August 8


If an insect bit you, it committed what could be considered a crime against your person. It attacked you. Aside from being an irritant and bringing a general feeling of disgust, knowing that a six-legged creature that normally dwells in moist, dark, quarters brought its fangs to pierce skin, who knows what sort of diseases the creature has wrought with its violence. So what does a person do? Most people would quickly kill the insect with a strike of a palm or with a rolled-up newspaper. Others would swat the creature away, blame the act on its instinct or other innocuous causes and just move on. Afterwards, perhaps do something to prevent being bitten again. 


A child however would sometimes be cruel. They would mete out punishment by slowly torturing the poor creature. Perhaps they would tear its limbs out one by one, or maybe slowly burn it with a magnifying glass. 


This is how the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does justice. It crucified a person in public in the holy city of Mecca. Though rare, it often uses capital punishment for crimes such as anti-government activism and homosexuality. It is abhorrent. As much as the west hates on ISIS and how violent they can be on what they perceive as transgressors, Saudi Arabia sees them eye to eye on many of these issues. 
Canada recently sent out a couple of tweets calling out Saudi Arabia to release the activist Samar Badawi and her brother who were both arrested for speaking out against the government. Samar Badawi is famous for leading the fight for women’s rights in the country. She spoke out against Saudi’s guardianship system as well as advocated for women’s right to drive. Now, I’m not a big advocate for diplomacy via Twitter. It is a clumsy tool, and diplomacy is anything but clumsy. When Canada sent out those tweets, it publicly shamed Saudi Arabia for what it’s currently doing in terms of human rights.  And while they do deserve public shaming, I don’t think public shaming is something that diplomats should do. 


But if Canada committed an error in publicly shaming Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia acts exaggeratedly by calling it an “attack on the kingdom,” what do you call their tweet in response? Didn’t their message with an Air Canada plane headed towards the CN Tower explicitly threaten a terrorist retaliation against Canada? Did it also not implicitly admit to being responsible for the attack on 9/11? And again, this was just a response over a call to release activists fighting for human rights. Don’t speak up for human rights or else we’ll send terrorist planes your way? Canada is dealing with a child. 


And this child is aiming to hurt Canada through education and future investments. Cutting off current trade doesn’t necessarily impact Canada tremendously, but removing Saudi students from Canadian universities and cutting off future investments could hurt Canada in the long run. I’m glad that Canada doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of backing down from its stance, but I really hope other countries join us in standing up against this evil government. 


Mohammad Bin Salman is not a reformer. People need to stop saying this. He is a young leader who inherited his position. Much like North Korea’s Kim Jung Un, he got infinitely lucky in the birth lottery. And while he tries to create a progressive Saudi image by having more foreign investments and recently allowing women in the country to drive, he fights Qatar, kidnaps the Lebanese Prime Minister, and arrests and holds hostage the country’s rich and political elites in an attempt to consolidate power. The country continues to crack down and arrest its own people for simply erring grievances against the government. It continues to punch down on Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the region, creating its own humanitarian crisis (I don’t know if Saudi Arabia has ever had to punch up in a military conflict). Mohammad Bin Salman is not a true friend of the west. He is Kim Jung Un with oil money. Saudi Arabia is attacking Canada as a warning to all other western countries who would choose to criticize the kingdom for its domestic and international abuses. Instead of military threats, their government will use their purse strings to punish other countries. They save physical violence on their own people as well as weaker countries. 


As for the criticism that Canada should stick its nose to where it belongs, Samar Badawi’s brother is Raif Badawi, an author and an activist himself. Like his sister, he was arrested for his anti-government activities and sentenced to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes, fifty of which he has already received. His wife is a Canadian. The Canadian government is looking after its own. But even if this wasn’t the case, it should be the responsibility of every rational government to speak out when one of its allies or partners is violating human rights. A true friend and ally would want its allies and friends to be better. If you see your brother pulling out an insect’s legs one by one, you’ll put a stop to it and teach him a lesson about cruelty and kindness. This is what Canada did. And for that, we just got threatened with a 9/11 attack. 

June 29

Journalism is noble profession. The problem with journalism however is that far too many people fancy themselves as doing journalism when they’re doing anything but. Either that, or it gets muddled with punditry and people would sometimes no longer have any idea what they’re reading or listening to anymore. Do people who watch Shawn Hannity actually believe they’re not watching the news? I’m sure they think they’re watching the news and not just some college dropout opine about conspiracy theories. And with the rash of news and opinion outlets which cater to every political persuasion, anything that doesn’t fit or contradicts with our own biases could easily be waved off as fake news. The president of the United States does it. My father does it. Even my wife does it from time to time. I myself am not immune to consuming news from outlets that only share my opinion. I often get my news from left-leaning outlets. Probably the most right-leaning outlet I would occasionally watch would be Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough, but that’s only because the vileness of the current political climate have left them no choice but to go against their former right-leaning ways.

And one of the reasons why I tend not to consume anything from the right is that it’s often awash with conspiracy theories and generally vile attitude towards others. How the heck did Alex Jones get an audience? Who would trust anything that Jesse Watters says? And that’s just people on TV. There’s a plethora of right wing talkers on the Internet who dare I say are more unqualified to talk about politics and the news but still command a sizeable audience. And this again blows my mind because none of them are funny and witty at all. Without actually informing their audience, I would expect them to either be witty or funny at a minimum, but no, they’re just not. Outside of wit and humor, they just often resort to hate, which I understand is just as entertaining and addictive.

But what’s most ironic is that while the president of the US denigrates and makes villains out of real journalists, many right wing commenters who often cloak themselves in the amorphous mantle of journalism/punditry join in and attack the free press as well. “These are fake news.” “lame stream media.” As if they don’t belong and are not protected by the same rights real journalists are working under. It’s the same way Trump and many of his political supporters attack the government and this fictional “deep state” as if they’re not the ones currently running everything. It is insanity.

Just yesterday, five journalists were gunned down in Annapolis. This was after the president called members of the free press the enemy. This was a day after Milo Yiannopolous publicly opined that he wanted journalists to be hunted down. And again, ironically, Yiannopolous also happens to work for Info Wars and previously worked for Breitbart which would in some ways make him part of that group he wants attacked. And while they all attacked the 1st Amendment, I’m sure it would be that same 1st Amendment they would use to protect themselves from any liability. “I was just kidding.” “It wasn’t serious.”

God bless the journalists who do their job right and do their job well. We all need them now more than ever.



Maybe it’s not the most appropriate example from many liberals because he is a right winger who I often disagreed with, but I always admired how Charles Krauthammer went from Harvard medical school, to speechwriter, to journalism. I wish I had his courage and his gift to write. 

 

July 5

I saw the movie ‘Wind River’ a few days ago.  The movie piqued my curiosity when I saw Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen starring as leads. I thought it quite unusual to have two actors who are featured in the Marvel Avengers franchise work together in a totally unrelated film. It seemed a tad distracting.

The movie was surprisingly decent. It was a murder mystery, although the mystery was fairly straightforward. And although the film was set in Wyoming, the wilderness and the issues regarding Native Americans echoed those of Canada’s First Nations’, particularly the way the government often has a lackadaisical approach to their problems. The film makers didn’t portray Native Americans as cartoons either. They portrayed them as real people with real concerns. The film’s focus in particular happens to be one that haunts my hometown as well, the victimization and disappearance of Aboriginal women and how authorities and society in general seems to not care about them. The RCMP doesn’t often put too much effort finding missing Aboriginal women despite the number of reports. A more comprehensive report on the violence that Aboriginal women suffer can be found at the RCMP’s own website.  It is silly how there would be days of news coverage for missing women of other ethnicities but most Aboriginal women don’t get much coverage should they ever disappear. So with all of this in mind, I was quite pleased by how the movie seemed to focus on this issue. Although a couple of instances with the male gaze was a tad inappropriate and unnecessary.

The whole thing didn’t play out like a typical theatrical release. It seemed to be more suited to something I would watch on television as opposed to the big screen. The mystery was not that complicated either and there was so big twist in the end, so the story was not that memorable. Or so I thought.

As the credits rolled, there it came in bold letters: Produced by the Weinstein Company.

That was a twist of M. Night Shyamalan proportions. A movie that champions the plight of women, particularly of Native Americans who are often marginalized, bringing them to light much like the #Metoo movement has brought to light abuses not just in Hollywood but in many places in the US and around the world… that movie just happens to be a property of the same monster that victimized countless of women and whose actions inspired the #Metoo movement in the first place.

Bravo ‘Wind River,’ bravo. 

July 31


I’ve been doing a bit of an informal survey after hearing a friend spout off what sounds like anti-Japanese sentiment disguised as facts. In an attempt to disparage the character of Japanese culture specifically and the Japanese people in general, she mentioned that the kimono was designed specifically for the woman to easily have sexual encounters with men at a moment’s notice. That is why what appear to be cushions or pillows are attached at the back of the outfit. This factoid (or to cut to the chase, this lie) seems to be designed to hurt the Japanese image by basically calling their traditional attire a sex attire and by virtue implying that Japanese women have a history of having loose morals.

I’ve been asking Koreans around me about the reason for the kimono’s design and most people reference this rather risqué explanation to different degrees, with some being more polite than others. This was very fascinating since the people I asked were mostly well-educated people who have visited Japan several times, if not lived there for several years. They mostly came up with the same explanation, although some expressed doubts regarding its veracity.

Now, I’ve read about kimonos, seen them worn many times first-hand, and been with people who had it put on. There are many degrees, but kimonos can be quite complicated to put on. It took my friends almost an hour to have it put on them, and this is with a professional assistant. When you see people walking around Japan with their Sunday best kimonos, these are mostly complicated attires with several layers. They are not the fastest things to take on and off. Probably the easiest and least layered kimono I could think of are the yukatas worn in the summer, but compared to the Korean hanbok, they are probably a little more complicated to put on and off, so I don’t understand this idea of “easy access.” As for the cushions or pillows attached in the back. They are otakos or oversized ribbons mainly placed there for aesthetic purposes. I would hardly consider them pillows. One of the reasons for putting so much material around women at the time was that it was considered ideal for women to have a straight, flat figure. It was simply the aesthetic at the time. And as for pillows and the idea of having women basically be on their backs, Japanese women, when fully attired in traditional garb will have a very complex hairdo. Back then, they would never rest their head on pillows for fear of ruining their hair, and instead rested their head and neck on what amounts to a wooden platform. The whole pillow/easy access thing is simply a fantasy.

But what lends it credibility is a bit of truth. One is that there is a history of courtesans and prostitution in Japan which does involve the image of geishas wearing heavy make-up and kimonos. But this is counter to the easy access image the rumor I’ve been hearing. Another bit of truth is that kimonos are usually tied from behind, thus women would often require assistance when putting on such complicated attire. Prostitutes would sometimes tie their kimono in front so they could easily put them on and off without assistance, but that it not the only sole reason to wear a kimono with the ribbon in front. Elderly people for example, would tie their kimonos in front to make it easier to wear them. In any case, there are many reasons why kimonos could be tied in front, but I think the originators of the easy access lie just latched on to the prostitution story and made it true for all kimonos.

But what is the purpose of the lie. I imagine it is a relic of anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea. I ask people where and when they first heard of this explanation and not many people could tell me exactly when. It seems to have been rooted in their childhood. Thus, even when I offer a counter explanation, some find it hard to divorce themselves from the old take. Perhaps it was designed to disparage the Japanese, and in doing so, boost Korean nationalist sentiment. This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen. In the 80s, children in the Philippines were taught that Armando Lite invented the ArmaLite (M16), Agapito Flores invented the fluorescent lamp, and Eduardo San Juan invented the Lunar Rover. There’s a possibility that Eduardo San Juan did exist as an engineer, but there is no record that he was the chief engineer for the Lunar Rover. And as for the other two, they are nothing but clever puns. But why make up the lie? They were designed to boost national pride, encourage children to take up science and engineering, and instill a bit of anti-American sentiment since all inventors were said to have had their inventions stolen and their credits removed, thus making the lies unprovable. I suspect the Japanese kimono lie was created in the same vein, especially since the Koreas were occupied by the Japanese the same way the Philippines was occupied by the Americans.

I believe this is an early attempt at “fake news” or propaganda. Unfortunately, with me trying to disprove the old “fake news,” I could be labeled as “fake news” as well. I’m not sure if propaganda had the same vicious back and forth cycle back then as well. I figure some lies just faded after people saw the light of truth and reason. But maybe I was being naïve in thinking they are not as persistent, after all, what was my friend spouting? And to bring it back to the modern era, I had my wife look up some of the anti-Japanese sentiments my friend was spouting including the kimono explanation online. True enough, she finds them in a Korean anti-Japanese site. Old “fake news” makes it to the modern age. 

Artist

 

Joseph Reyes

August 17


This heatwave, much like the news every day, stress, and my diet, is slowly killing me.