Thursday, November 29, 2012

Our countries, our memories

"C'est ton pays" ("It's Your Country")
Written and sung by Jean-Marie Vivier

Québec's original settlers came from France, bringing with them their language and traditions, which the Québecois have kept alive ever since.  (Québec license plates today carry the words "Je me souviens" ("I  remember.")

This song speaks of a people "adrift", of remembering those who stayed back on "the other shore", of being taken away "towards endless shores".  It tells of bodies that knot themselves harder as they feel themselves torn to pieces with every death, of hiding one's sorrow behind a face that smiles.  

The words "for those who live in fear", and "an entire people that's drowning" made me think of the Tibetans.  The words "memories that flap in the wind" and "your country that's adrift" reminded me of my own birth country.  Adrift, as in - heading in the wrong direction.  And the words "it's your country they're destroying" brings to mind the countless wars and occupations, everywhere, then and now.

A combination of word and sound and image that made me sad, but also more aware of those things we all have in common--what we carry over from our ancestors, what we remember; the fear of loss of identity; of not wanting to be erased.

All our countries are in grief, I think to myself, on hearing from friends, or reading the news lately.
Some more than others, and for different reasons. Countries are not just destroyed by wars or economic collapse; but also by corruption and division and hatred and injustice--and unrelenting (or unforeseen) change.

What will the generations that follow remember, I wonder.


The animated images added to the music track of this video were produced at Haus Design Communication in Montréal, Québec for the purpose of a 2009 pop music video. The person who posted the video on You-Tube notes an incorrect translation at 2:31, where Vivier says "L'espoir qu'il faut réinventer" ("the hope we must reinvent") which appears in the subtitles as "these chances we must reinvent").  Some of the translated words might be misleading.  For me, "fooling around with the light" has an entirely different ring, for example, than the more literal translation "dreaming that you play in the light"). "vivre n'est pas interdit  ("to live is not forbidden") was translated here as "living ain't forbidden" and "pays qui agonise" ("country that agonizes" (i.e., that is in agony) is interpreted here as "your agonizing country".  Despite differences in how one might translate this song, though, the sentiment behind the words and music came through loud and clear.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Managing the Cloud

Deutsche Telekom's T-Systems' proposed mega rechenzentrum, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Another One

Tsering Dhondup

Tsering Dhondup, 34, set himself on fire, protesting against the Chinese government’s failed policies in Tibet around 8:30 am (local time) yesterday (20 Nov) at Amchok, Labrang in north-eastern Tibet’s Amdo region.  He burned himself in front of a local mine field and died on the spot.

 Tsering Dhondup is the 78th Tibetan to set himself on fire. [1]

He joins:

Name                                         Age         Cause of Death                       Date

Wangchen Norbu, male,     25,         self-immolation            November 19, 2012
Sangdhak Tsering, male,     24,         self-immolation            November 17, 2012
Chagmo Kyi, female,                            self-immolation            November 17, 2012.

 Tenzin Dolma, female        23,           self-immolation            November 15, 2012.
 Khabum Gyal, male            18,           self-immolation           November 15, 2012.
 Nyinchak Bum, male          18,           self-immolation           November 11, 2012.
 Nyingkar Tashi, male         24,           self-immolation           November 11, 2012.
 Gonpo Tserin, male            19,           self-immolation           October 1, 2012

That's just since last month.

Total number of self-immolations in the last three years: 78
Total death toll: 64
See complete list here.
Details and photos here
Since occupying Tibet, the Chinese government has deliberately and continuously suppressed Tibetan  language, religious identity and civil liberties.  In monasteries pictures of the Dalai Lama have been removed and replaced with images of Chinese leaders.  The Tibetan culture is systematically being erased and replaced. The world watches in alarm as monks and young Tibetans self-immolate out of desperation and despair.

Disturbed by "continuing allegations of violence against Tibetans seeking to exercise their fundamental human rights of freedom of expression, association and religion", U.N. high commissioner for human rights  Navi Pillay urged Chinese authorities last Friday " to better address grievances expressed by the Tibetan people." (How the Chinese rulers of Tibet address Tibetan grievances has been to use excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, as well as detain and disappear them.    The Chinese refuse to allow independent human rights monitors to visit the region.

 And don't even think about associating with these self-immolators or reporting to the outside world about these continuing self-immolations, if you're Tibetan:

 Courts in Sichuan Province sentenced 19-year-old Lobsang Tsultrim and 17-year-old Lobsang Jangchub, to 11 and eight years in prison respectively for associating with a self-immolating monk. Another court in Sichuan, meanwhile, sentenced two Tibetans in their twenties, Lobsang Tashi and Bu Thupdor, to over seven years in prison just for sending information about the burning protests to foreign contacts. {Source] 

[Read Human Rights Watch World Report 2012 on China here.]
There have been 64 deaths by suicides of this particular type (self-immolation) in Tibet in three years.  As of early June last summer there've been 146 suicides from active-duty U.S. soldiers, "averaging a suicide a day in 2012." [Source].

The reasons may vary but what these 'deaths-by-one's-own-hand' have in common is a loss of hope that one's situation could change. Whether it's a broken body/shattered mind as a result of war experiences, or extreme repression and having to witness the slow, eventual extinction of one's own culture, such tragic responses are always shocking but shouldn't be surprising.  That they're increasing, however, should make us take note.

The media's all abuzz this week about the Gaza/Israel rocket/missile skirmishes.  Few mention Tibet or those U.S. soldier suicides.   Reporters and readers of news can absorb only so much.

 One or thousands, a life is a life.  Each was somebody who mattered to somebody.

These two current news stories (the latest in a series of Tibetan self-immolations, the Gaza/Israel conflict) made me think of Identity.  How one defines oneself according to one's culture/beliefs/what constitutes "home", etc. , and the circumstances one encounters in life that change one's perception about identity. 

The world is increasingly becoming a "melting pot", several countries now flooded with refugees of displacement, where various cultures coexist (or fail to) after chosen (or forced) change places them in a situation where they must suddenly adjust or assimilate.  What is retained, and what is sometimes lost.  (While for centuries individuals have emigrated "to be free" or for economic or personal reasons, I'm thinking more here of large masses of people whose country is no longer a viable or safe place to live.)
The spiritual sense of the "We are all One" mantra is obliterated when heard not as an invitation to togetherness or enlightenment, but as a threatened mandate to submit or be marginalized/disenfranchised/punished or annihilated. 

Humans who die by their own hands, because life becomes intolerable.
Humans who end the lives of others, by choice, or accidental overkill.
In both cases, toleration has limits.
It's when those limits have been reached that resistance turns deadly.

Remembering that song by John Lennon:  "Imagine ...."
Imagine living in a world without murder and suicide.  Without wars.
Where our children get to grow up, not be made casualties of our inability to end the madness.
Given the history of the human race, though   ...   probably not in my lifetime.

and yet ....  one wants to DO something.

when hoping isn't enough
when praying doesn't work
when talking/protesting/writing about it's just a mini squeak-blip in the deafening fog of ROAR ...

A friend of mine tried to commit suicide last week.
Because life has become intolerable.
You can help an individual person. ('Attempteds' that don't succeed are  sometimes a cry for help.  Mostly they want you to just listen.)  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.  I tried to think how devastating it would've been had she succeeded.

And so yes, a news story about another Tibetan suicide (and the remembered suicided soldiers of war) struck a chord with me today.  Another (hospitalized 94-year-old) friend would love nothing better than to have 30 more years (judging by his eagerness to get back to work and his favorite pastimes); a grieving father in Gaza whose son didn't even make it to age one.    Life.

Life is a gift. (Some would say a curse.).  I look at the world.  I think of patterns.  And how much has changed.  And how much            really  hasn't.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Trash Picking

Yesterday morning, returning from the market, as I turned  back into the far end of our street I saw an old man with a cart bent over, scrummaging through our garbage bin.  Tuesday is garbage day here.  We have two city-mandated pickup bins--a big black one for trash, a big blue one for recylables.

That old man, and this article today about waste pickers in India reminded me of a little tour we once took of a local recycle plant. I was amazed at what people sometimes dump into their recycle bins: kitchen cabinets, vacuum cleaners, wicker chairs, fur coats, unopened bottles of ketchup, salad dressing or shampoo (which have to be emptied and cleaned out before becoming recyclable). Things one buys or inherits and for whatever reason doesn't use, and just throws out.

 Jason D. Geil/The Cincinnati Post
As the planet inches (or perhaps gallops) toward becoming unsustainable, consideration of what and how we consume might better prepare us for when we'll no longer be able to buy those   convenient, time-saving items to which we've become accustomed where the world we enter might require us to have to start doing certain things completely "from scratch", as it were, in order to clothe and feed and transport ourselves from place to place.  The 'breakdown-of-civilization-as-we-know-it' theme currently playing out in novels and TV series perhaps has contributed to this mini wake-up call to some extent; the tanking economy worldwide doesn't help dismiss it as total fantasy, though.

Some have already been forced to face this unwelcome reality. Others are incapable of even imagining being reduced to having to actually resort to picking over someone's garbage, much less begin having to put in place practical measures to ensure basic survival--if it'd ever come to that.  Many will continue to spend money they don't have, refusing to make even the smallest change in a lifestyle becoming increasingly more difficult to maintain.

 It's interesting, though, noticing the increased awareness of people who're discovering innovative ways to adjust to what may become even more crippling economic times in the months/years to come.  (I think we've passed the point of relying on mere hope to somehow change things.)   I hear of more recycling, more downsizing/"cutting back", more cases of bartering, more people willingly sacrificing certain habitual recreational or personal pleasures; bouts of voluntary asceticism even. Do these folks know (sense?) something coming that others do not?

Hoping it's temporary, but what if it isn't? What's that scout motto?: "Be Prepared!"   There are people today who haven't the faintest idea, for example, of how to make a simple soup (unable to conceive of a world without "just open and pour"). The Crash, when it comes (the "if" already gone out of most predictions), is going to be harder on certain people than others, I think.

Seriously, say someone gave you $15 to go buy whatever food you would need to last you one month. Kind of a 'What If?' game.  Do your list.  Pick the item and attach an estimated price.  Stop when you reach $15.  Now take a calendar page and plan 90 meals (3 meals per day X 30 days; do that first before you think about scheduling 'snacks'.)  What items would you chose and how would you plan to 'stretch' them?   This simple exercise alone can induce one to begin thinking more about the life one's "used to", and how that might someday have to drastically change, given certain circumstances, and how you'd cope.

 Now imagine you have to do this for an entire year.  Welcome to the kind of tortured, careful planning not just certain individuals but entire groups of humans have to do every single day of their lives, without shelter being a given, or any funds at all.  It humbles you.  Like (now elderly) people who have survived the lean 'war years', who wasted not a single scrap of food, out of sheer habit, a sensibility arises, and stays with you, about how bad things could really get and what sacrifices you might have to make to survive. A different type of consciousness than one that tends to take everything for granted.  ("But of course there will always be air, food and water!" But of what quantity?  And of what quality?). 

Curious if anyone's come up with a Survival Skills for Dummies or Survival Skills 101, I googled.  Well what do you know?  ha ha.

Some links about basic survival:

 Practical Survival Skills 101

Wilderness Survival for Dummies: A Cheat Sheet

Pushing thru concrete: Little Summer Survivor
In my neighborhood, an old man picking through our garbage bin for something to use or sell -- not an uncommon sight, but it struck me as a wake-up call, that this sort of thing seems to be increasing. I mean, one doesn't normally do that if one doesn't have to.  As the 'have-nots' themselves are increasing, so does the 'having to' engage in activities heretofore unthinkable, just to survive.  Dignity is only one of the things one risks losing.  Life itself becomes precarious.

But good to the Pune (Maharashtra) waste pickers for what they're doing.  It has made me think twice about what and how I discard things, the importance of distinguishing between what's important and what's not.  And what the definition of "life" is.

This started out to be a post about trash pickers.  How'd that collapse into doomsday thinking? I'm reminded of the humor, practicality and downright optimism of people who, while they may feel the "darkest days" are yet to come, still go about doing what they normally do, adjusting.  When I mentioned recently to a friend about being leery of eating kelp from Japan (on account of Fukushima), she told me "Hey, did you know that seaweed packed in burlap sacs under the bed can block the winter cold and damp?"   She is living on a remote Greek island with solar panels insufficient to run the refrigerator for more than half an hour at a time, so has limited use of an everyday appliance I take for granted.  (You wouldn't, of course, need a refrigerator in Quebec December through March, what with all the snow piled round the house.  I once used such to stash 40 frozen fish there was no room for inside, but the neighborhood stray cats soon put an end to that best laid plan!  But all this also got me thinking about in what sense does our level of comfort determine how we proceed with everyday "musts"?

Random thoughts on a chilly November afternoon, under a too-too brilliant northern blue sky, turning chillier as I close.