Toronto housing is unaffordable…

but who cares, because… Booth!


Utilize your Booth. Or it’s Church Basement for you, loser.

Drawing on an entrepreneurial offering that I keep bumping into online, I think stand-alone phone booths costing $3,495.00 USD — yes, this is an actual thing—would make a simply spiffing way of adding some affordable housing to the Toronto real estate scene.

I’m hoping to blatantly steal this idea and convince Mayor John Tory and/or Premier of Ontario Doug Ford that it’s the only way, once I have their attention. And I’m positive that I will have their attention after next Tuesday, which is when I plan to streak through Nathan Phillips Square and nail my scrotum to “The Archer”. (I did a course.)

I’m The Guy with Ideas About the Homeless and Affordable Housing Problem. Ideas that don’t involve simply waiting until after Christmas then putting homeless people and the other losers who can’t afford over two thousand a month, not including utilities, in a church basement, feeding them macaroni dinner and canned ambrosia pudding, then bringing out some Anabaptists to scream at them about how they’re all losers who’ll never amount to much.

(Are Anabaptists the ones with the tambourines? Or the ones who baptize the faithful by holding them under water, just not, and this is only my personal opinion, for a long enough period of time?)

Having ideas about housing people is not difficult. Even I can do it. I, Murgatroyd McGraw, whose last idea about paying my rent involved having a roommate, which hasn’t been successful in six years, but somehow I have ideas about housing people, so the complexity level is, as they say, low.

John Tory—I wish all politicians had to change their name to John Tory, or Justin Liberal or Jagmeet Endeepee, in the manner that people used to be called “John Norfolk Cowherd” or “Betsy Poxstrumpet Back-Alley”, so you could make an informed choice—John Tory, Toronto’s OK-ish, “if you have to have one it might as well be him” Mayor, promises more affordable housing but does nothing.

OK, this is positive! At least doing nothing means he doesn’t actively destroy anything, and this reassures me that he’s merely a lackluster, underachieving old-school conservative, and not secretly cooking up something involving virgins, junior hockey coaches and the Book of Revelation.

A “cuck,” in today’s parlance.

I shudder with revulsion as I type that word, like I shudder when examining plasticized fast-food menus offering “sliders,” or catching sight of a mall-goer wearing a sweatshirt that says, “wine me dine me sixty-nine me,” or learning that there is a porn category called “creampies.”

But for taxonomic purposes, comb Roget’s from dawn to dusk though I may, “cuck” gets right into the nooks and crannies of John Tory and his oh-so-Canadian brand of bland. Are you still awake?

You can’t not like John Tory. That would be almost abusive. It would be like not liking the runty, annoying kid in class, the kid with bad breath and whose kitten just died, who puts up his hand once per year, and his answer’s wrong. You give him a pity-hug, but you wince.

It would be like admitting to Carrie that you took her to the Prom on a dare while preparing a bucket of pig’s blood. Except John would just go, “Oh, OK. Thanks for letting me know,” look a bit crestfallen and go home to re-read “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

I’m gonna come through this! There’s always next prom, and I’m a Good Person!

A “cuck,” if you didn’t know, is a man who is so clueless, he is literally the only person in town who doesn’t know how clueless he is.

John Tory is so clueless he waits until it’s cold in January, expresses shock about how cold it is, then tells us how determined he is to get on top of this homeless shelter thing, because cold in January in Canada? Who knew? Goldarn weather in January, sneakin’ up on us!

Mad Magazine, where males first imbibed smart-ass satire at the ages of twelve to fourteen, may be shutting down, but we have Maclean’s to pick up the slack. Maclean’s magazine tells us that Trudeau’s housing plan, and I must have nodded off during that one, is a bad idea and that we should—now, I hope you’re sitting down, in case you fall over laughing and crash into that Lalique figurine you just finished paying for—we should let the market provide affordable housing.

Right? Talk about obvious, staring-us-in-the-face solutions!

This is the much-celebrated “trickle-down” effect, and for visuals I invite you to imagine the moment in “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy’s farmhouse trickles down right out of the tornado and lands right smack on top of the Wicked Witch of the East, if the tornado represents The Market and the Witch is, well, us.

Just to think of all the time we’ve wasted, annoying politicians with our suggestion that the market, released of pesky rent controls and awash with subsidies for first-time buyers’ mortgages, having spiraled so out of control that an average one-bedroom apartment in Toronto now costs $2,200 per month, does not seem to be getting with the program and providing affordable housing.

I can’t imagine what happened, the market having been so amazing at providing all the other things that the middle class, now reduced to a bunch of hobos sleeping in a dumpster, so desperately needs.

I think, on a balance of probabilities, that someone probably forgot to tell the market it was supposed to provide affordable housing. A simple oversight, and thanks, Maclean’s, for a well-needed reminder of that market-based approach that has never, ever, even once, achieved what it’s supposed to achieve without someone in government legislating in order to provide affordable housing and stop the market doing what it actually, in reality, does.

How off track is the market? Let’s see. Minimum wage, now rolled back by Doug Ford to $14.00 per hour because every small business in Ontario will founder if employees get one dollar more per hour, works out to $28,000 per year, assuming a forty-hour week (non-existent for the minimum wage crowd, but let’s play extra fair) and two weeks’ vacation.

Twenty-two hundred dollars per month for a one-bedroom apartment on the market is $26,400 a year, leaving that single mom a nifty $1,600 per year in disposable income, or a jaw-dropping $134 per month.

For everything.

But it’s me, as always, to the rescue, this time with my stand-alone phone booth idea. It’s win-win, just with both wins for me.

All mod cons:

Beautiful particle board finishes, which you won’t see because there’s no electricity. You can just maybe run a big-ass extension cord from the Don Valley to, say, the reference library if you’re not content with the sun in the morning and the moon at night. Also, the holes in the back of the booth for those self-replicating cords that come with your technology and get updated once a week by Apple are perfect for peeing out of, bit more challenging for the ladies, but when did we promise that your choice to be homeless would bear any resemblance to a bowl of cherries? Exactly!

And someone just said “glory hole,” but that’s possibly an extra level of market segmentation too far, at least before I’ve pitched John. We’ll reserve judgment on the glory hole thing, pending Tanya Granic Allen and any resolutions she might get on the agenda regarding gay people being a “liberal holocaust of heterosexuals and what about the children.”

Also the phone booth has just enough space that you can bring your own phone as long as its the Samsung foldable.

There’s no kitchen. Kitchen, already! So you can cook that filet mignon stuffed with foie gras from the Food Access Program, no doubt! Unbelievable!

Cutting-edge Iconic Design bit:

The Philip-Johnson inspired glass door with its twelve square feet of glass and awesome, jaw-dropping hinges will make you think your portable ghetto, or single-dwelling slum if you haven’t taken your meds in a while, is sitting in its very own National Trust landscape of rolling hills and, at first glance, galleries. Which is an easy mistake to make when you catch your first glimpse of artists jumping from the Overlea Bridge with burlap sacks of their best work because they can’t get a grant any more.

If an artist lands on your booth, they should just bounce off, due to its flexible yet durable construction.

Kiss our Boothy asses, Frank Gehry or do we mean Stella!

Minimalism+Modernism= Minimodmumism: We Bore Down and Birthed a Movement

You want to live the Toronto lifestyle, but you don’t have the cash. We understand.

You’re still fucked, though, because you can never stop working for the rest of your natural life, or save any money, or move, and every time you move out the landlord gets to jack up the rent as much as she likes.

Fast food workers can’t get a raise of one dollar after years and years, but landlords absolutely have to get a raise every year. Every year for a guaranteed amount. Otherwise, they’d be so resentful they’d come around to your place at night, sneak in and turn down the thermostat and close your windows, so extravagant are you with the utilities.

And at four times eight equals thirty-two people per booth, so the monthly rent of $3,495.00 plus any charges for spontaneous drug raids and to make sure everyone’s buying the cheap, zero-percent-fat yogurt, divided by thirty-two works out to—a helluva lot fairer, assuming the breadwinners for the booth can extract themselves enough times in a month to buy enough fifty-percent-off “enjoy this tonight!” pork chops to cook over the flame of someone’s torch lighter.

It’s all about density, guys.

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Conservatives finally broke the world…

… with help from my mom’s new sofa



SO I’M SITTING ON MY BALCONY WITH A friend of my friend. The friend of my friend is black, and as we small-talk each other he tells me that he’s Canadian, having been born here of parents who emigrated here from Jamaica. This seems totally right and logical, hardly worth even articulating, despite the new Trumpian standard of “we’ll be the judge of who’s a citizen or not, bright eyes, so better not get too uppity.”

Nope, born here is all you need. In fact, I’ll make a stab at it and say his parents are Canadian, too. Mr. All-Embracing PC Snowflake, that’s me!

It’s an uncomfortably muggy July evening and we’re eating chickpea stew over couscous from white Dollarama bowls. (I made the stew and steamed the couscous myself. I needed you to know that.) Our thoughts turn, don’t ask me how or why, to immigration, and this guy, Joe, which is absolutely not his name, says to me:

“The refugees get all these beautiful town houses, for free. They get more than you get on benefits.”

He says to me:

“I think Air Canada should stop hiring all these foreigners, because of security. They should hire only Canadians.”

He says to me:

“It’s black people who are always rude to me. White people are fine. It’s the black people I always have a problem with.”

And after I mentally rehearse the vomiting up of a full bowl of couscous and chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce then the post-puke dabbing of my lips accompanied by a final, raucous belch, my heart seizes up and falls out of my shirt like a lump of concrete.

I’m thinking, I’m a sixty-three-year-old—no I don’t, do I?— white guy and I have to explain to a gay black guy that refugees do not get all these beautiful town houses for free.

I have to explain to a gay black guy that many people would look at him and automatically assume that he’s “a foreigner,” and “not Canadian” just because of the color of his skin.

I have to explain to a gay black guy that it’s not about individuals of any race, it’s about how racism is systemic, built into the mechanisms of everyday life.

It’s not whether another individual black guy or white guy is rude to you about a parking spot. It’s about what happens when you go for a job, what happens when you apply for an apartment, what happens when you’re minding your business in Starbucks or getting into your car that someone has decided a black person would not own or walking down the street and a cop sees you?

It’s about what happens when you’re arrested and go to court and what kind of sentence, if any, do you get? And what happens to a white person in that same situation?

I have to explain to a gay black guy that he’s repeating fake news stories and urban myths and being racist.

And I can’t cope. I spend most of my online, and increasingly, offline, interactions pushing back at other white people when they make similar comments; when they say white people aren’t the only ones who had slaves, you know even though the discussion is about America, in which context white people are the only people who had slaves; when they say I’m color blind or claim that any grievance voiced by people of color is white racism.

I can barely cope with the onslaught of racism burbling out of white people now that Trump and his autocratic buddies worldwide have made racism a popular choice once again, I can barely deal with that. I am at a loss for dealing with a gay black guy who says this shit.

So that’s why I jumped off my eighth-floor balcony and landed on my feet, scrunching my legs right up into my pelvis, which has meant having all my trousers re-hemmed, an extra expense that I could ill afford.

You have to weigh the pro’s and the con’s. Tying my shoes is easier, but my knuckles drag along the sidewalk. People admire my integrity, but they preface their admiration with, “Hey down there—little guy!” Maybe I could have made the same statement in a more constructive, less dramatic fashion.

Oh, well. Too late now!


I grew up, like any mid-range Boomer, inside a normal, white racist household, with a normal, white racist mom and dad. My mother, who did the talking for both of them, cleaned up nice and, when meeting a new department store charge card, would skip the introductions and press it tearfully to her bosom like Dorothy hugging Toto after his escape from Elvira Gulch’s basket.

Anyone who wasn’t WASP, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant—this is not something you could aspire to, you either are or you aren’t—was obviously just not trying hard enough, even though, as I just said, trying is irrelevant. With me so far?

Skin color barely entered into it. Just strike off one of those attributes, say, “Protestant,” and it’s game over. Disparaging remarks about non-WASPs were acceptable WASP conversation. For some reason, probably because I’m gay, the one I remember most clearly is: “Barbra Streisand just opens her big Jewish mouth and screams”, an example of antisemitic WASP musical criticism that would have made Richard Wagner’s nasty little eyes bug out with pride, or is it envy.

My mother probably made that remark after a rousing game of bridge, while passing around wobbling platefuls of “Charlotte Russe” (which contained lime Jell-O, as did everything my mother cooked, probably even the pot roast contained lime Jell-O), and cups of Red Rose tea, served in hand-painted china cups. This was a genteel remark, if a bit obvious, yet god forbid there should be a lull in the conversation.

I mean, what could you say in response? “Fascinating, and exactly how big is her big Jewish mouth and how loudly does she scream?” Of course Barbra did that! Why not start the conversation with, “I noticed the sun rose in the East this morning,” for heaven’s sake! Lame!

This remark dates from Barbra’s early appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, a variety show. Variety shows were an extension of vaudeville, stage entertainments for all the family, so on a variety show you’d see singers (or “screamers”, if Barbra) and an act with a dog, and maybe a puppeteer and a comedian and some acrobats. So Barbra wasn’t yet a mega-star, at which point she could graduate from “big-mouthed screamer” and join the ranks of, take your pick, “bitch” (a woman with power), or “anti-Christ,” which is all the Jews who were controlling the media and just in it for the money.

Money! Power! Talent! The holy Trinity, unless you’re not WASP, heterosexual and male, when they become the Golden Calf. Anti-Christ Bitch Barbra, she’s got it all!

Moving along.

Jews, and Italians (who were also Catholics, which was kind of like when you get the letters for “syzygy” in Scrabble, a satisfying double-whammy of prejudice), got lumped together. These people, not being WASPs, were not strictly “white” because, you know.

Ethnic.

Ethnic meant colorful, so Gary and Adelina, the only Italians in Whitby, served as, you might say, the honorary town throw cushions who lived three blocks down the street, throw cushions in black velvet and gold braiding and “Souvenir of Niagara Falls” stitched on the front. Their house had figurines of the Virgin Mary, and what looked like actual photographs of Jesus, and Gary, a tailor by trade, smelled like sweat and warm bread and red wine, wine which he made at home in his basement. They used olive oil instead of butter.

WASPs do not smell. Dirty ethnics! WASPs do not use oil. Greasy ethnics!

But that was OK. Ethnics were not expected to have or to represent good taste, which for WASPs means how many shades of beige and cream can you deploy in one room and under how much plastic. Good taste means everything matching, because that’s what you saw in a magazine.

You’ll never go wrong with beige, my dear!

So we toddled along, making do with Italians and Jews, maybe the odd Polish Catholic if you were really desperate, as the targets on which to discharge our Anglo-Saxon bile and make them be the cause of things, rather than the cause being our obnoxious self-regard and personal manifest destiny.

And then of course came—the sixties! No sooner had my two sisters frosted their lips, raised their hemlines and learned to Twist when it was dead Kennedys, Lyndon Johnson and civil rights; race riots, Detroit and Chicago and Berkeley on fire; MLK Jr, Rosa Parks, and marches on Selma, summers of love, hippies and yippies.

Suddenly my mother and all the other white people were up till all hours processing the dusky Europeans into “white,” and bringing their focus to bear on figuring out what to do about these really non-white, unmistakably non-white, black people who’d suddenly found a voice.

Or was it that we hadn’t listened before?

No one listens to the voices of the oppressed (not hearing is the point of the oppression, after all) until the house is burning down; and what we finally heard was: “So we’ll burn the friggin house down, have it your way!”

This succeeded, finally, in getting someone’s attention.

Black people rioted in American cities, where the racism was more overt, the attitudes harder, the privilege somehow more entrenched. Canada, after all, had begun a gradual process of abolition in 1793, and in 1834 a British Act of Parliament abolished slavery throughout the Empire. Upper Canada became a destination for an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 refugee slaves via the Underground Railroad.

Forty thousand! Where were they? We’d literally, in Whitby, Ontario, never seen a black person live. This cannot be true, I rifle through my brain’s Rolodex for any memories, yet as far as I can tell I grew up in a small town in which I swear no black people lived. I remember no black shopkeepers, or teachers, or playmates.

They existed only on American TV and in American cities; in the pages of my Rand-McNally Children’s Encyclopedia, god help me, where they were called “Negroes,” (the new N-word) and where it was suggested that they were “good at sports and as entertainers, even scientists!”

Well, pick that cotton to a chorus of “Mammy” and stick a jockey on the front lawn, who knew!

In fact, my parents, who were your average, decent, nominally Christian, basically educated but unsophisticated small-town white people, didn’t really say anything I can remember that was bad about black people. I expect the whole concept was so fantastically alien it eclipsed any concept of ethnic, leaving them at a loss for words.

Still, there was that seventy-year head start with abolition; and that more liberal attitude, taking pride in its ornery non-American-ness. (It’s that unmistakable Canadian air of quiet, bemused Loyalist superiority, drawing on the enlightened authority of the Crown, that still drives some Americans bonkers.)

And so we went back to our living rooms to watch Judy Garland singing “Swanee,” her face loaded with more boot-polish than the entire U.S. infantry, breathing a sigh of relief.

We’d deal with black people when we had to. The possibility of black neighbors was not something we worried about, mainly because it seemed so unlikely.

Unless, of course, some black sportsmen, or entertainers, or even scientists, found the charms of Whitby, Ontario—with its leafy park, the annual itinerant carnival, the Carnegie Library, year-round Christmas lights and the orange-cellophaned windows of Whitby Mall—irresistible.


Thinking more about my mom, which reassures me that she’s still dead, I am reminded yet again about Trump’s comments that “the Squad” should “go back to their own countries.”

My mom did the same thing with sofas. This is a direct analogy. She would invite a sofa into our home — say, in coral silk or blue brocade—cover it in heavy plastic and, for a while, the two would co-exist happily.

This was “the honeymoon.”

Then, of course, as in any relationship, the sofa would begin to get ideas. One morning we’d discover that the sofa had thrown off its plastic cover in the night, or popped a button, or it would deliberately heat up when you sat on it, so you’d be sitting in an embarrassing puddle of sweat. The valance on the bottom of the sofa would begin to fray. The interloper was restless.

My mother would not stand for any show of sofa independence. Sofas had to know their function: to please her, to be a source of comfort, and above all to fit on her charge card and exact the high interest rates that would keep her relationship with the Robert Simpson Company well-oiled and meaningful and my father permanently on the road earning too little money (but not too little to get hammered).

The day came that she would no longer be speaking to the sofa. This was the contempt period, following, like a case of crab lice follows hooker sex, the last gasp of the honeymoon and the nano-second period of contentment; for my mother was a consuming soul as restless as the westward wind, that wayward wind that’s sure to wander.

I don’t know if my mother ever told a sofa, “Go back where you came from.” But soon after the contempt came the delivery men, rolling their eyes, for this ritual was repeated once, twice, three times per year. My mother would get an apology, a full refund and a new sofa, this one more compliant, less uppity, than the one before.

You just have to be absolutely clear who’s boss.


Conservatives, most current among them Donald Trump, the Great Mouth Breather, have finally done it. They’ve finished the work that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and the two Bushes started, not to mention de facto conservatives like Bill Clinton.

They’ve ruined the world, broken the social contract, turned everyone against the people who should be their allies, namely all the other people, and made division, fueled by racism, an agenda.

Democracy is gone, busted, kaput. In its place partisanship, entrenchment of power, as those we elect refuse all compromise and game the system through gerrymandering and judicial appointments, to ensure their ideology gets woven so tightly into the fabric that plucking our own eyes out would be easier than unweaving it.

For democracy to exist, we all have to agree on some basic principles: we have to realize that democracy is never simply about what the majority wants but how we treat minorities. Democracy is primarily about human rights, increasing our understanding of and extending the reach of equality, justice and dignity, and we have to agree what this means.

Liberalism is incremental, contextual, progressing slowly as we learn. It’s not black and white, revolutionary or impatient. It’s not about throwing out everything we have, it’s improving what works and evolving what doesn’t.

This is why the French Revolution ended in a bloodbath; and why Britain, watching the events in France to remind themselves how not to do things, continued with its plodding, slow increments of common law and of equity, a gradual, extremely imperfect, organic growth. Boring old liberalism may drag its feet but it leaves more heads attached to necks.

We need to agree that government is not a business, that leaders of our countries should not be accountants, but visionaries who respond to our beliefs and who work not for themselves but for the public good.

We have to agree that health care and hospitals, housing, a single system of public schools and secondary schools and universities from which emerge educated citizens whose eventual contributions enrich society; water, power, food; day care for our children whom we claim to cherish, that these things must be universally available, not delivered privately for the wealthy and publicly for everyone else. We have to agree that there can be no first-class and second-class citizens.

We have to agree that there is a level below which we will not let people sink. This is not pure altruism but an investment in a robust, stable society over the long term.

Extremes of wealth inequality stop democracy from functioning: If your life consists of a struggle to house, clothe and feed yourself and your family, there is no time or energy or will to participate as a functioning member of the body politic. In this sense, democracy is a luxury item.

If you can’t afford access to professional journalism and get your “news” from Facebook and other dubious websites pushing their agendas rather than seeking truth, you are a sitting duck for disinformation and will soon end up in a bubble of lies, half-lies, fake “experts” and conspiracy theories. Soon you are denying reality and clinging to your alternative facts in order to “belong ;” soon you trust no information source except those that espouse the same crazy beliefs; and what you believe is what your fellow bubble-dwellers believe.

But for democracy to function we have to agree on the truth and know where we have a reasonable chance of finding it.

Do we have this agreement? We used to. Somehow the project of turning informed, educated, rational adults into disinformed, confused, panic-stricken children has created a giant playground full of whimpering, reactive, entitled liberals whose balloons have been popped by the snarky, emboldened bully conservatives as they scream “Snowflakes!” “Libtards!” “SJW’s!”

And we liberals, believe it or not, actually mind these epithets. Which more or less tells me that conservatives have a point, at least about the snowflake thing, which I would have twisted myself into a pretzel to avoid admitting.


No sooner had we started cooking pad Thai and buying hand-woven rugs at Pier One to show how cosmopolitan we were about the ethnics when Reagan and Thatcher and Bush started to cast their evil spell. They convinced us that prosperity was scarce and only available to those rat-like and ruthless enough to win the race.

They didn’t have to remind us that where there are winners there are losers; we figured that out for ourselves. We saw what it meant to be a loser: to live on the street, go hungry in the midst of plenty, to be nothing.

They proved their point by de-funding social programs until they didn’t work, then telling us that incompetent government and “the nanny state” was the enemy; by preying on Protestant guilt and telling us the poor were poor by choice, that they were lazy.

Meanwhile the one percent lounged in their country clubs wearing Prada sneakers and drinking rum that someone once traded for slaves, while their nannies looked after the kids.

They made the effort to lift everyone up, the effort to reconnect the human family, into an evil. By hammering us with the words communism and socialism they planted in our poor heuristically-vulnerable brains the false idea that to offer universal government-delivered health care was akin to denouncing your family to Stalin and sending them to the gulag.

By hammering us with the words rapists and terrorists and invasion and illegals they reanimated the slimy residue of racism that we still contained so that our lizard brains quivered with atavistic fears. In that state we had no hope of processing the truth that we were being manipulated, that there were rapists and terrorists and invaders, for sure, but they were the people we elected, and quite a number of corporate CEO’s whom we didn’t.

There is no scarcity of money or of prosperity. There are funds for healthcare. There are funds for housing and feeding and guaranteeing an income to every person in North America. The world is awash with money.

What’s scarce is truth.

There are Facebook groups dedicated to debunking the myth that the world is round. This is how lost we’ve become. This is our level of panic. This is our successful reduction to partisan, truth-free zombies. Our brains are wiped clean of fact, there is no information source we trust, we’re ready, empty and malleable.

If you can believe the world is flat, that the moon landing was faked, and that there are extra-terrestrials wandering among us but the government’s not letting on, it’s a piece of cake to believe your unsafe streets or unemployment are caused by liberals, homos, feminists—or a few thousand refugees seeking asylum.

A day will come when the drones fly overhead, the levees collapse, the oceans engulf the coasts; when deserts crack open like desiccated skin and the fires ignite. We’ll experience these together. This, finally, will be the truth we can all agree upon, as together we all become refugees with no safe haven.

Hear that blast? Look up.

That’s fifty old white guys in a space ship built by Elon Musk, smoking Havana cigars, watching our blue planet glimmer and recede as they voyage to another world conceived and built to their specifications.

And they’re laughing.


My mother, like most people, softened and changed once we’d moved to the city and met black people, homosexuals, including me, Asian people and other exotic types. Because you learn tolerance, then acceptance, then truth, by being forced by life to rub elbows with, work with, live with the full spectrum of humanity.

This is what makes cities the roiling, bustling, all-in-this-together final liberal hope for human survival, and leafy rural enclaves, those hard, intractable, conservative kernels of smug self-satisfaction and hatred, its certain extinction.

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A convenient hero…

… and a broken promise.


Frederick Douglass, from a speech delivered in Rochester, N.Y., 1852.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS, A BLACK MAN who escaped from slavery in the state of Maryland and through monumental efforts of self-education and determination became one of the most celebrated abolitionists, activists, writers, orators and statesmen of the nineteenth-century, is celebrated as an American hero.

This astonishes me, though not because he doesn’t deserve his heroic status. His achievements would have been exceptional had he been a white man; but he was black, a former slave, and what he achieved required infinitely greater courage, persistence and faith. Together with his personal qualities—intelligence, ambition, above all, charisma—he was the abolitionists’ living proof that slavery was not natural law, that slaves were not “savages” undeserving of full citizenship.

His transformation, when it occurred, was effected by the simple act of crossing a state boundary, but behind that act lay everyday miracles of self-will. The obstacles Douglass overcame were intractable; the small acts of kindness shown to him, usually by the wives of his owners—a proper bed, a decent meal, the illusion of family— so rare he remembered each occasion from boyhood to the end of his life.

(How much I resist using the word “owner” in this context, resist admitting the appalling reality that, as a slave, he was property, a beast of burden, less than human.)

He was born in 1818 into slavery, taken from his mother, the common practice, and put to work; through his childhood and as a young man he was bought and sold and traded by one owner after another as casually as you would buy and sell and trade livestock, until he ended up in the service of an owner known as a “slave-breaker.”

(He needed to be broken because word had got out that he had been teaching himself to read, and then, as his fellow slaves learned of his accomplishment, teaching as many as forty of them at a time in impromptu gatherings.)

The slave-breaker’s preferred method of control was whipping. Whippings meted out daily, the fresh marks on top of those from the previous days, which would not yet have had a chance to heal. Whippings, Douglass said later, that indeed broke him, body, mind and spirit, until one day he stood up and fought back so fiercely his owner never whipped him, or even approached him, again.

You have seen, he wrote in his autobiography before describing that incident, how a man becomes a slave.

Now you will see how a slave becomes a man.

No, I’m astonished at his being considered a hero in contemporary America because Douglass was not a compliant, docile, forgiving man. He was not nice. He held people accountable. He did not think everything would be all right, at least, not passively, not without a struggle. His advice late in his life to a young black activist was: “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!”

Agitate! In other words: Stir things up. Make people uncomfortable. Don’t let them off the hook. Don’t smile at the camera, scowl; don’t be the happy slave. Don’t play into the stereotype, refuse it. Don’t speak gently to the white women of Rochester.

Agitate!

I’m astonished because I have no doubt that if Douglass were alive today, agitating today, he would be reviled. Because, literally or metaphorically, he’d be kneeling during the National Anthem, and that would be the mildest of his agitations.

Douglass’ house in Rochester was destroyed by fire in 1872; his daughter, her husband and their children barely escaped with their lives. This was without question an arsonist’s attack. What mysterious or public disaster, I wonder, would be visited on him today, for his agitation?

White people in the North had trouble believing that Douglass had once been a slave, so thoroughly, so greedily had he educated himself, so eloquently did he speak. What fakery would he be accused of today? What scandals cooked up, what smear campaigns? What would the memes look like?

How a slave becomes a man: By fighting back so fiercely your torturer never touches you again.

Agitate!

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It’s easy for white people to think of Douglass as a hero, because he’s dead and can no longer cause a ruckus with his activism; because he can’t respond to the white men who use his speeches to “prove” that, because literal slavery no longer exists, because the blacks have had the school busing and the Selma March and can even claim their very own martyr, because of the thirteenth and fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, America is post-racial, color-blind.

What the hell are they complaining about now, for pete’s sake?

Not content with the grudging concession that people of color have, say, the right to vote, now they have the nerve to object just because Republicans do a little creative redrawing of the county lines.

People of color apparently aren’t content with the cheap, lumpy sofa of human rights, the basic IKEA model that sort of looks OK but that you secretly wish was from West Elm. They want the West Elm sofa plus the throw cushions and the Berber carpet.

And every so often the exasperation and impatience of white people bubbles up, in the affronted, aggrieved tones of someone whose thoughtful gift has been rejected.

If you don’t like it here, you’re free to leave! Do you ever see that online?* The assumption here is that if you’re not white you’re here on sufferance, you’re enjoying a probationary period—but complain too much, be a difficult, demanding, unappreciative guest, and whammo! Privileges revoked!

If you don’t like it here, you’re free to leave”? And I say to the petulant white guys and gals: So are you. You’ve got the money and the privilege, so how about returning to, say, Great Britain, where you will be better appreciated? I’m one hundred percent certain Boris Johnson will kiss you full on the mouth.

Douglass’s most famous speech, an excerpt of which is quoted below, was given to—the name reeks of white gentility—the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, N.Y., on July 5, 1852, nearly nine years before the Civil War began.

“…your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages…”

Frederick Douglass, 1852 (excerpt)

Read his words: However nobly phrased, they are also withering, bitter, enraged. He blazes like an Old Testament prophet. Apparently nineteenth-century American women were not the wilting violets of cliché Victorian femininity. They could, as we say, “take it.”

Fast forward a century and a half. Colin Kaepernick uses his celebrity to draw attention to systemic racism in America, not with inflammatory words or disruptive protest. He simply kneels during the National Anthem before the game. All hell breaks loose. For this he is denounced as a traitor, when he should be celebrated for exercising his right to protest.

Cory Booker travels to the centers where refugees are being held in third-world conditions. He reports on what he sees; he helps five women obtain asylum, following the accepted legal process.

A woman on Twitter tells him he should be charged with treason. Treason, if you’ve forgotten, is punishable by the death penalty in the United States of America.

The average American in 2019, then, is less robust than the abolitionist women in 1852 Rochester, who could listen to the fiery oratory of a former slave. Who invited Douglass to speak to them.

Perhaps it’s Trump’s unapologetic supporters, the MAGA-hatters, the new breed of Republicans, who need smelling salts, or even tincture of laudanum. What they are suffering from used to be called hysteria, or “an attack of the vapours.”

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Those seeking asylum from the violence and miserable poverty of their lives in the country that promises new beginnings and freedom are caged like animals in overcrowded facilities. Children are separated from parents and denied the most basic care. All are demonized as “illegals.”

Some are so desperate, they die in the attempt. But seeking asylum is a legal act and the U.S. has a duty under international law to admit them.

Illegal is a label, a construct, a way of dehumanizing in order to justify inhumane treatment. Illegal is, in today’s jargon, performative: what you say is what you get.

Refugees are not immigrants. They are seeking refuge, obviously, from acute crises: persecution by their own governments; natural disasters, lawlessness, civil war or discrimination so terrible that to return them to their country of origin is certain death. They aren’t making a calm, considered, career decision to change their country of residence or citizenship. They are in some manner escaping a war being waged against them.

Canada admitted tens of thousands of refugees from Syria in 2015; This was our response to an emergency, a humanitarian crisis.

Canada also has a multi-faceted immigration program that reflects our values. Programs include pilot projects encouraging immigration to the north and to the Atlantic provinces, sponsoring family members, express programs for skilled workers and opportunities for caregivers, artists and sports persons. As part of our immigration program we encourage applications for refugee status from those seeking protection from repression and discrimination in their home countries.

The two classes—immigrants and refugees— have become synonymous in the public’s mind because of Trump’s insistence that everyone who is not white and who sets foot on U.S. soil is a “rapist,” “gang member,” part of a planned “invasion.”

Some day we will have to have the conversation about a borderless world. We can’t continue to build metaphorical walls and shut out that part of humanity which hasn’t won the lottery and been born in a developed and democratic country.

It’s also impossible to view the plight of refugees from Guatemala and other Central American countries as having occurred in a vacuum, when U.S. policies have directly targeted those countries with disastrous results.

In the short term, human beings are morally bound to help others if they possibly can, and to do so in a compassionate way that recognizes their inherent dignity and equality—our common humanity.

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Trump co-opts the Fourth of July celebrations and turns them into a tinpot dictator’s preposterous military parade; makes the Fourth of July all about him, in other words. Is anyone surprised?

Serial sexual abuser, criminal, pathological liar: Has a more ridiculous or contemptible impostor ever held public office in a democracy, anywhere?

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“The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus ( (1849–1887)

“The New Colossus” was written by a young Jewish woman, Emma Lazarus, as part of the effort to raise money for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, and who, dying in only her thirty-eighth year, would never know how the final five lines would enter American mythology.

“Give me your tired, your poor….” Give me. Not just acceptance, but an invitation. An active embrace by the mother of exiles.

Wretched refuse: Refuse is what you discard. Less politely, garbage. However rejected you have been, we will embrace you. Liberty as mother, blind to race, color, creed. What a mother, infinitely more than a father, creates is home and family.

This is the promise.

I can’t read these words without my voice breaking with emotion; yet on reflection, measured against reality, I see Lazarus’ idealism as irrevocably tainted. I see what has become an unfortunate American propensity to indulge in pompous self-regard and fine-sounding, empty rhetoric, boasts about shining cities on hills that shine only for that tiny minority gifted with the right time and place of birth, those who have never wanted for anything, struggled, gone hungry or lived in fear. Unholy license.

And how dark the world has become now that the mother of exiles has extinguished her lamp, slammed shut the golden door.

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* I wrote this post before Trump’s now infamous suggestion to “the Squad;” it wasn’t meant ironically. I can probably now assume that you’ve all heard this at least once, online.
24 July 19

Ten reasons it’s great to be Canadian

just off the top of my head, currently covered with a tuque

Sea to shining sea?

JULY 1ST IS CANADA DAY. So I took a break from my usual morning task of rendering seal blubber in my igloo to count the ways it’s great to be a Canuck. It’s not an exhaustive list.

I’m sure there’s at least eleven.

(*Note to Americans: Canada is one of those “other countries” that you first learn about at Harvard. If you need to get your bearings, just think “Up there. Snow. Mounties. Cold. Justin.” Confusion, dizziness and sobbing are normal. You’re going to be fine.)


One:
You get to say “beaver” in mixed company.

Two:
You don’t have to worry about your country’s leader messing up and embarrassing you in full view of the entire world, because Justin doesn’t really do anything, and if he does mess up at least he’s a feminist, and anyway helll-oooo?! Trudeau, OK?

Three:
The heavy ankle shackles and full-body chains of Socialism help you stay trim and meet your “Canada Moves!” fitness goals when you drag their jaw-dropping extra weight along the sidewalk day in and day out.

  • BONUS: Looking for someone to play the ghost of Jacob Marley in “A Christmas Carol”? Hire a Canadian! We already have the costume!

Four:
It’s cool to have Queen Elizabeth II as our official head of state, or to be accurate, the giant, stuffed sock puppet dressed in primary colors that is used to represent Her Majesty, who actually died in 1973.

Five
Taking the jaw-dropping VIA Rail train with the glass dome to the west coast!

During this fabulous, epic journey you pass through the State of Alberta, renowned for its jaw-dropping one-hundred-percent unemployment rate ever since the oil industry collapsed.

  • BONUS: Get Andrew Scheer to pose for you in his cowboy hat, flanked by his forty-five wives dressed in modest full-length calico!
  • Get the little lady to sign her uterus over the the Conservatives and receive a limited-edition baseball cap that says, “My handmaid pledged her womb will U2?”

Six
Our annual, jaw-dropping White Heterosexual Pride Week festivities.

Top-rated parade experience this year: Faith Goldy and her sensational “Night Porter”-themed float with its celebrated Nazi Rainbow Flags. Kanada Über Alles! Droppings of the Jaw, ja?!

Seven
We can eat delicious “poutine” in historic Québec City! (Except while wearing a niqab, currently punishable with death by guillotine.)

Eight:
Playing rollicking, traditional Canadian games, like:

  • Who’s Got the Transfer Payment Resentment”
  • “Canadian Celebrity: Race to Oblivion”
  • “Super Frank Gehry-O”
  • “Save Toronto Waterfront! Trash Toronto Waterfront”
  • “Snub the Rich Asian”
  • “Honey, I Lost the Indigenous Women”

and, as a nod to equality,

  • “Bury that Fag in a Planter, Yo” sponsored by Mark Saunders, Chief of the Toronto Amateur Police Association.

(No prizes for the last two, just that warm glow…

…of shame.)

Nine:
I get to live in Toronto, “The City that Never Sleeps Except When it’s been Partying Too Much and Gets a Good Eight Hours so it Won’t Catch a Cold,” and the financial engine of our vast nation!

Here are some Visitor Tips! (Uh-oh: Three-Alarm Envious Warning!)

Don’t miss:

  • The Great Wall of Condos. Legend has it that beyond the wall there lies a mysterious, glittering body of water called “Lake Ontario” — but don’t try and find it because you’ll be trespassing; and
  • Sidewalk Labs’ “Googleopolis,” our future center of government, the office where you’ll go to pay-per-service when you want electricity or an ambulance, and headquarters of “STASI.”

Most popular this week:

  • After a heart-stopping two-hour wait to witness a migrating herd of the famously shy and skittish TTC Streetcars, it’s just a quick jaunt to the University District where you can gasp at stunning “Queens Park.”
  • Formerly the Ontario Legislature, this jaw-dropping piece of priceless Romanesque Revival granite architecture that we forgot to tear down is now the sumptuous private playground of Doug Ford and his entire extended family!

Ten:
It’s so woke to see the look on peoples’ faces when you say, “Eh?”

As in, “They should have put the Statue of Liberty up here, eh?”

Jaw-dropping!

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Don’t forget: If you enjoyed my post, let me know! Click the “Like” button; share on social media, give it a star rating (top of the page) and/or comment below. That way I know how to pander to you.

How to Read my Blog:

an instructional interlude



Dear valued visitors and followers: This is the content of a new page, accessible from the main menu (above) and let’s everyone wish it a very warm welcome. I wanted regular and new readers to know it exists, to draw your attention to it (me), to be encouraged to read it, and to take the hint. — DR


MY, HOW STANDARDS HAVE FALLEN! I can hear you rolling your eyes from here to Des Moines, and I know you’ll say to yourselves, “Of course, he’s doing the old-guy thing, the back in my day speech.” You may be right. I may simply be following tradition and experiencing inevitable change as a worsening, a dumbing down, when I should be grateful for progress.

That’s the narrative, isn’t it? That humans are following this trajectory of progress, albeit so slowly at first that nothing happens for millenia. Everyone just sits and stares at each other. And trust me, after a lifetime spent examining the fossil record so you don’t have to, I can confidently tell you that these millenia of staring are sheer tedium.

Sitting and staring. That’s it, dude. You could kill for a decent conversation, but because there’s no other activity—except for finding food, eating food, getting sick from the food, dying from the food or surviving the food, at which point the survivor carves the name of the food onto the Great Big Rock of Food That Won’t Kill You, with five stars and the “best before” date, which at this point is straightforward, “best before you starve to death”—because the only rainy-, or cloudy- or unseasonally cold- or even sunny-day activity is sitting around staring at everyone else who survived the food, good luck with that having a conversation thing.

I mean, there’s only so much feigned interest you can project in a lifetime.

While the proto-men and proto-women stare at each other it’s so quiet they can hear individual leaves falling onto the savannah, which they experience like bowling balls thudding onto parquet, notwithstanding they would likely not use that exact terminology just yet. Bowling, and therefore similes involving bowling  balls, have not been invented. We’ve got a long ways to go before they invent bowling, let me tell you! So they just shriek and run for cover.

Then once in a hundred years somebody pipes up, “Hey I was just thinking that maybe—” and everyone gasps and turns around in astonishment with a big whooshing sound to look at her.

Unfortunately, this is so intimidating she immediately forgets what she was going to say.

“Oh… nothing. Never mind. No, really, it’s OK, it was just—an idea…” (This, by the way, is the birth of passive-aggressive behavior, and not a moment too soon.)

Everyone sighs, maybe a couple of grumblers go I wish she’d stop DOING that! and then—silence again for another century or two.

Meanwhile everyone’s thinking, What are those pin pricks of light in the night sky, and how did they get up there and why don’t they fall down? If someone asks, I’ll say it’s Wilbur, The Great Caribou! We could use a little light humor! And anyway, what the heck are pin pricks, or for that matter, pins?

Gradually the silences get shorter and shorter, and you hear distinct noises as civilization develops. The chattering of villagers, the whoosh of the scythes, then, at exponentially increasing speeds, the rattling of looms, the hum of conveyor belts, the blasts of jet engines, ending in the present with the whine of one-sided conversations hitting the back of your neck, announced by smartphones generating what was probably supposed to sound like music but only if you’d never heard music.

Do you see how the standards fall? Nowadays you hear the one-sided conversation.

Growing up, I was taught: Ssh, not so loud! People will hear you! Use your indoor voice! Be seen and not heard! Conversations were restricted to the participants. Likewise telephone calls. You went into a little booth and slid the door shut because you didn’t want people to overhear you. Think what this means: a telephone call was as private as going to the bathroom.

Privacy has always been mankind’s greatest luxury, and no, I don’t mean data. We didn’t use words like data in the fifties, sixties, even seventies. You didn’t get data on your Princess phone. You got your mom’s voice asking why you hadn’t called, or your boyfriend saying he had a headache when you know very well he’s screwing the football coach. Data was a word you used, maybe, if you were Robert Oppenheimer. Probably even Einstein didn’t say data.

Yeah, right. I’ll show you “headache”! That’s rich!

We worry about data now, but back then we were worried about our conversations being overheard or disturbing other people.

Remember other people?

And we’d be mortified if someone had been listening to our conversation or found out our secrets. Secrets were still in their early phase of something you didn’t tell. My great aunts, Victorian women all, never told anyone that my eldest sister got pregnant before she married the guy, nor did they tell anyone about my parents’ divorce. This was private business, and if you talked about someone’s private business who wasn’t there, that was gossip.

Gossip was tacky, except for the rare occasion when it was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise cloudy afternoon.

How many months? She didn’t! Oh, I know! And you mustn’t say you heard this from me, but—apparently he’s that way!

We kept to ourselves out of fear of making the other person uncomfortable. No one knew your financial woes, the minutiae of office politics, the state of your marriage; we did not make our friends into our psychiatrists or social workers.

Now we live in public, holy prostitutes assuming the face-down spread-eagle to receive validation from anyone who might pass by. We are nothing on our own, because we are empty, and we are empty because we know nothing but the fascinating contents of our own heads and because we haven’t left the house since MySpace.

We have no allure, because we are so easily accessible. We are brands, personas, stories we tell that might as well be true.

We have no need for privacy, for we are at once the incentive and the prize, the scoop and the investigative journalist. Our mere bodies, those archaic chunks of pre-industrial too, too solid analog flesh, may melt, like so much ground beef past its sell-by date, into compost; but our personalities, fizzing with fake pizzazz like artificially sweetened soda and echoing third-hand opinions down broken phone lines crackling with static, have been uploaded to the cloud for all-device synchronization and easy universal obfuscation.

Standards have fallen. Where there was once charisma we now have persuasion; for glamour, brand loyalty; for thought, sponsored content. We long to read web copy that doesn’t suck instead of literature that, guaranteed, did not contain the word “suck” unless someone was talking about bees.

We no longer keep to ourselves in dark studies lined with ancient texts teaching ourselves eternal truths, while disciples as yet unknown to us spent a lifetime beating a path to our door; now we are everywhere, and depressingly unavoidable.

To award yourself Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame you at least had to throw on a metal mini-dress by Paco Rabanne, gloss your lips white and learn to frug before hailing a cab to The Factory. Compared to Instagram, this is like getting your Baccalaureate in semiotics at the Sorbonne.

We document the mysterious trail of our morning glory muffin from its perfect plating at Jet Fuel to its passage through our perfectly moisturized lips; we would, given our druthers, eagerly await and document its return to the primordial light and the roiling waters at the other end had we the time, the followers and the influence that really matters.


Not wishing to be thought an old piece of dried-up ear wax, a wizened pair of donkey testes, not au courant, I take a deep breath and, both melding with and standing out from the crowd, I vow to proffer my creative process for public, that’s you, consumption. Why wait, all high-and-mighty and flaunting my good taste, until my work is polished and ready?

That’s why, like a fledgling terrorist holding in front of me a terrified kindergarten child as hostage, I thrust into the limelight my crude first drafts and confused initial thoughts.

These are never totally crude and unworthy of your attention, though. I mean, this is me, dudes. I consider a pressed shirt and a bow-tie from Harry Rosen to be casual wear. Or at least, I considered that way during the three years I actually got paid by an employer and could afford to be abused by the Harry Rosen sales staff, and how, I ask you, how will they keep me down on the farm, once I have seen Harr-ee?

Exactly.

Oh my god will he ever get to the point, and meanwhile could someone drive right through that red light while I dart onto the crosswalk without looking? comes your exasperated cry.

I interpret this as a metaphor for wanting me to get to the point, the promised point being: how to read my blog. Very well, then.

Read each piece more than once. Again for emphasis: Read each piece more than once.

(Including this one.)

That’s it! Really. That’s how to read my posts. As a series of drafts that I polish into their final form, for I have turned the light and breezy blog post about making waffles or how to monetize your hate group into a soul-searching, overly-literate polysyllabic Proustian nightmare clocking in at anywhere from two to three thousand words.

Yep, that was me.

Thus, to get the full effect, and only if you’re interested in these things, read my unpolished initial thoughts, but return, once, twice or even three or more times, after a few days, weeks, or months, for my posts are not mere words on a screen, but living entities that materialize, mature and mutate at hectic, time-lapsing speeds.

And you’ll never know what living entity to expect. Sometimes you’ll see a peony fluttering its petals like runway model’s Oscar de la Renta ballgown; sometimes a gecko opening its lipless lizard maw to gulp down a—whatever it is geckos gulp down. I’m no one to judge.

This means that you can follow the progress of each piece as though I were on live cam, but without the cam.

Why no live cam? Because I write naked.

That’s correct. Tits to the breeze and always wary of my hot cup of coffee. And now that I’m certain you’ll never, ever be able to get that image out of your mind—

My work here is done.

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