Saturday, February 24, 2018

Natural Born Bards

The Old Plantation, by John Rose, ca. 1785–1795.

The Hampton Folklore Society, founded in 1893 under the direction of the progressive educator Alice Bacon, was the first group of its kind composed mainly of African-American members. They published stories in the Southern Workman, the Hampton Institute’s journal; Gates and Tatar call this collaboration the first systematic collection of “black cultural artifacts.” Support from the anthropologist Franz Boas and American Folklore Society founder William Wells Newell, as well as works by writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Sterling A. Brown, Arthur Huff Fauset, Elsie Clews Parsons, and Edward C.L. Adams, sustained popular and academic interest throughout the years of the Harlem Renaissance.

Disagreements about the assimilation of folklore into the art of the modern “New Negro” caused one of the notable splits among Harlem intellectuals of the early 20th century. While some perceived traditional songs, stories, religious customs, and vernacular practices as crucial to intellectual emancipation from European lore (what Gates calls “structures of feeling, structures of thought”), others believed this assimilation would prolong enslavement to the past. One memorable debate unfolded in the pages of The Nation in 1926. 

In “The Negro-Art Hokum,” writer George Schuyler (best known for his 1931 novel Black No More) argued that there was no such thing as a unitary black art, and that notions of a common artistic wellspring actually referred to the practices of the South’s black peasant class. Jazz and spirituals, for instance, were “no more expressive or characteristic of the Negro race than the music and dancing of the Appalachian highlanders…are expressive or characteristic of the Caucasian race.” 

In a rebuttal, Langston Hughes, who would co-edit The Book of Negro Folklore with Arna Bontemps three decades later, argued that black artists must not go out of their way to avoid the source material of everyday life in black communities. A decades-long game of disavowal, on the one hand, and reclamation on the other foreshadowed the contemporary debates about black identity politics: Who are the “folk”? What issues should they care about? What stories should they preserve, disseminate, or kick to the curb?

Every tradition has its celebrities, and that’s certainly true of African-American folklore. There’s the tragic rail worker John Henry (Colson Whitehead’s 2001 novel John Henry Days centers on this story); the tar baby (see Toni Morrison’s 1981 novel Tar Baby); the desperado Stagolee (check out Cecil Brown’s 2006 fictionalization I, Stagolee). There are also lesser-known tales of a princess elephant, a yam that becomes a childless woman’s daughter, frogs that regurgitate finery for a ball, witches who slip out of their skins, magical tools, headless ghosts, stolen voices, singing tortoises, talking skulls, vindictive fairies, flying heifers, girls bewitched into nightingales, and warrior twins who journey to the land of Never Return and confront a menacing crocodile. Ballads recount the sinking of the Titanic, and we learn the dangers of fishing on Sundays and how wisdom first spread throughout the world.

Tatar, a scholar of German folklore, concedes that the “rage for order that takes hold of anthologizers vanishes in the face of the entangled histories and kaleidoscopic variations in stories from time past.” Drawing extensively on previously published anthologies, oral accounts, secondary literature, and university and governmental archives, the editors clearly envision their book not as a comprehensive collection but as an enticing introduction to an influential body of lore. 

Their annotations clarify some slang and tropes, and the endnotes for certain stories offer useful background information and suggestive interpretations. (In a media moment that has largely focused on gains for black artists in television and film, the editors were recently honored as the recipients of an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work.)

From The Nation Read More 


Guns – International Comparison of Killings

How does the US compare with other countries?

About 40% of Americans say they own a gun or live in a household with one, according to a 2017 survey, and the rate of murder or manslaughter by firearm is the highest in the developed world. There were more than 11,000 deaths as a result of murder or manslaughter involving a firearm in 2016.
Chart comparing gun-related deaths as % of total homicides - 64% in US, 30.5% in Canada, 13% in Australia, and 4.5% in England and Wales
Homicides are taken here to include murder and manslaughter. The FBI separates statistics for what it calls justifiable homicide, which includes the killing of a criminal by a police officer or private citizen in certain circumstances, which are not included. 

Who owns the world's guns?

While it is difficult to know exactly how many guns civilians own around the world, by every estimate the US with around 270 million is far out in front. 
Chart showing top 10 gun-owning countries - US is top, followed by Yemen, Switzerland, Finland and Cyprus - info from Small Arms Survey
Switzerland and Finland are the European countries with the most guns per person - they both have compulsory military service for all men over the age of 18. Cyprus, Austria and Yemen also have military service.

How do US gun deaths break down?

There have been more than 90 mass shootings in the US since 1982, according to investigative magazine Mother Jones.
Up until 2012, a mass shooting was defined as when an attacker had killed four or more victims in an indiscriminate rampage - and since 2013 the figures include attacks with three or more victims. The shootings do not include killings related to other crimes such as armed robbery or gang violence. 
The overall number of people killed in mass shootings each year represents only a tiny percentage of the total number.
Graphic showing 33,594 died from guns in 2014, of those 21, 386 were suicides and 11,008 were homicides and only 14 died in mass shootings
There were nearly twice as many suicides involving firearms in 2015 as there were murders involving guns, and the rate has been increasing in recent years. Suicide by firearm accounts for almost half of all suicides in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found there was a strong relationship between higher levels of gun ownership in a state and higher firearm suicide rates for both men and women. 

How old are the killers?

The average age of attackers in 91 recorded US mass shootings, including the Las Vegas attack, was 34.
Stephen Paddock, the gunman who killed 58 concertgoers in Las Vegas, is one of three killers aged over 60. The others are: William D Baker, 66, who killed five people in Illinois in 2001; and Kurt Myers, 64, who killed five people in New York state in 2013.
The youngest killer is Andrew Douglas Golden, 11, who ambushed students and teachers as they left Westside Middle School in Arkansas, in 1998. He was jointly responsible with Mitchell Scott Johnson, 13, for five deaths and 10 injured.
Ages of 94 killers responsible for 91 mass shootings in the US

Attacks in US become deadlier

The Las Vegas attack was the worst in recent US history - and the three shootings with the highest number of casualties have all happened within the past 10 years. 
The Parkland, Florida, attack is the worst school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012.
Worst mass shootings since 1991 -Las Vegas 58, followed by Orlando 49 in 2016, Virginia tech 32 in 2007, Sandy Hook in 2012 27, and Killeen, Texas 23 in 1991.

What types of guns kill Americans?

Military-style assault weapons have been blamed for some of the major mass shootings such as the attack in an Orlando nightclub and at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut. 
Dozens of rifles were recovered from the scene of the Las Vegas shooting, Police reported.
Pie chart showing most gun-related murders are committed using handguns
A few US states have banned assault weapons, which were totally restricted for a decade until 2004. 
However most murders caused by guns involve handguns, according to FBI data.

How much do guns cost to buy?

For those from countries where guns are not widely owned, it can be a surprise to discover that they are relatively cheap to purchase in the US.
Among the arsenal of weapons recovered from the hotel room of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock were handguns, which can cost from as little $200 (£151) - comparable to a Chromebook laptop.
Graphic showing price of an assault rifle $1500 and handgun $200
Assault rifles, also recovered from Paddock's room, can cost from around $1,500 (£1,132).
In addition to the 23 weapons at the hotel, a further 19 were recovered from Paddock's home. It is estimated that he may have spent more than $70,000 (£52,800) on firearms and accessories such as tripods, scopes, ammunition and cartridges.

Who supports gun control?

US public opinion on the banning of handguns has changed dramatically over the last 60 years. Support has shifted over time and now a significant majority opposes a ban on handguns, according to polling by Gallup.
But a majority of Americans say they are dissatisfied with US gun laws and policies, and most of those who are unhappy want stricter legislation.
Chart showing Americans unhappy with US gun laws want stricter rules
Some controls are widely supported by people across the political divide - such as restricting the sale of guns to people who are mentally ill, or on "watch" lists.
72% of Republicans, or adults who lean Republican, believe that 'concealed carry' should be allowed in more places while only 26% of Democrats do.
But Republicans and Democrats are much more divided over other policy proposals, such as whether to allow ordinary citizens increased rights to carry concealed weapons - according to a survey from Pew Research Center.
In his latest comment on the shootings, President Donald Trump said he would be "talking about gun laws as times goes by". The White House said now is not the time to be debating gun control.
His predecessor, Barack Obama, struggled to get any new gun control laws onto the statute books, because of Republican opposition. 

Who opposes gun control?

The National Rifle Association (NRA) campaigns against all forms of gun control in the US and argues that more guns make the country safer. 
It is among the most powerful special interest lobby groups in the US, with a substantial budget to influence members of Congress on gun policy. 
Chart showing rise in lobbying expenditure by NRA - from just over $1m in 2000 to more than $3m in 2017
In total about one in five US gun owners say they are members of the NRA - and it has especially widespread support from Republican-leaning gun owners, according to Pew Research.
In terms of lobbying, the NRA officially spends about $3m per year to influence gun policy. 
The chart shows only the recorded contributions to lawmakers published by the Senate Office of Public Records. 
The NRA spends millions more elsewhere, such as on supporting the election campaigns of political candidates who oppose gun controls.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Zelda D'Aprano Fought for Equality All Her life !

Zelda D'Aprano fought for equality all her life. The fire in our bellies is her legacy
Leena van Deventer

Zelda D’Aprano chained to the front doors of the Commonwealth Building in Melbourne in 1969. 
As women, we have allowed ourselves to be the frogs in hot water. Zelda isn’t here any more to see us fix it, but fix it we will.

Zelda D’Aprano was an unstoppable force, and if you didn’t like it, you best got out of the way. It’s through my work as a director of the Victorian Women’s Trust that I got to know Zelda, and she has been a personal hero of mine ever since. I feel lucky for every conversation we had together. Each time I walked away feeling like I could do anything, and she utilised those powers very skilfully. She told me to ask for more from the world, even if I wanted the sun. So, to honour my friend: I’ll have your moon too, thanks.

Zelda D’Aprano passed away on Wednesday, at the age of 90. A staunch feminist, labour unionist, and pay justice advocate, Zelda had a profound and everlasting impact on the women’s movement and labour movements within Australia. She also took the time in her later years to mentor and nurture young feminists. I, and many others, are benefactors of that kindness, and we find ourselves grieving an immense loss.

She left school at 14 to join the workforce, and it was in this factory work she began to witness first-hand the inequity between male and female workers. With each job she took she would point out the injustice of this disparity to her employers and would be swiftly sacked. She didn’t care about personal consequences, she cared about fairness.

In 1969, fed up with the lack of progress for women, Zelda secured herself to the doors of the Commonwealth Building to protest the dismissal in the arbitration court of the equal pay case, of which she was a test case with the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU). In an all-too-familiar pattern, for this “outspokenness” she was fired from the AMIEU.

Women weren’t allowed to drink in pubs, just in the ladies lounges, so she held pub crawls and invited all her friends. Women were only making 75c to the dollar, so she only paid 75% of her tram fare. I remember suggesting on one of my visits that she was the head of the “Ain’t Havin’ It Union” and she laughed.

The legislation Zelda fought for has been all but eroded. The Equal Pay Act of 1972 has been aggressively watered down to become the “Fair Work Act” and no longer even mentions “pay equity”, “gender discrimination” or “equal pay”. We allowed ourselves to be the frogs in the hot water. Zelda noticed, and I’m heartbroken she couldn’t stay long enough to see us fix it. But fix it we will.

When Zelda was chained to the doors of parliament, a police officer (foolishly underestimating her commitment) began to chastise her. “Aren’t you embarrassed? It’s just you on your own,” he said. Without hesitating, she replied “No. Because soon there will be three, then there will be five, and then there will be …”. She was right. Ten days after her protest she was joined by Alva Geikie and Thelma Solomon. From that action, the three women founded the Women’s Action Committee and the Women’s Liberation Centre, from which the Women’s Liberation Movement in Melbourne was born. This changed the landscape of feminist organising in Australia forever.

In her 1995 biography, Zelda described wanting to get more women involved in activism, because “we had passed the stage of caring about a “lady-like” image because women had for too long been polite ... and were still being ignored”. She didn’t care about what people thought of her, she cared about fairness.

The Women’s Action Committee organised the very first pro-choice rally in 1975, with an impressive turnout of over 500 women. It was reported by the media as a “hoard of angry barefoot women” taking to the streets. Zelda assured me they were definitely wearing shoes. She really did walk the walk, throughout her entire life.

As she outlived many of her friends and comrades, in her later years she described herself as lacking “good conversation” with fellow lefties and unionists. Someone from the Trades Hall’s women’s team would come every month to talk shop, and it was a highlight for everyone involved.

In 2015, the Victorian Trades Hall Council introduced the Zelda D’Aprano Award for union activism. In a bittersweet coincidence, the nominations for the 2018 award opened on the very day she passed away. The flag at Trades Hall was lowered to half mast in her honour.

The legacy of Zelda D’Aprano cannot be contained within memorial writings or obituaries, and it cannot die. It lives within the hearts of feminists – young and old – who, inspired by her spirit, will continue to fight for equality and fairness. It lives in the fire in our bellies. It lives in the smirk we wear when we are doubted. Even through the heartache of loss, it lives.

“Oh sisters, you’ve done me proud” – Zelda D’Aprano, 2015.

Leena van Deventer is a writer, game developer and teacher from Melbourne

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Friday, February 16, 2018

Grenfell Tower Billboards – “71 dead”, “And still no arrests?”



Grenfell Tower activists have parked three billboards opposite the remains of the charred north Kensington block, calling for justice on the eight-month anniversary of the fire.

Campaigners from Justice4Grenfell recreated a scene from Golden Globe-winning film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” in a bid to raise awareness around the lack of arrests made in the investigation into the fire, which claimed 71 lives last June.

The posters, marked with “71 dead”, “And still no arrests?”, “How come?”, were driven through central London on Thursday before being parked in front of the remains of Grenfell Tower.

Campaign coordinator Yvette Williams said the group hoped the stunt would harness the power of advertising to bring about justice.

“We wanted to harness this power to remind people how little has been done since the tragic event shook this community, and the country, just over eight months ago,” she said.

“These billboards are here because there have still been no arrests, hundreds of survivors remain homeless, and 297 other towers in the UK are still covered in flammable cladding.

“Furthermore, requests from survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire to appoint a diverse decision-making panel to sit alongside the head of the public inquiry have been denied.”