Florian Mehnert update

Due to the past week (my birthday week) being so hectic, I’ve only just gotten around to following up where my last post left off.

From Florian Mehnert’s website:

“The art experiment ’11 DAYS’ has achieved its full impetus and has ended 17 March, 2015 at 19:00 CET.

“The rat is alive and was taken out of the installation.

“The artistic intention of the experiment was never to actually allow the shooting of the rat.”

I think I’ll just quote myself here from my previous post:  “…Perhaps by the end of the eleven days, he’ll feel content that his point is made, and he will not go through with killing a real, live animal in the name of art.  I can hope.  It seems like something a shock artist might do.  Rile people up, make your point, then grant mercy and be given publicity for doing the compassionate thing in the end; just as the artist may hope people and governments will do the compassionate thing in the end and stop drone warfare/surveillance.  It doesn’t make the artist any less of a jerk, though.”

Hurray!  The rat is saved!  Hurray!  Awareness of the horrors of drone warfare has been raised.  Boo to threatening cruelty to make your point.

Art is cruel?

Last night, a friend shared a link for this petition.  It is a petition to Florian Mehnert, a German artist, asking him to stop his latest installation, which may result in the killing of a rat.  The rat is in the installation (a big, open-topped, white box on a table) and is being monitored via webcam for eleven days.  At the end of the eleven days, Internet users can choose to remotely pull the trigger on a gun Mehnert has set up at one end of the box.

My first reaction was outright anger.  Animal cruelty isn’t art.

One friend said she would aim the gun at a wall and spend all the ammo.  The problem with that idea is there would be shrapnel/ricochet and, in that small of a space, the rat would likely still be killed.  Also, guns are not perfect; your aim could be off with the intention of not killing the rat, and you could end up killing the rat.

According to this article on itv news, Mehnert says that this installation, “called 11 Days, is a protest against the use of military drones – both as weapons and as tools of surveillance.”

Another quote within that article, which is quoted from another site, says:  “A rat dies for the service of art. I would also prefer it would not be necessary. But people nowadays are so so jaded because art has to commit a transgression.”

Mehnert is going for shock value.  He seems to think that shock is the only way to get his message across and to get people to pay attention to his concern over the use of drones.

Shock value is used to death in our culture.  I think continually trying to shock people can also make them jaded.  But, hey, it’s working, isn’t it?  People are paying attention.  People are protesting Mehnert’s cruelty.

However, the more obvious goal of getting people to protest the use of drones isn’t happening yet.  Many people are jaded in the idealism department.  They feel like their voices are being ignored by government, even when they speak out.  The Occupy movement was huge, and governments are continuing to plow over their voices and others’ voices in favour of corporations and of the status quo.  It is easy to feel powerless.  It is easy to say, “someone else will protest it” or “someone with more power will change things.”  It is terrible to be ignored when you want someone to listen.  (And Mehnert wants someone to listen.)

The itv article talks about how there are animal cruelty laws in Germany but that Mehnert may not be responsible, since he will not be pulling the trigger.  Mehnert is handing people via the Internet a gun and giving them permission to kill.  He is accountable.

Just as those who are using drones to kill innocent lives are accountable.  Just as those of us who permit it to happen through our support are accountable.  Just as those of us who permit it to happen through our jaded silence, by varying degrees, are accountable.

I think Mehnert is making his point.  Perhaps by the end of the eleven days, he’ll feel content that his point is made, and he will not go through with killing a real, live animal in the name of art.  I can hope.  It seems like something a shock artist might do.  Rile people up, make your point, then grant mercy and be given publicity for doing the compassionate thing in the end; just as the artist may hope people and governments will do the compassionate thing in the end and stop drone warfare/surveillance.  It doesn’t make the artist any less of a jerk, though.

Killing to protest killing is ludicrous.  It makes you as culpable and horrible as those you are protesting.  While it may draw publicity to your cause, it will also draw people away from supporting you the artist.

3/16/15 EDIT:  Since the original petition to which I linked no longer seems to be working, here is another petition against this installation.

Feminists/bisexuals/women don’t have senses of humour.

I owe a debt of gratitude to my friends in high school for rescuing me from the clutches of American-style humour.  I am generalizing here, I realize.  American humour varies depending on the comic/show.  However, I am talking about the stereotypical style of American humour that can be found in most sitcoms/films and spouted by many comedians.  This kind of humour relies heavily on misogynistic jokes, racist or stereotypical jokes, and poop/fart/bodily fluids and functions jokes.

In my childhood, I enjoyed the humour of Nickelodeon shows (particularly All That, featuring Lori Beth Denberg.  Let me talk about her for a moment. Lori Beth Denberg was fat…a fat actress in a TV show I watched a lot.  That meant so much to me, a fat girl in our world.  Here was a fat girl being funny and being successful.  She wasn’t being used as a prop or as the butt of jokes delivered by thin kids.  She was a jokester in her own right.), BlossomFull HouseALFPunky Brewster, etc.  Later, I enjoyed shows such as Roseanne (I didn’t see the final season, but I remember reading about it), SNL, The Simpsons, and In Living Color. I fell for some (not all) of the films of Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, and other SNL alumni and alumnae.

However, in high school, my group of geeky, freaky, outcast friends introduced me to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and to British humour in the form of AbFab and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That was it.  Oh, American-style humour would still hold some sway over my laughter.  However, my sense of humour expanded.  Yes, British humour has some similar problems of misogyny and racism and stereotyping as American humour.

Since those early days, I have discovered the joys of shows like The Vicar of Dibley (thanks to my British friend Jay for sending me audiotapes of this show long before I actually saw it), ClatterfordLittle Britain, and (more recently) 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown.  I also discovered and enjoy Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

Let me address Little Britain here.  Little Britain is a sketch comedy narrated by Tom Baker and starring Matt Lucas and David Walliams.  There is one sketch on the show I won’t watch.  It is a sketch where an older woman always projectile vomits, a symptom of her gross racism.  I just don’t want to watch someone vomit.  There are also problematic sketches.  There is one where Matt Lucas is dressed and painted to look like Mr. T.  “Mr. T” is working out in a gym and, when asked by another gym-goer, claims not to be Mr. T nor to know who Mr. T is (despite that fact that he drives an A-team style vehicle in the end).  The disturbing, racist history of blackface makes this sketch uncomfortable at best.  Another problematic sketch involves Bubbles DeVere, a large lady who spends all her time at a spa and evades her bill by attempting to seduce the spa manager.  Matt Lucas wears a fat-woman suit for this sketch, as the character continually loses or takes off her spa towel in sketches.  While I love that she’s confident and sexual, I feel that the audience is meant to go “ooh, gross” when she propositions the manager of the spa or shows her naked fat body.  (There is also the problematic bit where David Walliams is dressed and painted to be a large Woman of Colour married to Bubbles’ ex-husband, who is incidentally not fat.)

The introduction to British humour paved the way for my enjoyment of Canadian humour.  My earliest encounter with Canadian humour was through the band Moxy Früvous.  After I moved to Canada, the political humour of This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Royal Canadian Air Farce won me over.

I still enjoy the exceptional pieces of American humour (The Daily Show for one).

However, in general, I need more than the don’t-be-a-girl, I-want-to-kill-my-mother, gross jokes of mainstream American humour.

There is one American comedy I really wanted to like:  The Big Bang Theory.  It’s about scientists and geeks.  What’s not to like?  Sadly, it is so full of the misogyny (period jokes made supposedly funny by Sheldon using big words to say them; Raj being told “don’t be a girl,” because he’s creeped out by bugs).  I gave the show a go.  I did.  I kept hoping it would get better.  Mayim Bialik (Blossom) is on the show, for goodness’ sake.  In the end, however, the show came across to me as a typical American sitcom with a geek veneer.  So I stopped watching.

In conclusion, I will leave you with this video of one of my newfound favourite British comedians Josie Long.

Extermi–I mean, Vaccinate, Vaccinate

A recent outbreak of measles thought to originate in Disneyland has somehow granted people permission to unleash a slew of vitriol on social media against people who choose not to vaccinate (so-called anti-vaxxers).  (The note at the end of the linked article is important to read:  “This story was amended on Monday 19 January to clarify that California health department officials say the unvaccinated woman thought to have spread the disease after a visit to a Disney park in December is not the origin of the outbreak.”)

Who are anti-vaxxers?  If you believe the various blogs and political cartoons, anti-vaxxers are crunchy granola (read: “dirty hippie”), white, suburban parents who think vaccines cause autism.

Do you know what that is called?  It’s called a stereotype.

People who choose not to vaccinate choose to do so for a variety of reasons.  Yes, some individuals claim vaccines cause autism (which the CDC and others claim is false).  (The Brtitish Journal BMJ which published the editorial about the vaccine-autism study also had to add this correction:  “The BMJ should have declared competing interests in relation to this editorial by Fiona Godlee and colleagues…The BMJ Group receives advertising and sponsorship revenue from vaccine manufacturers, and specifically from Merck and GSK, which both manufacture MMR vaccines.”)  Yes, some people are concerned about a cover-up by the CDC regarding the MMR vaccine, which Forbes magazine debunks here.  (Interesting to note Dr. Verstraeten’s quote:  “Because the findings of the first phase were not replicated in the second phase, the perception of the study changed from a positive to a neutral study. Surprisingly, however, the study is being interpreted now as negative by many, including the antivaccine lobbyists. The article does not state that we found evidence against an association, as a negative study would. It does state, on the contrary, that additional study is recommended, which is the conclusion to which a neutral study must come.”)  However, those aren’t the only reasons that people choose not to vaccinate.

One related reason some people choose not to vaccinate is a lack of trust in the medical community.  For example, Merck is being sued for fraud over its MMR vaccine.  There is concern over a lack of independent testing of vaccinations.  The Public Health Agency of Canada says there is independent testing.  The CDC page on the matter is a little confusing.  It says:

“Clinical development is a three-phase process. During Phase I, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine. In Phase II, the clinical study is expanded and vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended. In Phase III, the vaccine is given to thousands of people and tested for efficacy and safety.”

Are the “thousands of people” all the people who take the vaccine once it’s approved, or is it an actual clinical study involving thousands of people?(According to WHO, vaccines do undergo independent testing; however, I don’t know if this just applies to vaccines sent overseas.)  When Gardisil came out, I was concerned.  It seemed the vaccine was rushed out to the public, and the impression I got was that there were no long-term studies done on this vaccine.  It seems that long-term studies are ongoing.  Are long-term studies generally done after a vaccine is approved?  Does that make sense?  I suppose it does in a society that is in such a rush with regards to, well, everything.  Further to the point of trust, when trust is broken, it can be difficult to earn it back.

Another reason for not vaccinating is a parent may have had a child vaccinated, only to have that child have a severe allergic reaction.  (It isn’t common, but it does happen.)

Another reason is ethics.  When we went to Public Health to get my child’s vaccines, we were given information sheets.  One of the sheets mentioned there being gelatin in at least one of the vaccines.  This raises an ethical question.  I’m vegan.  I have since learned that vaccines contain albumin (egg whites/egg proteins), as well.  Many vegans realize it is impossible to be strictly, purely vegan in our current world.  We are forced to make hard ethical choices, weighing benefit vs. risk, weighing benefit vs. suffering.  I have also seen it mentioned a couple times that vaccines contain aborted fetal cells.  According to Immunize Canada, while aborted fetal cells from “legal abortions from the 1960s” are used to grow the viruses in the early stages of the vaccines, “[d]uring purification of the vaccine all cells are removed.”  For some people, this use of aborted fetal cells is also an ethical dilemma.

Initially, I was thinking that if you want more people to vaccinate you need to give them adequate information.  This article argues to the contrary.  After watching The Cove (a good, terrible, difficult movie to watch; go watch it!) and learning that vaccines have/had mercury in them, I was seriously concerned.  Apparently, currently only multi-dose inactivated influenza vaccines still contain thimerasol (and “trace amounts” in other vaccines).  What would ease my mind would be a list of ingredients for each vaccine, and information about what each ingredient does in the vaccine (for example:  formaldehyde – “[t]o kill viruses or inactivate toxins during the manufacturing process”).  It’s like the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste label.  Despite the fact that that company was bought by Colgate-Palmolive (which has a voluntary moratorium on animal testing but goes on to say in this report that it limits animal testing) in 2006, I do like that they provide a list of ingredients, the source of said ingredients, and what they do in the product.  I would like to see a list like that for vaccines.  It won’t change the views of every person who chooses not to vaccinate; what’s in the vaccines is not the sole reason people are against them.  For people like me, however, it adds to our ability to make an informed choice, whatever that choice will be.


I’m a few days late announcing it on here, but my book Sore:  fantasies and inhibitions is now available on Kindle!

Meanwhile, I am planning my next big project.  I am also doing well with my goal of two submissions per week.  This past week, I actually submitted to a paying journal.  Fingers crossed on that one.  :-)

This morning, I achieved my goal of getting up half an hour earlier than usual to allow more writing time.  Sadly, I did very little writing.  I have a PIP (Poem-In-Progress), but the words wouldn’t flow.  On the up side, I have done some research and planning for my next big project.  So there’s that.  I need to get off of the computer soon and do my daily yoga (another goal).

See you on the stretchy side!

Just Call

Here is a poem inspired by the ever-inspiring Bea:

Just Call

I have a new number,
but I don’t know what it is.
Just call me on the Ouija board,
she says.
I pull out the box
dusty     dusty     dusty

We were teenagers calling spirits
Whom will I marry?
As if they had time for that,
What is your name?
What is your birthdate?
We pretended it made sense
pretended we weren’t pushing
past the breaking point of maybe
to the solid heartbreak of No
or even Yes.

Bored, we put away the board,
and we grew up.
I called my spirit into life
the breathing forest
a pulsing promise       motherhood.
She called spirits down
into glass and drank and drank
and floated up the river to Any Street
and city lights.

Of course, we both know poets lie
in that kind way
we can call it Art.
I always touched the Ouija board alone
When will he come?  He?  She?
More to the truth of it

Now I’m calling you
Do you hear me?
Can you hear me?
Am I getting through?

© 2015 by Robin A. Sams

The Self-Publishing Conference. Or, hire a professional. Hire a professional. Did I mention hire a professional?

Yesterday I went to the Vancouver Island Self-Publishing Conference.  It was put on by the Federation of BC Writers.  There were a number of speakers about different aspects of self-publishing, such as editing and book/cover design.

While I took notes and learned some great information, the first three-quarters of the conference left me feeling discouraged.  The editor speakers’ advice?  Ultimately, hire a professional.  The author of Self-Publishing in Canada Suzanne Anderson’s advice about book design?  Ultimately, hire a professional.  (I do recognize the value of hiring an editor and/or a graphic designer.  My point is not to make light of their services.)  Then representatives from two book printers on the island spoke about their various services.  Then Bruce Batchelor of Agio Publishing House spoke about marketing, and it was clear to me whom they felt the audience in the room was.  He spoke about how “we” have discretionary income:  if our TV breaks, “we” can buy a new one; “we” live in large houses with only two people in them; et cetera.  The majority of the audience probably did have discretionary income.  The majority of the audience was two or three decades (or more) older than I am.  Of course, this is me generalizing, too. The speakers made it obvious to me that they were gearing their speeches toward a middle- to upper middle-class audience.

I have a discretionary income of zero.

I wasn’t the only person in the room like that.

However, I am glad I stayed for the whole conference.  For one thing, I got to hear Shaleeta Harper and Philip Gordon talk about text, the free lit magazine in town.  They talked about how they started the magazine, the philosophy behind it, and how they went about doing it.  (I already knew some things about their magazine, having been to the magazine’s launch last October.)  They also touched on crowdfunding, which they plan on doing in the near future.

I would have found it exceedingly helpful if there had been a speaker at the conference talking specifically about crowdfunding as a means to funding your publishing projects.  I was pleased that I recognized the various crowdfunding sites Ms. Harper and Mr. Gordon mentioned (indiegogo, Kickstarter, Patreon).  I am considering which crowdfunding platform will be appropriate for some projects I want to do, so stay tuned for that.