Tag Archives: Human Rights

Wasting Energy and Endangering Lives: The “True Cost” of Fashion

TheTrueCost_Poster_2764x4096In years past, only the richest individuals could afford to own multiple sets of clothes to switch out depending on the day or activity. The rest of the world made do with one suit or dress for formal occasions, and perhaps a handful of humble garments for day-to-day life. That traditional approach to clothing has changed steadily for the past several decades as modern technologies and garment factories have driven down prices. Today, we live in a world of fast fashion, with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it transition from the catwalk to the store to the consumer and then quickly to the donation bin as styles fall back out of fashion. The cheap prices we enjoy today don’t really cost less than past clothing did, though – it’s just that rather than paying in money now workers are paying in suffering. Nothing is truly free, not really, which is a topic being explored by the new documentary directed by Andrew Morgan, The True Cost.

The True Cost holds a mirror up to the practices of an out-of-control industry, practices which are not only devastating to workers but also have a huge negative impact on the environment. Air pollution, water pollution, and deforestation can all be laid at the feet of the garment industry, though of course not exclusively. Alberta Energy states that about 10 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions come from this overproduction of apparel and textiles. Fossil fuels are being consumed at all ends of the garment process, from the farming machinery to the factories themselves to the huge container ships used to bring the finished clothing from the third world countries where they are produced to the first world countries where they are consumed. Continue reading

President Obama Reflects on the 50 Year Anniversary of MLK Jr’s Legendary Speech

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech that would reverberate in our memories for decades to come. Today, President Obama and other leaders convene in Washington to pay tribute to the remarkable man and his timeless message:

Free Dr. Tarek Loubani and Prof John Greyson From Wrongful Imprisonment in Egypt

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On World Humanitarian Day, I think of all the remarkable people who risk their lives to save the lives of others. I celebrate their contributions, and mourn the violence, imprisonment, suffering and loss of life many of them have had to endure while trying to make the world a better place for all of us. I think of their family and friends who love and admire them so greatly, they tirelessly support them, fight for them, defend their human rights, and often suffer grave consequences to their own health and lives in doing so.

I think especially of family and friends of Dr. Tarek Loubani and Prof. John Greyson, arrested by Egyptian authorities on Friday, August 16, 2013. They are experiencing a horror, far too similar to the horror I experienced almost exactly four years ago, when my precious friends Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, were captured by the Iranian regime. Dr. Loubani is an emergency room physician in London, ON, and John Greyson, an associate professor at York University and director of York’s graduate program in film, in Toronto, ON. Both have long-standing admirable records of global humanitarian work.

I have worked with Dr. Loubani, and Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care to advocate for health care for refugees in Canada, collaborating in a National Day of Action just two months ago. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care released the following statement:

“Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care is deeply concerned by news that one of its members, prominent London, Ontario emergency physician Dr. Tarek Loubani has been arrested in Egypt. Dr. Loubani was in Egypt providing volunteer health services and was arrested along with a colleague, York University Professor John Greyson. Egyptian authorities should be aware of Dr. Loubani’s extensive work providing medical treatment to people in need in the Middle East. He is also well respected in Canada for assisting refugees — including refugees from the Middle East — in securing public health care in this country.”

York University has released this statement:

“York University is extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of John Greyson, an associate professor at York University and director of York’s graduate program in film, as well as Tarek Loubani, an emergency room doctor from London, Ontario, who have been detained in Cairo, Egypt.”

According to the Facebook group launched by family and friends, “Tarek and John were in Cairo on their way to Gaza, where Tarek was to participate in a medical collaboration that has been established between the University of Western Ontario and the Emergency Department of Al Shifa Hospital (Gaza’s largest hospital), and where John, a professor at York University’s Department of Film, intended to conduct preparatory work for a film project.”

Justin Podur, a close friend and colleague of Dr. Loubani and Prof Greyson, elaborates that Dr. Loubani was traveling to Gaza as part of a group of Canadian doctors “to train physicians there in advanced cardiac and trauma life support.” Prof. Greyson joined him to “explore the possibility of a film project about the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza.”

On World Humanitarian Days 2010 and 2011, I fought to build global support for the freedom of humanitarians Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, held hostage by the Iranian regime for 2 years and 2 months. As WHD 2013 approached, I was preoccupied with the fourth anniversary of the day Josh, Shane, and Sarah were captured. Though I was not always conscious of it, my body, mind, and spirit felt the anniversary approaching. My trauma symptoms increased, I felt a sense of foreboding…my body remembered what I went through four years ago, and each annual anniversary of their captivity.

Now, I am experiencing a déjà vu I would prefer not to. I am compelled to campaign to prevent Dr. Loubani and Prof. Greyson, and all their loved ones, from experiencing the unnecessarily protracted and painful detention we did. I call on Egyptian authorities to free them and enable them to continue their critical humanitarian work. I call on the Canadian government to ensure that happens without further delay. And I call on you to keep up the global call for their freedom.

Please sign this petition, and join this Facebook Group to stay informed of progress, calls for action, and a Facebook Page and website coming soon. Every action you take makes a difference to their spirits, the ability of their loved ones to keep fighting, and ultimately to their freedom. I know from experience.

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Note: A website has just been launched for the latest news and calls for action. Please share it far and wide.

Re-posted from Huffington Post

Mos Def Undergoes Force Feeding in Protest of Guantanamo Prisoners’ Treatment

Some may criticize his actions as a publicity stunt, others may question his sanity. Still others may question the moral rightness of voluntarily undergoing what others experience as torture. Either way, actor and musician Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) certainly made a bold move by teaming up with human rights group Reprieve to protest the use of force feeding at Guantanamo Bay.

In a video released by the organization as part of a larger campaign for human rights at Guantanamo Bay, the musician is seen strapped to a chair and fed using the nose-to-stomach procedure employed at the detention center. Warning: This video is somewhat disturbing and may be difficult to watch.

Over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been engaged in a hunger strike for much of this year, protesting the lack of respect shown toward them and their Qurans. Despite their legitimate concerns – especially considering that 86 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo have been cleared for release – the Obama administration condones force feeding as a measure against the strike.

These are men who, for the most part, had zero involvement in Al Qaeda and the 9/11 bombings, have spent the last 11 years in a detention facility where they have been subjected to torture, at worst, and extreme alienation, at best, and even after being cleared for release see no end in sight to their misery.

Their situation may be extraordinary, but their engagement in hunger strike as a form of rebellion is not unprecedented. Most famous among hunger strikes in unquestionably Mahatma Gandhi’s protest against the British rule of India. But a case that holds even greater relevance in regards to Guantanamo is that of British and American suffragettes in the early 20th century. Protesting their lack of rights and voting privileges, many women were imprisoned, and many of these brave souls engaged in hunger strike to draw further attention and sympathy to their cause. The nose-to-stomach force feeding that ensued drew criticism across the board, and it seems we are witnessing a similar concern for human rights today.

The comparison may not be entirely fair or accurate, granted. But if public opinion responded negatively to a method of prisoner treatment back in the 1910s, then we in 2013 clearly haven’t learned our lesson. A hunger strike is a dramatic way for prisoners to protest conditions at Guantanamo Bay – and they wouldn’t take such bold action for nothing.

What are your thoughts on this controversial issue? Let us know in the comments section below!

The 8 Best Outfits From New York City’s Pride Parade

The Supreme Court announced their ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act just in time for two of the biggest Pride events in the country – San Francisco and New York City – both of which took place this past weekend. The NYC event was joined by Edith Windsor, the woman whose lawsuit brought DOMA under the Supreme Court’s gaze and ultimately won the rights of same-sex couples around the country to be officially recognized by the federal government. Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined the fun, as well, amidst rainbows, balloons, painted bodies, and colorful signs.

The month of June has been recognized as LGBT Pride Month since the late 1960s, particularly gaining traction in response to the Stonewall riots. These days Pride festivals take place around the world, both to commemorate the LGBT community’s long and ongoing struggle for equal rights and to celebrate the joy that comes from living in accord with our true, uninhibited selves. Politics aside, Pride parades are also perfect opportunities to see some of the most impressive costumes and decorations you’ll ever come across. Thanks to photographer Victor Jeffreys II, we discovered these eight phenomenal Pride outfits – and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more elaborate!

The winners are:

Did you participate in any Pride events this year? Can you top these outfits?

 

All photos by Victor Jeffreys II

5-Year-Old’s “Lemonade for Peace” Sale Gets a Slap in the Face From Westboro Baptist Church

Jayden is five years old, and she’s the merchant of a lemonade stand right across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church’s Kansas headquarters. That would be all well and good, except for the fact that this particular lemonade stand has a special mission. Jayden’s “Lemonade for Peace” is situated on the grounds of The Equality House, a rainbow-painted edifice run by the nonprofit, Planting Peace.

One might wonder how a child so young would know about, let alone comprehend, the complexities of this figurative and literal face off between the two organizations. Jayden does come from a special family – her father is Jon Sink, founder of FRESHCASSETTE/Creative Compassion, a multifaceted art, music, and humanitarian organization. When Jon explained to his daughter the WBC’s message of hate and exclusion, Jayden got the idea to start a project to raise money that would go toward spreading the opposite kind of message. Thus, “Pink Lemonade for Peace: $1 Suggested Donation” was born, and now over $1,000 have been donated to Jayden’s cause, both in person and online.

When you think about it, Jayden’s reaction to Westboro Baptist Church isn’t hard to understand. Children that young aren’t inclined toward meanness and discrimination, even if they quickly learn those things by modeling adults and media. In general, though, kids are inclined to be forgiving, accepting, and overall to promote accord and happiness. Why take sides when we could be friends? Why fight and sulk when we could play and explore?

As might be expected, the WBC responded to the Lemonade for Peace stand with almost enough venom to match Jayden’s love.

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But we all know which is the strongest of the two…

 

Photo credit: Megan Rogers

Watch Occupy Gezi Protesters Sing Multilingual Rendition of the “Les Miserables” Rebel Song

Demonstrators in Istanbul’s Gezi Park have been gathered for three weeks protesting the Turkish government’s decision to demolish the park, as well as the aggressive response to the original sit-in. What began as somewhat of an eco-activist picnic spiraled into chaos and violence as police descended with tear gas, guns, and barricades – and soon sobering reports emerged of protester injuries and even casualties. The #occupygezi community born on social media outlets out of this movement has gained support in countries around the world, making this initially local concern an issue of worldwide importance.

It is fitting, then, that in true international spirit protesters orchestrated a stirring multilingual rendition of “Do You Hear the People Sing” from the popular Broadway musical, Les Miserables. Multi-faith, international, and nature-and-community-oriented, Occupy Gezi may encapsulate the activist spirit of this generation, so abjectly alienated from the massive and aggressive powers that be.

With the NSA revelations unfolding in the United States simultaneously, it might make you wonder about how distant individuals really are from the all-powerful governments and organizations meant to represent them. Your average person seems virtually powerless when it comes to affecting policy, maintaining privacy, and securing rights. But as communities, our voices have a much farther reach.

What do you think about role of demonstrations in affecting change? What would your protest song be? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

‘Bullets to Butterflies’: Using Art to Promote Girls’ Education

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 11.16.21 AMOn October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old Pakistani student and education activist, was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Like people around the world, I was stunned. My shock quickly turned to outrage at such horrific violence against a young girl courageously speaking out for girls’ right to education.

I thought about the significance of education in my life, and my very early recognition of its significance. When we migrated to Canada from Kenya, I missed my nursery school so much, I begged my mother to take me to school. I was below the cut-off age to start Junior Kindergarten, so my mother was unable to enroll me. That didn’t stop me. I kept pleading until my mother begged the principal to let me start. He did. I wouldn’t be the person I am without that opportunity; without my right to education being honoured.

A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Gardiner Museum for a preview of “Bullets to Butterflies”, an interactive art exhibit by Canadian artists Unaiza Karim, Saba Syed, and Huma Durrani, inspired by Malala Yousafzai. I was deeply moved by the artists’ passion for the issues underlying Malala’s story, and their determination to transform violence into peace and positive change.

I felt strongly that the exhibit was an ideal fit with the mission of my agency, Farahway Global, that engages the global public in action for human rights and mental health. In the process of planning with the Centre for Social Innovation – Regent Park, where Farahway Global is based, Artscape requested that we host the exhibit in the Daniels Spectrum South Lobby for Asian Heritage Month. In anticipation of our Closing Reception on Thursday, May 30, 2013, I interviewed Huma Durrani about the show.

FNM: What inspired you to create this exhibit?

HD: After the shooting of Malala, there was a strong desire to do something more about the education problems in Pakistan. Saba and Unaiza have children who go to Sunday school together, and while their children were in class, they discussed putting together an art show about Malala’s courage, to raise awareness and funds for schools in Pakistan. When Unaiza told me about the project, I immediately asked to join forces with them.

FNM: Tell me about your professional backgrounds that enabled you to come together and create such a beautiful, powerful exhibit.

HD: All three of us are artists, and were referred to each other by other friends who insisted we needed to connect.

Saba Syed is a Canadian artist specializing silk screening based in Port Perry, Ontario. Saba completed her Fine Arts education at York University in Toronto, Canada. She runs her own silk-screen printing studio and teaches art to local children.

Unaiza Karim graduated with her Masters degree from The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London. She has specialized in the Art of Illumination from the Islamic tradition and was professionally trained in Turkey.

I am a Canadian artist based in Mississauga. My work is inspired by Islamic art, geometrical patterns and a modern contemporary aesthetic. The majority of my work is done by hand cutting delicate Japanese papers into intricate and precise designs.

FNM: How does your exhibit address girls’ right to education?

HD: All of our pieces address different issues related to the story of Malala Yousafzai – her courage, her mission to speak out for all children to be educated – and also to the education crisis that currently exists in Pakistan. Many people, including Pakistanis who are living abroad, are not even aware of how serious the situation is. We wanted to bring attention to this emergency, and do something about it. The beauty of this exhibit, is that all three artists have different specializations that they are bringing to this show. With the combination of detailed illuminations, silk-screen prints, and delicate paper cuts, the show brings together different art forms and ideas addressing a single issue.

'See Me' by Saba Syed
‘See Me’ by Saba Syed

FNM: Can you tell me more about each of your unique pieces in the exhibit?

HD: In Saba Syed’s piece, ‘See Me’, the young veiled child provokes ideas of gender and religion. ‘See Me’ challenges our assumptions that this is an image of a veiled girl but is in fact of a veiled boy. Saba explains, “I wanted a piece that would remind us that we should always question our ‘truths’. Often understanding only comes when we are open to the realization that all may not be as it seems.”

In relation to the Taliban, the veiled boy represents their inability to see themselves within the feminine. Encumbered by this mindset, this creation of ‘The Other’ creates a separation that justifies the use of violence on those who are ‘different’. The butterflies symbolize metamorphosis; that although Malala’s was shot down for her views on the rights for girls to an education, she survived. Her message actually spread and has gathered many supporters.

'The Inivation 'Dawat'', by Unaiza Karim
‘The Inivation ‘Dawat”, by Unaiza Karim

Unaiza’s piece, ‘The Invitation “Dawat”‘ is based on traditional book arts. In this style, each page is carefully decorated to prepare the reader for what is written on the page they are looking at and what is to come. Many medieval Qurans begin with the ‘garden page’ – a visual feast of natural world themes, symbolism and geometry that sets the tone and serves as an invitation to continue.

Unaiza elaborates, “I offer a similar ‘dawat’ (invitation) in this traditionally ornamented page, inviting the onlooker to read, to learn and to grow – every child’s right.”

'The Butterfly Effect,' by Huma Durrani
‘The Butterfly Effect,’ by Huma Durrani

My piece, ‘The Butterfly Effect’, is made from hand cut Japanese paper. It speaks to the importance of education for all, regardless of gender. The first revelation of the Holy Quran is this verse: “Read, in the name of your Lord” – Qur’an (Chapter 96, Verse 1). Reading is an act of worship and has been encouraged in Islam for all people. The holy verse is hand cut into the wings of the butterfly. This piece presents that when the feminine power takes hold and implements the command to read, the power that she will hold and share with the world will have an impact on all that surround her. The extent of the effects of women having knowledge is boundless.

FNM: How have you made the exhibit interactive?

HD: We wanted to engage people coming to the exhibit, and make them a part of the art. Our bullet-ridden wall was designed by Saba Syed. In our first exhibit, we invited attendees to answer the question “If you could trade all the bullets in the world for something else, what would you trade them for?” and insert their responses in the bullet holes.

Interactive bullet-ridden wall
Interactive bullet-ridden wall, Photo: Angela Lattanzio Photography

One of the most thoughtful responses was from 7 year old Zain Rashid:

“I would trade for more schools. Because if there are more schools, people will learn more, and when people will learn more about peace. When there is more peace, there is less fighting.”

FNM: You say you wanted to “do something” about the education crisis in Pakistan. I am sure that your exhibit inspires the same desire in others. How are you integrating the potential for such action into your exhibit?

HD: At the show, we sell prints and other items of merchandise to support schools in Pakistan. For our first show we supported Developments in Literacy (DIL) Canada, and for our second show we are supporting the Hope Uplift Foundation. Both of these organizations are doing incredible things to address the education crisis in Pakistan. In December, we were able to raise $500 for DIL Canada. We have also set up an Etsy page where people can buy prints with partial proceeds going towards schools in Pakistan.

Schools, museums, libraries, and other organizations and spaces can host the exhibit to continue reflection, discussion and action on these critical issues.

FNM: Thank you so much for sharing your powerful work and thoughts. I hope this piece will encourage people to join us at the Bullets to Butterflies Closing Reception: May 30, 6-8pm, South Lobby, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E., Toronto, ON. I also hope people will participate in the exhibit on Facebook and Twitter.

UPDATE: The exhibition has been extended to June 10

 

Reposted from The Huffington Post

The Bangladesh Garment Factory Tragedy – 10 Sweatshop-Free Clothing Companies

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When we buy an item of clothing from a mall or outlet in the United States, we often don’t think about the hundreds, even thousands, of people laboring in factories around the world to bring these fashions to the racks.

The weight of this reality hit home, however, after news surfaced on Wednesday of the devastating collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh. The disaster left at least 175 people dead, more than 1,000 injured, and countless others trapped in the rubble. This marks the worst industrial disaster in Bangladesh’s history, and points to the chilling underbelly of the fashion industry. According to reports, the building, which housed five garment factories in its eight stories, had developed cracks the night before, but workers were nonetheless ordered back in for work the next morning. If true, the accusation would make this not only a tragic display of negligence, but a human rights violation, at that.

This horrific incident may remind you of similar news from November 2012, when a fire broke out in another garment factory in the country, trapping workers inside and killing 112 people. These disasters are all too common. The garment industry comprises over 75% of Bangladesh’s international exports, with some of their largest buyers being H&M, Walmart, and Gap Inc. Consider that the average H&M women’s shirt is roughly $20, while the average hourly wage of a factory worker in Bangladesh is just $0.13. Roughly one third of the country’s population lives below the poverty line, a trend common among countries with some of the highest sweatshop labor exports around the world.

If all of this makes you a bit sick to the stomach, we completely understand. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 10 clothing companies that do not use sweatshop labor. Please do your own research, though, and let us know what brands you support! Hopefully collectively we can convey the message that no purchase can be considered “cheap” if human lives are the cost.

1. Eddie Bauer

2. Givenchy

3. Ben Davis

4. Union Jeans

5. Alternative Apparel

6. American Apparel

7. New Balance (Made in US collection)

8. Tom’s Shoes

9. Cut Loose

10. Flax

 

Photo credit: A.M. Ahad/AP

Emptiness Dancing

Desperation; Who holds your heart?This entire living world–including these forms we call self– is a creative arising and dissolving of empty awareness. I love the Zen phrase “emptiness dancing,” because it recognizes the inseparability of formlessness and form, of the awake space of awareness and its expression in aliveness.

Sometimes, when I teach about the ultimate freedom of realizing selflessness and emptiness dancing, students ask if this means turning away from personal growth and service. Is this just another way to devalue the life we are living here and now? If we find inner freedom, will we still be interested in healing ourselves and our world?

Whenever these questions come up, I usually recall Mari, who started attending meditation classes when she realized she was burning out after working more than a decade as a fund-raiser for a large human rights group. At that time, the political environment had gotten increasingly nasty, rival factions were vying for control of the organization, donors were scarce, and she was questioning the ethics of some of her colleagues. When I met her, Mari had given notice and wanted nothing to do with politics or activism. She was done.

Over the next four years, Mari worked at a sporting-goods store, attended meditation classes and retreats, and found the time to reconnect with a former passion: bird-watching. After a meditation class, she told me, “It’s during those walks, during the early morning hours of watching and listening, that I come home to silence, to my own presence.” In that attentive silence, Mari’s love affair with birds deepened. “They are not something outside of me,” she told me, “they are part of my inner landscape.” As she grew more alarmed about habitat loss, though, Mari realized her activist life was not over.

As we explored this together in a counseling session, Mari began to trust that this time around, things would be different. So, she agreed to fund-raise for an environmental group, even while  knowing that there would be conflicting egos within this organization, and that she would inevitably have bouts of discouragement. Mari had found refuge; she knew she could reconnect with the awareness that gives rise to birds and trees, to egos and discouragement, to the entire play of life. She could remember the wisdom of emptiness dancing, and serve this imperfect world.

Spiritual teacher Adyashanti, who wrote a book called Emptiness Dancing, suggests that as we move through the day, we ask: “How is emptiness or awareness experiencing this (eating, walking outside, showering, talking)?”I also like to ask myself, “How is this empty, awake heart experiencing what’s happening?”

It’s illuminating to step out of our story of self, and simply receive sensations, feelings, and sounds from the perspective of heart and awareness. We’re not in opposition to anything, or resisting or evaluating anything; we’re just letting life flow through us.

Whenever I pay attention like this, I’m not at all removed from life. Rather, without the self-focus, I become part of the flow of aliveness. Just as the river knows how to flow around rocks, I can then respond intuitively to life’s unfolding. I’m more spontaneous in the moment, more naturally clear and caring in my response to what’s around me. I’ve seen this happen with others too. Whether we’re serving or savoring, whenever there’s an awareness of emptiness dancing, we become wholehearted in how we live. This is true even in the face of inevitable loss.

A few years ago, I read a memorable story about violinist Itzhak Perlman. Perlman had polio when he was a young child, and at each of his performances he makes a slow entrance on crutches, sits down, unclasps the braces on his legs, then prepares to play. He did this as usual at a 1995 performance at Lincoln Center in New York. On this occasion, however, he’d only played the first few bars when one of the strings on his violin broke. The whole audience could hear the crack when it snapped. What will happen next, they wondered. Will he have to put on his braces, make his way across the stage, find another violin?

He sat still, closed his eyes, and paused. Then he signaled for the conductor to begin again. Perlman reentered the concerto, playing with an unimaginable passion, power, and purity. Perhaps some of those watching could sense him modulating, changing, reconfiguring the piece in his head, so deep was his immersion in creating. When he finished there was an awed silence. Then came the outburst of applause as people rose and cheered from every corner of the hall.

Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, and raised his bow to quiet the crowd. Then he spoke, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone. “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

Recently I was disappointed to learn that this story has been called into question, but the message stays with me. We weigh down our lives with memories of how it used to be and fears of what we have yet to lose. Yet when we surrender into the living moment, we, like Perlman, become emptiness dancing—a part of the creative flow. We respond with a tender heart to our world’s pain and beauty. We make music with what we have left.

Adapted from True Refuge (2013)

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