Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Democracy II: Revenge of the Killer Democracy

Can I remind Chantal Hébert that the only viable parties in Québec during the 2004 Federal Election were the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals? Who both supported same-sex marriage! She says in today’s Toronto Star “In the last election, more than 80 per cent of Quebec voters supported parties that did not oppose same-sex marriage.”

I love the clunky use of negatives here. Very concerted, clearly. Because she knows it would be a stretch to say: Québec voters supported parties that supported same-sex marriage (much less: Québec voters supported same-sex marriage). For while Québec is, apparently, one of same-sex marriage’s staunchest supporters, the full number of its opponents there cannot, I repeat cannot!, be accounted for by the 17.3% of Quebecers who did not vote either Liberal or Bloc in the last federal election. 'Spretty obvious what was going on there, I think. Unity was the primary and overwhelming issue for Quebecers in the last election (as it has been since time immemorial and, indeed, will go on being) and they either voted for the Separatists or whomever the (now long-established) governing federal party at the time was. Didn’t matter which party it happened to be, only that odds were clearly in its favour. If you didn’t want the country to fall apart you’d be an ass not to vote for them.

And while I’m impressed at the apparent inviolability of principle of the 17.3 who did not vote for either the Bloc or the Liberals, I do wonder what the hell they were thinking. However, were it not for this otherwise too-credulous and politically backward few, Ms. Hébert’s means of determining support for same-sex marriage in Québec would’ve yielded a cool 100% “of Quebec voters [who] supported parties that did not oppose same-sex marriage.” But I guess that would’ve been too much; too obviously fiddled with.

(And will someone please tell her that not every sentence of her column need be a paragraph of its own. Every time I read her I feel like I’m being shot at with a blunderbuss.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

You go, girl! ...Honestly. We're closed. Go!

In light of Oprah Winfrey’s current crusade against the Paris boutique Hermès, Anne Kingston wonders whether the holding-forth-show host’s audience will themselves have a “‘crash’ moment, a tipping point in which an audience that has come to revere [Oprah] for her philanthropic good works is alienated by her disproportionate outrage over not getting her own way.” Alas! Would that even a fraction of Oprah Winfrey’s following had even a fraction of Ms. Kingston’s intelligence. Indeed, if only Oprah’s audience (nay, Oprah herself!) was possessed of the Post columnist’s great faith in humankind. For it seems to me that she gives these people way too much credit in assuming that the cause of their reverence is Oprah's "philanthropic good works.”

Rather, they revere Oprah because she’s got what they want: an almost absolute power. More importantly, she does with that power what they themselves so desperately want to do: wield it with abandon! The otherwise impotent threat to some chumpy retailer of, “You’ve lost my business!” actually means something when it’s coming from a person whose hypnotic sway over the rabble guarantees a more than considerable vengeance. Oprah is a beacon, an icon of the all-pervasive consumerist philosophy. She’s Socrates telling the Athenian court: “Hemlock?! Out of this glass?! Puh-lease!” to resounding applause, fist-pumping, and calls of “Take a flame-thrower to this place!”

After all, consider her peers in the great marketing co-option of feminist empowerment. Princess Di, whose death pre-empted Mother Teresa’s by a matter of days, didn’t completely eclipse the attention owed the latter because of, what?, a kind of mass-tacit proviso that the two be considered on an equal moral footing. Princess Diana touched people with AIDS, after all, just as Mother Teresa touched people with leprosy. Oh what a tragedy that we should lose them both on the same day! (And yet, what a blessing that Mother Teresa should make herself so handy in providing a fit symbolic underpinning for the life of the Beloved Adulteress.)

The terrifying spectacle of Kimora Lee Simmons looms large here too (who, as it happens, donated $25,000—of her estimated $500 million worth[1]—to Oprah’s Angel Network not so long ago). Or how about Martha Stewart? (Our Belinda Stronach might present a rather good example of an aspirant. A hopeful.)

Whether they admit it or not, the majority of the Oprah Winfrey audience sticks by their guru for that precise reason: her outrage over not getting her own way. And indeed, it is that very quality of disproportionateness with her Angel Network façade that makes her outrage so outrageously appealing. So enviable. For it is the apotheosis of decadence to be able to find favour, or withhold it, depending on criteria that you yourself decide. This is control. This is power. And such is the extent of this power that all Oprah has to do when making an aggressive stand for the exclusive rights of the privileged (so far above and beyond the rights of the average citizen that, one realizes, she’s shot the moon), is make a lip-service-appeal to hollow jargon and cliché to give the envious punters an excuse to go on being guiltlessly envious.

Look on her works, ye mighty, and despair!

[1] At a rough calculation, the equivalent to $1.50 to the person who earns $30,000 a year. American that is.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Democratic! Say it enough and it becomes true

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler couldn't be any more ridiculous in his tissue-thin veiling of what is, arguably, the Liberal government's (near-succesful) bid to subvert the democratic process. He says, "We're now at the last stage of this democratic exercise. It may well resolve itself this week." ...I mean?! Why did he bother throwing this "democratic exercise" business in there? It's like the cashier at my grocery store swiping my debit card and saying--with perspiring brow and trembling hand--"We're now at the last stage of this completely legitimate, debit-card-fraud-free transaction. It may well resolve itself in the next ten seconds."

One wonders if it would have been much more obvious if Mr. Cotler had said: "We're now at the last democratic stage of this democratic exercise. It may well democratically resolve its democratic self this democratic week. Democratic."


The very worst comment from a conservative (and it was an Ontario MPP at that) about Belinda Stronach at the time of her defection was made by Bob Runciman. He called her a “dipstick.” And, really, that wasn’t so bad. Only, he decided to elaborate: “an attractive one,” he said, “but still a dipstick.” The addendum, I admit, was too much. But that’s as bad as it got. Accusations of sexism or misogyny beyond this point are indefensible. And yet, somehow and for some reason, even conservative apologists don’t seem to recognize this. To wit: a piece in the Western Standard today, begins, ‘“Dipstick.” “Whore.” “Moron.”’ citing the various epithets leveled at Ms. Stronach following her infamous floor-crossing. Now, we’ve just accounted for the dipstick remark, so that’s fine. And while I’m not certain about this moron business, I’ll take your word for it (it seems fair enough and is, after all, gender neutral). But whore? Nobody called Belinda Stronach a whore! “Whored” was used, but not “whore”![1]

The difference between a noun and a verb is not, to me anyway, so subtle that the two in any basically intelligent person’s mind can be very easily confused. And, I’m sorry, but there is a considerable and very legitimate difference between a whore and someone who whores himself or herself. For, while it is unquestionably the case that a whore whores, it is also the case, one assumes, that a whore, on occasion, abstains. Action words describe action, they do not designate character. This way, not only does a prostitute abstain, but an atheist proselytises, and a priest disgraces. In spite of the at-odds action word, the noun remains in each case firmly intact. At no point, then, can it be said that the word atheist is interchangeable with proselyte, priest with disgrace, etc. So how does the (acceptable—given the circumstances—and neutered) accusation that Belinda Stronach “whored herself out for power” become “Belinda Stronach is a whore”?

Ruby Dhalla and Ann McLellan (to name but two), politically expedient creatures that they are, did a little word-tampering in aid of a very bad situation for them: their party, the federal Liberals, got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They got caught with their hands in the cookie jar and, if you’ll let me draw out the analogy a little further, couldn’t do anything to dispose of the bucket-load of crumbs in their lap and the words “These cookies that we are eating are delicious” scrawled on their collective foreheads in chocolate chip… Understanding that the words “whored” and “prostituted” were by themselves quite innocuous, they were adjusted—slightly in form, completely in meaning… Which, I guess, is what politicians do. But the press and the pundits for some reason played along. And continue to do so.

No one ever called Belinda Stronach a prostitute! No one called her a whore! Why should I care, then, who Brian Mulroney notoriously called an old whore way back whenever it was; why should I care what Michael Bliss has to say in defence of the word’s usage with regard to defectors?![2] If the word had actually been used, then maybe I would care. But it wasn’t! And, really, if the game is making up slurs that the conservatives slung at Belinda Stronach for her appallingly dishonourable behaviour, surely we can do a little better. Shithead’s a good one. Or fucking shithead. At least a couple of real expletives might give this fiction some legs!

Anyone who indulges accusations of sexism in this matter are doing only that: indulging. Robertson Davies says that “without precision of meaning we damage not simply language, but thought.” This goes as much for those who listen as it does for those who speak.

[1] “Prostitute” is another shameless misappropriation of a word as it was actually used by Maurice Vellacott: “prostituting”—this by Ruby Dhalla in a particularly pedantic piece she penned for May 19th’s National Post entitled “Criticism is acceptable. Sexism is not.”
[2] No offence to the redoubtable Professor Bliss.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Oh, The Humanity!

So Svend Robinson, former New Democrat MP, is blaming last year’s shoplifting episode on a mood disorder is he? This is not really surprising coming from the person who, after a hot handful of days following the theft, blamed it on his being human (meant to suggest, one assumes, that it was as much the glut of humankind that guided his hand that day; that we must all take a share of responsibility in this terrible, terrible crime: the end of Svend Robinson’s political career!). I always thought that was a fascinating bit of intelligence—as though the consensus up to that point was that he was something more in the nature of a god. Happily, I don’t think that that is, or ever was, the consensus. But it is clearly (in spite of tearful admissions and contrition-at-one-remove) how the man still sees himself, forcing the conclusion that while Svend Robinson may indeed be human, he is only just.

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

Had trouble sleeping tonight, so decided to make some use of my time: do some reading over a cup of warm milk, smoke a cigarette. Having adjusted my cup reasonably with whisky I hoisted the brew into the microwave, muffling the appliance’s periodic bleepings with my housecoat [1] (Lenore still doing her stint of sleeping not too far away). To forestall those beeps-in-quick-succession indicating completion of the nuclear assault upon my stoneware, I tapped the open button smartly at the last second. The door flung open, and was not quite as loud in so doing as the beeps themselves would’ve been. Now—and mind you that I hadn’t even had any of the fortified concoction yet—no sooner did I take hold of the mug (not by the handle, obviously [2]) than the damn thing shot-up on its own, and struck the microwave door, spilling itself everybloodywhere.

Likely I am alone in feeling this, but there is nothing to me so anticlimactic as a spill of the magnitude that this one was of, with no satisfying crescendo of bursting glass (or in this case, cheapish Japanese ceramic material). The mug made more noise bouncing off the multitude of things it bounced off of (before it finally came to a sort of swirling halt—and that not after it had rattled in place for a goodish while) then it would have if it had just smashed itself to bits at the outset.

In any case, while I was perhaps spared the annoyance of having to pull shards of coffee mug from under my fingernails the next couple of days, a fairish amount of bourbon and milk was spilled all over my benooked-and-crannied kitchen floor. It should be said that I did not cry. I did, however, fly into an apocryphal rage and woke Lenore up, who grumbled audibly about spirits and unsteady hands the next ten minutes. And I had only limited success keeping the cat Thomas away from the various toxified puddles before I’d got to them with my mop—and she was, then, distinctly unsteady upon her pins. I spent the next hour or so pretending to read, but thought only of this—clumsiness, the family curse—and drinking too much warm-milkless bourbon.

One plus: warm milk (and perhaps cold milk, or even tepid milk too—I haven’t yet tested these scenarios, but needless to say by hook or by crook I will) seems to have quite an excellent bleaching effect upon badly stained linoleum countertops. Not so nice, though, upon softwood floorboards.

[1] I’m quite adept at this, and am known—to a hardcore of appliance salesmen and sundry other aficionado—as “Signor Micro-Ondo, Terror of the Beeping Bull.”
[2] Which neither I nor, I strongly suspect, 90% of the mug-bearing public ever uses.

From: Conversations with Snook (The Younger)


No, it’s not a picture. It’s a—Yeah, okay! Just stop poking at it for a half a second! It’s not a scratch and sniff, dude. It’s just armpit smell and Old Spice High Endurance there and scratching it won’t make it any more pungent. What? Well I was just about to say and then you started poking me. ‘The fuck, man?! Relax!

It’s Chinese script. It means will. No, not as in William! That’s you! I mean that’s you that would tattoo a dude’s name on your arm! Yeah it is! And you’d have a heart around it with forever written underneath it, but it would be the number four and the word ever. … No, but the number four, I mean. Yes, fine: the numeral four and then the word ever.

Anyway, it means will—as in will power. Yeah. Like, I figure, if I’m gonna have this thing on my arm for the rest of my life, I want it to mean something. You know? I mean, you see all those old guys around with, like, an anchor, or “Mom” or whatever written all over their wrinkly old forearms and it’s like: Jesus, guys! Anyone got a hankerin’ fer some spinach?! Look out, Bluto’s behind you and he’s gonna hit you over the head with his fuckin’ wheelchair, for shit’s sakes! You know?! Yeah, anyway. So I’m like: if I’ve got to do this I’m gonna do it right. So I googled the Chinese symbol for will and then got my sister to, like, blow it up and do it in a kind of calligraphy style with a magic marker. It took the tattoo artist a half hour. No, that’s short, dude. Trust me!

That’s the thing! When I’m at the gym, or down at the Pits playing ball on a hot day people are like: this isn’t some beer-bellied meathead. They don’t know what to think! It psyches them out, and I’m just like: batter up! And—I swear to God—I’ll hit at least a double nine times out of ten. No—when I’m playing ball, moron! It doesn’t make any difference with your performance on weights; you don’t magically grow bigger muscles than you’ve already got just because of a tattoo, you dink! What? Adrenaline?! It’s a myth! Oh shut-up, you pussy, you don’t know what you’re talking about! No, just shut up, man, do us both a favour!

And, dude. Chicks? They love it! I’ve gotta beat them off with a stick. Yeah, funny. Laugh it up, chum. I said them, and I meant it.

And it’s something to think about, too, you know? It’s humbling. You get all cocky, you know, get a couple a drinks down you with your buds, but then you get home and take a shower, and see that symbol there … And you think. You know?

Yeah, well that’s what I’m saying! I’m not gonna do what Stubbing did and get a pair of dicks tattooed on my bicep! Yeah he did! A pair of fuckin’ dicks. Or Pierce? Carpe diem. No joke. But the guy’s a poser. Always was, always will be.