Slutwalk and Koran Burning

[Preamble: I'm a white atheist straight male living in Toronto Canada. So, except for the atheist thing, I'm speaking on these political, gender and religious issues from a position of privilege. This blog post represents my understanding at the moment.]

Today, here in my beloved city of Toronto a huge crowd rallied and marched and demonstrated in the first possibly annual Slutwalk. It was in response to an idiotic, insensitive hurtful, perpetuating-antiquated-stereotypes comment by a Toronto Police officer who said, "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized".

The SlutWalk encourages women to dress how they want to dress, and joined by their families if they wish, to march from Queen's Park (our Province of Ontario house of legislature for you non-Canucks) to Police Headquarters. The basic message is simple: it doesn't matter how a woman dresses, she is not asking to be assaulted or raped.

The SlutWalk Toronto site is here. has a great interview about it.
Our Lady of Perpetual Win comments about it on Almost Diamonds.
Some footage from the rally by Torontopia.

* * *
Koran Burning
To shift gears, let's look at the actions of the Pastor in the USA who burned a Koran after threatening months ago to do so.  At first largely unnoticed by mainstream media, it was announced in Afghanistan by Hamid Karzai. After last Friday's prayers, a mob, possibly filled with Taliban infiltrators left a mosque, rioted and attacked a UN building, beheading two, and killing in total 15 people, revised upwards to 21 the next day.

New York Times.
Sam Harris's take on his new blog, with which I largely agree.
Josh Rosenau's response on Thoughts from Kansas, with which I largely disagree.
Notes and Comment.
Why Evolution is True.

Josh and I had a brief discussion on Twitter about it. If I may say, in the end I concluded, "Well it seems you and I agree the pastor is wrong to some degree, but murder is worse than book-burning to some degree."The rest of the conversation was a disagreement over the degree of blame lies at the Pastor's feet.

Basically, I find a lot of attention and blame in the media and some bloggers online are blaming the idiotic Pastor who burned the Koran for the deaths of the UN officials and other civilians in Afghanistan. 

What he did was provocative and idiotic, but hardly worth murder, beheadings and attacking an all-girls school (wtf, but yes really).

* * *

Responsibility for Violence
I can see a parallel - and very very significant differences- between the Pastor's Koran Burning and Slutwalk. Saying the Pastor should expect and therefore be be blamed for fanatical Islamic violence is similar in some ways to saying a "woman is asking for it". 

The Pastor is an ass - I personally don't like book burnings. I once worked at a school library where I was asked to burn some beautiful old Andrew Lang Colour Fairy books in the incinerator, because they were unpopular. I took 'em home. Josh pointed me to this post by PalMD pointing out that book-burning can be an act of violence and not just expression. But book-burning by a denounced nutbar should not be conflated to responsibility for beheading and murdering. 

Women should absolutely dress however they want. I agree with Ontario not having a double-standard when it comes to toplessness (though the social stigma is mainly still there, the legal barrier was and should have been removed.) Standards of what constitutes "proper" dress are fluid with the times and with individual tastes. One person's conservative is another person's offensive. And no clothing choice should be conflated to responsibility for being raped. 

In both situations, the blame for violence falls with the perpetrator of the violence, not with anyone who may or may not have provoked them.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Flying Trilobite Business Model

I'm looking for advice.

Since beginning The Flying Trilobite 3 years ago, it has been many things to me. A way to reach other people, primarily bloggers, with similar interests. A continuous art studio critique of my work (thanks for over 1700 comments everyone!). A place for my opinions to find safe haven. Until I launched last December, it was also my primary place to promote my artwork, in conjunction with my deviantArt gallery and my reproduction shop by RedBubble.

Current business model
If I have had a business model so far as an artist, it has been comprised of two streams:
1) make art --> blog art --> comments --> take new commissions.
2) make art
--> blog art --> put in reproduction shop --> sell.

As a business model, it's not unlike what bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead have done: put some stuff out there for free, and hope payment comes in through other means.

I've had the immense pleasure of taking commissions, collaborations which have resulted in some of my best work. A number of my images have been published in dead-tree format, 7 times last year, and I only sought out one of those, the rest found me. Ditto with the reproduction of Darwin in the museum.

Now the end of school approaches, I've been discussing with my wife Michelle and some friends about how to do even more freelance work. Since beginning Flying Trilobite, I've enjoyed the art process more than I ever have in my life. Art needs an audience - no, correction, scratch that, the artist needs an audience. And you guys rock.

New business model

I still intend to continue these two streams:
1) make art --> blog art --> comments --> take new commissions.
2) make art
--> blog art --> put in reproduction shop --> sell.
And add these:
make art --> blog art --> open eBay or Etsy shop --> sell originals.
4) send portfolio --> magazine & comic publishers --> make art.
5) send portfolio --> museums & institutions --> make art.
send portfolio --> book publishers --> {edit: skip cycle of rejection & doubt} --> make art.

(Add to this that I have discussed the intersection of Art & Science at 4 different venues - could I be one of those speakers with a microphone protruding from my tie?)

This is where I ask the blogosphere, family and friends and strangers for advice. I allow for anonymous comments, so feel free to be frank and honest if you have an opinion and want to be like Batman. Or be your bold self like Iron Man.

Could I make my weird paintings (I'm not weird, you are) into a bigger success financially?
Are there other streams full-time artists employ to make a living?

- - - - - - - -
Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***
For those of you who don't want to be Batman or Iron Man, I'm afraid you're
stuck being Zan & Jayna, the Wonder Twins. "Form of...a puddle!"

Brief Book Review of...

The Agile Gene - How Nature Turns On Nurture by Matt Ridley

"Right now, somewhere in your head, a gene is switching on, so that a series of proteins can go to work altering the synapses between brain cells so that you will, perhaps, forever associate reading this paragraph with the smell of coffee seeping in from the kitchen...

"I cannot emphasize the next sentence strongly enough. These genes are at the mercy of our behavior, not the other way around."

This is the type of thought-provoking, clingy thought that sticks to your brain after Matt Ridley presents it before your willing eyeballs. This book is a history lesson on the nature Versus nurture debate, and Ridley deftly turns the debate on its side, and has nature chumming around with its pal nurture at every turn. The dichotomy is a false one. Most people realize this in their daily lives. It's immensely silly to think of peoples' (or pets', or vegetable gardens') lives and attributes as being soley because of their genetic heritage, or because of the environment.

To elucidate on the vegetable garden analogy, you would be hard pressed to find a gardener or farmer who says that the environment (amount of heat, rainfall, nutrients, and so on) doesn't matter. And you would also be hard-pressed to find a farmer who doesn't favour particular strains of seed, for their genetic superiority (larger crop, pleasant taste, abundant seeds) over others.

This is something lay-people like myself are very comfortable with. Where Ridley takes us next is deep into the territory of how genes function, and how our very behaviour is switching some on like mad, and affecting our brains, which in turn allows us to affect our environment. Ridley clearly marvels in in the sophisticated level which geneticists have achieved, and is eager for more. (The part about the genetically-modified fruit flies who are paralyzed when the temperature goes above 30C and fine again when it dips below 20C is astonishing, and Ridley expresses this wonder also).

If I have one quibble with Ridley's book, it is his description of an as-yet unidentified mechanism that allows our genome to express itself as clearly as it does. Since much of the exploration of genes is still being uncovered, Ridley dubs this mechanism the "Genome Organising Device" (GOD) in a tongue-in-cheek way. You can find clever puns and jokes in Ridley's writings from time to time, and at first this was funny. As the book went on though, I had to keep repeating in my head what "GOD" stood for so as not to lose sight of what he was saying. The clever name was carried too far.

As someone who speaks American Sign Language, I thought the discussions about gestures as related to ape grooming were totally fascinating. A lot of light is shed on how the genes express in the brain, the mind and in culture. More than once I was amazed at how lucky my wife is that she is a linguistics & psych major.

Over the last few days of finishing this book, I have found myself questioning my own thought processes differently, and it has been kind of quietly entertaining. When I am telling my wife an interesting story, how much of it is to impress, like a peacock's tail? The compulsion to share stories about my day, is that free will? Or is the compulsion to share stories determined by the minor genetic strengths that I focussed on as a youth, and sought to hone in my environment? Is the free will to be found not in the compulsion to speak, but in what I am going to say?

Matt Ridley shares with us an intellectual bounty.

May 16th 2007