Captain Charles Boycott and the First Boycott

January 8, 2018 § Leave a comment

Last week I wrote a post about the conundrum we face in dealing with President Trump, hockey rumours, and global warming.  The basic problem is the response of us as individuals, and our feelings of powerlessness, vs. the fact that we can band together to form interest groups in response.  In the case of the latter, I always think of the original boycott.

The original boycott occurred in 1880 in County Mayo, Ireland.  Captain Charles Boycott lent his name to a campaign against him by the Irish Land League.  The Land League was a political organization in late 19th century Ireland with the goal of alleviating the plight of poor Irish tenant famers.  The League’s ultimate goal was to abolish the great landowners of Ireland to allow these poor tenant farmers to own the land they worked.  The Irish Land League was a central component in the radicalization of Catholic/Nationalist Ireland in the second half of the 19th century, following its mobilization by Daniel O’Connell in the first half of the century.  And this radicalization, of course, led ultimately to the Irish Revolution and Irish independence in the early 20th century.

In 1880, Boycott was the land agent for Lord Erne in Lough Mask, Co. Mayo.  He became the object of ire of the Land League due to his enthusiasm for evicting the poor tenant farmers of Erne’s land.  Thus, the League encouraged his employees (most of whom were Irish and Catholic, as opposed to the Englishman Boycott) to withdraw their labour.  And then the League and its supporters in Co. Mayo encouraged local merchants to not serve Boycott.  Of course, some merchants required some encouragement to participate, which the local peasantry was only happy to provide.

Boycott, frustrated by his treatment, wrote a letter complaining of his plight to the Times of London.  And the boycott became national (and international, the Irish diaspora in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand followed the news closely) news.  This led to an influx of reporters from London, who interviewed the locals and explained the issue (not always fairly) to the readers of the London papers.

With no one to serve him in the local stores, and no one to work for him, Boycott was forced to rely upon gangs of Orangemen, protected by the overwhelmingly Protestant Royal Irish Constabulary, as well as the British Army, to harvest the crops.  In the end, it cost over £10,000 to harvest around £500 worth of crops.  The boycotters won, at least locally.

What was the long-term effect of the first boycott?  Not much, at least locally.  Boycott left Lord Erne’s service, but he was replaced by another agent.  And evictions continued apace around Ireland.  And the plight of tenant farmers did not improve all that much.

But, the first boycott was a symbolic victory.  It brought greater exposure for the Land League, though it was ultimately unsuccessful in its campaign for the Three Fs: fair rent, free sale and fixity of tenure.  But, even then, the Land League was, as noted, part of the radicalization of Catholic Ireland in the second half of the 19th century, which led to the birth of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and, ultimately, the Irish Republican Army (the first one, led by Michael Collins, not the re-constituted IRA that was behind the Troubles in Northern Ireland).

So, ultimately, taken together with other events, the first boycott was ultimately successful.  And maybe this speaks to something else.  We seem to expect that our actions against whatever we see as oppressive to be immediately rewarded, which is no doubt a response to our general belief in immediate reward/punishment in our world today.  Our actions as individuals need to be part of a larger movement, and we need to be patient in that larger movement in order to effect change.

For example, where I live in Western Massachusetts, a collection of like-minded people have created a culture where creativity, tolerance, and inclusivity is central.  But this was’t created overnight.  While Western Massachusetts has a history of alternative subcultures and communities, our present culture was carefully and slowly created and reinforced over the past 30-40 years, beginning first down in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts, and that has slowly crept up into the hilltowns on both side of the river valley.  In other words, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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The Power of the Media

January 3, 2018 § 6 Comments

Last week I posted this to Facebook, thinking it made a good point about corporate behaviour as opposed to individual behaviour.  I immediately got lambasted by several friends who argued that it is we as individuals who make change and that corporations and the media respond to us.  As far as I’m concerned this is hogwash and the height of American liberalism.  No.  We don’t control corporations.  We don’t control the  media.  We are conditioned not to. We are conditioned to purchase new things, to listen to our media.  And, sure, we can boycott. One friend lives in rural Tennessee and is doing her best to live a life of simplicity with minimal consumption.  I salute that.  I personally do not shop at Walmart due to its odious corporate behaviour vis-à-vis downtown cores around this country.  But Lydia’s actions and mine are small, a drop in the ocean.  And, yes, certainly, if we are joined in our attempts to make the world better in this sense, it would make a difference.  But, until we are numerous enough to make Walmart stop gutting the downtowns of small-town America, for example, I think we need to both carry on keeping on keeping on, but also holding the nose of corporations to the stink they create.

Today, I looked briefly on Twitter and got depressed.  Trump, Trump, and more Trump.  Some of it was useful, like reporting on the actual news.  But most of it was the usual outrage to his rants, raves, and rages on Twitter.  Apparently today he thinks Huma Abedin and James Comey belong in jail.  I don’t care.  None of that matters.  None of it.  It’s just so much hot air.  What matters is the policies and actions of the US government whilst he is president.  That matters.  But that’s not what the so-called resistance seems to be focusing on.  It’s focused on the the newest outrage from the President’s Twitter account.

And so I got to thinking about how we arrived here.  Donald Trump was an outsider when he threw his hat into the GOP race for the presidential nomination in 2016.  He wasn’t an unknown, of course, he was a famous showman.  He had no policies, just a slogan to Make America Great Again.  He ranted and raved at his rallies, he made fun of his opponents, amongst others.  In other words, he ran a circus. He tried to provoke.  And the media responded exactly how he wanted, and therefore, so did we.  The media is addicted to Donald Trump and his off-the-cuff remarks and outrageous statements.

Trump’s candidacy was pushed not by Trump, but by the media.  His campaign for president was also driven by the media.  He got wall-to-wall coverage.  That most of it was negative, 77% according to a Harvard study, doesn’t matter.  Trump was proof of Oscar Wilde’s observation that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  He was all over the place. And, yes, we lapped it up.  It become almost masochistic for a lot of my friends, having to see his latest outrageous comment or tweet.  Trump as president has been driven by the media.

Right now, the home pages of CNN, New York TimesHuffington Post, and the Washington Post are dominated by the President.  But not his policies, or his ideas to improve the economy or anything like that.  No, it’s mostly noise caused by his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks, as well as that outrageous interview he did with The Times last week.  None of this matters.  But we just lap this up.

Certainly we, the people, have some power.  We could stop paying attention to his tweets, but they get amplified by everyone on Twitter.  His two tweets attacking the New York Times yesterday morning have both been re-tweeted close to 52,000 times and liked another 13,000 times each.  He has 45.6 million followers.  And, sure, not all of them are American, but they’re also not just conservatives.  I can see that 272 of my Twitter followers follow him, and just looking quickly at the first 30 0r so, I can confirm that most of them are progressives.  So, we’re clearly not doing that.  But if we collectively stopped following, re-tweeting, or liking his tweets, he would fall silent pretty quickly.

But. There is the larger issue.  The news media is all over him like a cheap suit.  Because Trump is first and foremost a showman.  I personally don’t believe he believes even 10% of what he says publicly, he says it to provoke people, to fire up his base, and anger his ‘haters,’ as he calls them.  And thus, the media salivates.

And sure, the media is composed of individuals.  And those individuals work for large corporations.  And it is in the interests of those individuals to ensure large ratings/readership/viewership in order to further their own careers.  And those corporations have an interest in those readers and viewers, as this is how profits are made.

Another example: Hockey in Canada.  Canadians, we take our hockey seriously.  And we have two English-language and two French-language media conglomerates exclusively devoted to sports.  And hockey dominates at TSN, Sportsnet, TVA and RDS.  And then there’s all the other media in Canada.  Each has one or 100 ‘insiders’ who claim to know about the inner-workings of the NHL and our favourite hockey teams.  And there is not just the TV stations (multiple streams), but also the social media presence of not just the networks, but their studio hosts, as well as these so-called insiders.  And so viewership/readership and profits must be driven up at all times.  And what drives all of this?  Coverage of the NHL, in particular the seven Canadian NHL teams, but even then, especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, who not only play in the two largest cities in Canada, but both of those cities have large diasporas out west (where the rest of the Canadian NHL teams are in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg (and, yes, I am ignoring the Ottawa Senator), but also down east.

But coverage of practices, games, press conferences by coaches and general managers just aren’t enough.  So there are trade rumours, as all of these ‘insiders’ go a-twitter discussing who is going to be traded and to whom.  We are told that our favourite team’s general manager is ‘working the phones’ to improve the team or find that elusive piece that will deliver the Stanley Cup.  My guess is about 99% of these rumours lead to absolutely nothing.  The other 1%, well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  But we lap it up.  Because TSN, RDS, Sportsnet, and TVA have conditioned us to.  It’s irrational human behaviour at its best because we have been trained by this media industrial complex to respond.

So, back to Trump: What if, for just one week, the news media ignored his Twitter?   And what if we, the people, also ignored his Twitter for one week?  What would happen?

Kendrick Lamar Plays Us All

December 11, 2017 § Leave a comment

Years ago, I bought Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ album, Dig Lazarus Dig!!!  Because of the way iTunes downloaded the album to my MacBook and iPod, the tracks were reversed and I didn’t really notice.  Thus, for me, the album began with the epic ‘More News from Nowhere‘ and ended with the raucous title track.  It probably took me close to a year to realize that the song order was backwards and, really, I didn’t care.  I have since re-ordered the album in my iTunes and the tracks run the way they were supposed to.  But, for me, it doesn’t really sound right, though it is  more sensible to start with the raucous and end with the epic.

Last week, Kendrick Lamar, the second coming of conscious hip hop (or Jesus, take your pick), re-released his most recent album, DAMN.  But, here’s the thing, this is the COLLECTORS EDITION.  So what did Lamar do to make this a collector’s edition? New tracks? Remixes?  Remixes AND new tracks?  Oh, hell no.  Lamar just re-ordered the album, from last to first.  And, the world has confirmed his brilliance.

Now, DAMN was a mighty fine album.  And while I prefer the re-ordering of the tracks to play it back to first, all I can think is, really?!?  This is brilliance?  Lamar is playing us for fools.

Nothing Says Cluelessness Quite Like Joking About Gentrification

November 30, 2017 § 4 Comments

Gentrification is a topic I have written a lot about here (for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, and, finally, here).  And, of course, I wrote a book about Griffintown, Montreal. In other words, I think about gentrification a lot, occasionally curious about it, occasionally appalled by it.

Last week, a Denver coffee chain found itself in the midst of a firestorm over a really stupid sandwich board sign outside of its outlet in Five Points neighbourhood.  Of course, the name Five Points carries with it various derogatory ideas, largely connected to the original Five Points in Manhattan, so the gentrifiers of Denver’s Five Points have re-christened it RiNo (or, River North Arts District).  The Five Points ink! coffee shop placed this sandwich board outside its shop:

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Ok, then.  A few things to note. First, the sign is on dirt/gravel, next to what looks like a new(-ish) sidewalk).  So clearly, gentrification is apace here.  Second, Five Points is historically home to pretty much the entirety of Denver’s African American population.  And, as anyone who knows anything about urban history will tell you, this also means that the congregation of the black population of the city here was not entirely always by choice.  And, of course, who loses in the gentrification of traditionally African American neighbourhoods?  African Americans, of course.

Third, the gentrifiers want this neighbourhood to be a centre for the arts.  Not surprisingly, the arts that are native to Five Points are not all that welcome in the newly re-imagined RiNo.  Why? Because hip hop is still seen as a black art form, and that makes a lot of white people uneasy, even today after hip hop has gone global.

And while the people at ink!’s Five Points shop may have thought they were being edgy and funny, they were not. They were being stupid.  And offensive.  Yes, gentrification usually means you can get good coffee in your neighbourhood, but at what cost?  And who benefits from gentrification in the US?  The answer to the latter question is predominately white, young, urbanites with well-paying jobs.

And that means that those who lose from gentrification are people who do not look like them, these urban explorers.  Gentrification is, I think, as close to an inevitable process as we have.  But, that doesn’t mean that it needs to be brainless and lead to the displacement of the residents, and it doesn’t need to mean a whitewashing of neighbourhoods traditionally of colour.

And to joke about this whitewashing?  Well, that’s frankly offensive and stupid.  And Keith Herbert, the founder of ink!, comes across as especially daft in his Twitter statement, but at least he’s trying.  That’s something, I guess:

Football and CTE

November 27, 2017 § 3 Comments

This past weekend was Grey Cup weekend in Canada.  The Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders met at TD Place Stadium in the Nation’s Capital.  The Argos won 27-24 in another classic.  In the lead up to the game, Canadian Football League Commissioner Randy Ambrosie declared that ‘we don’t know‘ if there is a connection between CTE and football.  Around this time last year, the former CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge said the same thing and was roundly criticized.  Ambrosie is being suitably raked over the coals.

But here’s the thing, Ambrosie should know better.  He is a former CFL player himself, he was a lineman for the Stampeders, Argonauts, and Edmonton Eskimos (why no one protests this name is beyond me).  Ironically, he retired due to injuries.  And he should know about the damage done to his own body by the game.  I am certainly aware of what football did to my body, between the cranky knees, shoulders, and, of course, the concussions (added to, of course, by hockey, where I played goalie).

More to the point, it looks pretty damn likely that there is a connection between football and CTE.  This is just media one story from this past summer (out of many) that reports on a study that found that 88% of brains donated by now-deceased former football players had some form of CTE.  CTE was also more prevalent in former professional players, as compared, to, say, high school players.

This is not complete proof positive of the link between football and CTE because CTE can only be diagnosed after death, and so far, studies have concluded nothing more than the commonality of the disease being present in the brains of former football players, as opposed to those who did not play.  But this isn’t a direct proof.  But, recent research has found that it may be possible to determine the presence of CTE in the brains of the living.   This may allow researchers to positively correlate football and CTE.

But, we are not there yet.  Nonetheless, Ambrosie’s comments are asinine at best, recklessly dangerous at worst.  And, either way, profoundly stupid.

The CFL has done a lot of good to reduce the stress on players’ bodies, from adding a 3rd bye-week during the season to banning full-contact practices.  But, it is still the subject of a class-action lawsuit focusing on brain damage (in this light, Ambrosie’s comments make some sense, but the better thing to have done would’ve been to deflect the question).

But Ambrosie’s statements last week threaten to undo that.  We should all expect better from the Canadian Football League.

Resurrecting Les Négresses Vertes

November 9, 2017 § Leave a comment

One of the wonderful things about growing up in Canada was official bilingualism.  This meant, for example, that growing up in Vancouver, I could see my beloved Habs every Saturday night on La Soirée du Hockey on Radio-Canada.  It also meant that the French-language version of MuchMusic, MusiquePlus, was broadcast across cable in Vancouver, direct from Montréal.

For the adventuresome young music fan, there was this whole other world out there from France, Belgium, Québec, and French Africa.  Musiqueplus is how I first heard a whole raft of great French artists, from Youssou N’Dour to Noir Désire to Jean Leloup to Niagara to Serge Gainsbourg, and beyond.  It is also how I first heard Céline Dion, so there’s that to take into account.  But it is also how I first came across the great Parisienne band, Les Négresses Vertes.

In high school, French music wasn’t exactly something I could share with my friends. Sure, I was part of the alternative music crowd, but that only extended to the Anglophone world.  I hunt out with some of the theatre kids, but this was a bridge too far even for them.  It wasn’t until I moved to Ottawa, with its proximity to Montréal, that I found the freedom to enjoy French music publicly.

Most of the Anglo world first came across Les Négresses Vertes through their presence on the Red Hot + Blue album in 1990.  They covered Cole Porter’s ‘I Love Paris.’  But, by then, I had already dug on their début album, Mlah, which came out in 1988.  They were unlike anything I had ever heard in English.  They mixed French traditional music with world beat and punk.  They were complicated.  Their melodies and beats owed more to the French Empire than France.  And they had a strong sense of musicality, which bubbled up to the surface in surprising ways sometimes.  Front man Noël Rota, better known as Helno, sounded a bit like Joe Strummer of the Clash, at least sometimes (this also made Strummer’s late life foray into acoustic punks and Latin beats somewhat bizarre to me, since it sounded more like Helno fronting Mano Negra).

The Vertes were a collection of misfits and punks from Paris, originating around Les Halles.  They were a united nation of the former French empire; their name came from an insult hurled at them at one of their earliest.  I don’t get romantic about the past and locations often, but, c’mon, this is Paris.  Paris in the 80s must’ve been an amazing place.  And Les Négresses Vertes arose out of this, the cosmopolitan nature of the French metropole, plus the distinct French qualities of the city, and the inner city at that.  And the music!  Aside from Les Négresses Vertes there was Noir Désir, Bérurier Noir, Mano Negra, amongst others.

Their first two albums, Mlah and Famille Nombreuse, teetered on complete chaos, an eight-piece orchestra.  Helno was this tiny, kind of funny looking freak.  He had a pompadour and looked like something that stepped out of the 1950s.  But, in front of his band, he became something else.  He held this chaos together.  He was both the primary song writer and the vocalist.  He sounded a bit like Strummer, yes, but he also sounded world-weary.  All of this when he was in his late 20s.  He’d done copious amounts of drugs, but he still more or less lived in his mother’s flat in a poor part of northern Paris.  People all around him were dying, of suicide, drug overdoses, and AIDs.  He once told a journalist that he through that if there was a Hell, it was on Earth.  He also claimed that he wrote his lyrics whilst riding his bike around Paris, singing out loud as he rode.  Hindsight says he was damned from the getgo.  But I doubt it looked that way at the time.

His lyrics were riddled with slang and dark humour, stories of love and the gritty city (”Zobi La Mouche‘ and ‘Voila l’été‘) mixed with the occasional beautiful love song (‘Homme de marais‘, seriously one of my favourite songs ever) and dirge (‘Face à la mer‘). ‘Face à la mer’ was remixed by Massive Attack and became a huge club hit after Helno’s death (perhaps the most unlikely club raver ever).

It’s been a long time since I listened to the Vertes, probably close to a decade.  But for some reason, I put them on last weekend.  Nothing has changed, even though their first album was released almost 30 years ago.  Helno himself has been dead for almost 25 years; he died of a heroin overdose in January 1993, at the age of 29.  Their music is still immediate, still that beautiful concoction of chaos, danger, and beauty.

Les Négresses Vertes carried on after Helno’s death, eventually evolving more into a dub fusion band.  But something was lost.  Helno seemed to be the one who kept the chaos from falling off the rails, from ensuring the danger remained in the background.  After his death, the band was never as exuberant and full of life again.  They mellowed.  And as much as I like the post-Helno era, for me, Les Négresses Vertes were at their best between 1987 and 1993.

As far as I know, they’ve never broken up, but they haven’t released any new music since 2001.  They don’t have a web page.  They don’t have a Twitter or a Facebook page.  And career-spanning retrospectives were released in the early 2000s.

 

The True North Strong and Free

November 6, 2017 § 2 Comments

Last week, Canadian Governor General Julie Payette gave a speech at what the Canadian Broadcast Corporation calls ‘a science conference‘ in Ottawa.  There, she expressed incredulity in creationism and climate change denial, and called for a greater acceptance of scientific fact in Canada.  Payette is a former astronaut, holds an MSc in computer engineering, and has worked in the field of Artificial Intelligence.  In other words, when she speaks on this matter, we should listen.

Her comments ignited a storm of controversy in Canada.  Some people are upset at her comments.  Some people are upset the Governor General has an opinion on something.  With respect to the first, Payette spoke to scientific fact.  Full stop. Not opinion.  Fact.  With respect to the second, Governors General and opinions, I will point out that our former Governor General, David Johnston, also freely expressed his opinions.  But, oddly, this did not lead to massive controversy.  What is the difference between Payette and Johnston?  I’ll let one of my tweeps, author Shireen Jeejeebhoy answer:

But then I found a particularly interesting tweet.  The tweet claimed that for the very reason that Canada has the monarchy, the country cannot have democratic elections.

Um, what?  There is no logic to this tweet.  I asked the author of the tweet what he meant. In between a series of insults, he said that he thinks the Governor General, which he mistakenly called an ‘important position,’ should be an elected post.  That gives some clarity to his original post, but he’s still wrong.

Canada is a democracy, full stop.  Elections in Canada are democratic, full stop.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy.  Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State.  The Governor General is her representative in Canada (each province also has a Lieutenant-Governor, the Queen’s representatives in the provincial capitals).  The Queen does appoint the GG (and Lt-Govs), but she does so after the prime minister (or provincial premiers) tell her who is going to be appointed. In other words, Payette has her position because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau selected her.

Canada, unlike the United States, did not gain ‘independence’ in one fell swoop.  In 1848, Queen Victoria granted the United Province of Canada, then a colony, responsible government.  This gave it (present-day Ontario and Québec) control over its internal affairs. All legislation passed by the colonial assembly would gain royal assent via the Governor General.  Following Confederation in 1867, the new Dominion of Canada enjoyed responsible government (which the other colonies that became Canada also had).  But Canada  did not control its external affairs, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and (Northern) Ireland did.  In 1931, the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster, which granted control over foreign affairs to the Dominions (Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand).  In 1947, Canadian citizenship was created.  Prior to that, Canadians were subjects of the monarchy.  In 1949, the Supreme Court of Canada became the highest court in the land. Prior to that, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London was.  In 1982, the Canadian Constitution, which had been an act of the London Parliament (the British North America Act, 1867) was patriated and became an act of the Parliament in Ottawa.  So, choosing when Canada became independent is dicey.  You can pick anyone of 1848, 1931, 1947, 1949, or 1982 and be correct, at least in part.  We tend to celebrate 1867, our national holiday, July 1, marks the day the BNA Act came into affect.  That is the day Canada became a nation, but it is not the date of independence.

Either way, Canada is an independent nation.  Lamarche’s claim that, because we are a constitutional monarchy, we do not have free elections is ridiculous.  The role of the monarchy in Canada is entirely symbolic.  The Queen (or the Governor General or Lieutenants Governors) have absolutely no policy input. They have no role in Canadian government beyond the symbolic.  None.

 

I’m not even sure how someone could come to this conclusion other than through sheer ignorance.