Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bastion City

Ecuador: so much to say, no one really to say it to. It's a good place. It's my home place. People here know that, by now, even though I don't look like someone who'd have a home place here. Over there, in the north, it's easy to look like you belong but it never feels like it.

First photos from my trip home.

The name of this place is "Bastion Popular," literally a safe haven for the people. From Doug Saunders' book Arrival City, a look at slums worldwide and their role in urbanizing rural populations and serving as a vehicle out of poverty:
"The arrival city is often barely urban, in form or culture, but it should not be mistaken for a rural place. Urbanites tend to see the arrival city as a simple reproduction, within the city, of the structures and folkways of the village. “Look, on one side villages, on the other side buildings,” the Indian-American writer Suketu Mehta hears his young son observe on first seeing the arrival-city enclaves nestled against apartment towers in Bandra, in northern Mumbai. The father reacts approvingly: “He has identified the slums for what they are: villages in the city.” But this view misinterprets the urban ambitions of the arrival city, its fast-changing nature and its role in redefining the nature of urban life. 
"The culture of the arrival city is neither rural nor urban, though it incorporates elements of both—often in grotesquely distorted form—in its anxious effort to find a common source of security among its ambitious and highly insecure residents. It is a fallacy that people move in a straight line from backward, conservative rural customs to sophisticated, secular urban customs. The period in between, with its insecurities, its need for tight bonds and supportive institutions, its threats to the coherence of the family and the person, is often the time when new, hybrid, protective cultures are developed."
I'm reading that book during my evenings, after days spent walking the streets that used to be dirt and mud but have all been paved since my last trip here. The house that used to have a welding shop in it's front yard now has a big fence with barbed wire pointing out, protecting the middle-class car parked in the drive and the surely middle-class TV and sound system inside. The family that owns that house used to take me to their country home once a year when I was a kid. I'd eat rooster and sleep on wood slats and pick mandarin oranges off the trees and walk through mud that was thigh deep for an eight year old.

I've always thought of Bastion Popular as one of the back-ends of global capitalism, a forgotten people working slave jobs in the factories that spit out clothes and plastics for the people on the sunny side of life. The North. The Saunders book is a bit more hopeful, and gives me a new way to look at my home, at least until I actually get past the first few chapters and find problems with his argument.

At least in Bastion, I know too many people who aren't in transition from poverty to middle class stability.They are forced to be stuck: by ties to family members with addictions or health problems or bad business sense. But change is certainly in the air, with the radical left-wing president pushing through reforms at every level, shaking up everything society had taken for granted: mandatory military service, expensive higher education, out of reach health services. When I talk to kids I used to teach when they were in school, I hear that since they've joined the workforce, their  work day has improved, from 12 hours down to 8. Though some bosses still break the new laws because they still can.

But the government is gaining strength: "revolutionary inspectors" go out and ask employees at all sorts of companies whether their boss has signed them up for the government social security program (that costs the employee, and the employer, but gives the worker access to health and social services). If the employee says "No," the boss faces jail time. It's a criminal offense, punishable by five years in jail. Even housewives hiring maids, frequently rural girls looking for an in to the city at any cost, have to sign them up for social security. And their wages have gone up: you can't get a girl for $100 a month anymore.

The bosses do not like the president. It's hard to gauge whether the people genuinely love him, or have just been affected by the constant TV commercials and  billboards and print products acclaiming his measures. It's all really interesting. I just got here. I'm learning as fast as I can about everything I've missed. (you can't really trust the newspapers: their readers and owners also consist of bosses).

But I'm glad to be home.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Interviewed in alumni magazine

I do believe the Internet is the best place for journalism to live. It's exciting to watch it grow.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sexism is dead, right?

Not until this asshole keels over:

"Sexism all around us"
Published in Frank Magazine, June 7, 2011 <-- yep.

I get accused of being a sexist pig on an almost daily basis simply because I view women as sex objects.

Not all women, mind you. Just... well, pretty much all of them, now that I think of it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Summer reading

"The future belongs to the people, and little by little or in one fell swoop they will seize power, here and in the whole world. The bad thing is that they have to become civilized, and this can’t happen before, but only after taking power. They will become civilized only by learning at the cost of their own errors, which will be serious ones, and which will cost many innocent lives. 
Or perhaps not, perhaps they won’t be innocent, because they will have committed the enormous sin contra natura signified by lacking the capacity to adapt. All of them, all the unadaptable ones, you and I, for example, will die cursing the power we, with enormous sacrifice, helped create. In its impersonal form, the revolution will take our lives, and even utilize the memory of that which for them remains exemplary, as a domesticating instrument for the youth who will come after.
My sin is greater, because I, more subtle and with more experience, call it what you wish, will die knowing that my sacrifice is due only to an obstinacy which symbolizes the rotten civilization that is crumbling. You will die with the fist clenched and jaw tense, in perfect demonstration of hate and of combat, because you are not a symbol, you are an authentic member of a society which is crumbling: the spirit of the beehive speaks through your mouth and moves in your actions; you are as useful as I, but you don’t know the usefulness of the help you give to the society which sacrifices you." 
-the old man's words to Che Guevara, quoted in one of Che's travel diaries and translated in Jon Lee Andersen's biography.

I'm finally reading this biography now. Maybe because school is done, I'm thinking about Latin America more. Latin America, among others.
As revolutions rock the Arab world and the people become civilized "at the cost of their own errors," Obama has now said Palestine deserves its 1967 borders.  Not a revolution, per say, but  a milestone. 
Che thought a lot about revolutions. The breadth of his personal studies in his youth and early twenties, before getting involved in any political activities, is intimidating. He read volumes and volumes of everything from Freud to Faulkner, South American poetry and novels, Bertrand Russell and Jules Verne. He kept encyclopaedic notes about the wide range of topics and philosophies that he found interesting, all the while travelling most of the countries in Latin America. I feel like I should at least be keeping better notes about what I learn about him, in this book, as a half-hearted attempt to keep up. 
So this is a note-to-self: Read more. Travel more. Write more and more often. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Sparks'

I'm working on a story. 
It has a lot of roots in a lot of places, but among them: racist Nova Scotia, patriarchy in black culture, the solitude of childhood, the power of music. 
And the systemic failure of our "civilized" institutions.

I'll try to get http://bethanyhorne.com up and running to contain it.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Saturday, January 29, 2011


Justseeds "Work" Calendar. $15.

My calendar this year is a poster-sized, arty, glossy wall calendar about work. What work do we do, why do we do it, and, radically, what does it mean.

I've been grateful for the art in this calendar these past few weeks. I've been struggling with my job: not the work itself, but everything surrounding it that tries to get in the way of, ruin the effect of or remove the meaning from the work itself. Publishing is thrilling, but if the mix of people and abilities is off, then doing the work is really, really hard. 
2011 is going to be a year of work. Personal projects and paid employment are just two expressions of that quest for satisfaction and excellence in the practical things that I do. I have a lot of loan to pay off, as of this spring, but I'm going to continue the struggle, even as finances take priority, for the work that I do to be about satisfaction more so than remuneration or the filling of time. 

I want to reprint the words at the back of the calendar, because they embody what I'm thinking about as I work throughout this year:

What is work? In a broad sense, “work” is the activities that produce a result; for our concerns, let’s call that “social wealth.” Yet it’s a question that begs so many more—perhaps none more pressing than “What should work be?” We all have ideas of what work shouldn’t be: mind-numbing, exploitative, hierarchical, dangerous, disempowering, etc. Though things get muddled when we try and flip the question around.
When we say that work should be creative, just, cooperative, healthy, and empowering we are laying an ethical, more than practical, groundwork. Ethics alone won’t help us solve questions such as “What share of the social wealth and I due for the time I spend at work?”; “Does my time parenting contribute to the social wealth to the same degree as my work as an electrician?”; “How do we place value on different kinds of work that each contribute to the social wealth?”; “If I choose not to contribute to the creation of social wealth, am I guaranteed any part of it?” These aren’t trivial questions—nor are they entirely new. But before we get too philosophical about it, let’s remember that at the end of the day, the water still has to flow from the tap, we need eyeglasses, and food and shelter are a must. So yes, the struggle to re-envision work is ethical, philosophical, theoretical, and practical.
And if work provides social wealth for all, perhaps we should make a distinction between working to produce for the good of all and working for a paycheck. Is it possible that our economy morph into one based on reciprocity instead of profit motive? Can we erode class society by building institutions and practice that militate against it? Can we create a sense of pride and dignity in our work practices, with a domino effect of solidarity to follow?
So we have before us a calendar produced by the hard-working aesthetes at Justseeds. For every month there’s a new image relating to our topic of work: be it the pleasure of work itself, the hard times, the fight for our rights, the global financial system and its creep into our world of work, or the fight for control over our lives.
Let’s spend this year thinking about the world of work, our own and that going on all around us. And let’s peer into how it numbs minds, exploits, kills, and disempowers and how it could be creative, just, cooperative, healthy, and empowering. Maybe after next year we’ll be that much more prepared to answer the perennial question, “What should work be?”