What’s More Shameful Than Nude Photos of a Member of Congress?

thinking that they’re shameful.



LET ME STATE THIS RIGHT OFF THE BAT: Revenge porn is sexual assault. And Katie Hill, the thirty-two-year-old Democratic representative for California’s 25th District who has resigned over nude photos of her leaked by her ex, has been violated as completely as if she’d been raped.

Though you be in sunny Des Moines and I in Toronto, I can hear you think, “Nonsense. Katie Hill suffered embarrassment, but not the physical horror of rape.” And I agree with you.

Nonetheless, psychological horror is as real as physical, and can scar someone irrevocably. Violation is not confined to the physical. Assault is legally described as “the least of touching without consent,” and can also include a threat, if the person under threat believes that the threat is real and imminent. This removes any mitigating idea of degree, that below a certain threshold it’s not assault.

What is being defended here is the integrity of body and mind. To rape is to annihilate a woman’s ownership and control of their own body, to render them powerless, to break them. Rape is negation.

Rape means a woman having to process the contradictory ideas that she is both a victim (weak), but in ways subtle and overt, also the perpetrator, because she “brought it on herself.” In rape, a woman becomes the specific target of generalized male powerlessness turned to rage.

Women enrage men, because heterosexual men are eternally in competition with each other on every level; sexual conquest is a primary way for a man to “win” the competition. In the sexual realm it appears at first that women call the shots, picking and choosing from the roster of strutting competitors.

But male identity is a fragile construct that needs constant shoring up. Men live in a constant state of sexual anxiety, and as they jockey for their place in the pecking order, humiliation is a constant threat. One humiliation too many, and a poorly socialized male with a wounded ego can react with aggression against its perceived cause.

A humiliated male is a dangerous beast.

Don’t try to win this one. Either she was too sexual and therefore an irresistable temptation (a whore), or she was not sexual enough and therefore distant and cold, a rejection ( a bitch). There is no change of women’s behavior that will create safety for women because women aren’t the problem and never have been, except in men’s minds.

Katie Hill, in other words, was asking for it.

It boggles my mind, already heavily into boggled mode as the impeachment circus enters the Big Top, that nude pictures of Katie Hill should even be an issue, especially when there is a US President who enumerates his nauseating sexual “conquests” with nothing less than full macho (insecure) locker-room pride and whose advice to “grab ’em by the pussy” remains his most eloquent, or at least most famous, contribution to modern political discourse.

This gives an extra edge to that bitter joke:
“What’s the definition of a slut?
A woman with the morals of man.”

Women are still judged by a supposedly exalted standard based on the assumption that men get to control, in fact, own, women. They’re judged on virginal innocence and “purity,” especially in North America, where Puritan mores are deeply embedded in our culture.

You must forgive a man his little dalliances (abuse, rape?), goes the idea, because that’s just the way men are; but the unavoidable conclusion is that women are still men’s property, and who wants damaged, or even used, goods?

Women are pilloried when they presume to enter public life. The trope of the dumb blonde emphasizes the role of women as decorative, not useful. You can be pretty or smart, preferably the former, and never both. Incompetence, acceptable if feigned but preferably real, removes any threat a woman might pose to a man’s fragile ego; it’s another infantilizing way to be innocent.

When women refuse to stay in their place, they’re swiftly punished. They’re told to keep their mouths shut, for the sound of a woman’s public voice is always deemed to be intolerable: “strident,” “shrill;” always piercing and unpleasant when she is usurping public space. It’s too much like a harping mother, that original castrator.

Women who insist on being competent pay for that trespass. They’re ugly, they’re lesbian, or, for example, in Michelle Obama’s or Amal Clooney’s case, the rumor begins to circulate online that they’re actually men who’ve had sex reassignment surgery, and their husbands gay, because how could a real woman be so strong ,confident, intelligent and successful? How could a real man tolerate being married to such a woman? (Apparently, not at all, though the assessment ‘real man’ is entirely in the mind of the troll.)

I never stop mentioning, so I might as well continue, my shock at seeing a particular meme of Hilary Clinton prior to the 2016 election. It had been posted by a young male Sanders supporter and pictured her speaking into a cell phone, with the caption, “Shut the bitch up.”

It doesn’t matter what you think of Clinton’s campaign or policies, because obviously that’s not what shut the bitch up is about. It’s about the outrage of a man that arises from the idea of a woman occupying a man’s rightful place.

Forty years of feminism, I thought, seem to have been for nothing. Powerful women are still “bitches” (a female dog, literally; compare “subhuman” and “infestation”) and that imperative to shut them up carried a not-so-subtle undercurrent of violence, because how, exactly, does one shut the bitch up when apparently she has no interest in doing so of her own accord?

I see this happening right now, all over again, with Elizabeth Warren. The Twitter and YouTube trolls are lined up at their computer keyboards like the elves in Santa’s workshop, chipping away at her credibility and character. Who’s she compared to? Narcissistic, unelectable Bernie Sanders, another old white entitled male, because anyone but a woman, although it’s framed as “there’s no money for her policies” i.e. “socialist.” And Bernie isn’t?

She stands head and shoulders above the other Democratic candidates (and I’m gay, if I thought Pete was better I’d damn well want to say so), she’s done her time in the trenches and she’s fierce in speaking truth to power.

That’s the problem.

In a just world, Katie Hill’s ex-husband would be charged for the vicious act of sending these images without her consent, the public would be outraged by his violation of her privacy, and a woman would enter relationships with the same freedom as a man, without it affecting her career prospects or being judged “sinful.”

For make no mistake, workplace ethics and power differentials be damned: this is about sin, and Katie Hill is wearing the scarlet letter with more eyes fixed upon her than Hawthorne could ever have imagined possible. Mike Pence must be singing hallelujah.

In a just world, consensual sex between adults would be seen as natural, normal and good, and unworthy of comment, so that the very idea of shame in this context wouldn’t even arise. Ditto our frail, marvelous, imperfect human bodies. We’d have nothing to hide.

But maybe I meant to say in a perfect world.

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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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“I’ll shoot my own Americans, thank you.”

the insanity and inhumanity of the National Rifle Association, in pictures.

Twitter quote from the National Rifle Association:  I'll control my own guns, thank you.  Image of an automatic weapon.
click image to view this message on Twitter.

stats on US gun violence every year from bradyunited.org
click image to visit the key statistics page on bradyunited.org

stats on US gun violence every day from bradyunited.org
click image to visit the key statistics page on bradyunited.org

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BradyUnited.org: https://www.bradyunited.org/key-statistics

Team ENOUGH: …”a youth-led initiative that educates and mobilizes young people in the fight to end gun violence.” https://www.teamenough.org/

National Rifle Association: https://www.nraila.org/

I’m just so very much not hysterical about Notre-Dame de Paris

let’s burn the rest of them down, too.


an image of Notre Dame on fire, with the rose window superimposed and the words "ora pro nobis', "pray for us."
Please don’t pray for us.

Yes, gentle readers, today’s theme is “disasters, real or imagined” and to kick off, I must apologize for my absence from these bloggy parts during the last few weeks. You know how much I crave your attention, and the very quickest among you will therefore deduce that only the very choicest disasters Contents: One Acme Premium Fuck-Up (keep refrigerated until use) would prevent me from lying naked on my front lawn, under the ever-judgmental eye of Joyleen, Timbercreek’s Tenant Total-Compliance Manager and unofficial red-hot mama, and wallowing in it.

Well, right you be, and this particular chunk of premium personal disaster, which thudded into my life like a chocolate-covered cluster of Santa’s leftover coals, managed to glom together:

The calculator-wielding gremlins of the Canada Revenue Agency, who for some reason has wanted my response concerning six years of unfiled taxes, and for which I have apparently discarded all of my receipts and records, and resorted to the sleazy low-ball strategy of assessing me at over forty-thousand owing, garnisheeing my pension then freezing my bank account;

And the task of placating and managing two pissed off potential roommates, pissed off because I promised the room to a new one, then got cold feet and backtracked, promising to continue renting my room to the current one, then changed my mind again and promised it for real to the second one, then backtracked again and sort of, kind of, promised both of them that they’d probably overlap and it would work out OK for a month, though secretly wishing the first one would storm off in a huff and solve my problem for me.

So you see how all this could sideswipe one’s delicate creative process.

I will not spare you the update, which goes:

I am finally preparing my delinquent tax returns, aided by my long-suffering buddy, a former corporate tax lawyer, who has taken his duties so much to heart that he is literally gasping for breath during our phone meetings and bombarding me every minute with over-determined, lengthy text messages about the exact percentage of my bedroom that can be used as a business expense but only during neap tide and in years that are divisible by three, and saying huggy stuff like, “You might be in serious trouble!” so that my brains plop out of my ears in chunks, like boiled cauliflower, with the stress. Check!

And what was the other one again?

Of course, the roommates: I figure I’ll just let them both believe they’re exclusive occupants of the room, set up a webcam on June first and sell tickets to my new reality show on YouTube. Because they can’t hate me any more than I already do. Can they?

Oh, yeah—I think someone, I have no idea who, has the keys to my apartment. It’s always good to keep a potential disaster in your back pocket, just in case life starts jumping in the puddles and singin’ in the rain.

Nip that in the bud!

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I am constantly reminded that there are some goals I won’t achieve, qualities that will elude me no matter who I pay or what I practice; and though it makes no difference what the cause might be, you can blame it, if you like, on brain cells now walking with canes or too many distracting, shiny objects in my field of vision.

One of these elusive qualities is relevance.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, or have just wandered in by mistake while searching online for a homemade poultice that will improve your bad temper, know this: I will never be relevant.

Waiting for timely commentary from me is like being bathed in the attenuated light of a supernova that exploded two billion years ago, around the time that we were single-celled plankton just beginning to figure out how to torture each other and smirking behind the reinforced windows of our gated plankton communities at the plankton wannabes, the plankton rapists and murderers, the hungry and undeserving plankton, and above all the loser plankton who didn’t realize they were supposed to be born rich plankton and thought they’d just rely on the kindness of algae.

Didn’t work then. Doesn’t work now.

So it happens that I am the last lonely voice in the blogosphere responding to the supposed catastrophe that is the loss of the roof—the roof, mind you— of Notre Dame de Paris, that saucy little French tramp of medieval cathedrals. This disaster, I will add, resulted in the loss of not one single life, which, let’s be honest, is kind of major underachieving for the Catholic church. You’re not going to win hearts and minds with that kind of complacency, Holy Fathers! Take those choirboy dicks out of your mouths and focus!

For if this, the loss of just a centuries-old roof and some resulting bruised French egos, is a disaster, what should we call the religion that caused Notre Dame to be built?

Here’s a “religion of love” whose First Crusade alone was responsible for over a million “infidels” slaughtered—who knows what the numbers might be when we reckon with the extirpation of pagans and “heretics” (by the Inquisition, who put Galileo under permanent house arrest and executed Giordano Bruno); those slain during four crusades, the “witches” burned at the stake, the toll from religious wars, the forced conversion and genocide of native peoples and Jews?

The Holocaust alone, at six million victims, is beyond comprehension, and that is only a drop in the bucket of the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity and its hippy-haired, anemic Prince of Peace.

Think of those souls lost to us: the artists, writers, scientists and philosophers who never walked the earth and whose genius might have transformed our destiny beyond recognition. Think of the brilliant ideas snuffed out, the awful silence which sublime music might have electrified. Think of the great loves, the life-changing friendships, the Alexanders and Hephaestions, the John Cages and Merce Cunninghams, that never happened.

So, I ask you, why? Why the great affection for and allegiance to this Shriners’ convention of maniacs? Why the weeping and wailing from Parisians who cannot all of them, I reckon, have attended Mass that regularly, practiced what was preached, or successfully avoided coveting their neighbour’s wife, ox, Renault or Le Creuset enameled bakeware?

Yes, Notre Dame is an iconic landmark, but so is the Chernobyl exclusion zone. And at least land denuded and rendered sterile by a nuclear meltdown doesn’t peel your skin off in shreds while telling you it’s for the sake of your everlasting soul.

Denuded land wouldn’t delude itself like that.

Some argue that, despite its little failings like mass murder, the Church was at least a repository of “knowledge” during the Dark Ages. True enough, if you don’t care whether your knowledge contains any facts, and if you put high store on the ability to illuminate manuscripts or to determine the number of angels on the heads of pins. But in that case priests were nothing more than a class of scribes, which would have existed in some form or another; and besides, the Renaissance replaced the weird fairy tales of Scholasticism with its revival of Classicism and its change of direction towards the observable, the logical and the open-ended.

The truly useful and advanced knowledge that had existed in the classical world—that the Earth was round and even the measurement of its circumference; the engineering marvels of aqueducts; knowledge of crop rotation and irrigation—had already been swallowed up by Europe’s collective amnesia. All the Church provided was more classy busy work, the single approved pastime of the era that didn’t involve creative use of cow dung or lancing boils.

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The French must be forgiven for their utter lack of dignity around the Notre Dame fire. They spend so much time worrying about the purity of their culture and not bathing that they end up a little low on genetic variety and a little high on insecurity and neediness.

They over-react a tad.

They suspect, rightly, that they are mostly crashing bores who distract us with eye-popping fashion, caloric desserts and post-structuralism. These are all fairly useless finials on the curtain rod of culture, but hey. One secret of success is to get there first and write all the rules, taking care to ensure that the rules highlight your strengths.

The primary French strength is writing, then following, the rules.

Not for the French that messy, roll-up-your-sleeves, in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound British amateurism, that let’s have a go, make do or mend, it’ll all come out in the wash attitude with the lashings of ginger beer and the hearty slaps on the back.

No way. The French are not on board with a bit of cello tape and a bobby pin and who cares as long as it works; the French would not conceive of baking croissants at home, or attempting a five-star Michelin dinner. Too much is at stake, and if the result cannot match the original, why make the attempt? Muddling through just for the fun of it is simply not a thing.

Take the French Revolution, for example. They can’t just have a nice unruly protest, get some concessions, hire back the useless aristocracy to run their former stately homes as care-taking staff and costumed tour guides and then be done with it. Oh, no.

The French are either/or thinkers, rigorous intellectuals, and once the aristocracy are brought low and thoroughly humiliated, the revolutionaries must rewrite the rules. They will wipe the slate clean, and in its place substitute a new and perfect society, which just happens to be more rigid and intolerant than the one it replaced.

Rules, in other words, rules and perfection, enforced by the new tyrant who used to wash your underwear or resole your clogs, will replace the concept of justice.

That episode is affectionately known as “The Terror.”

For perfection is all very well and commendable when it’s Fauchon: Rows of exquisite concoctions in a bakery window with every dollop of ganache glossy as lacquer, icing sugar stenciled just so and a platoon of strawberries standing identically at attention.

Not so great when your tendency to perfectionism leaves the pâtisserie and runs amok in the real world, building instruments of torture and preparing concentration camps. Society’s perfection is a fascist fantasy, populated with happy workers and rosy-cheeked peasants whose memories have been wiped clean and replaced with the party line; perfection must cram many-faceted, multifarious human beings into an assembly line of identical, dutiful square pegs, and truth reverts to the medieval format, “because I say so.”

Fascism can be understood as turbocharged bureaucracy, with electrodes as back-up when computer says no fails. And the French are the ultimate bureaucrats. They’ll guillotine a cartload of nuns as soon as look at ya if the civil code says atheism’s the flavor of the month (renamed and shoehorned into the calendar like an ugly sister’s foot into a Louboutin pump), for they apply the same exacting standards to their citizens as they do to their pastries.

Then, like, just throw it all out and another king.

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Muddling through or perfection? The English, muddlers from way back, developed a free-wheeling, uncodified system of common law, law created on the fly by judges, and by which future judges would be bound—so long as the facts of the case were similar.

This puts great store on the judiciary as the source of law and justice, and the idea that we would limit the discretion of judges is one we find suspect (think of how offended we are at the rigid “three strikes” laws and minimum sentencing guidelines of the United States).

We even developed a second discretionary system, the law of Equity, to rectify the inevitable injustices that might occur by applying precedent.

To keep everything ship shape we enshrine top-level concepts—inalienable rights and freedoms— in a constitution or charter, and trust judges to interpret the law according to these principles. Constitution above statute, above equity, above common law. Two systems of discretion, but ultimately trumped by codes and charters.

Quel horreur! Discretion! Interpretation! Where are the rules?

The French opted for a civil code, a nailing down of law, much like the Constitutional originalists in the States would like to nail down its meaning strictly according to “original intent” of the Founding Fathers—slave owners and misogynists and “well-meaning” perpetrators of native genocide in a pre-technological society.

Similarly, Republicans would like effectively to do away with judicial discretion simply by stacking the Supreme Court with right-thinking, pun intended, judges. This ensures that any possible discretion will be the correct, pre-determined flavor.

And this brings us to Québec’s Bill 21, “An Act respecting the laicity of the State.”

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Bill 21 could be considered the province of Québec’s version of the medieval sumptuary laws, which set out what colors and textiles might be worn only by the aristocracy, and what was permitted to the peasants.

Bill 21 hides its true intent behind a veil of equality and religious freedom, while banning any form of religious expression by anyone in a public service job, and especially anything that covers the face. This applies equally should you present yourself to receive a service and need to be identified.

In effect, it bans clothing. Clothing. A law that dictates what you can and cannot wear.

By a neat coincidence, these face-covering religious symbols just happen to be worn only by Muslim women, which leaves them with a distinctly oppressive choice: Follow their religion by quitting their jobs and staying at home, or venture out in public and break the law, subjecting themselves to the disapproving glances of the “pure laine” (“pure wool”, meaning direct descendants of the original French settlers in the province).

Forgive me if I recoil ever so slightly at the concept of “purity” raised in tandem with race or heritage, and if the means to achieve “freedom of conscience and freedom of religion” is applied selectively.

(In theory, the ban also extends to turbans worn by Sikhs, but by a twisted, obscure logic these particular non-whites, being males, are spared the spotlight: Partly because they’re non-white and therefore don’t really merit the attention, partly because turbans don’t cover the face to render the wearer anonymous, and partly because—well, they’re men, and we don’t want to push our luck, you know?)

It is the business of the state, the Act declares, to maintain a secular society, and this means that certain public expressions of religion are banned. These are, apparently an intolerable intrusion on the sensibilities of the non-religious.

Of course. This is why the good, secular people of Québec make like so many Nosferatu’s and shield their tormented vampire eyes from the sight of church steeples; and should those church doors be open on a Good Friday, I plug my ears against the invasive assault of the St Matthew Passion of Bach, which must threaten my very sanity, not to mention I keep bumping into lamp posts and parked cars because of the sensory deprivation.

This is why I welcome the burning of Notre Dame de Paris, and my only regret is that some snowflake apparently called the fire brigade in an act of wishy-washy accommodation.

Is our inalienable freedom respected, by default, by non-intervention? Or is freedom state suppression to prevent offence? If so, whose offence will take precedence?

For your answer, I suggest you look to the graven image of a naked man nailed to a cross, an object which holds pride of place above the chair of the Speaker of the Québec National Assembly and has done so for nearly eighty-four years. This crucifix was affixed in its current position by Maurice Duplessis, the conservative premier of the time, in 1936, around the same time he first referred to the Assembly as “Le Salon de la race;” that is, the Assembly of the pure French.

But isn’t this a religious symbol intruding in an intolerable manner on the secularity, the “laicity” (a word straight from Revolutionary rhetoric) of the state?

Not at all, for Chapter 4, Section 16 of Bill 21 states:

This Act must not be interpreted as affecting the emblematic or toponymic elements of Québec’s cultural heritage, in particular of its religious cultural heritage, that testify to its history.

Assemblée nationale du Québec, Bill 21, “An Act respecting the laicity of the State,” 14.6

In other words, we are white and we are Catholic, we are descendants of white Catholics, we are pure laine, and the crucifix is part of our history, not a religious symbol.

Crisse de tabarnac, ça c’est fucké!

Look to another bill, Bill 62, the “religious neutrality” bill put forth by Québec Justice Minister Stéphanie Valée and passed in 2017. This provided that women wearing the niqab or burka would have to request and be granted official accommodations to access any of hundreds of public services, from bus rides to libraries to health care, or be forced to unveil. Vallée explained that such accommodations would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis, and precedent would not be created by any accommodations granted. The Québec Superior Court suspended this particular section of the bill twice, pending a legal challenge

This is neither neutrality nor justice. This is an aggressive act of racism and religious intolerance. This is not truth. This is the argument from authority, because I say so.

This is fascism.

If we want to perfect society, it is obvious that we will have to admit whose perfection we’re talking about; admit that these bills have nothing to do with religion, but with race: with protecting Québec’s pure, white wool.

Pure laine. In my mind, that phrase conjures up an inescapable and chilling vision of the pure white hoods that veil the faces of the Ku Klux Klan.

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Le salon de la race ~

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Lectins: Just in case you thought it was safe to eat something.

Maybe… frosting?


I HAD A BRIEF ACTING CAREER, beginning in London, England, in the late nineteen-eighties and continuing in Toronto in the early to mid nineteen-nineties, and the scary quotes around acting are so much a given that I spared myself the trouble of including them.

In London I awarded myself the status of “alternative theatre performer,” often regaling audiences of one whole person, whom I would have bribed with beer to leave the actual drinking area of the pub and follow me to the tiny pub stage.

On certain red-letter days, and how intoxicating they were, I entertained real audiences of tens of people at venues such as the “Mandela Theatre Company,” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (this was, of course, the brainchild of a bunch of overly-earnest white boys from London’s East End).

Then London was over, it was time to head home again after sixteen years, and somewhere above the mid-Atlantic, with a couple of Valium and a few gins-and-tonics under my belt, I graduated from happy-go-lucky, alternative-weird singer-songwriter cabaret artiste to grimly determined official union-status-seeking commercial auditioner.

My London adventure, three thousand miles from the raised eyebrows and tut-tuts of my family, had given me the anonymity to be whoever I liked, which frequently turned out to be a self-consciously eccentric, head-turning, leotard-wielding androgyne singing Sondheim with sparkle on my cheeks.

Once home again, however, I downgraded the quirk and upgraded my leotard to a suit, lost the piercings, combed my neatly cut hair and basically transformed myself into the dullest employee in the Acme Widget Corporation so as to maximize my chances of offending no one.

I’d had the naïve idea that acting would liberate me from faceless dronery, and ended up presenting for these new, commercial auditions a more conservative persona than I had ever presented at a real job.

Highlights of my gigs included spokesperson for an early cell phone infomercial, where I was undone by a sudden, total inability to pronounce the word “cellular;” an audition where I accidentally, I think, let a baby fall flat on its little back; and a student filmmaker’s version of a wonderfully nasty short play by Harold Pinter, whose principal role I ate up like a handful of Smarties and in which I gave my best performance in anything, ever—and which could never be screened because the student filmmaker hadn’t bothered to acquire the rights.

Then the day comes, as it must to any actor, that tests one’s commitment to The Muse. This test can take many forms, but for me it was the day I was sent to audition as a tomato.

Oh, you heard.

East Side Mario’s bada boom bada bing was the restaurant, I was to be Mr. Tomato Head and a young boy was to be my son, the small, possibly cherry, or even grape, tomato. We were fitted with gigantic papier maché tomatoes that covered our actual, human heads but contained no eye holes, and the audition was that dad and son, tomato-headed like prisoners at Guantánamo Bay undergoing sensory deprivation, were to move our dadly-sonly tomato-heads from side to side, rhythmically, to music.

Does this not sound like a shoo-in? Alas, little Tommy Tomato, apparently taking after his mother’s side of the family, lacked a truly swingin’ sense of rhythm, or at least the same sense as me. We held hands, we swung our tomato heads to the left, two three four, and to the right, two three four, and every so often my little sun-ripened offspring would get out of step and add a five or forget the four and our hollow tomato-heads would clunk resonantly together. This was only funny the first time, if by funny you mean desperately or, in fact, not remotely.

I didn’t receive a call-back for this one—some evenings I still fall to my knees and ask forgiveness of the Black Virgin of Katowice for briefly hoping that little Tommy Tomato might spend his final days in Sick Kids’ Hospital as mascot for the Make a Wish Foundation—but at first I took my failure as a tomato with a measure of resilience.

I left the casting call full of swelling pride, thinking, “Is this why I studied Shakespeare and read the complete works of Charles Ludlam? To play a tomato? I think not! Pastafazool’—!”

But, as I am easily discouraged, my mojo was consumed by a slow-simmering ragú of resentment, and my acting career from that day seemed to me nothing but sour, tomato-y leftovers..


My nemesis the tomato has returned, but in a more apocalyptic form, as the latest food scourge terrorizing the public, for tomato skins are brimming with lectins, the new bad thing that once again wipes the slate clean of what you thought was safe to eat.

Grains, pulses and dairy have already bit the dust, and I gather we will soon be celebrating brunch with no-salt flax chips washed down—a phrase perhaps intended to evoke Sir Galahad and his fellow lusty knights clinking their tankards together, but which actually makes me think of waste sluicing down a drain—with gulps of flavor-dropped water, to ease through our gullets a pomegranate cutlet, a raw, unwashed organic carrot and either lots of eggs or lots of tofu, depending on whether you want a coronary for yourself or breasts for your new boyfriend who’s cheating death by breathing slower.

Lectins—and this is just off the top of my head, but as I’m reporting on a shaky-science food fad masquerading as doctorly concern, accuracy is the last thing we need—are something that tomatoes, potatoes, beans and eggplant all devised through natural selection to make themselves unpalatable to predators, including us.

Thus, goes the reasoning, they will shred your gastrointestinal tract more efficiently than if you’d swallowed a box of safety razors and chased them with Javex, and are additionally responsible for your overweight, your loud expulsions of gas during client meetings, your allergic response to getting a job, your surly mood and your dwindling Rolodex of people you can call for a good gossip at three AM.

Besides, most of these culprits are also nightshades, like tobacco, as I learned when I was macrobiotic, which is the spiritual system of eating according to the seasons, your health and your geography, except just throw that all out and if it’s Japanese, it’s ok.

Breakfast, already captioned “heart-attack-on-a-plate” by the British, who fry slices of bread in bacon fat and would deep-fry the cutlery and place mats if they could figure out how, must now be consumed wearing a nuclear jumpsuit, so hazardous to human health are its grilled tomatoes, hash brown potatoes and bacon.

who lust for its fried-everything grilled tomatoes, hash-brown potatoes, and bacon, the toxic dietary equivalent of plutonium for the reckless

But for the lectin-wary, there is hope. Maybe, just maybe, goes this week’s new old wisdom, maybe if you follow the Italian method and peel your tomatoes, sieve out the seeds and cook the tomatoes for twelve hours while wearing nonna’s black wool knee socks, cardigan and kerchief, occasionally fiddling with the hairs that are sprouting out of that mole on your cheek, maybe then you can have the occasional tomato without actually having your stomach prolapse out of your rectum one night as you’re having a freshly squeezed acai berry Shirley Temple during the first intermission of “Parsifal”.

But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This whole thread reminds me of the endless negotiations I have with my roommate about vegetables, which Mike considers a crime against humanity or a least a gradually evolving plot.

I spend time trying to figure out what the common factors might be: Is it, for example, squishiness? No, he hates raw carrots because they involve biting into and crunchiness. I see, it’s anything that’s work—this is all coming together!

So would he like carrots that have been cooked with a roast until meltingly soft and glazed? “Maybe,” he says, with obvious suspicion about what I’m planning to pull on him.

“I had some peas when I was about fifteen,” he says. I know that he’s humoring me by saying nice things about vegetables, hoping I’ll go away. “I didn’t mind them too much. They were small so I could swallow them whole so the taste wasn’t a problem. Otherwise I might have hurled.”

I only mentioned broccoli once, before I learned that Mike was Secretary of the Toronto Anti-Brassica League.

“Most people are highly allergic, or at least sensitive, to a compound in broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage,” he says. “Like, a squirrel can die after eating Brussels sprouts.” He gives me a moment to let this sink in.

I respond that at pushing forty he will need to get accustomed to at least pretending to like certain things, or any dinner party that’s not a table for four at Swiss Chalet and a box of Cracker Jack will be, how can I put this, a social challenge.

This is, of course, only relevant if he plans to leave the house anytime soon.

“Maybe you could shred Brussels sprouts and put them in a cake,” he says.


Who knows when the rot set in? I remember that in the late fifties and early sixties my mother, like millions of others, was in thrall to the convenience and space-age wonder of instant beverages, pudding mixes, canned or dehydrated soups, cakes made with Miracle Whip, and TV dinners, though technology had not yet advanced to the point of having the alien-tasting Salisbury steak and the apple crisp simultaneously hot.

Soon, we were certain, we’d be squeezing boeuf Bourguignon into our mouths out of toothpaste tubes, thereby maximizing the two extra days we’d have for leisure by the swimming pool once computers had relieved us of workday drudgery.

Yes. I know.

That wasn’t science, it was marketing; food voodoo. In the nineties, it was Stop the Insanity! (remember Susan Powter?) as we were scolded about fat. Fat makes you fat! What could be more obvious? And we measured out our oil with teaspoons and bought hydrogenated margarine, and had salads with just vinegar for dressing, and took the crispy skin off chicken. Boneless, skinless! No monastery could have devised ceremonies more penitential than our “fat-free” meals.

Until it became equally obvious that “carbs” made you fat. What do they feed cattle to make them fat? Carbs! Grains! (Yes, and to make them sick, too; cattle evolved to eat grass, but that’s another horror story.) At the height of the Atkins craze, I heard a member of something like the Citrus Fruit Production Board interviewed, and I still remember her exasperated cry: “People are not getting fat eating oranges!

Oh, please! Fob us off with your agenda-pushing, self-dealing, half-assed nod to common sense, why don’t you?

For me, the lowest point was the anti-bread hysteria. Bread is such a potent symbol for nourishment, home, togetherness: the staff of life, our daily bread, breaking bread, companion (someone you share bread with…) even, for the religiously inclined, a substance that might represent the physical presence of God… that to reject bread was to throw out a body of knowledge that was not exactly scientific, but at least empirical, amassed by means of trial and error, and from that perspective concrete, demonstrable. To curse bread was to reject our particular cultures, daily lives and even language; to pretend that all this time we knew nothing.

How did mankind manage to survive this long, I wondered.

And, sadly, in our collective amnesia, we’ve forgotten that food is a sensual pleasure. Taste those Omega-6 fatty acids! Thrill to those bioflavinoids! Seriously. This is not the way we need to think about food.

We feast on pseudo-science and quackery, and forget that strawberries in January, flown in to Ontario from California, are as bloated and tasteless as they are inappropriate to the season. We’ll buy anything branded “natural,” but, really, our all-consuming greed is impatient with nature’s timing. If we’d wait until June or July, we’d remember—and experience—exquisite strawberries that we’d treasure for their taste, as glorious and ephemeral as summer.

Humans are omnivores, eaters of potentially everything, and the “omnivore’s dilemma,” as explained by Michael Pollan, is basically, “How do we know what to eat?” or even “What is permissible or safe to eat?” The answer is given to us subliminally, in the wisdom passed down from one generation to the next, at tables where, together with our families and companions, we learn traditions around food, perfectly calibrated for the seasons, for our local climate, even for the time of day. This is miraculous.

We just need to remember that, to find that culture, we have to dig back about two generations, when we weren’t afraid, when we could trust food enough to leave it, and ourselves, alone.

Now I’m going to lie in a dark room, staring at the ceiling, with a can of Betty Crocker vanilla frosting and a spoon. But no cake. Are you kidding?

Cake is the worst thing.