Archive For October 15, 2021
The Wizard of New Zealand, also known as Ian Brackenbury Channell, casts a “spell” during a television interview in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2011. His contract with the city will end in December after more than two decades.
Mark Baker/Associated Press
Mark Baker/Associated Press
Christchurch, New Zealand, is parting ways with its official city wizard after more than two decades. His offensive remarks about women and the local government’s new tourism strategy reportedly spelled his doom.
Ian Brackenbury Channell is known as The Wizard of New Zealand, apparently even on official documents like his passport. He’s been on the Christchurch City Council’s payroll since 1998, receiving an annual salary of $16,000 NZ (more than $11,000 in current USD) to “provide acts of wizardry and other wizard-like-services – as part of promotional work for the city of Christchurch,” according to the New Zealand news site Stuff.
But that job title will soon become — like many wizards before him — a thing of legend.
“The council has met with The Wizard and sent him a letter thanking him for his services to Christchurch over the past decades, and informing him that we are bringing our formal contractual arrangement to a close,” said Lynn McClelland, the council’s assistant chief executive. She said the final payment will be made in December.
The decision was a difficult one, according to McClelland. She explained that Christchurch’s promotional landscape is changing to “increasingly reflect our diverse communities and showcase a vibrant, diverse, modern city that is attractive to residents, domestic and international visitors, new businesses, and skilled migrant workers.”
That may not have been the only reason, The Guardian reports, citing controversial comments Channell made back in April.
“I love women, I forgive them all the time, I’ve never struck one yet. Never strike a woman because they bruise too easily is the first thing, and they’ll tell the neighbors and their friends … and then you’re in big trouble,” he said at a screening of the current affairs show New Zealand Today.
Channell told Stuff that the council had waved him off because he didn’t fit with the city’s modern image, calling them “a bunch of bureaucrats who have no imagination” and are “not thinking of ways to promote Christchurch overseas.”
Despite his disappointment, Channell promised to keep visiting Christchurch’s Arts Centre to chat with tourists and locals.
“It makes no difference. I will still keep going,” he said. “They will have to kill me to stop me.”
His career spanned from academia to wizardry
Channell’s life and work are actually the subject of a current exhibit at the ongoing Christchurch Heritage Festival (which is, ironically, sponsored by the city council).
The event description notes that Christchurch is the only city in the world to have had its own official wizard since 1982. By that time, it adds, Channell had already become the world’s first art-gallery-appointed Living Work of Art.
“For forty years neither title and accompanying roles has been granted to anyone else anywhere in the world,” organizers wrote. “He not only created his own social identity which includes living in an alchemical marriage but, as an ex-academic cultural theorist and experimentalist, he designed the existential universe he has been living in since 1972.”
You can read more about the wizard in his own words on his website.
Channell was born in London in 1932, according to a biography from the Christchurch City Council Libraries. Before getting into wizardry, he spent time as a Royal Air Force navigator, studied psychology and sociality, traveled in the Middle East and taught in both Tehran and Australia.
He was appointed “Wizard of the University of New South Wales” by the school’s vice chancellor and students’ union in 1969.
He moved to Christchurch in 1974 and soon became a recognizable performer and public speaker in the city’s Cathedral Square, where he would stand atop a ladder dressed in a long cloak and pointed hat.
New Zealand’s government calls Channell notable for “reviving the ancient art of rhetoric” and says he was “most often seen in The Square in Christchurch synthesising the ideas of famous philosophers.”
The police tried to arrest him at one point, according to the BBC, but members of the public protested and the square was ultimately designated an area for public speaking. The wizard became recognized as a tourist attraction, and his accolades grew from there.
He was appointed the official Archwizard of Canterbury in 1980, and designated a living work of art by the New Zealand Art Gallery Directors Association in 1982.
In 1990, then-Prime Minister Mike Moore appointed him the Wizard of New Zealand. A photo on Channell’s website shows a letter from the prime minister, urging him to consider taking up such a role.
“It occurs to me that you are currently the Wizard of Christchurch exclusively,” Moore wrote. “As a loyal Christchurch MP I am pleased about that, but as Prime Minister I am concerned that your wizardry is not officially at the disposal of the entire nation.”
He noted that this would likely carry implications “in the area of spells, blessings, curses and other supernatural matters that are beyond the competence of mere Prime Minister.”
He boasts a unique resume, though it’s thinned in recent years
Some of the career highlights chronicled on the wizard’s website include: performing rain dances in New Zealand and Australia during droughts, participating in protests against the demolition of heritage buildings after the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes and famously battling the company Telecom over the changing color of the city’s telephone boxes in 1988.
He went around repainting the new blue boxes to their original red, according to one biography, in a battle that “raged for twelve days” and at one point even involved the city council.
The ongoing exhibition about his life says it includes major sections on”his miraculous rain dances, ingenious avoidance of the Census, the hilarious war with Telecom over the change of colour of their phone boxes, the spells cast for the Canterbury Crusaders, the unusual candidates who between 1972 and 1990, stood for the Imperial British Conservative Party in Australia and NZ, the Wizard’s part in the narrowly won battle to save the earthquake damaged Cathedral from being bulldozed, the mythical implications of the Queens Service Medal awarded to a Wizard.”
NPR reported last August that the Wizard of New Zealand was retiring and searching for a successor, though it’s unclear what came of that effort.
Sightings of the wizard have become more rare in recent years, according to The Guardian, which he says is because the council has “made him invisible” and ignored his suggestions for improving tourism.
When asked by the newspaper whether he would curse the council over its decision, the wizard said he preferred blessings:
“I give children happy dreams, general good health, and I want to make bureaucrats become more human.”
As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, poet Yesika Salgado and Lázaro Lima, a professor at Hunter College, talk about what it means to be Latinx in the United States — and the world — in 2021.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Today marks the end of National Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a time of celebration for many, punctuated by festivities, panels and events. But some within the Latinx community question the need for this occasion. They’re asking, who does this month represent? We wanted to mark its closing by inviting two Latinx thinkers for an open conversation on the Latinx identity.
YESIKA SALGADO: Hi. My name is Yesika Salgado, and I am an LA-born Salvadoran poet, writer, and I go around the world telling my story to folks about my Latinidad and my body as a fat woman and my family, my cities and my home country of El Salvador.
LAZARO LIMA: It’s great to connect with you, Yesika. I’m Lazaro Lima. I’m a scholar of Latino literary and cultural studies. And I am a first-generation immigrant born in Cuba who grew up in the northernmost city in Cuba, which I affectionately refer to as Miami.
SALGADO: I like to tell people that I was born in LA but have always lived in El Salvador because of the way my parents raised me. My first five years of life, we lived in a building that housed everybody that migrated from my mom’s village. So it had all her siblings and other people that came, and all I knew was people that knew back home and that were living in LA because they had to ’cause of the civil war, not necessarily because they wanted to. The word refugee is a word that I’ve been, like, kind of getting my mind around lately because I’m like, yeah, my parents are refugees; they left because of the war.
LIMA: Well, you know, I mean, that’s a big topic there. And of course, the immigration experience is certainly a huge part of the Latinx experience. But we also need to remember that this geopolitical construct that we call the United States has been and always was infused by Spanish speakers. Places like California, Nevada, New Mexico, parts in Wyoming and Colorado and Texas were part of Mexico. And those parts of the United States that get subsumed linguistically as California, Colorado, as opposed to Colorado or California, weren’t just named places; they tell stories of the people who inhabited and were subjected to historical oblivion. To look at Latino-ness, Latinidad, solely through the context of immigration, is important and necessary, but it’s also important to acknowledge that hidden history.
SALGADO: I mean, I think also it’s really important to understand, too, that we are so much more than just being migrants. Like, for myself, I don’t know what migrating to a whole new country is ’cause I didn’t do that, but it doesn’t take away any of my experience as a Latina. Sometimes these home countries make fun of us because they’re like, your idea of what you are is so narrow, or you’re so focused on identity that it’s like, El Salvadoreno in El Salvador is just a El Salvadoreno They don’t need to explain to anybody that, no, I’m not Mexican. No, I’m not this. No, I’m not that. We’re just Salvadoran. You just are what you are.
And that – I didn’t think about that until I had a friend that migrated here from Ethiopia. And he told me – he goes, in Ethiopia, there’s no concept of Blackness because everybody’s Black. And so this whole having to, like, demand people to acknowledge that I’m worth having a life because I’m Black is ridiculous because everybody’s Black where I came from. I think that in some ways that has affected the way that I look at identity beyond what we try to tell everybody else in the U.S. ’cause in the U.S., we’re so focused on the individual person instead of the general narrative. And I think that it’s kind of cool to take off that lens and put the lens of being like, oh, yeah, we’re so much more than this just one little box that we have to check off on the census.
LIMA: And a lot of people have really fought very hard to get that box on the census because it’s also related to privilege and resources. It’s really interesting how identities travel in different contexts, and we might see them as appropriative or we might see them as celebrationist (ph), but to make those identity monikers – Latinx, Latina, Chicano, Chicano, what have you – and take them outside of the historical milieu from which they emerge and only celebrate the positive also obviates the very stories that these communities have been dying, literally dying, to tell in order to create a more accurate version of American cultural identity as Latinx, Black, as Indigenous, as Asian American at its core.
SALGADO: And that’s truly beautiful because I can’t tell the story of my parents’ migration without saying that it was forced because of a civil war and the fact that the civil war happened because of U.S. intervention. So yes, it’s important to celebrate my Latinx American identity and to acknowledge the people that have sacrificed to be able to share that importance narrative, and – but what I do love more is the reckoning, saying like, we Latinx folks are so much more than what you seen us as. We’re Black. We’re Asian. We’re Mestizos. We’re – some of us are white, and we have to accept that, too. And we have all different levels of privileges, and I’m excited to see how the future generations continue to dissect it and push and question and probe. I find beauty in that for Latinx Heritage Month. All of the pushback from the new generations that are like – you’ve seen the memes, that everybody’s just like – Happy Latinx Heritage Month, and they’re using – they’re making fun of it, right? And then I’m like, yeah, challenge it. Why not? Let’s see – what else can we imagine for ourselves beyond this identity? And so I’m just excited to see what language comes from all of that, and I’m down for the ride. And if we start calling ourselves something else next, then, you know, I’ll just roll with the punches.
LIMA: Yeah, I know it’s daunting to keep up with all the names, especially when it’s so important to democratic systems to come up with a name that references a particular history. So I think those interscene battles between, no, I don’t want the X; I prefer Hispanic. No, I don’t want it all together; I’m just an American – can oftentimes also just be a distraction. But that’s not the reality. We need structural change, and that structural change happens with laws, enfranchisement, not depriving people of access to voting rights, making them aware of redistricting. We become political beings not by navel-gazing but by attaining a certain type of analytic distance that allows us then to say very clearly, we belong here; we have always been here. And then we can worry about the nomenclature and the specifics of those naming strategies.
SALGADO: And for me, maybe the word itself is not the problem; it’s who we envision to fit that word, you know, who we envision to fit that term. And we have to wrap our minds around the fact that we are not a monolith and that Latinidad is not a race. And so when we’re celebrating Latinx Heritage Month, there’s a lot of historical things that we need to remember that are very – like, we just had Indigenous Day. And I love the fact that in our lifetime, we got to see something change where the true history of something is being acknowledged. It used to be Christopher Columbus Day, and everybody said, no, we don’t stand for that; that was a day of violence for many of our people. And so now it is Indigenous Day, and we will celebrate the beautiful traditions of Indigenous folks and those folks that are alive now that are Indigenous.
LIMA: Beautifully put, Yesika. And to that, I would just simply add that we need Latinx Heritage Month as long as Latinos continue to be represented as the forever foreigners and not as a constitutive part of the American experiment in democracy and inclusion.
(SOUNDBITE OF RITA INDIANA’S “PA AYOTZINAPA”)
CHANG: Yesika Salgado is an LA-based poet and writer, and Lazaro Lima is a professor in the Department of Africana and Puerto Rican Latino Studies at Hunter College in New York City.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “PA AYOTZINAPA”)
RITA INDIANA: (Singing in Spanish).
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
Blackfishing aside, there’s a reason Jesy Nelson isn’t a household name. “Boyz,” the former Little Mix member’s first solo attempt, is a pseudo-rap track founded on an extensive interpolation of Diddy‘s 2001 hit “Bad Boy for Life.” The once-iconic riff is muddled in “Boyz,” antithetically stuttering as if someone accidentally hit their elbow on the keyboard, glitched the instrumental and spliced it in random places. Always behind beat, the riff tries to catch up to a song that it’s incompatible with in the first place.
With “Boyz,” Nelson (you might know her — if nowhere else — from viral “balegdeh” meme fame) commits the cardinal solo career sin: being boring. Alongside toothless lyrics about liking men with tattoos, Nelson contributes a nondescript vocal that attempts to invoke the spirit of “Dirrty”-era Christina Aguilera but ends up being a bad Camilla Cabello impression. Nicki Minaj is the only redeemable part of “Boyz,” which makes sense for two reasons: One, Minaj can save any song with a couple of bars. Two, as seen over the past few months, she has done an incredible job of aligning herself with things that are just The Worst.
It’s giving Nivea, it’s giving Tiffany Evans’ “Promise Ring,” it’s giving Ciara lusting after 50 Cent in 2006. What Summer Walker‘s new song, “Ex For A Reason” featuring JT from City Girls, is not giving is the entrancing, smoky lounge sound we fell in love with when the Atlanta singer-songwriter came in hot with 2018’s “Girls Need Love” and garnered more hype with her debut studio album, 2019’s Over It. Still, the fairly generic Buddah Bless and Sean Garrett-produced track catches the ear with a high-tempo beat, Walker’s signature honeyed-liquor vocals and toxic warning shots. Where it falls off is the tone-deaf guest verse from JT as she raps about pulling up on the new girl her ex is with. (JT’s current partner, rapper Lil Uzi Vert, has an ex-girlfriend who alleges that he punched her in July after seeing her with another man). All in all, “Ex For A Reason” is an underwhelming release best suited for mindless listening at the roller rink.
The Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, is in the spotlight after an administrator reportedly instructed teachers to provide students with “opposing” views of the Holocaust when the subject of recent statewide legislation came up.
A Texas school district has once again become the center of controversy after an administrator reportedly instructed teachers to provide students with “opposing” views of the Holocaust.
Gina Peddy, the executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, is alleged to have made the comments during a meeting last Friday, according to NBC News, who obtained audio of the meeting from an unnamed employee. Peddy was reportedly meeting with teachers to instruct them on how to stock their classroom libraries when the subject of recent statewide legislation, as well as the Holocaust, came up.
“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Peddy could be heard saying on tape, according to NBC News. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”
House Bill 3979, which went into effect last month, mandates, among other things, that if public school teachers choose to discuss current events or widely debated or controversial public policy or social issues, they should present numerous points of view “without giving deference to any one perspective.”
A teacher at the meeting asked, “How do you oppose the Holocaust?” Peddy responded, “Believe me. That’s come up,” according to NBC News.
The school district head apologizes: “there are not two sides of the Holocaust”
In response to reports, superintendent Lane Ledbetter issued a statement via Facebook apologizing for the incident.
“As the Superintendent of Schools, I express my sincere apology regarding the online article and news story released today,” his statement reads. “During the conversations with teachers during last week’s meeting, the comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history.”
“Additionally, we recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust,” he continued. “As we continue to work through implementation of HB3979, we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts. As a district we will work to add clarity to our expectations for teachers and once again apologize for any hurt or confusion this has caused.”
When contacted by NPR with a request for comment, school district officials pointed to Ledbetter’s previous statement.
In a statement to NBC News, Karen Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the district, said that teachers across the state were put in a “precarious position” due to House Bill 3979.
“Our purpose is to support our teachers in ensuring they have all of the professional development, resources and materials needed. Our district has not and will not mandate books be removed nor will we mandate that classroom libraries be unavailable,” she wrote.
Holocaust comments are the latest in a string of controversies
Numerous local political leaders have chimed in on the claims, including Texas state Sen. Kelly Hancock, who argued that Southlake’s actions had nothing to do with the bill.
“School administrators should know the difference between factual historical events and fiction,” he wrote on Twitter. “Southlake just got it wrong. No legislation is suggesting the action this administrator is promoting.”
Another state senator, Beverly Powell, tweeted, “Already, we are seeing the impact of a vague and unnecessary bill that leaves teachers and administrators confused and afraid to teach the history of the Holocaust or the Civil War without teaching ‘both sides.'”
News of the Southlake scandal comes on the heels of more drama in the district, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs. Late last year, a fourth-grade teacher faced disciplinary action after a parent complained that their child had brought home a book about being “anti-racist,” according to the NBC News report.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed salutes members of the national defense forces during the inauguration ceremony of the new government in early October.
Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images
Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images
As Tamu Shatallah walked past the inauguration stage draped in gold, his thoughts were on the deadly civil war that has plagued Ethiopia for nearly a year.
It’s a war “between brothers, between sisters,” Tamu said. A war that, as far as he can tell, has done nothing for his country.
That stage in Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa was where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sat last week as he watched a procession of military bands, having just been elected to a second five-year term last week. Behind him, written in large letters was a message: “A new beginning.”
“I hope this new beginning brings peace,” said another local, Hatalesh Gabesa, as she looked at the sign on her way home from church. “Peace is more important than everything else.”
Ethiopia’s civil war is a conflict between the country’s new rulers and its old ones, who were based in the Tigray region in the north.
That’s where the war started, but it has now expanded south and east to neighboring states, displacing millions of Ethiopians. While there is no official death toll, some estimates put the number of dead in the tens of thousands.
The government has instituted a blockade around the areas controlled by Tigrayan rebels, which has meant cutting off the region to most humanitarian aid, medical supplies and fuel. It’s a growing humanitarian crisis that is steadily gaining more international attention — including from a whistleblower who addressed a U.S. senate committee hearing last Tuesday.
A Tigray People’s Liberation Front fighter poses in Mekele, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia, on June 30, 2021.
Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images
Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images
Facebook accused of ‘fanning ethnic violence’ in Ethiopian civil war
Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, told members of a Senate subcommittee that her former employer bears some of the blame for the growing conflict in Ethiopia. More than once, Haugen accused Facebook’s algorithms of “literally fanning ethnic violence” in Ethiopia.
“My fear is that without action, divisive and extremist behaviors we see today are only the beginning,” Haugen said. “What we saw in Myanmar and are now seeing in Ethiopia are only the beginning chapters of a story so terrifying no one wants to read the end of it.”
Freelance journalist Zecharias Zelalem is one of the people attempting to document that story in real time. He reports extensively on Ethiopia and agrees with Haugen’s assessment.
“Just looking at the instances of documented evidence over the course of the past three years in which prominent Facebook posters would post unverified, often inflammatory posts or rhetoric that would then go on to incite mob violence, ethnic clashes, crackdowns on independent press or outspoken voices,” Zelalem said.
In one recent instance, Zelalem saw an inflammatory Facebook post from a media outlet that falsely blamed members of an ethnic minority group for carrying out murders and kidnappings that took place on Sept. 27.
The post quickly got hundreds of shares and likes. A day later, on Sept. 28, Zelalem said the village cited in the post was ransacked, burnt to the ground and the inhabitants were murdered.
“Despite multiple efforts to report the post, it remains up and live as of this moment,” he said.
Facebook says Ethiopia is a ‘company priority’
In Ethiopia, these are old ethnic tensions that are being stoked in new ways. As more pro-government and anti-Tigrayan rhetoric circulates online, Zelalem worries it is normalizing the violence the country has seen over the past year.
Facebook denies allegations that its platform has helped sow violence. A spokesperson sent NPR a statement saying that Ethiopia was a “company priority,” and that Facebook had added content reviewers in several local languages. The statement said Facebook had “worked to improve our proactive detection so that we can remove more harmful content at scale.”
Zelalem isn’t buying it.
“I can quite honestly say that Facebook has — if it has done anything, it’s not nearly enough, at least, because there have been more than enough documented incidents,” he said.
In the meantime, the crisis in Ethiopia is worsening. The international community has been pushing the country to allow more aid into the rebel-held regions, but that hasn’t worked.
The U.S. has threatened sanctions. And humanitarian groups say the country is still on a path toward famine.
The Ethiopian government, as it continues its social media messaging campaign, says the international community is exaggerating the crisis.