously as a mark for everyone's attention. I'm not sure how the brokers work, though i imagine they "represent" vendors and get a cut. But it's clearly pretty fast and loose. One fellow tried to persuade me that the young Maasai woman from whom i wanted to buy a necklace was his sister. I thought it unlikely and wished deeply that i spoke ki-Swahili so i could understand what looked, from the body language, to be a fascinating negotiation in which the broker was trying to convince the young vendor that he could get los of money out of me. The young woman was beautifully tough and clearly not giving the fellow an inch. So, to those of you coming to Nairobi in January, best of luck at he Maasai Market. The above-images are the street the day before the market and the morning of.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Downtown Nairobi

Yup, Nairobi is a big, noisy, crowded city. Fascinating, as usual. It's been a beautiful day here as well: sunny, dry and 26. Other parts of Kenya (to the north) including southern Somalia are experiencing torrential flooding and tens of thousands of people have been displaced. Nairobi is 1600 metres high, though, and generally has pretty good weather. I'm told that Nairobi has always been too high and too cool for the malaria mosquito to survive, but global warming is changing that (though i've heard of no danger at the moment). We're staying in a modest hotel on the edge of the downtown core and all the participants of the human rights workshop are arriving this evening and tomorrow from Nigeria, The Gambia, Somalia, Uganda and elsewhere from around the continent. The curriculum i'll be facilitating is one that i've facilitated a couple of times for the annual human rights school organized by Equitas in Montreal. For you educator types, i recommend looking at the Equitas manuals which are on their website. They have a unique approach to human rights education in that they are heavily influenced by popular education, Frierian thinking and such. While much human rights education is rather document-driven (i.e. everything you wanted to know about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), Equitas has a participatory approach that balances well the sharing of people's unique experience with the need to learn about the history and documents of human rights work.

The Mighty Nile - That Storied River

I saw the Nile yesterday as i flew from Paris to Nairobi. Such a storied river - the longest in the world and beside which can be found the Great Pyramids, Thebes, Karnak, Abu Simbel, Khartoum and so much more. From the Mediterranean to Lake Victoria, the Nile courses across Africa just as the Milky Way courses across our night sky - or so the ancient pyramid-builders thought.

Friday, December 08, 2006

18th Annual Kensington Market Festival of Lights

It's a rainy day in Paris as i wait for my flight to Nairobi. Whatta world. As some of you know, i'm Kenya-bound to facilitate a five-day human rights education curriculum workshop for Equitas. Meanwhile, i just checked my e-
mail and saw a workshop announcement from Red Pepper Spectacle for preparations for the 18th Annual Kensington Market Festival of Lights. I'll be posting photos from Nairobi so check back here over the next week.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Snow Queen - Dec 17th

One of the most powerful stories i read as a kid was The Snow Queen by Hands Christian Anderson. Something about it touched me deeply and alternately gave me nightmares and inspired fantastic visions. Now my friend Alon Nashman is starring in a production of Snow Queen in a few weeks. I've followed Alon's work for many years and think him (and know him) to be one of Toronto's (and Canada's) finest actors. I highly recommend taking in this show. (Thanks to Elizabeth for, as always, keeping me in the loop). You can click on the picture of the poster to get a bigger version or go to the JCC site here:

I'm gonna try and make it, if i'm not sleeping after arriving home that afternoon from Nairobi (that's right, i'm going to Kenya - details to follow).

Guilty seasonal pleasure

Quite some years ago now, Matt and i found this game Snowcraft. Since then, the first snow has always reminded me of this silly, if strangely rewarding, waste of time. What makes it memorable is the sound effects. You'll see/hear what i mean.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Okay - this you gotta see

If you haven't heard of Têtes à claque, you must check it out. You need to speak french to appreciate it fully. It's real Québec humour. This halloween scene is one of the funniest things i've seen in a long while (Thanks, Sean, for letting me know about this). Le Pilote is also side-splitting. And check out Le Willi Waller, if you've got the time.

Indigenous Peoples' Resistance to Economic Globalization

Indigenous Peoples' Resistance to Economic Globalization: A Celebration of Victories, Rights and Cultures is a must-listen-to-it episode of Democracy Now (one of the best news shows coming out of the US).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Postcapitalist Politics

This new book- A Postcapitalist Politics by J.K. Gibson-Graham is a must read for anyone doing popular education and/or popular economics education.

Activist Training in the Academy

I've recently learned about a new Master’s Program in Environmental Advocacy and Organizing at Antioch University New England. Worth checking out. Steve Chase who has both written a dissertation and designed the program and argues that popular education is the most suitable pedagogy for this program. Here's what he writes in his abstract:
In the last part of this section, the study identifies 5 core curriculum content areas that are key to teaching environmental advocacy and organizing and then discusses the tradition of popular education as the most appropriate educational methodology for activist training programs.
You can get Steve's dissertation on this page. He's got a blog, too: The Well-Trained Activist.

Popular Education for Social Change 2006

A belated posting of the syllabus for the popular education course i'm teaching at the Faculty of Environmental Studies (York University). Feedback is always appreciated. Especially if you make use of this syllabus in some way.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Amapola y los aviones

For those of you who speak spanish, i recommend watching this trailer for a Spanish film being made by my friend Clara about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Most of what i've learned about this pernicious and invisible disability I’ve learned from Clara. Check it out! And here's more info here (Documental Sobre el SFC) and here (Conferencia del Profesor Dr James Baranjuk de la Georgetown University)

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Thanks to Matt for passing this on. A bizarre little morality tale. Very, very creepy.

Vivienne Jones work

This is a belated post to introduce you to Vivienne Jones' work which i learned about from a mutual friend. I just went to Vivienne's exhibit (a collaboration with Ken Nicol) that closed today (my bad - in terms of spreading the word in more timely fashion). Vivienne's work has an organic elegance and roughness that i am very fond of, reminding a good deal of Nick Bantock's work of which i am a big fan. I learned of Vivienne's work while looking for an engagement ring (more on that in a later post). Her rings are enchanting and seem to me like they have been carved out of the earth itself as much as cast. This most recent exhibit of works (quite different from her jewelry) includes resin-encased collages of buttons, iron filings and other found items and the whimsical ephemera of plumb-bobs and fawcetts. Again it reminded e of Bantock's work as well as the work of Dave McKean who did the covers to the Sandman comics. Here's one of the first covers that he did that has inspired my own collage work for many years.

Eagleton on Dawkins

English evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has just published The God Delusion in which he applies his scientific reductionism to religion. The certainty of atheists such as Dawkins has always struck me ironically to be most similar to that of fundamentalists. Weird. Terry Eagleton, one of my favourite writers (whom i yet disagree with about postmodernism), has written a blistering critique of Dawkins that is well-worth the read - more than a few laugh-out-loud lines. I wanna write like Eagelton when i grow up - though i'll never be as wicked smart as he is. Here's a taste:
Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.
Thanks to Corvin for the link!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

What journalism should be doing

You may have heard about Clinton's interview with Fox News. Well, check this video out that Matt put me onto:

And then treat yourself to the Daily Show's take on things:

My ongoing thinking about love

I've rewritten an essay about love that i first wrote about 3 or 4 years ago. I'm interested in elaborating a theory of praxis that pushes the traditional definition to include love, humility and more.

Friday, August 11, 2006

At Hollyhock

Here i am on the hem of the world. Hollyhock is, as i've heard from so many people, sublime. This is a shot of soe of the dahlias in the famous garden. And what a garden it is.

I am i the midst of a wonderful workshop with Nick Bantock, a writer/artist whose work has inspired me for many years. It's a group of 15 wonderful people and we get to play all day long with collage. Does life get sweeter?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Such immanence

I was in Cathedrahl Grove this morning and, as with previous visits here, i was deeply moved. As ouristy a stop as it might be, the majesty of the trees and the forest growth seems to silence my pessimistic and cynical reactions - even as they seem to silence the traffic on the road that cuts through this ancient place. I was reminded of hiking the West Coast Trail in 1980 with a good friend. No traffic three, unless you count the whales. I don't know what that trail is like today, though i do know you need to book well in advance (a year, i've been told) if you want to hike it. But that journey (over 25 years ago now) felt like walking through the world before we had wrecked it. But even now, standing in Cathedrahl Grove, the despair i often feel for the wreckage we have caused (and continue to) lifted for a moment and i could feel the pulse of the earth and i felt that no matter the damage, the earth will yet abide.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

On the west coast

What a contrast from the populous plains and hills and coasts of Europe. I always forget how beautiful is this land of evergreens and water and snow-capped mountains.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lamentations - Solo & Collaborative Paintings by Joshua Barndt

If you want to take in one art exhibit this month, and if you're in Toronto on the dates below, please check out this marvelous work. I'm shamelessly promoting the work of a young man i have know since he was a tot. Josh is the son of a dear friend with whom i have worked in popular education for 20 years. And now i look at Josh's paintings and murals and i see so much of our lives reflected and refracted through the eyes of the next generation. I'm moved and humbled. Here's the gallery info:
August 4 – 12 2006

Whippersnapper Gallery
587 A College Street (at Clinton) Toronto

Whippersnapper Gallery is one of Toronto newest, edgiest and hippest not-for-profit exhibition spaces. Recently relocated to the heart of Little Italy, Whippersnapper boasts 2500 square feet of exhibition space dedicated to emerging artists. With great success on July 19th we celebrated our grand opening, showcasing the work of 26 young, talented artists and attracting 550 people to the reception.

LAMENTATIONS is our first solo exhibition featuring the energetic, monumental and provocative paintings of Joshua Barndt.

Barndt is a graffiti and community mural artist, with a specific interest in socially critical content. Trained on the streets of Toronto and classically in the studios of Concordia University, he is exhibiting a large body of solo and collaborative canvases embedded in contemporary social critique.

For more information or interviews contact Joshua Barndt at or 647-201-7436
(The image above is titled "Lament for Relations" and is oil and latex on wood, 8x20 feet.)

The Universe is Keeping me Humble

Back home from France and Spain and what should happen but that i get a sore throat that has threatened all week to become a cold. Much rest and slowly-sipped hot water and i'm healthy again and heading to BC for a couple of weeks.

Ahh, how i yearn for more time in the south of France. But i'm sure that old training about worthiness and humility is working at some level and, what with being raised catholic, one can't go having too good a time without there being some soul-testing consequence. Thus the sore throat.

Superstitions aside, here's a lovely shot of Shawna & David on of the streets of Olargues on the day, a couple of long weeks ago, when we went walking about that ancient town.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Because they're so pretty - thistles in Calatanazor

Les Horts, Languedoc, France

A many hours journey brought me to the doorstep of the mountain “gites” (rental cottage) that my friends Shawna and David have rented for a couple of weeks. I am partaking of their generosity and offering a modest amount of writerly solidarity as Shawna and David also work on writing projects (between hikes up precipitous mountain trails, runs along converted rail tracks, swimming in pools of blissfully sparkling waters in any of a number of gorges, trips to the markets, and, of course, partaking of the cuisine – it’s France, after all). I confess that I am a total geek for French culture at the moment – the food, the food – is there any better? This are of France of fascinating and I will have to return to learn more – This was the place of the Cathar resistance to the Roman Catholic church. And these mountains – the Black Mountains are a piece of heaven on earth. The collaged photo above is the view from the front window of the chalet that we are staying in. Incroyable.

Our writing Corner

Angel bought a table to place under the awning of the garage so that Clara and I would have a place to write outdoors. Though the sun was rather hot, the air was so dry that this shady corner was ever a cool spot – perfect for writing as we were also spurred on by the ceaseless buzzing of bees on the honeysuckle.

A Parade for Hinojosa del Campo

Well, the dust had hardly settled from the Baja España when this quiet town was disrupted once again. This time by a parade of antique cars that was making its way from village to village. Everyone turned out to marvel at the craftsmanship and chrome and antiquity of this remnants of a more genteel age (even if that age is mostly myth).

Dust and Thunder – The Baja España Has Come and Gone

It was a day of sun and dust and souped-up engines of all kinds as the Baja España roared by this sleepy – though, on this day, very alert, town. Great fun for all, especially the kids who would look for the signs of distant dust and come running from their lookout spots yelling “Polvo! Polvo! Otra! Otra!” (“Dust! Dust! Another one! Another one!”) The arrival of every one of the over two hundred racers (motorcycles, quads, cars and trucks) was greeted with the same enthusiasm by the wee ones, even if the adults flagged and, by the end, were counting the minutes before they could retire from the hot sun to the cool confines of the TeleClub and a cold drink.

Carrasquilla – The Tree at the Centre of the World

Many cultures in the world speak of a world tree – a tree that exists at the centre of the world and around which the heavens revolve. Yggdrasil in the Norse land, its roots in hell and its branches in heaven, Odin, the Allfather, hung upside down and gave it an eye that he might gain wisdom. African cultures tell of trees that gave life to all who could say its true name. Baobabs and yew trees, ash and cedar, oak and pine. All kinds of trees have the honour of being the world tree. Here in Hinojosa del Campo it is a carrasca tree – an oak – and it is called by the villagers here “carrasquilla.”

Numancia – Las ruinas

Numancia – The Best Offence is a Defence

This archaeological site tells the story of a pre-Roman Celtiberian people who once thrived in this land. Celtic control once covered Europe and there remains but little of a once vast people – now found in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Galicia and Bretagne – with a modern offshoot in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The story of this site is one that is beloved of the people of Soria. The Numancians resisted Roman conquest for 20 years. They waged a resistance struggle centred in this amazing fortified hill town for two decades before the greatest Roman general of the age, Scipio Africanus was dispatched to deal with this intractable enemy of Rome. Scipio had Numancia surrounded by seven roman camps, none more than a kilometre away. A wall connected all seven Roman camps. As effective a blockade as that seemed it was yet eleven months before the Numancians were defeated. But the way that the story survives, it would seem that, like the Alamo in the US, the Spartans at Thermopylae and Julio Buitrago in Nicaragua, the Numancians won the day.

Calatañazor – Orson Welles Slept Here

Wednesday was grocery and roadtrip day. So off to Soria we went with a couple of side trips to some notable spots. You approach the medieval village of Calatañazor along a winding road carved from the native rock amidst a confluence of steep ravines. This was once a fortified hill town and, as with many such sites, all that remains of the magnificent wall that enclosed this hilltop are fragments. Clara pointed out that walking through these streets was like walking through a set of a Shakepeare play – and I’m one to agree. The small houses of mud and clay, rough brick and stone, exposed beams and unusual double doors speaks of antiquity. The town wears with honour the event, long ago, of Orson Welles making a film here – Bells at Midnight, I think. Gotta see that when I get home. Angel, a natural anthropologist, spoke from some while with a fellow who worked on the film.

Soria – Home of Antonio Machado

Antonio Machado is one of my favourite poets and this is a land that loves its poets. He wrote: “between living and dreaming is something more important: waking.” Fleeing the Spanish civil war he crossed into France where he died not long after and is buried there. Ironically, Walter Benjamin, the famous German theorist of culture crossed into Spain fleeing the Nazi regime and where he died shortly thereafter. He is buried in Spain near the French border.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

My Writing Retreat in Hinojosa del Campo - Casa Martinez

Sunset in Hinojosa de Campo

Windmills – Let’s Tilt Shall We – or not

What would Don Quijote make of these modern windmills? Would he tilt at them? Ahhh, as the struggle to establish a wind power industry grows I Canada I am amazed to travel over this land and see these great turbines majestically populating the mountaintops of this windy land. Vision of something to come for Canada? Let’s hope!

Future Site of International Writing Workshop – I can dream, can’t i?

Wandering about this lovely village, enjoying the warm summer days and cool summer evenings of this 1000 metre-high altiplano valley, my attention was called to this vacated carpentry shop. Hmmm, it got me to thinking. Imagine an international writing workshop here in the Spanish countryside, far from the distractions of the urban world where more and more of us live. This village is hanging on to life by the skin of its teeth. Once a vibrant farming community, the changes in the global and local economy, the introduction of technologies that allow two people to do what used to take 50 and the general lure of cities has depopulated this region, not just this village. People have lived and farmed here for centuries, millennia perhaps. The presence of history is almost palpable. I can imagine no better place in which to take a break from ever-accelerating pace of 21st Century life. Ahhh, imagine a couple of dozen people from around the world, sitting down to write together for a few weeks. I know, I know, it isn’t cheap. And how would we handle languages? Would it be the dominant English? The local Spanish? A mix? I like to dream. So, if you’re a very rich person reading this who’s looking for something pretty cool to put your money into, give me a holler.

José Maria Valverde poem

José Maria Valverde

José Maria Valverde was one of Spain’s great poets of the 20th Century. He wrote about literature, taught philosophy and did the definitive Spanish translation of James Joyce’s Ulysses. He also translated all the works of Shakespeare and Rilke, the New Testament, Goethe, and more. Yup, all of ‘em. He and his family lived in exile while Franco was in power and they returned to Spain after Franco died. He is also the father of my friend Clara whom I am currently visiting. José Maria died 10 years ago and Clara and her husband Angel interred his ashes in the local cemetery of Angel’s family village of Hinojosa del Campo. Angel and Clara have fashioned a plaque that now adorns the gravesite that has on it a poem Jose Maria wrote when he was a teenager. Some years ago Clara sent me the following story in which the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire met Jose Maria:

Paulo Freire meets my Father (José Maria Valverde)

They are both dead now.

But before they left, the two frail-looking men met. “Teacher,” “philosopher,”
“liberation theology intellectual,” “communist,” “theoretician,” “writer” and
“wise man.” They both carried the same labels without letting them get to their
white-haired heads.

Paulo requested a meeting while visiting Barcelona and his entourage arranged for it. It was to be a breakfast meeting. The living room was packed with expectation: family members and admirers wishing to witness the meeting of the two Old Masters.

Freire walked in, wearing his sailor’s hat, quiet, timid. They smiled, shook hands and exchanged brief words in Spanish and “Portunhol.” They sat, each sinking their bony bodies into their armchairs and they grinned at each other like children, recognizing each other, not needing to utter any of the many sentences written in their long list of published books.

They were pleased, comfortable, sharing a few observations about the world, exchanging a couple of jokes, silences, complicity.

The entourage watched, some still expecting the “The Truth” would be uttered, some knowing that it already had.

Paulo left. He left me two things: his sailor hat and his words in a book: “To Clara, with so much clarity...”

Romanesque tower in Agreda

Road trip to Agreda

As much as I am aware that indigenous people have lived in the Americas for millennia, I still feel in European cities something of the age of this place that I rarely feel in North America. Here in Agreda (where we came to buy some propane) I am moved by the am moved by the antiquity of the buildings and streets. And of the weight of the storied past that still lives in the stones of this place. This city was a place where three cultures (Muslim, Christian and Jewish) co-existed (if uneasily and if a little idealized and mythologized today) for many generations. Muslims lived and ruled in Spain for many Centuries before they were finally defeated and expelled by Christians by 8th century. I was impressed by Ridley Scott’s vision of Jerusalem in Kingdom of Heaven as a place where Christian and Muslim and Jew could worship side-by-side. And I wonder if there were moments elsewhere in history (as perhaps here in Agreda) where that peaceful idea was realized – if only for a moment. I am saddened and angered – as I’m sure many of you are – with the escalating conflict between Israel and Lebanon. I despair of ever seeing it end in peace that isn’t the peace of the “desert” as John Prebble concludes in his history of the battle of Culloden. I understand much about the politics and history for control of various pieces of land. But a part of me refuses to understand what cannot be “understood” of the greed and short-sightedness of human beings for it is something fundamentally irrational. And can there be a rational explanation for the irrational? I am unsure.

Ah Hah images - see previous post for context

Hinojosa del Campo, Soria, España

This ancient village of stone houses looks like it has grown straight out of the earth. There is an organic quality to the way the houses are arranged in the village – the streets are at strange angles widening and narrowing seemingly on a whim. The houses seem more collaged together than constructed. This village belongs to this landscape. Which reminds me of the word “human” which comes from “humus” which means “of the earth”. It is common to attribute such sentiments to Indigenous peoples around the world though the etymology of “human” does suggest that the sentiment also once existed importantly in Western culture. This also reminds me of a story of struggling for an image to use to represent aboriginal Canadians in the Ah Hah drawing workshop ( a method of popular education using drawing. A characteristic shape is used for people that looks something like the left hand image in the next post. It was agreed that this did not respect the differences between non-native and native Canadians. Someone proposed using this basic image with a feather added on top. But there was concern about the stereotyping that would likely result. So someone proposed the right hand image in the next post - where the line beneath the feet represented the earth and acknowledged that native people were identified by their relationship to the earth. I have always loved this simple and elegant expression of identity. And, while I believe that we are all connected to the earth, the populations of the dominant global culture (euro-america) are profoundly alienated from the earth – from all the rhythms of nature, the behaviour of weather, the cycle of the seasons and more. Native people, despite centuries of oppression, have sustained a connection with the land that remembers still that we come from the land. I came across a clever bumpersticker-worthy quote a while back: “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice”. Indeed, we would do well to remember that volcanoes still explode, floodplains are not wise places for new suburbs, global warming is not a joke and when the rich monopolize all the safe places to live the poor will live wherever they can, including a mountain that will blow up or tumble down under heavy rain. Too many of us live against this world and not with it.
I am reminded that the word “humble” also comes from the ancient word for earth. I wonder if the common sense notion of humble as meaning “weak” or “lowly” comes from a misunderstanding of the origin of the word. For you could say that humble means “low to the earth” which conjures an image of weakness, subjugation, grovelling, if you assume the person is low to the earth because they are in front of someone with greater power than they. But, in this case, we could see them as not so much low to the earth as they are under the power of someone. If we just take the word humble to be about our relation with the earth, then being low to the earth could be a very good thing. In aikido (as well as numerous marshal arts, I am sure) , to lower one’s centre of gravity as much as you can is to be more and more stable. Humble reminds us that we are of the earth. And the earth is actually a very, very strong thing.

Baja España ’06 Madrid-Aragon

Well, the sleepy summer weeks that characterize life in this ancient farming village are about to be disrupted by a rare event. Apparently the Baja España ’06 Madrid-Aragon is going to race (literally) right by this village on Friday. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event and will no doubt be the talk of the village for months and years to come.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Why Cities Are So Wonderful

La Rambla is one of the greatest walking stretches of urban road in the world. Unlike the frenzy of Broadway where people seem to be rushing from somewhere to who-knows-where the thousands who throng La Rambla give wonderful meaning to leisurely strolling. There are two things things in this world that i could watch for hours and hours, sitting still, calmly, serenely: any body of water (river, ocean, lake) and people walking by - another kind of ocean or river, i suppose. And such wonder it is. It reminds me of an old collection of Indian stories called the Kathasaritsagara which means "The Ocean of the River of Stories." That is what La Rambla feels like.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Barcelona rooftops collage

Here's another shot from the balcony. If you click the pictures you can see them bigger.

Happy to be in Barcelona

Well, i've arrived in hot and humid Barcelona. Feels a lot like how i left Toronto. My friends' apartment is simply gorgeous and looking off of their rear balcony you see one of Barcelona's most famous sites: the Gaudi-designed cathedrahl. It's funny how the cranes seem to fit.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Waiting to fly

I'm off to a small Spanish village to do some popular education writing. Thanks to the Metcalf sabbatical grant. Yay Metcalf.

It seems a lot of people i know are travelling at the moment - it's a perpatetic summer, you could say.

Judy Rebick is in Bolivia and you can follow her exploits on her travel blog: A Better World.

I'm gonna post pics as well once i'm on terra firma again. Check back.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Here's an earthblanket i painted over 12 years ago (it's 4' x 5'). Here's a brief description from a popular arts 'zine i'm working on:
An earthblanket is a type of mural that dian marino conceptualized in her final years of teaching and artwork. It suggests the metaphor of a blanket, something that we associate with comfort and warmth, that can be spread (metaphorically) across our wounded and ailing earth. As a collective mural exercise, it provides an opportunity for doing environmental education. You can use either a contour or grid mural to do this. I have most often done earthblankets by having individual participants create individual images on small squares (4”x4” or 8”x8”) and then affixing the small images to a larger piece of paper. You can also affix the smaller pieces to a piece of cloth. Or you can make the mural as a quilt – using fabric to fashion the individual squares.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Comics reviewed and new episodes of podcasts

I wrote a review of six comics for here.

A new episode of Occasionally Disturbs Others is on-line: U.S. & Canadian Blogging Compared.

And a new episode of Comeuppance is on-line as well: The Old Woman and the Pot.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Some thoughts about writing

[excerpt from a commonplace book I produced in 2004]

Many years ago I decided, in response to feminism, anti-racism and anti-colonialism, that it was my duty to live in the world as consciously as I could about the privileges I had lucked out on and which I learned were so unevenly distributed around the world. After a dozen years of non-stop activism (including anti-apartheid work, youth leadership training, popular education, international solidarity work with Nicaragua) I stepped back for a brief moment and, thanks to the support of dian marino, a wonderful friend, artist and trickster, I worked on a Master’s degree. This gave me a chance to examine what I had done, why some things worked and others didn’t. Mostly it was a chance to examine my own understandings of my self. In my major paper for that degree I wrote:

In a wonderfully eloquent article, Maria Lugones describes "playful, 'world'-travelling" as a means of working across differences. By 'world' she means "tiny portions of a particular society"; travelling is the act of "shift[ing] from being one person to being a different person"; and playfulness "involves openness to surprise, openness to being a fool, openness to self-construction and reconstruction and to construction or reconstruction of the 'worlds' we inhabit playfully."

"Through travelling to other people's "worlds" we discover that there are "worlds" in which those who are the victims of arrogant perception are really subjects, lively beings, resistors, constructors of visions even though in the mainstream construction they are animated only by the arrogant perceiver and are pliable, foldable, file-awayable, classifiable." (Playfulness, 'World'-Travelling, and Loving Perception, in Making Face, Making Soul = Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Colour. (Gloria Anzaldua, ed.). SF: Aunt Lute Books. 1990. p. 402)

Learning to listen to each others' stories without reducing them to "the moral is...", or "what you're really saying is..." is one way to travel in Lugones' sense. To listen with an open mind, an open heart, ready to be surprised, opens possibilities for new relationships that are not characterized by domination. Sharing our experience of the world through stories and the re-storying of our experience as we engage others is a means of negotiating a new sociality, one in which social power is treated with critical mindedness and solidarity, one which can lead to new constructions of power relations, and newly-negotiated meanings of power.

Re-reading my words of 10 years ago I am amazed to see how influential the writings of women of colour have been on the formation of my sense of self. I continue to reflect on the remarkable thinking of Maria Lugones. And just in case I risk becoming complacent I read the following in her introduction to her collected essays:

"There is also a sense of integrity, moral integrity included, that is lived as violated by the duplicitous interpretation, if one's understanding of the moral presupposes the unification of the self, as much of mainstream, institutionalized morality does. And there are other difficulties related to questions of character. It is difficult to look at one's oppressed behavior in the flesh and the face. Even if the oppressed readings confront one as constructing a reality that one struggles to undermine, or dismantle, the power of the reading in constructing us is often inescapable. It inhabits us from within, it is us, in a ser­vile, subordinate, perverse, criminal, subhuman, or "lost" con­struction. We can inhabit that construction in enormous tension, but that we can do so is an apparent conundrum that I will return to often in this book. The reading of the act as incompetent has significant consequences since it conforms to the justification of subordination. So the oppressor has a lot to gain from not seeing sabotage and resistance. But then the oppressor cannot erase resistance, because to be erased, resis­tance needs to be seen.

"Perceiving oneself as an oppressor is harder to sustain mor­ally than deception. There is often a lapse, a forgetting, a not recognizing oneself in a description, that reveals to those who perceive multiply that the oppressor is in self-deception, split, fragmented. Self-deception appears to require the unification of the self to be conceivable, that is, it is one self that deceives him- or herself. But one can understand self-deception with­out this presupposition. The oppressor can be seen to inhabit multiple realities all in the first person. As a self-deceiving multiple self, the oppressor does not remember across reali­ties. Self-deception lies in this disconnection of memory. Thus, I understand that when someone is self-deceiving, there is one incarnate being who animates two co-temporaneous behav­iors in the first person without any cross-referencing, without first person memories of him- or herself in more than one reality. It is of great interest for emancipatory work that we can cross-reference different realities. We may indeed have good reason to fear doing that because we may be revealed as vile or as servile. The one in self-deception could, but does not, cross-reference." (Maria Lugones – Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD. 2003. p.14-15.)

The hard roads that we walk are always a little less lonely (though no less difficult) when we are accompanied by friends and loved ones and also, occasionally, when we read of others’ journeys. Shari Stone-Mediatore writes of Gloria Anzaldua:

"Anzaldúa highlights both the empowering effects and the struggle of experience-driven writing. In so doing, she affirms an agency that is neither inborn nor mere rhetorical illusion. Instead, her agency is one that she struggles for and develops as she writes about her life. Through her writing, for instance, she resists succumbing to other people's representations of her as naturally passive and naturally ill­-suited to intellectual work. As she puts it, "the writing saves me from this complacency I fear.... I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive.... I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you.... To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self­-autonomy.... I write because I'm scared of writing but I'm more scared of not writing". Against an academic and a popular culture that construes her as ignorant and passive and whose constructs become true insofar as she believes them, Anzaldúa uses her writing to demonstrate, to both herself and her community, her epistemic agency.

"At the same time that Anzaldúa stresses the empowering effect of her writing, she does not gloss over the difficulties of grappling with painful experiences nor hide her fears about failing in a writing process that is bound up with her own ego. As a result, her work also highlights the emotional work that burdens experience-oriented writing. "To write," she admits, "is to confront one's demons, look them in the face and live to write about them". To write about her borderlands existence requires that she "stretch the psyche" in order to hold seemingly conflicting points of view and that she come to terms with a mestiza consciousness that is both a "source of intense pain" and creative energy. Such emotionally risky and taxing work demands a supportive community in whose company "the loneli­ness of writing and the sense of powerlessness can be dispelled". Agency is thus gained through her storytelling, but only with arduous and community-situated work." (Shari Stone-Mediatore—Reading Across Borders: Storytelling and Knowledges of Resistance. NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003. pp. 150-151.)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Excellent Interviews on Democracy Now

With my ailing computer all fixed up i've been able to catch up on listening to my favourite podcasts. If you ahven't checked out Democracy Now, you should. It's one of the best news shows on the internet. I've been moved by a number of interviews that i highly recommend:
Eduardo Galeano Interview: Galeano has published a new book: Voices in Time: A Life in Stories (Metropolitain Books, Mark Fried tr.). I buy his books site unseen. His writing has changed my life.

Arundhati Roy Interview: on India, Iraq, U.S. Empire and Dissent. I was amazed by her description of Bush's visit to India and the spectacular hypocrisy that US Empire is capable of, not to mention the collusion of the Indian government.

James Yee talk: this former Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo prison tells a story worthy of Kafka.

Daniel Berrigan Interview: The Berrigan brothers' acts of resistance to war have inspired me since i first learned of them as a teenager.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Comeuppance Podcast is up and running

Well, i've finally gotten a new microphone, got my computer fixed and i got a new sound card. All of which means i'm all set to do more regular podcasting. Comeuppance the podcast is a member of the Rabble Podcasting Network (check out all the other great podcasts there). You can even subscribe to it through iTunes. My most recent podcast story is the one i call "Fill It" and which i published a version here.

NEW BOOK: Wild Fire: Art as Activism

Wild Fire: Art as Activism is a wonderful collection that i'm proud to be part of. 17 essays (with lotsa pictures) about various aspects of art and politics and social change. I wrote an essay called "The Strawberry Tased So Good: The Trickster Practices of Activist Art" in which i try and share some of my thoughts about art and popular education. This is a cover-to-cover read for all you artists who work with communties and community groups in issues of social justice as well as all you activists who use art in your work. Many of the articles contain ideas that are easily adaptable to different circumstances and you have the benefit of the critical reflection of the writers/artists/activists who did all this!

I'm getting old

Last night, on my weekly visit to my sister's to tell stories to my neices, i was sitting at the dinner table and chatting with my sister when i mentioned that i had started writing on my blog once again. My nine-old neice came up to the table at that point and said with a surprised tone, "You have a blog?" - clearly implying that she had one, that it was the newest thing, that she had discovered them and that it was very amusing to find that her aging uncle also knew about blogs. My-oh-my... what world is this nine-year-old girl is growing into? I am, of course, as with all of us, getting older all the time - though i still do what i can to let my inner child run things whenever possible. I remember 30 years ago in 1976 i had just entered CEGEP in Quebec (kinda like college, except it's public schooling) and there was a computer programming course. Science fiction fan that i was i couldn't resist. I enrolled in FORTRAN, an early programming language. I learned about flow charts and codes and loops and god-knows-what-else. We had to write code by hand and then type it onto punch cards - one line of code per punch card - can you imagine? Once your coding was done, you collected all your punch cards together in a big stack and you then fed them into the card reader. The person who designed that early computer lab must have had a wicked sense of humour because the punch card machine and the card reader were on opposite sides of the room. Carrying a stack of a hundred or more punch cards can be a precarious thing. Splayed cards raining across the room was a few-times-hourly occurence. An analog version of what, ten years later, we meant when we yelled "the computer nuked my file." How times change, eh? And now my neice looks at me with the amused wry eye that only a nine-year-old who thinks that she owns the world can perform and says, "You have a blog?" And, you know what? I do hope that she 'owns' the world - much better than we have.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Resting, Relaxing and a couple of videos

Well, i've been doing everything i can to take advantage of this wonderful sabbatical grant that i've got. Resting and renewing can be hard work. Well, at least it takes devotion. The long cool (mostly dry) spring that we've had in Toronto was made to order by my reckoning. I've never seen so many blossoms on trees. The wisteria lasted weeks - like yellow suns rising from the earth. The lilacs and laburnum have come and mostly gone. And now the columbines and lupins and irises are delighting the world. Poenies are about to burst open. Such wonder all about.

I've even had time to read - i'll sahre some of my reading list in another post - and watch some movies and even some videos on the internet. Here's three to :

Hope: this link was just sent me by some friends in Arizona (thanks Jacob). Sit back and relax and enjoy this lovely piece - i love the animation, the blending of images and the thoughtful juxtapositions. Here's what the producers at Luna Media say:
Based on the ideas of Native American storyteller, Willy Whitefeather, 'Hope' illustrates the cause and effect of life out of balance, and suggests a new path to harmony. Appealing to a universal audience, 'Hope' is a collage of music, sound and images in a 7 minute story, rich and layered with meaning. 'Hope' combines animation inspired by Pueblo, Sioux and Hopi art, with archival and original HD footage to bring the viewer on a powerful journey through human existence and toward a positive future.
Matt just told me about this whimsical video of an experiment with diet coke and mentos mints. Treat yourself to this wonderful nonsense: The Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments.

Finally, some of you might have heard about the Sony-Bravia ad with the bouncing balls in San Francisco. Well, I have a special file just for this type of commercial. It's called "I hate that i love this commercial so much". Alas. The sublime does pop up in the most unexpected places. This is a beautiful creation and José González's score is balm for a weary soul. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Fun with Pop-Up books

I've been teaching myself how to make pop-up books. What fun. The more time i spend in the world of digital communication the more i want to make books - feel the turn of pages, hold the weight of a book in hand. And pop-ups are enchanting. If you're in Toronto between now and June 3 you should pay a visit to a wonderful exhibit of pop-up books at the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library: Books as Toys: The History and Art of Pop-Ip and Movable Books. I've also found a wonderful teaching book for pop-ups: The Pocket Paper Engineer by Carol Barton.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Some important anti-racist texts

I've written a review of five books for You can read the review here. And, if you're part of Babble (the discussion forums) you can read some debate about the article and the issues here.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Center for Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture - CPIC

I'm sitting in snowy Binghamton, New York this evening - about to spend tomorrow visiting with CPIC - an exciting and radical university-based project. Maria Lugones is the director - she's a remarkable thinker, educator and activist. Maria is also one of the founders of a popular education group that i've longed to learn more about: La Escuela Popular Nortena.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Sabbatical begins - sort of

As some of you know, i am beginning a sabbatical thanks to the good graces of the Metcalf Charitable Foundation's Renewal Fellowship program. It's an amazing opportunity for me to pause in my so so busy life to "rest and reflect." Ahhh, but how easy it would be to use this time simply tocatch up on many deferred and delayed projects, do some of that volunteer work i never feel i have time for, and generally fill up my time with a new kind of busyness. To the Metcalf's credit, they did make clear that one of their concerns was precisely this danger - that deserving people would undermine the objective of rest and renewal by doing what is in many of our natures to do - busyness and overwork. I'm not saying that i've got it figured out well. And one of the many things i plan to reflect deeply on is exactly this: how do those of us devoted to the service work that characterizes the non-profit and charitable world rest and renew ourselves. This, of course, is linked to numerous related issues, and, for me, is nested within a critical understanding of power and privilege. Which is to say that i want to look closely at how racism and class and gender (as well as other forms of oppression that structure our society and our lives) work against our communities (families, friends, neighbours) to live equitably and justly with each other. That i am a white guy with a fair number of privileges working for me does not escape my critical gaze. And, while i am both grateful and excited to have this fellowship, i am also critically aware that unless i make a conscious effort both to understand and to act on this privileged moment in the interests of a more just world, i will, undoubtedly, add to the suffering of oppressed and struggling people. I am keenly aware that the privileges i have are linked to the lack of such for many. The few prosper at the expense of the many. And so, i will be thinking about this over the next few months while also doing exactly what this grant is aimed at: resting and renewing. I am studying poetry, i am doing some bookbinding, i'm writing, writing, writing. And more. I will use this blog to share my thoughts regularly in the hopes that what i learn can be shared quickly. I invite dialogue and response, challenge and critique.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


How rare for the poor to win. Bechtel has agreed to drop its lawsuit against Bolivia for having had their unjust water contract in Cochabamba cancelled as a consequence of popular resistance. This is a major victory against the privatization of water and this should give us all courage as this struggle is bound to heat up over the coming years.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

New Anti-racism text - A MUST READ-BUY-SHARE

For all you educators this new book by Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas is something you should run out and get right away. It's called Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations and it's published by Between the Lines which has many other excellent titles for popular educators. Check out Tim McKaskell's book Race to Equity while you're at it. Happy reading!

Friday, January 20, 2006

How we make 'em laugh (and cry)

Here's a couple of things worth looking at:

Michael Moore's open letter to Canadians.

And the Daily Show's coverage of our election coverage. (Click on the "New Osama Tape" piece which starts with a short piece about Osama bin Laden and then continues into the Daily Show election coverage.)

Monday, January 16, 2006

A few things i'm reading this month (sort of)

Just finished reading Words To Our Now by Thomas Glave. It’s a moving book of essays against forgetting; for dissent in the heart of the Empire; about being black and gay and Jamaican and American and having to resist the multiple invisibilities that our diseased world practices against so many. It’s filled with courage. (Thanks for the loan, Judy.)

A friend gave me a Christmas gift of Signs of the Times, poetry by Bud Osborn with prints by Richard Tetrault. (Thanks, Kim.)

My dad gave me Neil Bissoondath’s newest novel: The Unyielding Clamour of the Night which I plan to read as soon as my sabbatical begins in a couple of weeks.

And I gave myself the gift of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Widow’s Broom, which has been a favourite for some time. Well, I actually bought it so I have it to read to my nieces, nephews and god-daughter.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Really cool journalling project

I love writing in journals and have done so since i was a teenager. It's amazing to open a journal i filled 20 years ago and try and remember the fellow i was. I make myself both laugh and cringe. I just learned about the remarkable The 1000 Journals Project (thanks, Nancy). It's worth perusing.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

This American Life faves

If you've never listened to This American Life then i recommend that you check it out. The United States of America (a strange country that has no name) is hard to understand. But this show helps. Well, that and The Daily Show. Here's a couple of my faves from past episodes:

In this episode called First Day, Act Two (starting at the 20 minute mark) is a story about a squirrel and a cop. Worth listening to.

In this episode called Fiasco, Act One is a story about a school play. It pretty much defines fiasco.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Harvesting Stories Popular Education info

Here's a few websites produced by students of the Popular Education for Social Change course in the Fall of 2004. There's some good popular eduaction oral history stuff here as well as a wonderful website about mural making. Check them out:

Educate: A Quarterly about Education and Development

I just came across this magazine, Educate, about education published in Pakistan by the Sindh Educational Foundation. I found it through heir glossary of critical education terms - a pretty good one. I'd not heard of Sindh before last Fall when i had the pleasure of meeting a Sindhi educator who was is currently a student in the popular education class i'm teaching at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Reading Sarah Vowell

Some of you may know Sarah Vowell's work from This American Life or her voice-over work as Violet on The Incredibles. I'm just reading Assassination Vacation, an unusual travelogue. Here's why i love her writing:
Now, a person with sharper social skills than I might have noticed that as these folks ate their freshly baked blueberry muffins and admired the bed-and-breakfast’s teapot collection, they probably didn’t want to think about presidential gunshot wounds. But when I’m around strangers, I turn into a conversational Mount St. Helens. I’m dormant, dormant, quiet, quiet, old-guy loners build log cabins on the slopes of my silence, and then, boom, it’s 1980. Once I erupt, they’ll be wiping my verbal ashes off their windshields as far away as North Dakota.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New year, new words

A new year is upon us. And a happy new year to you all (though we have a few new year's yet to go - Chinese and Persian to name a couple). As some of you already know, i have been awarded a Renewal Fellowship from the Metcalf Charitable Foundation. From February through July of this year i will be pursuing a plan that includes a lot of writing (letters, blogging, podcasting and more), bookbinding and critical reflection on the popular education work i have been doing for many years. It's gonna be quite a year!