Mar 27, 2009

Heavenly Hibiscus

It's only recently that I put 2 and 2 together and realized that the flowers that appear on traditional Hawaiian shirts are, indeed, hibiscus flowers. This image is part of a photo series titled Heavenly Hibiscus - spectacular specimens shot in Hawaii.

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Mar 25, 2009

Honor Killing in Turkey

Rarely do my feminist, journalist, and civil libertarian selves all experience cardiac arrest at the same time. But a recent article in Today's Zaman, a Turkish newspaper, has induced that response. [A PDF is also available]

The article is about honor killing. You know that civilized practice in which girls and women are murdered by their male relatives for wearing makeup or inappropriate dress, for talking to men who aren't related to them, or for wanting a divorce? (Recently, the term has also been used to describe familial murders of gays and lesbians.)

The headline on this story reads: "Media help escalate honor killings, study reveals." Usually, the opposite is true. Shining light on a social problem can raise the sort of awareness that eventually changes attitudes and laws, establishes support services, and encourages prevention.

So where's the evidence for such a startling claim? It turns out, no academic study was ever undertaken. Rather, Turkey's Ministry of Education conducted a public opinion poll.

In the process of surveying 440 high school students and their parents, it discovered alarming things. 13% of the parents and 10% of the students said they had personally witnessed an honor-killing. Yes, you heard that right. One in ten Turkish high school students have witnessed a murder.

Moreover, 25% of both parents and students said they support honor killings.

Then there's the data that gave birth to the headline: 23% of the parents and 29% of the students happen to believe that media reporting of honor-killings increases the incidence of such crimes.

Whatever the original intent of this poll, it's clear the results will now be used against the Turkish press. The geniuses running the country didn't actually investigate whether media attentions hurts or helps. Nor do they seem concerned about the damage done to young people who witness murder firsthand.

Instead, the government is preoccupied with how the media portrays such events. The press is being urged to cover honor killings "with the utmost prudence so as not to negatively affect children." Moreover, the government now says proper education of the "reporters who are covering such stories" is important. Right.

In Turkey, the media is obviously in the wrong if high school students don't consider "the programs aired or the stories be impartial or close to reality." Perish the thought that the students might be less-than-fully-informed.

Its application to join the European Union notwithstanding, freedom-of-the-press is still a distant dream in Turkey. Imagine North American newspapers being instructed to "stress the outcomes - not the causes" when describing certain kinds of murders.

I've never been to Turkey. But speaking as someone who was a print journalist for more than a decade, this translates as: Never mind that a teenage girl was murdered simply because she talked to a boy. What matters is that lots of people think she deserved to have her skull bashed in.


Mar 23, 2009

Southern Gothic 1

During the years I've owned an iPod, grouping together songs that share a similar tempo, sound, or theme has become a habit. One of my longstanding playlists is titled Southern Gothic.

In American literature, writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote and Tennesse Williams typify this genre. Their work evokes a shadowy, dark, dysfunctional Southern US inhabited by people whose lives have become twisted and whose promise has withered.

At the top of my Southern Gothic playlist is a tune titled "Real Money" by songwriter extraordinaire Robbie Fulks. My husband and I had the pleasure of seeing Fulks live at Nashville's iconic Blue Bird Cafe nearly a decade ago. Prior to the show, we'd never heard of him. It turns out that describing him as a "honky tonk smartass" and "monster talent" covers things nicely.

Play this song loud and you'll enter a creepy world of political corruption and neglected children.

Get a playlist! Standalone player

Couples in Trouble - the CD on which this song appears - is not available on iTunes. It can be purchased from Fulks' web site for $13.00 USD or for $12.99 CDN from (Personally, I prefer purchasing from the artists themselves so that more of my money makes it into their hands.)


Mar 21, 2009


A Honolulu park in the middle of February.

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Mar 18, 2009

George W. Makes the Pope Look Small

Yesterday former US president George W. Bush delivered his first public address since leaving the Oval Office. The setting was Calgary, a city in Western Canada, and the event was organized by the Chamber of Commerce.

Whether or not Bush was a good president is not the issue here.
What's noteworthy is that he made a point of expressing his full support for President Barack Obama. [source] Publicly repudiating the odious Rush Limbaugh, he declared:

"I want the President to succeed."
Then he got truly impressive:

"I love my country a lot more than I love politics."

On the same day that Bush was putting political dogma firmly in its place, Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Roman Catholic church, was touring AIDS-ravaged Africa with rather a different approach to divided loyalties.

Two out of three people who suffer from HIV live in Africa. In 2007, 75% of AIDS deaths occurred there. [source]

According to one report:
"HIV/AIDS is reversing the gains in life expectancy that much of southern Africa had made prior to the onset of the epidemic. Lesotho, a country with an average life expectancy of almost 60 years in 1995, has since seen that figure drop to 36 years." [source]

Put simply: AIDS continues to devastate Africa, robbing these struggling countries of productive workers and orphaning millions of children.

Organizations that do nothing but fight AIDS year after year insist every available means of combating this disease needs to be utilized. They say education, treatment, male circumcision, encouraging people to have fewer sexual partners, encouraging them to wait longer before having sex, all have a role to play. They also insist that condoms are one of the most effective counter-measures available. [source]

But the organization that Pope Benedict heads isn't devoted primarily to fighting AIDS. Rather, his church (in whose traditions I was personally raised) has spent centuries trying to regulate human sexuality per se. It condemns masturbation, birth control, homosexuality, sexual relations between consenting adults who don't happen to be married, and so forth.

Given this history, the Pope was perfectly consistent yesterday when, once again, he rejected the use of condoms to combat AIDS, suggesting they do more harm than good. [source]

The Pope's first concern isn't the suffering, grief, loss, and tragedy that AIDS is visiting on the blighted continent that is Africa. Compassion, love for his fellow man, concern for African children - none of these things have the power to trump his church's antiquated sexual teachings. To quote an anti-AIDS spokesperson, the Pope's position demonstrates "that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans." [source]

Who'd have thought that George W. Bush would, with intelligence and good grace, make the Pope himself look callous and small-minded?


Mar 16, 2009


I took this shot last month, on the Kona coast of Hawaii's Big Island.

Mist. A church steeple. Lush, multiple levels of green.

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Mar 15, 2009

Coqui Frogs

Pronounced "coke - ee", these little noisemakers are both adored and despised in Hawaii (they have no natural predators and large numbers of them in any given locale can, apparently, be outrageously loud).

Their song reminds me a whip-poor-will bird

which I associate fondly with warm summer evenings from my childhood.

I had the pleasure of hearing coquis in Hilo, on the Big Island. The climate there is pretty much that of a rainforest, so I fell asleep on those two nights listening to the sound of the rain intermingled with the coquis.

Now that I'm back in Canada, I'm grateful that other similarly-entranced Hawaii tourists have posted recordings on YouTube.


Mar 11, 2009


The snow is melting away here in Toronto, and my calendar advises that the first day of Spring is only nine days hence. For me, lilacs are one of the great blessings of that season. Vibrant, fleeting, unforgettable.

Wallpaper versions of this photo may be downloaded here:

Other Spring images may be seen here:


Mar 9, 2009

Beautiful Bodies

Photographing the human body can be a tricky business. Art students at both the high school and college level routinely take "figure" or "life" drawing classes - in which the human body (often unclothed) is the focus of study.

But in photography, the line between art and its less respectable cousin, pornography, is more blurred. Where does one end and the other begin? Ask 10 different people and you'll get 10 different answers.

My photography web site advertises itself as "student friendly." This means students may use my images freely in their school assignments, without worrying about copyright infringement.

But does being student friendly mean I should censor the work I display there? I surely don't want to cause problems for those wonderful teachers who now tell their students about my site.

Isn't it odd that the human body still has the power to discomfit us so?

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Mar 6, 2009

Painted Ladies

San Francisco architecture at its most glorious. This image is part of a photo series titled Beautiful Buildings.

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