Ethnographic fragments #14: the last days of Tina Fontaine, the opioid crisis, generational politics, Muslim footballers, and the child brides of America


tina fontaine

In a case widely seen as yet another example of the Canadian justice system’s betrayal of indigenous people, on February 22 56-year-old Raymond Cormier was acquitted of the murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine.  Tina’s 72-pound body was found in Winnipeg’s Red River, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks, on Aug. 17, 2014.

This verdict follows hard on the heels of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley’s equally controversial acquittal for the murder of 22-year-old Colten Boushie of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation, whom Stanley admitted shooting in the head at point-blank range.  There were no indigenous people on either jury.

This chronology of Tina’s last days, compiled by CBC, documents what witnesses said happened during her time in Winnipeg before she died, and what police did after her body was found.  It is a horrifying story of (at the least) official neglect of duties of care toward a minor.  Read in full and soak up every tragic detail.


opium dreams



“More than 2 million Americans are now hooked on some kind of opioid, and drug overdoses — from heroin and fentanyl in particular — claimed more American lives last year than were lost in the entire Vietnam War. Overdose deaths are higher than in the peak year of AIDS and far higher than fatalities from car crashes. The poppy, through its many offshoots, has now been responsible for a decline in life spans in America for two years in a row, a decline that isn’t happening in any other developed nation. According to the best estimates, opioids will kill another 52,000 Americans this year alone — and up to half a million in the next decade.

We look at this number and have become almost numb to it. But of all the many social indicators flashing red in contemporary America, this is surely the brightest. Most of the ways we come to terms with this wave of mass death — by casting the pharmaceutical companies as the villains, or doctors as enablers, or blaming the Obama or Trump administrations or our policies of drug prohibition or our own collapse in morality and self-control or the economic stress the country is enduring — miss a deeper American story. It is a story of pain and the search for an end to it. It is a story of how the most ancient painkiller known to humanity has emerged to numb the agonies of the world’s most highly evolved liberal democracy.  Just as LSD helps explain the 1960s, cocaine the 1980s, and crack the 1990s, so opium defines this new era. I say era, because this trend will, in all probability, last a very long time. The scale and darkness of this phenomenon is a sign of a civilization in a more acute crisis than we knew, a nation overwhelmed by a warp-speed, postindustrial world, a culture yearning to give up, indifferent to life and death, enraptured by withdrawal and nothingness. America, having pioneered the modern way of life, is now in the midst of trying to escape it.”

Informative, thoughtful, and disturbing essay on America’s opioid epidemic by Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine.   Essential reading.


generational politics



In the wake of the attacks by old white GOP politicians on the activist teenage survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the latest PEW Research Center survey on generational attitudes in American politics repays careful reading.

While it is clear that age intersects with other important variables in shaping conservative vs. liberal attitudes (e.g. “Millennials are more than 40% nonwhite, the highest share of any adult generation; by contrast, Silents and older adults are 79% white”) the conclusion is that there is a huge generational divide in current American politics.  Currently, the elders hold all the Trump cards.

“Generational differences have long been a factor in U.S. politics. These divisions are now as wide as they have been in decades, with the potential to shape politics well into the future.

From immigration and race to foreign policy and the scope of government, two younger generations, Millennials and Gen Xers, stand apart from the two older cohorts, Baby Boomers and Silents. And on many issues, Millennials continue to have a distinct – and increasingly liberal – outlook.

These differences are reflected in generations’ political preferences. First-year job approval ratings for Donald Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama, differ markedly across generations. By contrast, there were only slight differences in views of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton during their respective first years in office.”

As I wrote in Talkin’ ’bout My Generation  at the beginning of 2018:

Today’s Anglo-American world is ruled by the most privileged members of an entitled and narcissistic generation that will not consider sharing its wealth or its power.  My generation played a disproportionate part in voting them into office.  The new gerontocratic order is epitomized in Donald Trump’s cabinet.  But it is also reflected in Rolling Stone magazine’s exclusionary list of the top twenty greatest albums of all time.

I cannot help thinking it would have been better if a few more of us had died before we got old.  Just enough that the young really could say fuck off to their elders, and not just through their music.

No apologies offered to ancient snowflakes.  The first one now will later be last.


Britain’s Muslim footballers


Manchester United’s Paul Pogba

“Cut through the bigotry of a vocal minority, and there are some pretty uplifting football chants to be heard in England nowadays. Particularly popular at Liverpool is one dedicated to an Arab striker.

It contains the lines: “If he’s good enough for you/He’s good enough for me/If he scores another few/Then I’ll be Muslim too,” and ends with the words: “He’s sitting in the mosque/That’s where I want to be.”

Those who revere “Egyptian King” Mohamed Salah – the subject of the song – are not just paying tribute to arguably the best player in the Premier League at the moment. They’re also adhering to a distinctly British tradition of tolerance and respect. This should be cause for immense national pride.”

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and Emre Can, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, Manchester City’s Yaya Touré,  Arsenal’s Mesut Özil, Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele, Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez, Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté, Newcastle’s Islam Slimani … heroes of the Premiership, the richest and most competitive football (soccer) league in the world.

The Guardian brings a little light to Brexitland.


child brides of kentucky

Myra Lee Brown London 23 May 1958

Jerry Lee Lewis and his 13-year-old bride Myra Gale Brown (who was also his first cousin once removed), London, 23 May 1958

“A bill outlawing child marriage in Kentucky has stalled in the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee after last-minute opposition from a conservative group,” reports Newsweek.

“The bill was proposed by Republican state Senator Julie Raque Adams, and bans marriage under the age of 17, with those seeking to marry at that age requiring a judge’s approval … Under current law, a girl of any age can marry as long as she is pregnant and wedding the expectant father. Teens aged 16 or 17 can marry with parental permission.”

“This is legalized rape of children,” commented Eileen Recktenwald, the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs. “We cannot allow that to continue in Kentucky, and I cannot believe we are even debating this is the year 2018 in the United States.”

I can.  In 2017 the Independent revealed that more than 200,000 children were married in the US over the past 15 years, including three 10-year-old girls and an 11-year-old boy.

This land is Trump’s land, this land is Moore’s land.  And this preposterous country still sees itself as leading the world?


The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.



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