Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Leopard Slug Pr0n For The Nature Lovers of The World

Yeah, this really is a post about Leopard Slugs getting it on. Is it gross? Kind of. Is it interesting? Most definitely. I am always intrigued by intersexed animals and how there existence is conveniently ignored by those who try to teach that homosexuality is somehow morally repugnant to the Creator.

Chondrosarcoma and Lupus Information Seeker Please Contact Me

Today I was searching through my sitemeter and I saw that someone found my blog from a google search of "chondrosarcoma, lupus". There aren't many people with that combination of conditions and I'm REALLY hoping that who this person was (that was looking for information about these two diseases) will return and contact me via the comments section of my blog. I would be really, really grateful! I'd like to hear about their case and see if it's at all like mine.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ampersand's Baby Blogging and Developing Children's Talents

Even though some people have complained about it being "off topic" from what they think Alas, A Blog is all about, I really enjoy Ampersand's weekly baby picture post. This week, it shows his little pixie drawing on his Cintiq tablet. As soon as I saw it, I got really excited.

VanGoghGirl started out the very same way except she began with the Microsoft Paint program on our computer. We used to set it all up for her up until she was about three years old. Then, to our surprise, she started doing it all by herself whenever the computer was on and no one was using it. Around that same time we placed her in a pre-school program because I was finally beginning college. We chose that school out of necessity because it was right on my university's campus which made our schedules a lot easier to manage. It wasn't until after enrolling her that we found out this was one of the best pre-schools in the city. They had an extensive arts curriculum and computers in every classroom. By the time she left there, she was already doing things with Paint that her dad and I still can't even do.

At first, we just saw drawing as something we could give her to do when we wanted a few moments to ourselves because, as an only child, she didn't have other kids around to keep her company. She would raid my mother's computer paper supply and draw all sorts of amazing pictures for us. Once, she saw a Chinese New Year's dragon on television for just a few moments. The next day, we found a picture that she'd drawn with the dragon along with two Asian faces. Somewhere in the house, she'd found some Chinese text on the back of a package and copied down the characters and put them in her picture too. We were dumbfounded that she could tell the difference between Chinese characters and the Japanese writings we had throughout the house.

On other occasions her art has produced some slightly embarrassing situations for me. One time in particular still stands out in my mind. As a toddler, she was only allowed to watch certain channels on television unless someone was sitting there with her. That evening, I had company over at the house, so VanGoghGirl was in the den watching a show on Animal Planet by herself while I was in the living room with my guests. After a half hour or so, VanGoghGirl came in with a picture that she wanted to show us. Being the proud mommy that I am, I told her to hold it up so that we could all see. Well, it was instantly apparent to us what the television show she'd watched had been all about.

In her full-page picture, there was a male frog lying on top of a female frog grasping her sides. The female had a rather large and bubbly mass of clear eggs at her hind end, each one with a tiny black spot inside of them. That's right! My sweet little girl had immortalized a nice little image of two froggies in the middle of the fertilization process. I was speechless. I didn't want to act shocked because I didn't want to send her the wrong message but I'd be lying if I claimed that I didn't REALLY wish that she'd have drawn that picture at a time when I wasn't surrounded by my college friends who didn't have any kids of their own.

When my VanGoghGirl entered elementary school, the school sent me a letter recommending that she be placed in the Talented in the Arts program. To be honest, I didn't realize how advanced her art really was. I mean, it's not like there were any other kids in the family who I could compare her to. She was the only great-grandchild on both sides sides of her family.

After being tested for the Talented program, the teachers also recommended that she be tested for the (academically) Gifted program as well. She was accepted into both programs. One year, while working with her art class as they designed the set background for the school play, she got to be around the theatre class as they rehearsed their roles. The drama instructor noticed VanGoghGirl helping the theatre students practice their lines. She sent us a letter asking us if we'd be interested in having her try out for the Talented theatre program. Of course, we were and not long after that, she was accepted, making her only one of two students in the school who were thrice-exceptional.

Unfortunately, that was around the same time that I got diagnosed with cancer. This turned into a very traumatic time for VanGoghGirl. Her whole routine was interrupted as different family members shared the responsibility of caring for her as I began my cancer treatment odyssey. I had to get an apartment out of town while I received the specialized care (intensity-modulated radiation therapy) that wasn't available in New Orleans.

VanGoghGirl began to use her art as a means of coping with what was going on. My cancer support center has a picture on their wall that she created showing a bald person in bed and a little kid standing at the edge of the bed with their foot planted firmly in the middle of a big fuzzy tumor giving it a nice NFL-worthy kick. That picture will be in my head for as long as I live. I realized that she was had been thinking that it was her responsibility to make me well again. She was using her art as a means of coping with the helplessness that she felt. If it wasn't for her art, I don't think that I could have understood how she was feeling or how to address her fears.

Her dad and I decided to invest in a nice easel and a huge supply of pastels and paints for her. We encouraged her to see art as a constructive way of dealing with her emotions and she responded to that suggestion enthusiastically. We have boxes and boxes of her artwork. I've never thrown away a single picture she created. Every once in awhile, I like to go through them and look at how her skills have progressed over the years.

Her thrice-exceptional status made it possible for us to get her into a very exclusive public middle school. All of the comparable private schools in this area cost several thousands of dollars a year in tuition--thousands of dollars that we'd have gladly spent if necessary even if it meant I had to eat ramen for dinner every other night. Art is what has kept her sane throughout these tumultuous years. It was something she could do no matter where she was spending the night or who was babysitting while I was being cared for. Even when everybody was concerned with my condition, creating her art ensured that she got the attention and praise that she deserved during the times when her father and I couldn't be all that she needed.

As much as I love my daughter and think that she's the "most specialest" girl in the world, I don't think that she's all that much different from other children when it comes to potential. I have yet to meet a child who was not talented in something. The only thing that separates her from some children is that we've been able to encourage her to develop her talents and interests. I know that this is a luxury. It takes money to do what we've done and this is money that some people simply can not afford, even if they sacrificed as much as they possibly could. However, if you do have the ability to help your child pursue the gifts that they were born with or developed afterwards, then I'd definitely encourage you to do so.

And I'm glad to see Ampersand doing so with his pretty little corkscrew-haired fairy girl. I'm sure that one day very soon, he'll be really happy that he started with her so early.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Jimmy Kimmel George Takei on Tim Hardaway Homophobic Rant

Jimmy Kimmel George Takei on Tim Hardaway homophobic rant

This was absolutely hilarious!! I just love George Takei. This was the absolute best way of responding to Hardaway's ignorant homophobic drivel.

Geek Links

It's my moon week and it looks like this one is going to be uncomfortable. Normally, I try to use this period as a time for spiritual reflection and renewal but I've been having a rather severe case of cramps and it's seriously messing with my mood right now. Sometimes, I resort to kitten therapy but Noor and Leila (the two in-house felines) appear to be too busy licking their bums today instead of giving nice little kitty-kneads. Oh well, I guess hygiene should come before leisure time.

Meanwhile, I found a couple of links that might appeal to those of my readers who happen to be a bit geeks--and let's face it, if you visit here more than a couple of times, this shoe probably fits you pretty well.

First up, we have:

1.What's Special About This Number?
Have you ever wondered what's so great about the number 10? How about the number 72? What about 9,876? Okay, I know you're curious now, so go check it out.

2.Giant Microbes
Have you ever been given Syphilis by someone you love? Would you like to return the favor? Have you ever wished that a certain politician would suddenly find himself stricken with the world's worst case of athlete's foot for all those time when he's put his foot in his mouth? Now you can make it happen!

3.One word: Scrotumgate

4.Tennessee Fainting Goats
These little fellows appeal to the spastic in me. See, sometimes genetic variations can be sort of fun to have!

5.The Guy's (or Girl's) Guide To Geek Girls
This is everything you need to know if you want to find yourself a girl who knows how to fix your computer, splice some DNA, and still open up a can of whup-ass whenever necessary.

6.Baby Tattoos
VanGoghGirl's bio-dad is a graphic artist and tattoo enthusiast for many years. In fact, he designed all of the tats he's had done. About month ago I happened to mention to my daughter that the CanadianBoy is a tattoo artist, so she's been bugging me ask him to send us pictures of his work. Since then, she's been having a ball using her markers to design elaborate temporary tats on my arms. I wouldn't be surprised if she gets a few real ones when she grows up. Until then, the ones on this site seem like a pretty fly alternative for her. They can even be used on babies!!

7.Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club For Scientists
I don't even know how to explain why it is but, in my personal experience, scientists do have a tendency to have long hair. Maybe it's laziness. Maybe it's just their way of sticking to the man and bucking the establishment. Maybe the genes controlling hair follicle activity are correlated with the ability to find looking into a microscope for twelve hours a day exciting enough to make it a career. Of course, we'd first have to find out there really is a statistically significant proportion of scientists with long hair. Can anyone here do the math? No? Well, you'll at least enjoy the pictures on this page.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Similarities Between Being A Person of Color & A Person With Disabilities

The Gimp Parade has a great post called "The Sparrow" where Blue wrote a very interesting post about what it's like to travel about in public with a visible disability. She compares it to a book she's reading. In it, the character realizes that, as a priest, when people saw him, they would automatically make a lot of assumptions about who he was on the inside. She also linked to a great post by Professor Steven Kuusisto over at Planet of the Blind .

In "Table Talk", Kuusisto explains how there are time when one just wants a moment to themselves but having a visible disability sometimes makes that impossible.

And all you wanted was coffee. Maybe a cholesterol busting eggs and bacon dish. Yes and you wanted silence. You wanted a moment's worth of freedom from American sincerity. You had wanted to sit, unclouded, contemplating your earthly duties with nothing more than a bite of scrambled eggs and a swig of coffee.

I can really sympathize with what he's going through. Sometimes people just don't feel like giving their whole life story to strangers. Not every person with a disability feels comfortable talking about it, even with those they know and when you're having one of those days when you in a lot of pain it can be especially difficult to be a good sport about such questions.

This is an issue that often comes up in PWD (people with disabilities) communities. I don't think anyone with a visible disability can say they've never experienced a situation where they wound up answering all sorts of personal questions asked by strangers who just happen to be in the same vicinity as them. Several PWD that responded to Kuusisto's post discussed their experiences and all the ways they fantasize about responding to those who ask what they see as inappropriate questions. The two button ideas are absolutely hilarious!

While reading Kuusisto's post, I thought back to an article I read last year in The New York Times called "The Rudeness of Strangers" that provided readers with a few tips for dealing with social situations where a woman is dining alone in a restaurant. It pointed out the fact that one shouldn't assume that the diner would rather have company than to eat alone. I think that perhaps the same advice should be taken when it comes to dealing with PWD.

I've been thinking about what Kuusisto wrote and I keep wondering to myself why I've never minded answering the questions strangers ask me about my disabilities. I'm wondering if it has anything to do with cultural differences. On a hunch, I looked at the profiles of Kuusisto, Bibliochef and Raymond Pert (the latter two are the commenters with the button ideas). As I suspected, all three of them reside up north.

During the periods of time that I've lived outside of the south, I came to see that people in those areas are just a lot less friendly--at least in the way that southerners would probably describe friendliness. It's not that they are necessarily rude but they just don't seem to seek out social interactions as much as we do down here. For instance, if someone saw me eating alone at the local coffeeshop one morning and they started asking me questions about my disability, I wouldn't consider it rude at all. It's just something we do down here. We will hold a conversation about almost anything with a stranger. On the other hand, striking up a conversation with the barista or customer at a northern coffeeshop, just isn't going get the same reaction.

I think it would be a bit interesting to find out if being questioned (about your disabilities) by strangers bothers other southern PWD as much as it does those who are from the north. I wonder if others feel like I do when it comes to these sort of questions from others who have disabilities. When I encounter other disabled people and they ask me questions, it feels less like talking to a stranger. Even if they ask me questions that go beyond what I'd probably be comfortable telling a stranger, it doesn't really seem rude to me because I don't have to feel any pressure to give them the super-cheerful answers that I sometimes feel obligated to give non-disabled people. Does that make sense? I dunno.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Elements of Carnival in New Orleans: Part III

As they had for decades, [brass bands] provided the music for the endless cycle of dances and parades in New Orleans, popularizing the startling fusion of influences and celebration that came to be hails as the only original art form created in America. It would be hyperbole, if not false, to name jazz a child of Carnival, however the joyous license of the music owes more than a passing acquaintance to the liberties of Mardi Gras and a population long-accustomed to dancing in the streets
--Henri Schindler

Krewes:
The organizations that create floats for the Carnival parades are called Krewes. For instance, the people who ride the Zulu floats are called the Krewe of Zulu. The riders for the Rex floats are called the Krewe of Rex. In New Orleans, there is a hierarchy when it comes to Krewes. Throughout the weekends leading up to Mardi Gras, there are many parades that travel through different parts of the city. Some of them are relatively young or small but lots of fun, nonetheless. One of my personal favorites is the Krewe of Barkus. Others Krewes are humungous and have a long standing history with the city. There's Bacchus (a infamously raucous Krewe) and Orpheus (I have family in this one) and Endymion and Iris (a women-only Krewe with over 1000 members) and Zeus (celebrating their 50th anniversary this year).
When it comes to the top of the hierarchy the creme de la creme Krewes parade on Mardi Gras day. While they are certainly not the only ones, the hands-down most important ones are Zulu and Rex. I could derail this entire list by elaborating on these two organizations. They represent the essence of Mardi Gras. As Zulu and Rex go, so goes the city of New Orleans. Being a member of one of these Krewes means you are among the aristocracy of New Orleanian culture. On Mardi Gras day, the local newspaper devotes it's front pages to interviews with the King and Queen of each of these two Krewes. No one else receives that honor, not even President Bush got that sort of attention when he visited.


Brass Bands: Almost every musician in New Orleans got their start in a brass band. These groups can range from four or five members to 15 or more for the larger ones. They are the ultimate keepers of our Jazz music traditions in New Orleans. Brass bands perform many different functions within the community. You can sometimes catch them playing gigs at local clubs or accompanying a "tribe" full of wild Mardi Gras indians but that's not the only place they can be found. They can be hired to perform at birthday parties or weddings but their most important role is the services they provide for the dead.
In New Orleans, we have a funerary tradition that can be found no place else on the face of the earth. A jazz funeral is the last and finest way of showing respect for the dead. It's an honor reserved for important political figures, members of social aid & pleasure clubs, and the city's musicians themselves. I remember when my brother performed in the brass band that played for Doc Cheatam. He was especially affected by the death of the Doc because he'd had the honor of playing a gig with Cheatam at the JazzFest just a couple of months earlier. The Doc died eleven days before his 92nd birthday and the city mourned his loss according to our traditions.
While the average folks usually can't afford the sort of jazz funeral that the mayors and the Carnival royalty receive, even in this disproportionately-poor city, poor people can provide their dead loved one with the proper send-off for only a few hundred dollars. For that price, the brass band will come out and (after the minister/priest's prayer) play the saddest, sweetest jazz dirges you've ever heard. Then, after all have had time to openly express their grief, the band slowly picks up the tempo and the rejoicing begins. They belt out tune after tune filled with music designed to celebrate the deceased person's ascent into the heavens. The dancing that accompanies this music is referred to as "second-lining". Courtesy also dictates that you at offer them some food and drink after they finish playing.
A lot of brass bands make almost nothing off of these gigs yet they keep the prices low enough that even those in the poorest communities can afford to hire them. On more than one occasion, I've seen people in the housing projects pool their funds and provide a dead resident's family with the money they need to hire the brass band. But don't think that means they don't know the true monetary worth of their services. When you see a brass band marching with a parade during Carnival, performing their particularly boisterous form of jazz with its joyous call-and-response elements, just know that they are smiling because they'll have a nice chunk of change jingling in their pockets by the end of the night.
Mardi Gras Indians:
Of all the groups you may be fortunate enough to see during Carnival, the Mardi Gras Indians are the least understood by outsiders. I belong to an online group for Native Americans (NAs) and, a few years ago, one of the 24-hour news stations showed some footage of the Mardi Gras Indians. The next day, some members of the NA group logged on and left several scathing comments about how these black people were trying to mockingly imitate their culture. If I wasn't from here and I saw just a few pictures of them, I am sure I'd have been inclined to believe the same thing because this country has a history of appropriating elements of NA culture in order to create crude caricatures for the enjoyment of non-NA's. However, the Mardi Gras Indians are an entirely different case.
The origin of these groups comes from the period in history where slavery existed in New Orleans. The French first attempted to use the NAs as slaves but when that proved unsuccessful, they switched to kidnapping people from western Africa and using them as slaves. Because the Africans were on unfamiliar territory, they could not escape from slavery as easily as the NAs that the French originally tried to capture.
These Africans were forced to work for their "owners"--I refuse to go along with the notion that they ANYONE can ever truly own another human being--every day except for Sundays. On Sundays, the slaves were allowed to go and sell their wares (that they somehow managed to produce in their spare time) at a place called Congo Square. This area quickly became an place where the African slaves had the opportunity to congregate and freely engage in traditional dancing, singing and religious rituals.
Congo Square was located in what had been, prior to colonization by the French, the territory of several different NA tribes. Even after the French came along, the NA tribes continued to use these prime hunting and fishing grounds as they had during centuries before. As a result, the NAs and Africans became familiar with one another and began to exchange goods as well as ideas for getting rid of the rightfully-hated French colonizers.
Their relationship proved to be very fruitful. Many Africans who escaped from their French "owners" managed to find refuge in the NA colonies. Because the NAs knew the territory better than them, the French were often disinclined to go venture far beyond their own enclaves. Over time, the NA and African populations became intertwined through marriage and treaties. Not surprisingly, both groups incorporated customs that they learned from each other forming a distinct culture that was both African AND NA. The Mardi Gras Indians are a product of that shared culture.
Today, a relatively small group of New Orleanians, most of whom are the offspring of NA and African marriages, carry on the traditions handed down to them from those original alliances. Each year they put in hundreds of hours of work creating regalia to be worn during Carnival (and St. Joseph's Day aka Super Sunday).
The suits are completely handmade. That means each of those THOUSANDS of seed beads were put into place using a needle and thread in someone's hands--no outsourcing. Just buying the supplies requires thousands of dollars. This is a major sacrifice for those in a group that is among the poorest communities in New Orleans. And if you're thinking that this is just an initial investment, you're wrong. Tradition dictates that the Indians create new regalia each year and that the suit from the year before be completely disassembled. The work put into making it is as much a part of the tradition as the Mardi Gras day performances.
Can you imagine wearing one of these elaborate creations? I don't think most people fully realize what a feat it is for the Mardi Gras indians to even walk in these suits. Each one weighs in excess of a hundred pounds. Now consider the fact that the Indians wear them while dancing for two or three miles and you may begin to understand what a commitment it takes to keep this tradition alive.

A HUGE Victory for Native Americans

It's Mardi Gras day and New Orleanian tradition dictates that I should at least be halfway to tipsiness but I really wanted to write this post because there is more than one thing for me to celebrate today and I can't decide which one should take precedent so I've decided to enjoy both equally.

The University of Illinois has finally decided to stop using the racist "Chief Illiniwek" caricature as its mascot. This is definitely a big accomplishment for all those who have written and called and protested against the dehumanizing and patronizing practice of having some white guy jump around like a fool all the while pretending to dance like a foreigner's view of Native American fancy dance.

I'm going to blog about this more later on but for now I am pleased beyond belief!

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Elements of Carnival in New Orleans: Part II


It has been said that a Scotchman has not seen the world until he has seen Edinburgh; and I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he as seen Mardi-Gras in New Orleans. --Mark Twain

Before I begin, it must be acknowledged that there is no way that any blog post or book or video can provide a complete explanation for all of the aspects of Carnival. This celebration belongs to all New Orleanians. For some, it is a religious event. For others, it's purely secular. Some people celebrate it with their family. Lots of people visit here alone, hoping that their family back home never finds out how hard they partied--and all of that is okay! There is no right or wrong way to celebrate Carnival. This means that no description of Carnival will be the same as someone else's. My series is geared towards explaining a bit about Carnival to those who have never experienced it. Someone who is intimately involved with one of the groups associated with Carnival might look at what I've written and feel that I have glossed over or omitted a lot of details and I readily admit that this is true. The reason is that each aspect of Carnival could stand alone as a topic worthy of its own book. However, I had to draw the line somewhere but I hope I at least covered the basics.

King Cake:

There is no food on the face of this planet can compare to King Cake if you ask me. For those who are unfamiliar with it--and that's basically anyone outside of Louisiana--this ring-shaped cake is one of the definitive elements of the Carnival season. Everyone I know keeps at least one king cake in the house during this period. It symbolizes the travels of the three (probably Zoroastrian) "magi" mentioned in the Bible's account of the events surrounding Jesus birth. A traditional king cake is about the consistency of a cinnamon roll. It's formed into a circle and baked and then topped with green, purple, and gold colored icing. There are many recipe variations that are commonly created today. My personal favorite is the Praline Cream Cheese king cake where the mixture is added to the middle of the dough and then cooked inside of it.

Besides its shape, king cakes also have another distinctive feature and that's the "king cake baby". After the it is baked but before the icing is added, a tiny baby figurine (usually plastic but traditionally silver) is pushed into the cake. King cakes are often served at office or classroom parties or other social events associated with Mardi Gras. The host of the party slices the cake into equal-sized wedges and each person selects their own piece of. After every piece is distributed, all in attendance may begin eating. Everyone nibbles their piece quite gingerly lest they end up with a very painful toothache from sinking their teeth into a piece of cake containing the king cake baby.

The baby symbolizes the christ child that the magi searched for after seeing the celestial phenomena that, according to their religion, signaled the birth of a king. If you do end up with the slice that contains the king cake baby, it's viewed as a sign that you'll have good luck for the next year. It also means that you have the responsibility of supplying the next day's cake. This ensures that there will be a series of parties all the way through Mardi Gras.

Floats:

The short definition is that these are structures built on top of eighteen-wheeler truck beds, pulled by heavy-duty tractors, and ridden by members of private Carnival organizations. That, however, doesn't truly explain the magnificence of these vehicles. Even though truck beds serve as the base, you can hardly tell this because each one is completely covered with decorations designed around a specific theme. In turn, each floats' theme is in keeping with the overall theme for that the organization has chosen for that year. In order to truly understand what these floats are like, you have to see them for yourselves. All of the pictures that I've linked to taken from the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club's floats. They are the most popular and anticipated of all the floats on Mardi Gras.

Beads & Doubloons:

In other cities, floats are mainly just something that people come out to look at but in New Orleans, it is an interactive experience. The riders on the floats all provide their own "throws". Throws are basically trinkets that they throw out to the parade-goers as the floats ride down the streets with their music blasting. The most common of all throws are the infamous Mardi gras beads. These range from plain purple, green, or gold metallic-colored beads to elaborately-designed necklaces that may light up or feature the name of the organization it came from or feature unusual beads in the shape of every single (sometimes risque) object imaginable.

Another popular throw is the doubloon. Doubloons are metallic-colored "coins" tossed out to the crowds. Some doubloons are stamped with the year they were thrown and/or the organization that was throwing them.

Coconuts:

The most coveted of all throws is the "golden nugget" used exclusively by the members of the Zulu organization. Each member is responsible for the design of his/her nuggets. The golden nugget is a coconut seed that's had its rough, hairy exterior shaved smooth. It's then drained and dried before being painted in one or both of the Zulu Club's signature colors (black and gold). The exterior of the coconut is then designed according to whatever the particular rider's whims may be that year. Some people produce a variety of designs for their coconuts each year. The coconuts are commonly decorated with purple, green, or gold glitter, painted with the Zulu name and the year it was produced, and others feature some variation of Zulu's signature blackface design. If you are really lucky--I'm talking about winning the Louisiana Jackpot kind of lucky--you may even get your hands on a coconut that has been carved into the shape of an animal or human face. Here is a picture of one of these very rare coconuts: 2006 monkey-shaped Zulu coconut.

The German's step-father was a member of Zulu and his mother used to spend weeks decorating their coconuts non-stop. During Carnival, the Zulu organization holds several different contests and best (designed) coconuts is one of them. The German's mother was the winner of the coconut contest a few years ago.

Zydeco:

As you know, I come from a musical background, all of it based on New Orleans culture. For me, Carnival is also a time where I can see all of my favorite musician friends who've moved away from New Orleans come back to join in the celebration and playing gigs all around the city.

Zydeco is the quintessential Carnival music. Since New Orleans is my home, I've focused on the experience in this area but Carnival is so much more than just a New Orleanian celebration. Zydeco is the common factor between all of the different sub-cultural Carnival traditions in southeastern Louisiana. In "Uptown" (New Orleans) around Carrolton Ave., Downtown in the Vieux Carre, in the "Lower Nine" (9th Ward), down in "The Parish" (St. Bernard), "Across The River" (Algiers), in Lafayette, and down in the swamps of Des Allemands and Point Coupee Parish, EVERYBODY will be listening to these ubiquitous zydeco songs during Carnival. Out in the more rural, swampy parts of the state, it's often referred to as "swamp pop" but regardless of what they call it in your neck o' the woods, if you were brought up here, you'll have learned to love it by the time you're an adult.

There are certain songs that must get mentioned here because they are practically the official soundtrack to the Carnival celebration.

Carnival Time--It's the INDISPUTABLE Carnival anthem.

Mardi Gras Mambo--Local radio stations start playing this song as soon as Christmas ends.

Iko, Iko--This song is about the Mardi Gras Indians.

Walkin' To New Orleans--My favorite rendition is by the group "Buckwheat Zydeco".

Big Mamou--Wayne Toups has a classic version of this very funny song about a woman.

Hey Pocky Way--Everybody here knows the lyrics but almost no one knows its meaning.

Even if you don't follow any other link in this post, please check out this link to a page featuring samples of some of these songs: Mardi Gras Classics

Next Post: The People Behind The Party

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Elements of Carnival In New Orleans Part I


We are now nearing the end of Carnival season and, in between the celebration and inebriation, I've been working on a series of posts for all of you poor souls who have the distinct disadvantage of being some place else than here right now. That's right, while all of you non-southerners engage in whatever it is Yankees do to stave off ennui, us Yats are enjoying "The Greatest Free Show On Earth".

Okay, now that I've finished rubbing it in, I'm going to tell you what this series is all about. For the past year and a half, the only time I've heard people outside the state talk about my city was when they were discussing Hurricane Katrina. However, the majority of New Orleanians are still waiting for the government to provide the assistance that has been promised and allocated for this area. Now we all know the way things work in this country: No matter what's supposed to happen, nothing is going to happen unless we give people a reason to care about us. That's why we need to celebrate and promote Carnival now more than ever before. People need to see that our spirits and our traditions were not washed away in the floods.

WE ARE STILL HERE!

And you know what? We are worth saving! The amalgamation of ethnicities, religions, and traditions that we have here can not be found anywhere else in this country and perhaps even the world. Over the years, it has inspired numerous playwrights, novelists, painters, and singers to immortalize their experiences here. Our port is vital to this nation's ability to import and export goods from South America (We are the largest importer of coffee beans in the nation). It's bayous and swamps are teeming with species that are on the brink of extinction everywhere else in the United States. In other words,

We are NOT the sinking pile of debris that the media depicts us as!

With this series, I'm going to explain more about what IS going on in New Orleans right now. My hope is that once you've read a little bit about the rich history behind our most popular attractions, maybe you'll want to learn more about New Orleans and perhaps one day you'll even want to come down and see it for yourself. My sofa-bed is nice and comfy and I can be the best free tour guide that a friend could ask for.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Will The Real (Feminist) Women Please Stand Up?

Today, via Egotistical Whining, I got word of a conversation going on at Womensspace regarding the decision Canada's Supreme Court made to decline to take up the case where a transwoman named Kimberly Nixon was appealing a lower court's decision that Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR is an organization that purports to support victims of sexual assault) was justified in prohibiting transwomen from employment because such women were not raised and treated as women since childhood. In the post entitled "Woman (Born Woman) Only Spaces Protected by Supreme Court of Canada Ruling" Heart (the author of Womensspace) agrees with the lower court's decision and also felt that Nixon was wrong to even sue VRR because it meant the organization had to spend thousands of dollars defending its discrimination against transpeople and that's money that could have otherwise gone to helping people at the center. The court's decision and Heart's comments don't sit well with me for one simple reason: I am against discrimination and that is what this case is all about.

This is a response that I left on Womensspace in response to Heart's comments about the Nixon case:

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Heart: "This lawsuit was not about defining who a woman is" it was about the right of equality groups, including females, to define the boundaries of their own spaces."

If a group discriminates against transpeople, then it isn't actually an equality group at all.
This idea about some supposed "right" you mentioned, sounds (to me) A LOT like the arguments posed by those who have sought to discriminate against other groups. What is the difference between a women's group that would like to keep out women with disabilities and one that seeks to exclude trans-women?

As a person who has lived with and without disabilities, I have seen how differently one is treated by the world based on one's perceived status as either "healthy" or "sick". Does that mean that I should be excluded from groups that are supposed to support female victims of rape? Isn't rape something that happens to disabled and trans-women too?

Heart: "So she brings this lawsuit, costing the shelter thousands and thousands of dollars, not to mention all of the energy and time expended, all of which could have been used to serve and support raped and terrorized women and which could have closed the shelter down entirely."

Sometimes ending discrimination means that some people will lose advantages that they once possessed. However, the fact that a group does SOME good does not mean that those who are fighting discrimination should just give them a free pass. Abolishing Jim Crow laws meant that white people had to wait a lot longer when they went to the doctor's office, when they tried to get their kids into good schools, when they went to the voting booth, et cetera. However, ending discrimination was the right thing to do then and it still is today in this case involving the VRR.
This lawsuit IS about defining who a woman is. Just look at what Jay said on behalf of VRR:
"We believe it is important for raped and battered women to have the choice of a women-only peer group for support. Now the Supreme Court of Canada has strengthened their right as well as strengthening our right to provide that support"
In other words, by excluding trans-women, the VRR claims that it is providing women-only peer groups. That statement shows VRR is defining trans-women as outside of its definition of who actually is a "woman".
While transwomen are just as vulnerable to rape as other women are--the VRR recognizes this by acknowledging them as belonging to the group that they are supposedly set up to support--according to the VRR, they are not, however, sufficiently "woman" enough to work there because they may have had a different sort of upbringing from the other women that work there.
I wonder what reaction many feminists would have had if a group with the same supposed goals as VRR decided that since all their other members and volunteers had an upper-class upbringing, any one who came from an impoverished background shouldn't be allowed to work there.
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I find myself completely underwhelmed by the way that mainstream feminists imitate the very same patriarchy that they claim to abhor and fight against. It's a topic that I talk about a lot because the hypocrisy of it all bothers me more than when I have to deal with those who openly admit that they see nothing wrong with the discrimination and oppression that women face.

It seems that everyone and their momma (within the so-called "movement") wants to call themselves "radical feminists". However, there is very little about them that's different from all the other folks in mainstream feminism. It's still the same ol' folks trying to decide for the rest of us, what constitutes proper and improper behavior for women. I don't know of a single feminist person of color blogger or one with disabilities who hasn't come across this sort of stuff at some point. I'm not the only one who has written about it. Black Amazon spoke about it here. CoffeeandInk touched on it here and Liza Sabater remarked about it here.

Not unexpectedly, several of those on Heart's site, seem to believe that they are and should be considered the ultimate arbiters of what it means to be a woman. Rabfish pointed out that gender is constructed but none of Heart's other commenters seemed to be able to comprehend what that means. All of their comments are predicated on the idea that transwomen are not really women and, therefore, should not be given the same treatment that women deserve.

Can someone please explain to me what's so radically feminist about claiming that certain women should be discriminated against? And am I the only one who finds it just a tad bit ironic that a so-called radical feminist calls it protection when a decidedly patriarchal institution says that it's okay to discriminate against some women?