The Harvard Conspiracy

In which the Elegant Bastard argues that myths, gods and conspiracies, by and large, are not at their best when seen in their underwear.

The great conspiracies are those that operate openly, accompanied by neither shame nor apology.  They are born in the minds of master manipulators, accomplished story tellers who turn away from secret handshakes, sniff at the very idea of initiation rites and loudly ridicule funny hats that come adorned with strange insignia. No modern Machiavellian worthy of the name would waste time discussing grassy knolls, Elvis sightings and alien landings in Roswell. These are petty intrigues, mere games for children. Genius seeks greater challenges and truer tests. It sets itself nearly impossible goals, such as that achieved by whatever assembly of fine minds fashioned the greatest intrigue of them all: the Harvard Conspiracy.

For generations, a mysterious international network has worked to establish this institution’s unparalleled reputation for excellence. So successful have its previous agents been that subtlety was abandoned generations ago and even the name of the university has been made to serve the myth. Rumour has it that this strategy was devised in some dim and murky past when it first became clear that there remained a few mortals who had not accepted the equivalency of Harvard and Heaven. Despite the fact that each destination had a two-syllable name (nudge, nudge) and the syllables even began with the same letters (wink, wink), quibblers insisted on making much of a minor difference. They pointed out that Hea – Ven named itself in two perfectly equal halves, each composed only of elegantly mellifluous letters; Har – vard’s unequal split had to limp its way around a pair of mundane and unmelodious “r”s. Clearly this would not do!

It is possible that formally changing the spelling of Harvard was considered and rejected as too expensive. Great sums of money had already been spent engraving the name in inconveniently obvious places, and brass and stone do not accept erasures well. And so it was that a few great minds – this was Harvard after all – discovered the far simpler strategy of changing the way the world pronounced the word.  Har – Vard became Hah – Va(h)d, equivalent (given that the second “h” is silent) to “Heaven” in every way but one

It’s harder to get into Harvard

That fact is made clear every year about this time. Forget Christmas Day. A short week later comes the Common Application’s Regular Decision deadline. This is the last opportunity for tens of thousands of adolescents all around the world to let the cool schools know they’re out there, and they throw every last ounce of their beings (and substantial amounts of their parents’ money) into a grand final assault on the gates of the Ivy League.  And no one’s gates are hammered at harder than Harvard’s!

My experiences working with young Canadians applying to this pantheon of great schools has taught me that here in Toronto at least, one of these vine crusted places is not like the others. I have consoled those who whimpered because they “only” got into Princeton. I have assured others that Cornell really is a university and look, it even has a Starbucks. I suggested Dartmouth to one young woman, only to be told that she didn’t want to live in Nova Scotia. And I’ve watched Wharton and Yale rise and fall as trendiness waved its fickle wand first at one and then at the other. But in all my years of working with its potential acolytes, I have never seen Harvard’s status waver. It simply is. It stands unmoving and unmoved.

What legions of silent and invisible hands are needed to maintain this miracle? No other modern deity seems able to maintain so permanent a hold on students’ souls – not boy bands, not athletes, not billionaires, not twerkers. Not even the great religions can count on no-questions-asked devotion any more. In fact, most modern young people seem to approach God as they might some shady street vendor peddling bling. They bargain before they buy. Imagine the bartering session:

“So, God, if you could, you know, like lose the omniscience bit. Guy, it’s getting kinda lame and no one likes a know-it-all, ya know? So lighten up a bit and maybe we’ll go along with the fire and brimstone stuff, ok? But only if we really piss you off! Incest at least. Oh, and while we’re talking sex, can we, like, revisit that whole Gay thing? Whadd’ya say? Coffee? Hey,  Dude! , Ya got skype?

They would never talk to Harvard that way.

This persistent reverence intrigued me and I decided to see if I could finally identify its source.. I had various “ins” available to me. Many of my former students had studied there – without apparent ill-effect. They could be canvassed. Cambridge has some acceptable restaurants. I could check out the menus for hidden symbols. “The Crimson” newspaper has its very good days so I would enjoy reading between its lines for clues. (There is reportedly a football team but I quickly dismissed this as a deliberate distraction.)

I knew the job of dragging the conspiracy out into the light of Truth would not be easy. After all, this was a university that had the balls to hire a president named Faust. I would need to employ stealth. Still, it quickly became evident that Harvard itself seemed to have very little to do with its own “mythification”.  The admissions department did not demand that candidates send photos of themselves genuflecting. No one was required to recite incomprehensible chants in ancient languages. And if an applicant really did need to sign over its future first born, the required paperwork was not available to prying eyes. In fact, the more I searched, the more it became clear that while Harvard was aware of the greatness it had achieved, it seemed to take itself pretty casually. Whoever or whatever lay behind the Harvard Conspiracy, it didn’t appear to be Harvard. Who then were its masterminds? Its architects?

This prompted me to take a closer look at those who wished to go there. My chance came one afternoon when I sat down with a group preparing Harvard applications. As we talked about supplementary questions and reference letters, I noticed that the banter and humour of the previous week’s prep session for other Ivy League schools had disappeared. Once witty and probing essays had been replaced by dry little pieces in which puns had been replaced by pleas. And a little reverential glow now seemed to emanate from each hunched body and every weary face. All that was needed was someone singing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

It was then that I dismissed the idea of some vast cabalistic network serving the telepathic commands of a  Crimson King concealed in the basement of Widener Library. That a conspiracy did exist was absolutely true. That it worked to ignore any failure, flaw or fart that dared deface the Harvard aura was also true. And yes, its members were legion. The only thing false was the idea that this was all organized by Harvard – or even that it was organized at all.

For every single student in that room was a self-contained conspiracy of one.

I think even Harvard itself would argue that a little therapeutic blasphemy was both necessary and long overdue, but how to provide it without being extraordinarily cruel? So I asked them if they would like to hear some lesser known facts about Harvard. They hugged themselves and shivered and then whispered that they would. That’s when I told them that the Unabomber had gone to Harvard.

They knew that and were ready. All this fact did was prompt a long and reverent discussion about the glories of Harvard Engineering, followed by speculation that Harvard Law graduates likely helped track him down. I tried again.

I asked them if they were ready for “Primal Scream”. Asked what this was, I explained that prior to final exams, hundreds of Harvard students would strip naked and run around Harvard Yard. This occasioned a moment’s silence. They all glanced surreptitiously at each other – and then immediately pretended that they had not been imagining precisely what they had all been imagining. The outcome was unanimous (if hesitant) support for the notion that a liberal education demanded the casting off of old ideas. Underwear was an old idea. Next?

I tossed out other feeble bits and pieces but all were similarly ineffective. Did they know the unwritten rule about Harvard’s entry gates? Yes. Did they know about “The Statue of the Three Lies”. Yes, yes, yes and yawn. Had they been told to be careful when rubbing the statue’s foot for luck since Harvard undergraduates were notorious for peeing on it after late-night drinking parties? That prompted a whisper session with much snickering and giggling. Apparently one of the boys had visited his cousin at Harvard the year before and they had all gone drinking and … well … you know.

I tried one last time. Did they know that George Bush had also gone to Harvard? Yes, but they blamed him on Yale since he’d gone there first. I gave up.

What came next happened entirely by chance – or perhaps a disgruntled Heaven finally decided to hit back at Harvard over the whole syllable scandal. One of the students mentioned that the latest Bieber song was the “dumbest song ever.”  Another responded that that honour had to go to “Call Me Maybe”. A third nominated “Gangnam Style”. They all then looked at me, apparently assuming that if a “world’s worst song” existed, I knew it, could sing it and probably had written it.

As it happened, one popped immediately into mind. From childhood I have hated the American folk song, “Polly Wolly Doodle”. It’s a repetitive bit of nonsense involving a chicken that sneezes his head off and a narrator who spends far too much time “behind the barn upon [his] knees”. Add to the mix a grasshopper with both teeth and a poor approach to dental hygiene, and you begin to understand why some religious groups want to ban music.

I sang a line of the chorus. The Harvard posse decided I was making it all up. I assured them I was not and the matter was immediately referred to Google. And lo, the answer became immediately clear. Silence reigned. Jaws dropped. Not only was “Polly Wolly Doodle” very real and very, very bad, it was first published at Harvard! More, it was part of the official Harvard Student Songbook in 1880!

It no longer mattered that Harvard was the alma mater of eight presidents, sixty living billionaires, and dozens of Nobel laureates. It had also given the world “Polly Wolly Doodle” and the mental image of hundreds of streaking Harvard students bellowing “Oh I went down South for to see my Sal, Singin’ Polly Wolly Doodle all the day” was enough to demythify Harvard instantly and irrevocably.

This knowledge did not in any way dampen student ardour. They all went right back to the Harvard admission essays with the same determination as before. But in some subtle way, the discovery that there was just a little silliness in Harvard’s closet lightened the tone. Jokes were now acceptable. Someone spoke highly of Yale. McGill was mentioned! And the essays came back to life and breathed a little (polite) fire.

My father once told me as I nervously prepared for a public speaking contest to imagine the judging panel sitting in its underwear. I did. I grinned, I relaxed and I won. I think that’s what happened that afternoon. Prior to that moment, every student in the room had created an image of  Harvard as some larger-than-life “Being” with flowing grey locks, a stern expression, and shoulders stooped beneath the weight of its accumulated wisdom. Its crimson robes were likely lined with ermine and stitched with gold. And then – in a split second – Polly Wolly Doodle leapt out of Harvard’s closet.  Suddenly and briefly, they all saw Harvard in its underwear.

And that is more honesty than any conspiracy – even those we fondly create ourselves – can withstand.

This post is dedicated to those young people who will devote much of their Christmas Break to the task of completing their Common Applications. In all sincerity, I have enormous respect for each and every one of you. Good luck!

The Deadly Art of Napping

In which the Elegant Bastard argues in favor of limited warfare and offers instruction in the use of appropriate weapons.

I am never at my best when I am under attack.

To a certain extent, these repeated assaults are my own fault, the outcome of my unfortunate tendency to stray without purpose or protection into the larger world. One moment I am safely involved in determining whether this will be a whole wheat or a multi-grain morning. I decide, I toast, and I butter. I then settle into the sunlight and my favorite chair. I am ready to chew peacefully. I turn on the radio…

And suddenly, I am being told that assorted biker-persons have taken to assaulting large sports utility vehicles, that Suzanne Sommers wants the world to know that she and her husband have sex twice a day, that a television network somewhere is promising to provide its viewers with hungrier zombies.

When I find myself wondering if zombies eat toast, I know I have been wounded.

I recover and a little while later, I try again. Friends have arrived. The beans have been properly ground and their rich scent fills the room. We talk about Alice Monroe, the weather in Barcelona and the price of organic asparagus. Someone turns on the television…

And Boehner’s blaming Obama and Obama’s blaming Boehner. The Sochi Olympic flame has gone out four times in two days. Hannah Montana has been murdered; the self-proclaimed killer: Miley Cyrus. Malala wants to be Prime Minister of Pakistan; Beyonce has a new perfume,

I begin to slip over the edge. I lose my grip on the narrative, it fractures into fragments and brand new headlines start to scream: Suzanne Sommers Denies She Had Sex with Olympic Torch; Miley Cyrus Blames Sochi for Boehner: Malala Launches Four New Fragrances; Beyonce Wins in Pakistan; Obama Charged in Hannah Zombie Assault.

I could, were I more careful, avoid this chaotic state of mind. I could simply discipline myself to spend as much time as possible focused on the immediate here and now. I could rush to the rescue of colleagues in need of caffeine, or spend a fruitful hour selecting tomatoes, or unleash a wave of scrubbing bubbles upon the kitchen counter for no reason other than, like Everest, it’s there. And surely somewhere there are essays to mark? But just as I push myself to my feet and stride off to find writers in need of correction, a newspaper is pushed through the mail slot and there, staring up at me from the floor, is the most recent news about the Dennis Rodman – Kim Jong Un bromance … and something in my brain goes TILT.

Now everything I see and smell and hear offends me: my breakfast cereal snaps feebly and it crackles not at all; the pigeons gathering nearby are clearly engaged in a conspiracy; there are far too many people wearing pink who shouldn’t; I discover I live in a city where no matter which way I bike, the wind is in my face; my baguette turns stale in protest; suicidal moths find a window I left open; I swear at the annoying rain but it falls anyway.

Do I flee, gibbering and groaning? Do I stumble off in search of drink or drugs or dark, dark closets? I do not. No, not I, for I am made of stronger stuff. I do what I have learned to do before when all that’s sane seems ready to betray me. I declare war on the world.

What’s that, Dear Reader? You did not know we were allowed to declare war on an individual and ad hoc basis? But of course we are. I see it as a basic human right, and as something we have always done very well. So by all means, wage away. You simply need to find the most effective means of doing so.

I nap.

And before you scoff, let me assure you that the very best authorities endorse my chosen means of engagement. Consider the purpose of a just war (and all my wars are just!)  It seeks to deny an actual or potential enemy the ability to inflict harm. To accomplish this I must understand the nature and motive of the enemy and strike it at its weakest point. I must also attempt to protect myself from unnecessary risk or catastrophic costs. This requires the efficient movement of all available forces as well as the careful observation of rituals and traditions to keep morale at the highest possible levels until victory is finally achieved. It is to these ends that I have developed the Deadly Art of Napping.

My enemy (and yours, Dear Reader) is the mindless and ceaseless barrage of useless “infotainment” launched at us by the barking hordes some call the media.  As massive as this foe might seem, it is vulnerable at one key point: the moment it enters our homes, our private worlds. It is here that our horizontal hostility may – and must – manifest itself!

Let’s review some basic rules. Combat Napping cannot be done on a bed, in pajamas or in the dark. It must not be subtle or easily confused with sleep. Sleep is submission; only naps have teeth. My enemy must know it has been bitten.  I nap fully dressed on the living room couch.

I commence hostilities in the late afternoon or very early evening, precisely when assembled media forces begin to launch their heaviest weapons, their nightly news programs. Like any good soldier, I have gathered reliable intelligence (I love Google) and I know exactly when the first incoming salvos may be expected. In preparation, I turn on the television, set it to mute and scroll through the sub-titling options available before finally selecting something that looks like it could be the national language of Mars. I spend a few delightful moments watching Woolf Blitzer jabber soundlessly, nonsensically and – dare I say it – desperately while I grin (evilly). Ah, but then I remember that this is war and I take up my position.

I open the curtains and the window. I sit down, lay back and position my head upon two plumped pillows, for while I acknowledge that war is hell, I am not prepared to have it be uncomfortable. My feet point east and the back of my head points west, thereby ensuring that the setting sun does not enter the fray as a CNN or BBC agent provocateur. I pick up the novel of my choice – an oh-so subtle insult, no? – open it and rest it on my chest. I check for rations and notice that allied forces have thoughtfully contributed some wine, a few olives, a bit of cheese and a sleepy kitten.  I move my reading glasses down my nose, I breathe deeply and I close my eyes.

The battle is joined.

I know it is intense. I know that just over my right shoulder, the legions of prattle and tattle are demanding my attention. They urge me to regard with shock and awe the news of the great world’s turning. They may offer me panoramic views of floods and fires and fist pumping mobs or close-ups of the tearful, the terrified and the outraged. Whatever!  I am unmoved. I enter my mind, scroll down through the list of prepared dreams, select one and press Play.

They turn to new tactics: not tragedy, but scandal. If killings do not engage me, then what about inappropriate donations, unfortunate copulations, unhealthy inhalations, or even just weird things done with tongues. But in my napping state – somewhere  just below consciousness –  offerings like these cannot arouse me. Yes, I could surface. Of course I could stretch and twist and at least see. But doing so would disturb the kitten on my chest, and that would be cruel. I am never cruel.

We enter the final stage of the conflict. Here come the “Cute”: the chubby baby pandas, and the clumsy puppies, and the strangely dressed cats, and the funny videos of people falling in or out of places and the interview with yet another celebrity who wants to work for third world peace, albeit only on a New York stage. I am invited to please, please, please laugh and cry and be moved.

But I am unmoved. I sense their weakness; their force is dulled and their edge is blunted. Here, safe on home ground, I launch my most powerful weapon. I like to think that at the moment of detonation, three anchor persons, each equipped with at least two of the Big Teeth-Big Hair-Big Smile trinity are gazing out on what they believe is an attentive and adoring world. I imagine them asking each other questions and then telling each other how wonderful the questions were. I almost hear them telling me to wait while they switch to their correspondent who is “LIVE” in Washington and ready to tell me what the president is doing in Wyoming.

And then I snore.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu refers to the use of weapons in Chapter Twelve, “The Attack by Fire”. A snore is admittedly not combustible, but well timed and well-delivered, one snore can achieve an ironic force  measureable only in megatons.  (And for the record, those who have heard me snore are quite unanimous in preferring immolation to being forced to attend a repeat performance.)

Having snored, I wake, and look around. My war is done. I have demonstrated the truth of one of Tzu’s most critical pieces of advice. “Good warriors take their stand on ground where they cannot lose.” Damn right, Sun, ol’ Buddy! It’s my room, my remote, my couch, my nap, my snore. I win.

I restore my television to its normal settings. The network puppets and my imaginary trinity are all gone, replaced by men with bad hair and plaid jackets telling me what to do when I’m hurt in a car or have stolen jewellery to sell. I go to the window and gaze out over my city. Things seem calm. Order – or its semblance – appears to have been restored. The pigeons even seem to be apologizing.

We cannot write the whole script. But we can always write a little, and improvise an occasional ad lib when the dialogue gets dull. As for those times when the chattering classes seem on the verge of pushing us over the edge, well, that’s when we soldier up and bring out the heavy artillery. We turn our backs and execute an elegant nap, snoring away our foes and reducing them instantly to nothing more than ludicrous mime and impotent fury.

It is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. We shall have turkey and football, both excellent precursors to naps. I have already claimed the couch. And tomorrow we shall have our Prime Minister’s Speech from the Throne. Given his recent history, I am anticipating the sale of at least one – and perhaps two – provinces. Subsequent couch access will apparently be determined by lottery. I have my ticket..

 As is the norm, our outrage has a short shadow, even when it should remain alive. Today for some reason I remembered a young man killed recently by police. I wrote about it at the time. The piece is here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-6s

 

 

 

 

The Mayor’s Guide to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

To assist mayors, would-be mayors and office managers everywhere, the Elegant Bastard patiently explains why people do – and do not – bring their genitals to work with them!

As the last song finishes at the concert of your favorite star, do you rise from your seat and sound your approval with an enthusiastic fart? No?

Do you stalk the squirrels in the closest city park? You don’t?

Do you enter hotel lobbies and rearrange the chairs into patterns more pleasing to your eye? Never?

Neither do I.

Nor did I pee in the Fountaine de Mers in Paris, regardless of an urgent need. I did not – hungry as I was – mug the little old lady in Vienna and dash away with her sachertorte. And even in the midst of a mid-morning shower when I suddenly realized I was late for an important interview, I did not rush naked and dripping to the bus stop. I put on my shoes first.

So how is it, Dear Reader, that you and I are such constant models of restraint? What wisdom do we possess that prompts us to voluntarily set our own needs aside? Paris had no signs saying “Please do not piss in the fountains”. Prague saw no need to post notices asking hungry tourists not to assault pastry possessing seniors. Nowhere in Toronto’s public transit system will you be formally notified – in writing – that clothing is required. And I doubt that the squirrels in your city come equipped with stencilled “Do Not Molest” collars. (And if they do, you might want to consider relocating.)

It seems that most of us understand that certain rules of behavior do not need to be hung up upon the wall. They are obvious. Yet the mayor of San Diego, Mr. Bob “I’m a Hugger” Filner, claims that the charges of sexual harassment he faces are to be blamed on that city’s failure to provide him with proper information concerning the nature of “unwelcome sexual advances”. How, Bob wonders, can he possibly be held responsible for unknowingly crossing some arbitrary line in the sand? “Look,” he seems to say, arms spread wide in contrite surprise. “There are no signs! They never put up signs!”

Well, Bob, perhaps you have a point. Perhaps, overwhelmed by the stresses related to your job, you just assumed that a woman’s breasts were an office perk, like a stapler but softer. Or in the spirit of brotherly love and compassion, you just felt a need to reach out and touch someone. Is it your fault that San Diego foolishly keeps all its STOP signs outdoors? And maybe we should also offer sympathy to New York’s Antony Weiner? I doubt that anyone posted anywhere a notice reading “No Sexting Until Elected.”

Clearly, remedial action is necessary, and the Elegant Bastard, ever mindful of his weighty responsibilities regarding the moral education of lesser souls, has not only agreed to provide a simple six-part guide concerning sexual harassment in the workplace but has also promised to provide it free to mayoralty candidates all around the world.

One: Understanding Why People Bring Their Genitals to Work: As a mayor, you will need to be aware that while objects and people are both found in offices, they are not the same. For example, if I choose to bring cookies to work and place them in a public spot with a sign attached saying “Help yourself”, you are free to do precisely that. I may one day bring fresh apples or a case of bottled water. These are optional objects. Crunch yourself silly or slurp ‘til you burp.

However, when I bring my buttocks, my breasts or my genitalia with me to the workplace, I do so because it is not really possible for me to leave them at home. They are with me necessarily.They are not accessories. It is therefore unwise to assume that their presence means I am offering them to you instead of butter tarts.

And you should not assume that any reference to non-human objects is acceptable. If I have pictures of my children on my desk, by all means tell me they are sweet. Do not offer to help me make another. Asking me if you can borrow my Harry Potter is acceptable. Dumping your stained and ragged copy of The Joy of Sex in my lap while breathing heavily is not. Praising the colour of the mittens that I knit at lunch will earn you a smile. Offering to show me your other body parts in need of warming will likely result in your parts and my needles achieving instant intimacy.

Two: Sexual Harassment via Eye Contact: Invariably, mayors encounter people and some have even learned to speak when doing so. This leads us to the issue of where to direct the eyes while conversing. Since eyes are considered the window to the soul, face-to-face contact is the safest and most useful strategy. It suggests intelligence, honesty, respect for others and even a certain poetic spirituality, especially if you avoid drooling while gazing. Chests, buttocks and crotches cannot properly be regarded as windows to anything you need to see, and mainstream religions will resist your efforts to declare them holy. Claiming to be the founder of a new cult will not fool anyone.

Three: Sexual Harassment and Touching:

It is possible you might feel that ass-slapping is a common way to offer congratulations or encouragement and that your role as a city manager entitles you to motivate others any way you can. However, you need to remember that few – if any – of your duties will be performed on the volleyball court or the football field. As well, a quick look at relevant “You Tube” videos should make it clear that while even pro-basketball players engage in public ass-slapping, they have yet to start ass stroking, fondling, pinching and kneading – at least in public. Finally, just accept the fact that not even a last second winning goal in the Stanley Cup final would justify nipple-tweaking, crotch grabbing or pelvic thrusting. It therefore seems logical that you avoid such actions altogether and restrict your efforts at physical contact to the occasional hand shake, remembering, of course, to let go.

I will concede that hugging or patting is not always “lewd and improper behavior”. Still, it is best to be safe. If you must hug, why not arrange to have trees of the appropriate size scattered about the office and the city? If you must pat, rent a friendly dog. If necessary,you could periodically pat your own ass. Or stroke it. Or fondle it. It’s your ass. That’s the point!

The ultimate solution for real touch-addicts would be buying an inflatable sex doll and keeping it in your office closet. As long as you remember to close your door, turn up the music, and indulge only during lunch hours, you will likely be safe. The other major advantage of these toys is their inability to hire or pay for lawyers.

Four: Sexual Harassment and Terms of Endearment: It has been my experience that many people come with names already assigned. Efforts to replace those names with terms like “Honey”, “Tootsie”, “Studly”, “Cupcake”, “Woody” or “My Little Strudel” will likely encounter some resistance. Your peers may point out that they were not hired because of their sweetness, their curves, their bulges, their crumbly texture, their hardness or their lavish icing. A quick glance at their job descriptions should convince you that they are right. And referring to them with terms like “Bimbo” or “Tight Ass” will likely result in many new names for you, among them “The Accused”, “The Convicted” and “Inmate 2136421”.

Five: Sexual Harassment and Comments about Clothing: Some people appreciate a compliment when they wear a new or expensive or symbolic article of clothing. And most will respond well to comments like “That green matches your eyes” or “What a lovely scarf”. Go beyond that and you could stray on to shaky ground. This is likely because as a mayor, you are expected to focus your attention on issues like lowering tax rates, repairing bike lanes and creating new jobs. If your constituents do want you involved with porn at all, they will likely want you stamping it out rather than making more. Whistling at someone’s jeans, hollering “Sexy!” at the sight of a short skirt, suggesting that Fridays be made underwear free days or responding to someone’s new jacket by whispering that your favorite hobby is sucking polyester should all be regarded as actions that are career limiting.

Six: Sexual Harassment and Headlocks: San Diego’s Mayor Filner apparently put one of these on a female staffer whom he then led around the room while discussing city business. One wonders how he would have responded to her grabbing his testicles and leading him to an open window while discussing the effect of gravity on falling objects.

Mayor Filner’s actions prompt me to make the following suggestion to potential office seekers. If what you are thinking of doing to another person is normally an action performed by a professional wrestler, a masseuse, an exterminator, a terrorist or a surgeon, take a deep breath, a large drink and a running jump – alone! The outcome will likely be less painful for all concerned.

Let me close with one last piece of advice. Careers in the public service are not for everyone. Being a mayor – or any office holder – means tip-toeing through potential minefields on a daily basis. If, despite my efforts in this handbook, you still believe that your sexual advances will always be welcomed, you might wish to choose a career in prostitution rather than politics. The hours are about the same, many of the duties are similar and you will rarely be required to make long speeches.

 

Of Rolling Stone, Maggots and the National Anthem

In which the Elegant Bastard considers what appears to be the new American national anthem and decides that he would much rather they keep the old one.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Do you remember that chant, America? I do. On autumn Friday afternoons we would buy our way out of afternoon classes and gather on our ramshackle bleachers to cheer on our football heroes. And about every ten minutes or so, the cheerleaders would strut out to the track – hands on hips, pompoms ready – and when their leader gave the signal, the chanting would begin.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

It was wonderful in that context. Now, things are different. Something more than a football trophy is at stake.

It’s been an interesting news week. We had flailing arms, frothing mouths, pointing fingers and pounding fists. We had marches and vigils and crowds and parades. We had media everywhere, tossing out misleading headlines, filming crying eyes and screaming  mouths and throwing in enough  inflammatory bits of speculation to keep everything bubbling .  Then, in the evening, near identical sets of polished faces and sculptured hair sat on panels to “tut tut” and “tsk tsk” in predictably confrontational “discussions”. Organized outrage was on another big roll; it was a nation-wide case of choreographed flatulence.

And now, before we even have a chance to clear the air, there’s a whole new drama. Out of the way, Mr. Zimmerman. Mr. Snowden, stop whining. It’s all about Rolling Stone magazine and it’s “fluffed and buffed” cover photograph of alleged Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

The Right Hand Rant:  How dare this radical smut-filled rag offer such disrespect to the victims of the Boston marathon tragedy? How dare it glorify and glamorize a terrorist and a murderer by placing him in a spot normally occupied by teen idols and rock superstars. This tears at the nation’s moral fibre. Those who read this or profit from it are anti-American and greedy traitors! ( And godless! We mustn’t forget godless!)

The Left Hand Rant: Freedom of the press is one of America’s most precious traditions, a cornerstone of its democracy. Rolling Stone has always been a symbol of cutting edge and responsible journalism. Its fearless devotion to truth was epitomized by its award winning interview of convicted serial killer, Charles Manson. Those who can’t see this are right wing red necks who need to get with the times and go with the flow. (Now play with your guns and get over yourselves.)

What’s wrong with this? All of it really, but the worst threat is also the most subtle.

Those who defend Rolling Stone by pointing out the fundamental role freedom of the press plays in creating and maintaining the essence of America are on solid ground. So are those who argue that displaying the smouldering pretty boy charms of Tsarnaev on the cover of the iconic entertainment magazine elevates a terrorist to the stature of a Bob Dylan sex-god and denigrates the suffering of his victims. But as will inevitably be the case in a society that only listens to itself when the screaming starts, both sides go too far.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Rolling Stone defends its actions by claiming that all they are doing is maintaining their “long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.” Oh please! This is just silly, and anyone who has followed the magazine even intermittently over its history knows that. The brainchild of a maniacal, manipulative and media-savvy 60’s radical, it brought together what one critic called “stock, shock and schlock” and made it profitable. The Manson interview, seen as edgy in its more innocent historical context, would be dismissed as sensationalism today. The new cover’s caption, claiming that the article will show how Tsarnaev “became a Monster” – Oooooo! – suggests that nothing much has changed. (And by the way, Rolling Stone, what happened to innocent until proven guilty?)

Another obvious argument against Rolling Stone’s attempt at noble self-justification is both the choice of picture and its placement. Past media images of Tsarnaev tended to be far less attractive than this posed photo. The story is one of several in the issue yet it makes the cover.  Why use this picture in that place? There can be only one reason. Sales! And sales, sadly, have to be a concern for a magazine that has reportedly been slipping pretty steadily since its glory days. That picture is where it is for the best and basest of all capitalist reasons. A woman I spoke to today sniffed that what Rolling Stone has done was no different than maggots with dead flesh.  I would disagree. When maggots feed, they do not claim they are dining.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Still, Rolling Stone’s sensationalism is not the real issue. More dangerous is the deliberate encouragement of polarization in American society. And most dangerous of all is the rise of impotence!

In response to the Zimmerman verdict and the Snowden … whatever that was, we had streetscape after streetscape filled with placards and chanting and grotesque faces thrusting themselves at television cameras like lovers to each other’s bodies. And afterwards, nothing. These were gestures, moments of strutting and fretting, tales of sound and fury screamed aloud by idiots. Even as catharsis it was feeble.

And now, in response to the Rolling Stone photo, we will have boycotts. Oooooo! That means that people who never buy the magazine will now loudly proclaim the fact that they are not buying it. Stores that barely sold any – or none – will now point out that they are selling none. An equally impotent act will be accomplished by the other side. Those who normally buy it or have it delivered will simply draw attention to their purchases, perhaps dispensing with a paper bag or by reading it ostentatiously on a bus.

And that will be that. Gestures. No bang. Barely a whimper. If your lovers loved like that, you would push them out of bed.

None of this is activism. None of it is profound. Yes, the images and sound bites of your marches and your mewlings will be gathered and broadcast, but this will be, like Rolling Stone, commercialism – not potent political philosophy. You will be camera fodder only, something to be used. The media and its pundits will profit enormously and they will do so by encouraging this schism they foment in America.

Perhaps if Americans put aside the “My way and only my way” posturing and choose to come together (over coffee, tea, or beer) and talk (no yelling, drooling, or spitting) things out on common ground (pubs are good; so are churches), things would change. Everyone would give a little and get a little. Daily life would be less stressful.  The evening news might get tad boring but would that be such a bad thing? (We can always get North Korea to do something entertaining.)

And politicians would have to do more than stir up hate to get elected. That last American presidential election was less a smear campaign than it was a sneer campaign, and that’s really dangerous.

Let’s all listen to the old chant one more time:

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

It makes a grand football cheer, I agree.

But as a national anthem, it sucks.

 

Since it seems to be Rant Day, here’s a link to a short story concerning my encounter with an aggressive vegetarian: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-49

As always, feel free to “share”, comment, “tweet” or buy coffee.

 

 

To My Royal Baby Not Yet Born

In which the Elegant Bastard converses with an unborn child, vows to clean up his room and urges others to do the same.

Well hello!

Aren’t you the Royal little wonder! No, don’t worry. You’re not late. That big old world out there will stop whatever it is doing when you arrive but until then, it will be business as usual. For now, be as comfortable as you can and enjoy these final noise-free hours.

I do not mean to add any pressure to the life you are about to lead, but you have suddenly become rather important to me, all the more so since you are not mine in any conventional sense. What with all the recent media baby hoopla – you’re not the only one making an appearance – I am more than usually aware of your impending arrival. And for the very first time, I am also aware of the fact that when you eventually assume your crown – and we all assume our crowns, little one, even when we don’t want to – I will very likely no longer be here. Your world will lack that certain something special that is me. That fact concentrates things wonderfully.

Like most, I tend to postpone the issue of legacy. What kind of world I will leave behind doesn’t really occupy my mind the way it should. After all, every day is a brand new day and I have places to go and things to consume and people to annoy. I’m here and now; I’m flash, I’m fire; I’m boom, boom, boom. How does merely the potential existence of anything, let alone something that will initially do little more than wail, feed, poop and play with its toes, mean anything at all to that process?

It seems to all be wrapped up in this idea of handing over. I am suddenly aware of the baton in my hand, of the noise of a crowd, of the thudding of feet behind me, of a shortness of breath within. Ahead I see nothing really distinct, just shadows really, but that baton needs to be handed over, and the only thing I do know is if it touches the ground, it will break. Would that be fair? Royal baby isn’t even here and already I have broken the baton.

Yet while I am talking to the idea of you, I am glancing at the news of the day as it streams across my 18 inch screen. A recent verdict in a murder trial is causing two groups of racists to call each other racist. Musicians are telling us where they won’t travel, former secretaries of state are keeping the potential base sweet by playing to one family’s tragedy while ignoring another’s, ex-jurors are trying to sell books, and “protesters” are looting a department store. A far away state is gearing up for its newest temper tantrum. The deaths of twenty two children in a food poisoning incident are being used by politicians as a reason to call protest strikes and by mobs as a reason to burn buses. Everywhere there are people causing crises, people caught in crises and people cashing in on crises. Is this a baton you want? Ah, right, I forget. You can’t hear. It is not for you to answer that question.

It’s strange. Yesterday, the news was much the same, and all I could hear was a friend’s voice telling me it was time for a martini. Today I know that you are coming and all I can hear is my mother’s voice telling me to clean up my room before I leave the house.

Pondering that, I walk over to my living room window and look out at the big world stretching away as far as a cloudless sky permits. Across the street I see a new kindergarten school nearing completion. The third fire alarm of the week sounds in the subsidized housing complex next door. Adolescents are happily flirting with each other while taking a break from their summer jobs in a new Target store.  The haze in the air is almost visible. Two friends are walking up the driveway. One waves. The other is carrying a tray containing six pints of golden raspberries. Only babies are more beautiful. I go to the wine cellar and take out the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

Do you see, Royal baby, the problems you are causing me? I might – might – if I devote enormous time, energy and thought do something about the local haze and the desperate fires in the building next door. But what about the obscene noise issuing from the news stream, the daily resume of sorrows and deaths and the cause of far too many cowardly afternoon naps? Yet what else can I possibly do? And why? I didn’t ask for a crown, you know. I really didn’t.

No, that won’t work. I didn’t give it away when it came, either. And it certainly needs a good polishing. I can’t promise it will be much brighter when you get here but I’ll see what I can do.

For I don’t suppose it really matters what mother’s Royal baby you are, and whether you arrive in Afghanistan, or China, or America or Toronto or yes, in a much-photographed hospital ward in the center of the world in London. All babies are Royal babies; all are deserving of our loyalty and love.

So here it is, little one. I will do what I can about the near-by fires. I will contribute to the fight against the local haze. I will look daily at the kindergarten and the laughing teens to remember one reason why I make this vow, and I will think of golden raspberries and white wine to remember the other. My mother was right.  I need to clean up my room before I leave the house.

And I further promise that whenever I can, I will remind others that we all had mothers and we all have rooms and so the house needs lots and lots of cleaning. And by doing so, Royal Baby, I will remain true to this pledge I make to you today – that I will be, as long as I am able, your loyal Elegant Bastard.

Toronto, June 17, 11:11 a.m.

Please read and, if you find yourself nodding, then “share”, “tweet” or smile at any pregnant lady you might see.

A reader more observant than I noticed a similar theme in a piece I wrote in a more tragic context. “A Child, Waiting for His Father, was Murdered Today” is my response to the death of young Martin Richard, killed in the Boston bombing. As Jim, a Christ Figure in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests, we must not waste children. I concur. Those wishing to read the earlier piece may do so here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-3o

 

 

The Taxonomy of Cyclepathic Behaviors, Part Three: Those Crazy Cycle Dudes!

The Elegant Bastard is a proud cyclist. Here he comes to the aid of his community by identifying those of his own tribe whose actions imperil us all. His motives are entirely altruistic and have nothing at all to do with the fact that he’s just come back from a long ride and he’s royally ticked off!

By and large, cyclists are reasonable people. We understand our place in the world and we behave accordingly.  If, for example, we find ourselves beside a passing bus, we do a bit of instant risk analysis. In our favour are things like a rapier-like wit, dynamic genes, devilish good looks, a beautifully modulated voice and a strong pomade. The  only thing the bus has going for it is the fact that it is a bus.

We immediately understand that God, Truth and Beauty are all on our side. However, having promised our mothers not to bully lesser beings, we let the bus go first. As it rumbles past, childishly farting its fumes in our patient faces, we might offer it a subtle farewell salute. (As this involves only one hand and indeed, only one finger, it cannot be regarded as unsafe.) But nothing more extreme.

Sadly, there are a few members of our tribe who have never quite acquired this elegant minimalism. Perhaps they suffered some hereditary malfunction. Perhaps they were unloved. It may even be the result of one taco too many.  I know there must be some cause and that I must therefore strive to be tolerant. It is this humanitarian impulse – and the failure of society to accept “Because I wanted to!” as sufficient justification for homicide[i]  – that motivates me to live and let live.

Nonetheless, I can still warn others.  To this end I append the following list of aberrant behaviors found within the cycling community. For clarity’s sake, I have avoided using medical terms. And while I think I could with accuracy simply refer to them as “Moron A”, “Nitwit B”, “Idiot C” and so on, that option lacks any helpful specificity.

A caution before you begin, Dear Reader. The word “you” will appear frequently. I mean no disrespect to you personally. Since it is possible that the misguided souls I refer to might be among those reading this, I have chosen to address them directly.

The Stop Sign Challenged: Dear Cyclepath. You may have noticed that we have spent considerable time and money erecting Stop signs and traffic lights. Strangely, we do not regard these as optional. Nor have we added clever little graphics to indicate that the order is directed solely at cars, pedestrians and badly behaving dogs.  We really do mean you. What’s that? I see. You’re right. Mr. Obama does not have to stop at traffic lights. And if you are a visiting head of state using a bicycle for reasons of security or austerity, please have a note from your mother indicating that this is the case.

The Sidewalk Obsessed: Most of us are not troubled by compound words. A snowball is an globe fashioned from  … you guessed it … snow! (See how easy this is?) A beachfront view will necessarily include water. Similarly, the word “sidewalk” should not prove difficult. It sits at the side of the road and people walk on it.

But you point out that you are physically able to ride on sidewalks, that they even “look like” roads.  This is faulty reasoning.  “Can” does not necessarily imply “should”. “Look like” does not mean “is the same as”.  Now do you understand why people don’t put broccoli on wedding cakes, why I say you appear to be intelligent and why no one was really pleased with those five dollar bills you made, even if they were prettier than the real ones.

It’s all about definition, and you, therefore, will not ride your bicycle on our sidewalks.

 (And if you really do think “breakfast” is what happens to cheap televisions, then where you ride your bike will be the least of your worries.)

I Am My Own Lane: If you are Santa Claus, the Pope or the protagonist at a large funeral, you may have a traffic lane all to yourself with our blessing. However, if none of these is true, please share.

Signal? What’s a signal? It is customary to advise others of sudden changes in direction before – not after or during – a three lane shift to the left. And while we agree that normal turn signals are boringly conventional and offer you no creative outlet, wild and original gestures made at high speed only suggest that you are either too friendly or badly in need of rehab. Neither is a statement relevant during rush hour.

To Spandex or Not to Spandex: As you decide whether or not to wear this miracle fabric while cycling, we would ask that you keep a few things in mind. Its ability to stretch is finite. It keeps no secrets. It is not supposed to hurt you or terrify onlookers. Here’s a helpful tip. If you resemble Botticelli’s “Venus” or Michelangelo’s “David”, wear away. If the artwork that comes closest to capturing your essence is Holbein’s last portrait of Henry VIII, might we suggest restraint?

Those who Smoke while Cycling: “You’re right. It’s my problem. I totally get it.  Just because I don’t smoke and cycle doesn’t mean you can’t. Hey, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Yup. Oh look! You’ve tossed that nasty butt away. There now. Don’t you feel better? Can’t you feel your lungs start to … . Ah. I see. You needed that hand to hold your beer.”

Those who Text while Cycling: As long as what you are texting is titled “Last Will and Testament” and I am your heir, I have no issue with this activity.

Those who Text and Smoke while Cycling: Given your likely life span, who cares?

Bells and Whistles: We all like surprises. Wrap yourself up in a box and we will open you. Wear your Putin mask on Halloween and we will scream. But we would like you to observe closely the next time you see a fire truck or an ambulance. Notice that they do not creep up behind motorists, tap them on the shoulder and whisper “Excuse me.” Take this as a clue. If you are coming up behind us or passing on the left, ring the damn bell. Yes, we know they sound dorky.  No, we are not going to buy you a siren.

Weavers Seen in Heavy Traffic: “Look, he’s on the right … the left … the right … in front … behind … ahead … under … oh.

But I’m Only Going One Way: Roads are wonderful things and even the Romans understood that they work best when everyone is going in the same direction. In our far more complex society, we have determined that some of our streets will be designated “One Way” and we get to choose which way that is. In your own home or some of our more casual pubs, feel free to set off in your own directions. On our streets, however, we like our cyclists to be like our lemmings. Accept your lemminghood and go in peace.

But you say you are no lemming. You are a lone eagle. Well then. You do not need a bicycle. You need a cliff.

Look Ma! No Hands! Oh please. After watching Nik Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon Gorge on a tightrope, do you really think we are going to be impressed when you cycle past hands free? Set aside youthful arrogance and learn to tell the difference between those things that are virtually indestructible and those that aren’t. In the first group are brick, stone and asphalt. In the second we have skin, teeth and necks.

“Would you mind if … “Version One: Occasionally as I sit innocently outside my favorite coffee shop, cyclists will abandon their bikes unlocked against the fence beside me. As they rush in to the wine store next door, they will call over to me. “Would you mind just watching my bike for a moment?”

I have no real problem with this as long as my duties are clearly understood by all parties. I will watch you leave.  I will watch the bike as it slides to the ground. I will watch as the three gentlemen with the pickup truck load it into the back. I will watch as they drive off together into the sunset. I will watch you jump and yell when you return.

To ensure that there is no confusion, I have had the preceding printed on small attractive cards. Please take one.

Would you mind if …” Version Two:   On occasion, I entertain. This generally involves having people enter my residence. As the living space in question is on the twenty-fourth floor, it should not come as any great surprise that there is no front garden, back garden, side garden or garage. Thus, when you ask if I would mind you bringing your bike in with you, the answer will be the same as if you had asked permission to bring in your car, your pet alligator or your mother the kleptomaniac.

Post Cycling Rituals: Rene Descartes died in the 1600’s, long before the first bicycles made an appearance. Had bikes developed earlier or Descartes been born later, “I think, therefore I am” would quickly have been followed by “I cycle, therefore I shower.”

This brings us to the end of our list. Lists are wonderful things. Anyone seeking an orderly mind and a well regulated existence would do well to peruse those that come along, especially ones that seek to improve the overall quality of life by identifying those things that interfere with that achievement. And what is the worst that could happen?

You might find yourself on it.



[i] This restriction holds in Ontario and most civilized jurisdictions. Still, those of you spending time in Florida are advised to take nothing for granted.

 

Parts  One and Two of this posting can be found at  http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5B and http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5S 

 

 

The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

In which the Elegant Bastard argues that seeing and hearing are not necessarily worthy of believing.

Sometime in the near future, a Florida jury will render its verdict in the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman case. That verdict will be largely irrelevant. Truth and Justice long ago left the building, disgusted by the muck and mud being trucked in by the armies of special interest.  The case is now trapped in the centre of a screaming crowd so vast it would have filled the Roman Forum, where, thumbs down , it would have stood and cheered the death of both protagonists.

The Martin-Zimmerman case is a carefully choreographed and scripted spectacle. Was Zimmerman a man suddenly in danger who therefore had the right to defend himself? Or was he a racist? A drop out? A man with a history of violence? A failure who strutted his little-man walk around his gated community, drooling over the idea that he was the original American hard-ass, worthy of respect and deserving of his balls? Who knows anymore – and in much of America, who cares.

Was Trayvon Martin the world’s cutest and most innocent ever teenager, targeted by that nasty fat  white man when all he was doing was spending his time helping old ladies and loving babies and grinning photogenically? Or was he just another pot head, a jewelry thief, an unstable and oft abandoned man-child, a cracker-hating racist with a growing fascination with guns, an angry young man serving out his third school suspension in one year. It doesn’t matter anymore.

What matters are the needs of the duelling narratives.  

We have the Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton Good Parents` Narrative, a tear-stained many-hankies story of life-long love and oft declared devotion. Their “Mother’s-love” and “Father’s pride” sound bites have featured prominently in media reports.  It’s a marketable angle and it sold. No mention is made of the fact that Trayvon lived with and was fed, housed, clothed, schooled and disciplined for most of his brief life by another woman, Alicia Stanley, a lady being kept far away from the camera. No one mentions that “Mother’s Love” is seeking financial compensation for her son’s death or that “Father’s Pride” is rumoured to be preparing a multi-million dollar civil suit following the criminal trial. There are dollar making machines out there – book deals, speaking tours, and more. But this potentially lucrative narrative needs perfect grieving parents and perfect grieving parents need a perfect dead child. No wrinkles, please!

Then we have the Race in America political narratives. The day the case first broke, long before anyone was arrested, demonstrations broke out in cities across America. To any observer, they seemed well-planned, a bit choreographed and big on rhetoric. (Does anyone remember the threatened “Million Hoodie March”?)  Black Democratic Leaders and the NAACP fulminated, the usual activists breathed the usual fire, professional media manipulators manipulated, and thousands – or hundreds – or dozens – it was never really clear – shouted their approval: “Zimmerman is guilty.”  “End Profiling Now!” “Justice for Trayvon!” “Am I Next?” And on and on and on.

The Politics of Race in America is both Big Politics and Big Business. Rhetoric aside, many groups and individuals have a powerful and vested interest in keeping groups divided. Fanning hatred, resurrecting feelings of victimhood, pointing accusatory fingers and creating guilt have many times proved themselves to be effective ways of raising profile, gaining political office and generating dollars. Outrage is forever sexy. Truth is … whatever. Yes, it works far more effectively if the marketed anger is squeaky-clean virtuous; it should not be tainted. Trayvon must be nothing less than saint and Zimmerman nothing more than sinner. It is for this reason that we have watched commentators tie themselves in knots trying to explain away Trayvon’s racist utterings while at the same time castigating his step mother for suggesting Zimmerman was not motivated by race. It is why conservative commentators attacked the “white Hispanic” label some applied to Zimmerman by arguing that those who used such a term were themselves racist.

We cannot forget the Save Our Guns narrative. Now the dynamic changes. Now the story is a tale of prowling delinquents, possibly armed, of drug deals gone badly, of possible threats to the great god Property. Enter that law-biding-just-tryin`-to-help-the-folks-at-home-good-old-boy-George, out there keeping a neighbourly (armed!) eye on things, and what happens?  The poor boy’s rolling on the ground fighting for his life. Oh Mr. and Mrs. America! Can’t you just feel the fear?

This narrative can be more flexible. Zimmerman’s heroism need not be as perfect as Trayvon’s virtue. The story is really the concealed danger lurking everywhere in gated communities populated by people able to afford good guns. That Trayvon wasn’t armed was initially inconvenient, but now they have text messages suggesting that he was “fascinated” by firearms. Good enough. That’s a wrap. Not perfect Zimmerman; Perfect Fear.

Let’s not forget the Your Right To Know media narratives, proof again that America’s biggest White-Black problem is not race. It`s media driven false dichotomies:  Left vs. Right, Good vs. Evil, Red vs. Blue and so on. It’s the hand-wringing “Oh My God No!” stories constantly pushed by the news media and then manipulated by competing power brokers. Nothing sells more ads than crisis, conflict, hate, war, disaster and tears. It’s Ryan vs. Biden, Spy vs. Spy, Superman vs. Lex Luthor and now, Trayvon vs. Zimmerman. Gray is only good in dress slacks.

And of good or evil, which sells better?  That’s easy. If the Second Coming of Christ coincides with riots over a Zimmerman verdict, the CNN lead will be, “Suspicious birth in Bethlehem. Now back to Florida and our main story. Over to you, Wolf!”

One last narrative is worth a mention. Since the story broke, aging and has-been “stars” have been all over it, finding a way to use one side or the other to get their faces back in front of any camera anywhere. Cher, Roseanne Barr and Spike Lee are among the worst offenders with the latter two tweeting Zimmerman’s parents’ address, resulting in a deluge of hate mail and threatening calls. In Lee’s case, absurdity was the order of the day as he gave out the address of the wrong Zimmerman family. The much-frightened and angry elderly couple promptly sued.

What happens after the jury retires sometime today will be at best accidental justice. There will likely be rioting in either case as rioters are more about excuses than causes. And all over America, people will continue to shout or plead or demand or pray for a certain verdict. It will not matter to them whether the outcome is true or false. They have a necessary narrative to defend and they don’t really care what Zimmerman did or did not do or who Trayvon really was. They need the verdict that brings their chosen narrative to a successful close. Whether they need to hate or they need to believe or they need to feed the greed, they will let nothing interfere with satisfaction.

As for the rest of us, we need to remind ourselves of what we already know –  that often, when we turn to what we are told is news, we are encountering well polished sales pitches, complete with practiced tears, orchestrated outrage, rapidly assembled crowds, deftly prepared sound bites and carefully concealed motives. We will be asked to shed a tear or shake a fist.

Much better, I think, to leave the crowded forum, eyes dry and hands in our pockets. We can then take an invigorating walk while we examine what we’ve been given. We can unleash our inner sceptic and let it do its necessary work. (We should remind ourselves that this is necessary practice since we still have the Hernandez, Tsarnaev and Holmes trials coming up.) This reflective process will not be as noisy or exciting or cathartic as what’s going on back in the arena, but it will be decidedly more elegant.

And Truth and Justice might just then stand a chance.

We will return the “The Taxonomy of Cyclepathic Behavior” soon. For those interested in the impact of well-shaped bums on GPS fanatics, the answer may be found at http://wp.me/p3cq8l-19

 

 

A Letter to whistleblower Edward Snowden

In which the Elegant Bastard objects to Edward Snowden’s use of poetry even more than to his politics.

No, Mr. Snowden, no! This will not do.

I might sit idly by while you do your imitation of Deep Throat and dabble with your nation’s laws and make a play for media stardom and great wealth – others have done far worse – but when you seize upon one of the great heroic poems and try and turn it to an epitaph for your increasingly sad and puerile little tale, Patience sits up straight in her accustomed place on my shoulder, says “Screw this noise” and orders me to rant.

You say, Mr. Snowden, that, “I am unbowed.” Your use of “unbowed” is no accident. It is one of the most moving moments in William Ernest Henley’s, “Invictus”. Henley wrote the poem as a teenager in the 1860’s after losing his leg to tuberculosis of the bone. Imagine the thoughts racing through a sixteen year old boy’s mind as he faces the sure knife and uncertain anesthetics of that era. Imagine his thoughts when a few years later, the other leg contracts the same disease. Fate was not done with him. In his middle years, he would lose his beloved daughter, Margaret Emma – the inspiration for Wendy in Peter Pan – to meningitis. Each time he was able to raise his bloodied head  and move forward.  His words – “I am unbowed” –  become an existential anthem, a barbaric YAWP . Mr. Snowden, in your mouth, they become a whine.

In fact, let’s take a little stroll through that short poem and compare it to the experience you have chosen for yourself.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,

Mr. Snowden, look around. You are not in a “pit” or a perpetual “night”. You are in Moscow’s International Airport where the Putin government, having used you once, apparently has no desire to use you twice. Moscow may not be your destination of choice but I think it transcends the desperate ambiance and inadequate facilities found in a nineteenth century British hospital.

I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

As an atheist and an existentialist, I struggle with notions of God and soul. Still, as a curious man, I am often intrigued by others’ arguments concerning the existence of either. They speak of faith and of the need to be guided by something greater than personal comfort, profit, ease or health. Proof, it seems, is in the suffering. Lot, Job and Abraham demonstrate this in the Bible; Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Oskar Schindler and the Standing Man in Tiananmen square demonstrate heroic suffering in our own era. Each faced death for something greater than Self.

Again, Mr. Snowden, you are sleeping on waiting room chairs and eating whatever the vending machines can offer. That may be tough, but it ain’t no existential threat, now is it. Nor does there seem to be a line-up of those seeking to murder or martyr you. In fact, until your most recent outburst, we all seemed to be in the process of forgetting you, especially since Mr. Obama seems as bored with you as Mr. Putin. (Yes, CNN still loves you – you poor man!) So it`s a little early to claim to be “unconquerable”. (Especially since Daddy is apparently negotiating optimum terms for your surrender as I write this.)

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Mr. Snowden, you have not yet stopped wincing. You are turning wincing into an art form. True, many in the American media are hurling nasty words at you, but that is their habit. Sticks and stones, Mr. Snowden, sticks and stones. And since many of them seem to feel that you have broken their nation’s laws – which you admit – and endangered national security – which you argue is less important than moral issues – what did you think they would do? Send chocolates and flowers to Moscow? But bludgeoned? Oh come! Bieber has been bludgeoned. Baldwin will be. You haven’t even been spanked. As for complaining about the “clutch of circumstance”, no one shoved you in a box, flourished the duct tape and forced you to Moscow.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

Wrath and tears?.Were you a 16 year old young man who had survived an undeserved ordeal, only to find it returning, I would be moved to weep for you. But this is not the case. You are an articulate and educated adult. You claim to be outraged by the systemic abuse of human rights by the government expected to defend those rights. To address this, you deliberately broke laws and endangered what others regarded as necessary measures. You claimed this abuse was secret; others argued that safeguards were in place. In short, you are right smack dab in the middle of what most would call a debate, one that you began. There’s been some wrath but no tears and as for “the Horror of the shade”, well, Death seems as bored by the whole business as Obama so let’s try to be a tad less hysterical.

I have not yet entirely decided whether I personally approve or disapprove of the action you took that precipitated your current condidtion. I am, however, beginning to find you tiresome. More and more, you strike me as a person with an “i” who dearly wants an “I” and more than anything an I. Your bio suggests a life of flitting here and there in search of a convenient cause. And you would not be the first to use such a cause to arrange a painless and temporary crucifixion as the first steps toward a guest shot on “Piers Morgan Live” and a condo on Fifth Avenue.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

It is in this last stanza that I find the greatest lie. In its first two lines, Henley announces his determination to go forward, to accept the uncertainties and pains that life brings to all of us. He notes that the expectations placed upon him are high and that he must acknowledge his own sins and possible punishments. You, Mr. Snowden, for whatever reason, have set yourself above the law and placed your own morality above what we sometimes term “shared values”.  This is your right as a free person in a democracy. What you face now are simply consequences – expected and deserved – unless in your paradigm you feel you have achieved a higher status, one transcending the reach of the nation’s or God’s laws. If so, you have greater issues to deal with that the comfort provided by waiting room seats in Moscow.

And given your current situation, the last two lines are simply ironic. You are now the tool of The Guardian, a source for writers seeking lucrative stories, a plaything to be used as Putin slaps around Obama to score points back home, and yet another stick Ecuador’s Correa will use to beat up the US to deflect his people’s attention from the ongoing crisis that is Ecuador. From this I suppose will come some benefit – a book deal certainly (though the book tour might be necessarily limited in scope.)

But you are not Henley, Mr. Snowden. And “Invictus” was not written for you.

Sunday Morning Coffee (2): Of Edward Snowden and Iago

 In which the Elegant Bastard is surprised by the sheer number of Iagos running about the stage and hopes that a few will leave.

I lead a happy life.

I would like to claim that this is true because of things I do. In fact – were I to be honest – I would have to admit that things I no longer do get a lot of the credit.

I gave up smoking, thereby gaining both the funds required to pursue other expensive sins and the energy that  pursuing them requires . I gave up driving. Not only did this free me from the clutches of the Great Car Conspiracy – what do you mean you`ve never heard of it? –  it allowed me to fully embrace pedestrian anarchy: I jaywalk, I cross at the red, I stroll on the grass,  I gambol at STOP signs, I smell and on occasion pick the flowers. And do you know something?  No one cares! Giggle.

And last, I gave up being left-wing or right-wing. Strait-jackets, be they tie-dyed or tailored, never really appealed to me. It was as easy abandoning my 20-something Marxism as it was my 30-something Capitalism. Both philosophies had the tight and sweaty feel I associate with cheap polyester. My current mushy middle-ism goes comfortably with the world around me. I don’t have to hurt anything. I don’t have to give up more than is good for me. I get to be nice to most people. And – most importantly – I don’t have to make Edward Snowden into my hero or my villain.

This is fortunate because making him into either would require feats of intellectual engineering (or pure fiction) far beyond my ability. He exudes the kind of pathos we have all seen before. He is nothing more than a modern day Iago.

People love to make Shakespeare’s ultimate villain into something far more impressive than he was. Some claim Iago was Satan himself, a dark and powerful figure stalking and destroying Good wherever he could find it. Others lament his fate, characterizing him as an oppressed and emotionally abused gay man forced into the closet by a repressive society, unable to live openly with the Moor he loved. In fact he was nothing more than a seething mass of resentment, a petulant and whining little bit of nastiness who wanted to be so much more than he knew he was.

This is understandable. Everyone around him had wealth, or a title, or youth, or goodness, or a strangely exotic background that mesmerized all others. As Iago plots the death of one such unwitting tormentor, he says in an unguarded moment that the man he will destroy “hath a daily beauty in his life/ That makes me ugly.” He was right. At another moment, he gloats that his chief victim, Othello, will soon “thank me, love me, and reward me. For making him egregiously an ass.” Here Iago almost croons, salivating over each soul satisfying “me” as it issues forth. His day will come. The world will know how great he really was. For Iago, it was all about … well … Iago.

Edward Snowden seems to embody that same needy narcissism, mixed with a teaspoon or two of paranoia. True, we hear his words largely through The Guardian and its reporter, Glenn Greenwald, both of which ideologically and commercially need Snowden to be viewed heroically. It is in their reports that we discover carefully presented poignant personal sorrows, or forgivable past failures or the virtuous and bravely borne moral certainty that his actions were right. We are almost invited to weep. But it’s hard to do so for the Snowden who peeks through the selected and sanitized prose oozes self-love and self-pity.  He articulates no concern whatsoever about what he might unleash or what harm he might do. He speaks with the certainty of the zealot, the fanatic.

He is almost comic, but Dangerfieldian or Ricklesenian rather than Chaplinesque. He mentions that the CIA is all around him. Whether that’s a reference to the nearby American embassy or the presence of nearly 100 Starbucks outlets in Hong Kong is never made clear. He will, he says, “be made to suffer”. At this point, I think even the casual reader is wondering. If  “the greatest evil” in the world (the American Government) is after him with their “massive surveillance machine”, why haven’t they found him yet? By his own admission, they could have stomped him. Are they perhaps not trying as hard as they are pretending or he feels they should?

In a wonderfully paranoid moment, Snowden suggests that  “they” will send the “Triads” after him. The triads are notorious criminal organizations operating in Hong Kong. Who knew they were at the beck and call of the U.S. government?

In another Iago moment, Snowden mentions that “they” will “demonize” him. (On three separate occasions in the play, Othello, little Iago refers to himself in demonic terms! He’s such a wannabe!) By now the reader has had enough. Demonize? Oh please. Dorkify, perhaps. Bratisize, maybe. Prickify if we are all in a bad mood. But demons come in larger sizes than your own, Mr. Snowden.

Snowden has not come close to matching the accomplishments of  Daniel Ellsberg or Colleen Rowley. Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers alerted Americans to the fact that a succession of presidents had lied. Rowley’s famous memo to FBI Director Mueller makes it clear that the opportunity to prevent or at least contain the tragedy of 9/11 was wasted by either high level incompetence or careerism.

Snowden tells us that the NSA is “watching” both Americans and foreigners. After Oklahoma City, New York, Madrid, London and Boston, just who is not aware of that? He makes it sound as if Uncle Sam’s agents are watching every word we type, hovering over each of our shoulders as we go places we shouldn’t to watch things we mustn’t. They aren’t. As one non-hysterical commentator put it, the NSA looks for patterns, not individual calls. It collects “dots”, motifs that might indicate the presence of a threat. Once a pattern emerges, it must then seek warrants to actually listen in – and those warrants are not easy to obtain.

Who knew this great “secret”? Given the content of the scathing comments about Mr. Snowden being expressed by congressmen, senators, defence analysts, pundits, jurists, journalists and security watch-dogs from both the left and the right, quite a lot of people really. True, The Guardian is “outraged”. Michael Moore is “outraged”. Julian Assange is “outraged”. But when are they not?

Frankly, I think most people are more bemused at the uproar than anything else. There may be some concern that self-canonized St. Edward’s actions could impact security. Personal liberties are important to us all. Yet most of us remember the tragedy of the twin towers. We saw the bodies plummeting to the ground. We are still in the immediate aftermath of the Boston bombing. The image of one impossibly innocent child has not yet receded. If the NSA and other governments can prevent something similar by collecting essentially anonymous “dots” and then following due process when possible patterns emerge, so be it. Google and Facebook do much the same for lesser motives.

Edward Snowden is neither hero nor villain. He is nothing more than a sad little man in pursuit of a satisfactory self. The more his reasons are considered, the less credible they become. I suppose we could speculate about possible financial gains that would dwarf his previous “good salary” or a publicity tsunami so large it would make a Bieber want to shut the door and hide. But there really is no point. It is still the sadness that prevails. Were I the U.S. government, I would let him go wherever the winds might blow him.

For Mr. Snowden is a hero only to those who need a villain. There are many who vilify America generally or the U.S. government specifically. By creating Mr. Snowden as a “hero”, they simply reinforce the idea of the American Super Villain. Why do they do so? Because the existence of America as villain allows them to proclaim themselves as hero in their own narratives. Mr. Snowden is grist to their mills. It is as such that he will be used.

It is happening already. The Hong Kong Government – which breathes only when China permits – has allowed Mr. Snowden to “escape” and “seek asylum”. Subtext? “Oh you nasty America, you!” Russia’s Mr. Putin will permit Snowden to land in Moscow. Same subtext. (Would now be a good time to mention Tienanmen or Pussy Riot?) And where will Mr. Snowden end up? Ecuador or Venezuela. Oh Lucky Man. Both countries are currently led by populists who attempt to create cult-like status via venomous anti-American rhetoric.

In fact, if I were you, Mr. Snowden, I would be worried about what countries I flew over and on whose planes. You may for the moment be a convenient hero, but the longer you are out there making statements and giving interviews, the less you are controlled. What better way to ensure that you remain a potent symbol of American “evil” than by having your plane plunge into a mountain somewhere and then blame the CIA? And if you do arrive safely in the hiding place of your choice, be careful what you eat and drink.

At the end of the play, Iago is asked why he did what he did. He has helped destroy Othello. The virtuous Desdemona is dead, as is his own once-loving wife. His schemes have failed. He is trapped in his own smallness. He tries a final moment of bluster: “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word.” He impresses no one and he is dragged off stage.

Et tu, Mr. Snowden. Et tu.

 

 

 

Gay Boy Scouts and Baptists, or, A Visit to Arkansistan! (Part Two)

In which the Elegant Bastard argues that no one may suffer the Children to suffer.

In part 1, the abuse of children in the name of religion was discussed and our focus was almost entirely the terrible situation in Pakistan. The situation in Arkansistan (Yes, Dear Reader, I mean Arkansas) is not yet quite as horrible. In fact, at first glance it all still seems to be quintessentially American. Schools are everywhere, labour laws seem to be in place and large sections of the population are decidedly well-fed! Add to those facts the charm of the Ozarks, the thriving theatre scene in Little Rock, and the sporting prowess of the Razorbacks and everything seems – if not quite hunky dory – at least dory.

Unless you happen to be a gay boy scout.

The recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to admit “openly gay” scouts drew generally wide spread support. True, some wondered just what “openly gay” might mean and there remained that organization’s refusal to tolerate gay adults in leadership roles – unless (one assumes) they are “closedly” gay? (Ain’t semantics wonderful?) But setting these issues aside, it seemed a great day for tolerance and freedom.

That’s when the local Taliban, and its sponsoring large group, the Southern Baptist Convention, decided to get involved. “Not in our tents!” they thundered, or words to that effect. And that seemed to be the crux of their objections. Admit gay scouts and there would immediately be so many after-lights-out orgies that new merit badges would be required and a whole new set of camp fire songs would need to be written. Oh there was some huffing and puffing about traditional values and character building and whatnot, but the main concern was articulated by the leader of a group called On My Honor who said, “We wouldn’t put boys and girls sleeping together. Why? Because they’re attracted to each other.” ‘Nuff said.

Tim Reed, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gravel Ridge in Jacksonville, Arkansastan, refuses to allow these shenanigans to occur and he plans to have his church dissolve its chartered scout troop. Other Baptist leaders are promising the same. If this happens, as many as 100,000 Baptist scouts could be affected.

Ah, but these Baptist leaders have plans! Youth groups for Christian boys will help them to become “well-informed, responsible follower of Christ” and to have a “Christ-like concern” for all people. (Do they understand the irony of “all” here? Likely not.) They will learn how to carry “the message of Christ” around the world, how to work with others in “sharing Christ and how to keep themselves clean and healthy in mind and body.”

 I can certainly see tens of thousands of 12 and 13 year old boys lining up to be a part of that, can’t you? There will even be merit badges for memorizing Bible verses and performing mission work – and no, I am not making this up! (See Reading 5)

I sense your reservations, Dear Reader. While all this foofaraw is a little mind-numbing, how does it justify my use of the name “Arkansastan”? Am I not making too much of what is nothing more than a minor local argy-bargy? How is this in any way related to the incredible cruelties perpetrated against children in Pakistan?

With some issues, the question of degree does not enter in to the discussion. The official rhetoric of the Southern Baptist Convention stresses the idea of a cohesive and supportive faith-based community, one that is sixteen million strong. The pressure to comply that it can exert is enormous, even among confident adults. Here we are dealing with adolescents. And as any parent or teacher will tell you, teens – including gay teens – fear exclusion and isolation even more than the Tea Party fears taxes.

Think about it, Baptist “leaders”. Why do you think gay men and women successfully concealed their sexuality for so long? This is not about bringing homosexuals into the tents, guys. They are already there. This is about your own fear, your own stupidity and your own cruelty. How are you any different from the thugs who shot Malala Yousafzai or the crowd who burned a girls’ school in Lahore?

It is about you in one other important way. Just as self-proclaimed “leaders” in Pakistan will loudly proclaim their Islamic credentials in order to improve their own financial and political stature, Baptist leaders are using the BSA controversy and their own declared traditional values to heighten their own political profiles and expand their own youth organizations. And if a few children get hurt by all this table thumping and foot-stomping, well, they are disposable.

No one is actually being sold or used as cannon fodder, you say? True, but “export” does not mean “sell”; it means “send out”, and that is exactly what is going to be done.

It is the word “ disposable” and its synonyms that brings me to my final argument. More than cruelty and selfishness, this attack on children by Baptist leaders is religious hypocrisy. Christ made himself very clear on the matter of including children. He said “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not.” Note, folks, he does not say “suffer some of the children”. He wants them all. (Suffer, by the way, means “allow”, not “experience pain”.)

And if his words themselves are not enough, what about those found in the hymn every Christian child hears. “Jesus Loves me! This I know, / For the Bible tells me so. / Little ones to him belong.”

Are they now to be told there’s a new fourth line: “Unless they’re gay.”?

I have read much commentary from sanctimonious Western critics who sniff contemptuously when extremist voices in Islam refer to their co-religionists as blasphemers, heretics and “not-really-Muslim”. Is the Southern Baptist Conference going to create its own hateful chorus and target its own children? Does it really have so many it can afford to lose?

No child is disposable. No state that permits the widespread denial of basic human rights to its children is a state. No religion that sanctions the exclusion of children from the faith into which they were born is a religion.

That is my own version of intolerance.

Readings:

  1. Haqqani, Husain.  Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military. Washington, D.C., Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2005
  2. Schmidt, John R. The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011
  3. Tomsen, Peter.  The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failure of the Great Powers. New York, Public Affairs, 2011
  4. http://articles.latimes.com/2005/oct/09/news/adfg-abuse9
  5. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/31/southern-baptists-to-urge-churches-and-members-to-cut-boy-scout-ties/?hpt=hp_inthenews
  6. http://www.cirp.pk/
  7. http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/23/us/boy-scouts-sexual-orientation/index.html?iref=allsearch
  8. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2012/1101/Mob-burns-girls-school-in-Pakistani-city-over-alleged-blasphemy
  9. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2303815/MPs-anger-180m-British-aid-boost-Pakistan-70-politicians-pay-NO-tax.html
  10. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tax-Evasion-in-Arkansas/214235725283438
  11. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/28/world/europe/putin-to-sign-ban-on-us-adoptions-of-russian-children.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  12. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saudi/analyses/madrassas.html
  13. http://www.stabilisationunit.gov.uk/stabilisation-and-conflict-resources/thematic/doc_details/206-madrassa-education-in-pakistan-and-bangladesh.html
  14. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1996/02/child-labor-in-pakistan/304660/
  15. http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2012/11/21/Indias-madrassa-schools-refuse-to-teach-math-science/UPI-97291353500451/

Gun Control and the Legend of Griffin Dodger

In which the Elegant Bastard broadens the Gun Control debate by turning his attention to a little known tale.

Let’s call him Griffy Dodger. And if there is a Griffy Dodger out there somewhere, he has so much more to worry about than my use of his name in this fashion.

Griffy did and did not play well with Others. If Others viewed play as a cooperative endeavor, an exchange process in which everyone in turn could bat or catch or jump or cackle loudly, then Griffy would run away in search of Hide-Behind places. If on the other hand, Others were content to act as pawns or marbles do, then Griffy did very well indeed – superlatively in fact – and a silly but cute little smile would spread across his always well-washed face. The more passive the other players, the happier our young Griffy. (This was a good thing really as Griffy could be a tad rough.)

His toy of choice was a hollow plastic bowling pin he`d rescued from a bankrupt Pins’R Us franchise. He had always been attracted by the grandly hollowy thundery `THWOP` it made, especially when it tumbled all together with the other pins. However, carrying around ten plastic pins while searching for good Thwopping grounds quickly became inconvenient. So he set out to recreate the sound more efficiently.

Nature versus nurture theorists are no doubt now asking themselves why a young person like our little Griffy would fall in love with Thwop. It is hard to really determine the answer to that. True, his father was reknowned within the family home for his enthusiastic Thwopping, so much so that the cat developed a nervous tic and chose to live most days in the basement with some sympathetic mice. His mother Thwopped more casually, borrowing her husband’s pin as she did not have one of her own. I suppose there are those who would point to this evidence as a conclusive indication of the cause of Griffy’s habit, but I should point out that the hospital in which our boy was born is built on land once occupied by a bowling alley.

Griffy had eventually found an answer to the “How to Thwop conveniently and with impunity!” conundrum.  By far the best strategy was Thwopping passers-by vigorously and repeatedly on their heads with his pin. Some heads produced a more hollow Thwop than others, a much desired feature and one that was commonly found in those who were most often passing by his favorite street corner: CNN news anchors, IOC officials and Boards of Education Administrators. Griffy was soon a happy Thwopper.

One may not, alas, assail the self-important very long and very soon enormous crowds of huers and criers (HACS) were raising an enormous hue and cry, particularly in the sister cities of Hollywood and Washington, where there really isn’t very much else to do. Individually and in chorus, the HACS  pointed out that in addition to their total devotion to Art, Justice, Boss and Chanel, they had long lectured others about the dangers represented by uncontrolled access to plastic bowling pins. “When,” they woefully whined, “oh when will the world just accept our omniscience?”  They would then hiss sneeringly – there is no other way to hiss; go ahead,try it! – that this was all the fault of right wing fundamentalist Ten Pinners who were not only conservative but generally both funny looking and badly dressed.

Ten Pinners took immediate umbrage and responded that if the nation`s founders had not wanted people to bowl, they would have invented neither varnish nor garishly coloured short-sleeve shirts. Pins, they pointed out, were referred to everywhere in much of the nation’s great literature. Told that wrestling magazines and sewing patterns were not really great literature, Pinners became even more incensed and accused HACs of playing with words.  Anti-pinners, they snarled, were  simply unpatriotic left-wing intellectuals terrified of any activity involving balls.

Griffy kept on Thwopping.

By now, so many celebrity HACS had leapt on the anti-plastic-pin bandwagon that there was little for the latecomers to gain. No-one wanted to interview any more of them and what point is a principled stand if no one wants to photograph you taking it? Fortunately, chief editors soon noticed that all of Griffy’s Thwoppings took place in the morning, after the sun had risen. Spin that, they ordered their writers! And they did.

Griffy was therefore a bit startled to read that Thwopping was his protest against the Eurocentric control of the concept of the work-day, or his passionate and painful plea against lunarphobia, or his demand that traditional elites acknowledge diversity and allow common folk to flourish in their darkness of choice. This new anti-sun movement became wildly popular. Thousands were soon refusing to work during the day and were instead scurrying out into the night to rush from bar to club to theatre and back, bravely and unceasingly making their political voices heard! Griffy kept on Thwopping.

In truth, Griffy Thwopped during the morning because he worked afternoons at a fast food chain that insisted its employees champion certain family  values concerning the nature of marriage. They were also required to help stir up a genocidal war between cows and chickens. He was necessarily a busy boy! Left to his own devices, he would Thwop around the clock. And why not. He felt good with his pin in his hand.

The HACS noted they were losing their interview edge and decided to lean heavily on the incumbent president who would once again be running for the “IamSoMuchCoolerThanYou”  party. Eager to appease, he ordered the immediate replacement of all plastic bowling pins with smurf-like substitutes and appointed a Pin-Tzar to oversee the process. (It was a Recess appointment.)

In response, the by now quite nervous  “IamSoMuchHolierThanYou” party made all the predictable accusations. In short order thereafter came the ranters and the conspiracy theorists and the masters of the sarcastic arts. Within days, both  CNN and Fox were able to raise their advertising rates. Nor was there much chance of the uproar settling down in even the distant future. Already the Holier than You side had discovered yet another burning Bush at the side of the road and the Cooler Folk were preparing to rally around a maniacally grinning hero who had been bidin`his time for a few years already.

And what of Griffy?

Eventually the uproar died down. His sources of plastic bowling pins had dried up, but he was able to purchase  a plastic pastry roller from PiesR’Us. He then transferred to the morning shift at work and stole from his father a flashlight so powerful it could turn night into day.

 

 

The Boston Bombing: A Child, Waiting for his Father, was Murdered Today

Thoughts as we all prepare to return to the marathon.

A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

We do not yet know whose hate created this or whether the bomber owned that hate, borrowed it, or had it thrust upon him. We do not know where it was born or by what route it slouched its way towards Boston. We do not know why. We know only what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Days, of course, will pass, and as they do some details will emerge. These will be seized upon and a variety of talking heads will tell assorted tales, each claiming that this information is in some way essential, that only with it can we know.

We may be told about the ethnicity, the gender and the nationality of the bomber. Some will urge us to consider and to understand, citing historic hurts or ancient bonds of blood. They may cajole, or plead or even lecture us, a touch of practiced outrage in their voices. They will tell us that we need to know what they know.

They are wrong. Whoever set off the Boston bombs gave up ethnicity, race, gender and tribe at the precise moment of detonation. Such things are markers of humanity. They cannot afterwards be claimed by anyone who destroys them in others. To kill is to argue that all human characteristics are worth less than some crazed idea or pestilent need. We may have heritage or we may have hate; we may not, as a killer, own both. We therefore do not need to know this information. We know what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Other experts will caution us to consider a possible religious motive. Again they may urge us to be understanding, to be aware of a bigger picture.  I would argue that we need no bigger picture. What has any god to do with this? The gods of my acquaintance have all been rather fond of people – even when we misbehaved a little – and all were certainly fond of children. Each claimed to have created us all, and the stories of that creation were all loving. The story of the Boston bombing would move such gods to tears and then to rage.

Sin, we are often told, is in the idea as much as it is in the action spawned by the idea. Sin therefore comes before the act. If those who set these bombs and killed these people did so in honour of their god, then at the moment they even contemplated the idea, deep within them their god died. The only religious man I’ve ever known to contemplate the killing of a child for love of god was Abraham, and he prepared to sacrifice his own child, not some other parent’s. No, there was no god involved in this. We know what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Could we really learn anything at all by trying to know the killer? What is there to know that is not immediately evident? The killer has no eyes. No one who could see the Boston streets at that moment could possibly destroy such happy chaos. The killer has no heart. No one capable of love could ignore its presence everywhere in the scene. The killer has no soul; the howling desert winds of hate and self-loathing would long ago have shrivelled that. And the killer has no genitals or if so, they do not function, for no human being capable of creating a child willfully destroys an 8 year old boy. Did the killer give these up or were they snatched away.  We do not know. That sadness happened yesterday. We only know what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Why do I repeat that? It is the only thing I have to take me forward out of this. I cannot address the hates that might have made the monster. I cannot soothe survivalist concerns or explain away the misinterpretations of widely disparate religions. I cannot undo years of abuse committed a street, a state, a country or a continent away.  I cannot cure insanity in the world or disorder in the cosmos. I can only rule my own very small world and ensure that to the greatest possible extent it is a place of safety and comfort for any who enter it. I need to do this because I know how fragile it all can be. I need to remember that a child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

And I do so for one other reason, and here I make no apology. There will come a time when the individuals or groups who did this will be apprehended. Then will come the whirlwind – of words and justifications and explanations. Depending on the identity of the guilty, we will hear talk of “political realities” or “regional disparities” or “the poison of poverty” or the “history of exploitation” or the “consequence of American expansionism”. We will have pundits here and politicians there and celebrities, celebrities just everywhere. There will be so many who will try to own this and bend it and spin it and use it, so many that we may find ourselves confused when it is finally time to impose justice. At that time, I want us all to have the strength to know what we need to know.

A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

 

Gay Marriage, or “What’s in Your Closet, Bob?” conclusion

The Third and Final Part: In which the Elegant Bastard discusses the importance of Clean Closets!

We sense that there is still one big reason why so many object to Gay marriage, a motive that goes beyond the Word of God or general Ickiness. It likely has to do with craving “Height”. That needs a little explanation, so here it is.

As we all know, the world can be a nasty, brutish, loud and ego-crushing place, especially on week-days. We do what we can to maintain our sense of well-being and overall personal loveliness, but it can be tough, especially when so many seem to be looking down upon us from a greater Height. Look at them all: the wealthy, the well educated, the powerful, the beautiful, the coordinated. They seem measurably better than we are. Taller. They have more Height. We feel that in some important way, we are short.

But there’s more. Each of us has a private inner space. Let’s call it our Closet. Stored away in our Closet are all the insecurities, all the fears, the errors, the worries and the remembered secret crimes of our entire life. It’s a nasty little dark and smelly place and we don’t always have the courage to throw open the door, grab some spirit cleaning ammonia and just get in there and give it a good honest scrubbing. Instead, we try to ignore it. We try to shut it out. And that’s when we say to ourselves, “Damn it, I need to get me some of that there Height!”

There are two ways to acquire the Height that life may have denied. The first is by patting heads. Simply walk about the place patting little people on the head. Most will be children so take along a supply of candies or quarters as you do this. There are a couple of caveats. If your need for Height is constant, this method might become expensive. As well, you should remember never to try to pat the heads of those with more Height than you, as they may pat back hard or demand more than a quarter.

The second and far more popular way to get Height, Bob, is by sneering. This raises the question, “Who gets to sneer?” Predictably, the answer once again is those with Height, the individuals who have amassed wealth or power or beauty or several armed bodyguards. This is logical. Sneering involves looking down, not up, one’s nose.

However, one other kind of person gets to sneer: The Certifiably Virtuous! That’s right, Bob. Blessed are the Proven Pure, for they may sneer at the Unpure. Who cares that you don’t have megabucks, you aren’t Obama, the NBA didn’t even look at you and both your boss and the Beautiful Person down the street snicker every time you walk by. Fight back. Join a large and noisy Certified Virtue Group and you instantly achieve sneering Height simply by association. I sneer, therefore I am. In hating you, I love myself.

Of course there is the little matter of finding someone or something to sneer at and that is where all those Gay folk wanting to marry come into play. By insisting they are Unpure; you declare yourself Pure and you can sneer until Doomsday. Doesn’t that sense of Height feel great? But remember. If the Unpure are later judged to be Pure or even just OK, you will instantly lose Height and you will have to stop sneering. This is a real danger. We all remember what happened when Communism collapsed and now there’s talk of an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Purity standards keep changing, Bob. And it’s hard to find new hates as there’s not a large number of volunteers. Thus, if Gay Marriage is suddenly deemed acceptable, there’s going to be a shortness epidemic of tall proportion!

One other potential long term consequence needs to be kept in mind. If the Certifiably Virtuous Group of choice is some off-shoot of Christianity, it is important to remember that sneering contradicts the biggest Commandment of them all: Love thy neighbour. That’s even more precise than Leviticus, right? It comes from Jesus himself, Bob, and while it’s been a while since I read the Bible, I understand that he has an important role.

I’ll admit that no one has yet reported back from the Great Beyond with information about admission rates. Still, most assume it’s harder to get in to Heaven than to Harvard. That being so, we have to assume that those who use their Certifiably Virtuous Group memberships for sneering purposes are not going to do well come the Big Day. Still, you’re a young guy, Bob. No need to worry – for now.

I’m glad we had this little discussion, Bob.  We seem to have agreed that Ickiness, property values, the need to protect the innocent, a fear of contagious homosexuality, and the Word of God are at best questionable justifications for stopping a large group of mostly quite  nice people from enjoying a fundamental human experience. Further, we have considered the idea that hating others may be a problematic and even risky way of trying to feel better about ourselves.

That more or less brings us to one final suggestion. It might be a lot simpler, and nicer, and even safer if we all forgot about the Gay Marriage issue for a moment, Bob, and concerned ourselves with one far more important question. It’s not an easy one for anyone but it has the advantage of being a question each of us can answer only for ourselves.

So it’s back over to you, “Bob”.

What’s in your Closet?

 

Gay Marriage, or “What’s in Your Closet, Bob?” pt. 2

Part 2: In which the Elegant Bastard and “Bob” each drop their Bible Bombs

Please see Part 1 before continuing.

Bob has returned and the sin-as-choice argument has apparently not done all that well. Bob has therefore brought with him with him a variation. Simply put, if God says something is a Sin, it’s a Sin, whether or not it occurs by choice. And the Bible specifically condemns Gay sex in at least three different places. Bob waves this around like North Korea waves a nuke.

I am reasonably familiar with the Bible. I read it sporadically at Sunday school, cover to cover in university and parts of it as research in my thirties. I have great respect for it, even if I poke mild fun at some of its passages. I also have a lot of respect for those who, like Bob, make a sincere attempt to live their lives according to its teachings. However, I do not turn to it for spiritual or moral guidance. Nor would I ever insist that others do so. This is why I have difficulty accepting its contents as the sole basis for the making of laws.

Three of the bigger biblical same-sex prohibitions are those found in Genesis 19, Leviticus 19 and 1 Corinthians 6. In the first, two male angels visiting a guy called Lot are threatened with rape by a crowd of men at Lot’s door. Lot offers up his virgin daughters instead but the crowd persists in its demands. Eventually, the angels strike the potential rapists blind and the story ends. All this occurs in the city of Sodom. In this tale, Bob finds an argument against Gay sex and Marriage.

Really? The big no-no seems to be rape, or, if we examine Lot’s words, the sin of poor hospitality. Lot makes it pretty clear that he has a duty to care for guests. And besides, if this is intended as a moral lesson to us all, it does seem to be giving us permission to use our sisters and daughters – our virgin sisters and daughters – as gifts to visiting mobs! Wrap ‘em in some tissue, stick a bow on ‘em and write “For You All” on the tag. (We have no idea what the return policy would be in this case.)

Bob, we will have to assume that Dear Reader’s stunned silence at this point indicates a less than thrilled response to this variation on neighbourly sharing, so let’s turn to Leviticus, who writes, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination.” [i] That seems pretty clear. Two things, however, do give us pause. First, we have to wonder what kind of strange folk Leviticus is dealing with because in the nearby pages, he feels it’s necessary to tell them that they can’t “uncover the nakedness” of, among others, their fathers, their mothers, their aunts, their uncles, their nephews and their daughters. He goes on to ban both men and women from having sex with goats, cows, and camels. I mean, who are these people?

The second and far more important issue is the range of other restrictions Leviticus lays down. Among them is a prohibition against eating the flesh of the swine that “cheweth not its cud” even if it has a cloven hoof. Bob, think for a minute. He’s talking about pork! Bar B Que! Ribs! That pulled sandwich you so love. The roadside dinner destination of millions of ravenous middle-Americans.

And please, won’t someone think of the bacon!

So essentially, it comes down to this. If we enforce  a Bible based ban on Gay Marriage, we are also going to have to give up eating any and all forms of pork, uncovering all that nakedness, and looking lasciviously at domestic animals. If, as you say, things banned in the Bible are Sins, Bob, then everything banned in the Bible is a Sin. If it makes you feel any better, Leviticus allows you to eat locusts (but not shrimp, scallops or lobsters, with or without garlic butter.) And by the way, he also bans gossip.

The bit in Corinthians is also going to force Bob to make an inconvenient choice. Here we find a list of those who will be excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s a pretty long list. Yes, it includes those who “abuse themselves with mankind”. This likely means those who have Gay sex. I suppose I could argue that it includes anyone who plays tackle football, hockey or rugby! I mean if those aren’t examples of “self abuse with mankind”, what is? However, I would be kidding.

My real issue is the rest of the “excluded” list. Right there in first place are the “fornicators”, followed by thieves, drunks, those who covet and a few more. Fornicators, Bob! This includes anyone who had sex before marriage as well as those who marry and then commit adultery. According to USA Today, almost all Americans have had premarital sex! [ii] And if our past or present sex crimes don’t get us, how about cheating on a tax return, drinking one too many beer one too many times, wanting anything that is our neighbour’s or even feeling lust in an improper fashion. (Apparently the kinky stuff is a sin even if it happens within a marriage!)  I don’t even want to begin to think about Heaven’s opinion on internet porn.

So is self abuse with mankind the bad one because it’s the one you don’t do and the rest are just naughty examples of boys being boys? I don’t think that’s the way it works! The problem with using the Bible as a rule book, Bob (and as I said earlier I have no real issue with that idea) is this notion of consistency. You can’t just pick and choose what is and is not a Sin and for whom. And if you feel you can, then we really aren’t dealing with the Bible.

We are dealing with the Boble.

Let’s consider two further Bible related points here.  We need to keep in mind that the Commandments begin with “Thou” either stated or implied. For example, “Thou shalt not kill.” or (Thou shalt) “Honour thy father and thy mother.” No Commandment begins “Other people shall not … .” Thus, while a concern for the holiness of neighbours may be touching, it isn’t what the Bible’s going on about. No one is going to be denied the Kingdom of Heaven because the neighbours sinned. If that were so, no one would live within 100 miles of a Kardashian. No, that Divine Finger is pointing at you, Bob, so do let’s be careful. We don’t want another Sodom here, now do we?

And if your primary motive is less the holiness of others and more their pain, God doesn’t really need help there either. I mean this is the deity who managed to come up with great floods, columns of fire and assorted plagues without our help.

Let’s end today’s letter with a new but key point. Assume you and Bobawa have invited the neighbours over for a dinner celebrating your anniversary. We all arrive bearing small wrapped gifts. Conversation begins. You mention your first apartment. We ask what the sex was like there and did you “do it” on the balcony. You go on to speak adoringly of the birth of your two children. We ask for details about their conception. You reminisce about family vacations over the years. We want to know if you had sex in all the hotel rooms or just in those with three stars. You then unwrap our presents and discover that everyone has brought you condoms, albeit in different colours and several flavours.

At that point, you would (I hope) – with righteous and justifiable anger – demand we all take our filthy and sex-obsessed imaginations out of your nice clean house.

My point, Bob, is simply this. The issue being discussed is Gay Marriage and every argument you have raised has to do with sex. And since you undoubtedly would agree that you are married to Bobawa even on those days when you do not have sex, we must assume that there is more to marriage than sex. That being so, perhaps in part three of this letter we could move on?

Cheers for now, Bob.

The last part will be posted on Friday.

 



[i] Leviticus 19, 22.

[ii] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2006-12-19-premarital-sex_x.htm

 

 

Gay Marriage, or “What’s in Your Closet, Bob?”

Part 1: In which the Elegant Bastard and Bob discuss whether Gay Marriage is Icky, Contagious or a threat to Resale Values in Iowa.

Dear America,

You and I may have already met but allow me to introduce “Bob”.

I know that his name and the obvious subject of this letter will lead a few to assume “Bob” needs no introduction. For them, the name and context would have instantly conjured up the image of a chubby, middle-aged mid-western white guy with a beer in one hand, a gun in the other, a child on either side and a wife we can’t see because she is in the kitchen. There is likely a dog, also chubby. And if this image comforts you and aligns with your planets, so be it.

However, truth be told, Bob may or may not actually be his real name.  In fact, Dear Reader, you may eventually need to become comfortable with ambiguity since Bob may or may not be chubby, may or may not be white, and may or may not drink beer, or be overweight, or love football, or live in Iowa. In fact, Bob may not even be male.

What we do know is that Bob, his children (Bob Junior and Bobette) and his wife (Bobawa)  and likely his little dog ( Rob) do not approve of Gay Marriage. Our task is to determine why this is so and then, in the true spirit of Diversity, determine whether to accept Bob’s arguments or look elsewhere for a solution.

I will admit, America, that I found Bob’s insistence on discussing this issue a little strange. After all, if Salima weds Fatima or Dick elopes with Dan, it should really only concern me if 1) I am paying for these weddings, or 2) I am God or 3) I happen to actually be Salima, Fatima, Dick and/or Dan. If none of these conditions hold, then my polite inner Canadian will no doubt whisper to me that my primary duty is to shut up and butt out. However, let’s hear what Bob has to say.

Bob has apparently decided that Gay Sex is “icky” and Gay Marriage will inevitably lead to Gay Sex. This may be true. In fact, Bob, Other People Having Sex (OPHS) generally is icky to uninvited observers. That is why OPHS tends to take place indoors, at night and behind curtains. In other words, Bob, you would have to work really really hard to actually see married Gay Sex (and that nice policeman who does the late night neighbourhood patrols might not understand why you need to) so why bother. Much easier to stay home and watch porn. Of course if next door newly-weds Larry and Barry decide to install floodlights and go at it rabbit-like on your front lawn, we will understand your objection. When this happens, let us know.

Bob now decides that arguments based on sexual aesthetics might not wash so we are moving on to concerns based on maintaining both family and property values. But here, too, there are problems. Surely family values must be set by individual families. You cannot insist that I watch “American Idol” with my children; I cannot insist that you watch “Big Bang Theory” with yours. Your spouse works; my common law partner does not. We are vegetarian; you are carnivores. Your walls are beige; mine are light green. Bob, mi casa no es tu casa.

Property values are another matter, but ever since the first reports came out suggesting that an influx of Gay couples actually boosts house prices[i], I am frankly amazed that recession-hit towns aren’t begging them to move in and start the renovations NOW! Besides, if neighbourly behavior really impacted property values, Bob, weed whackers, rap music and large reptilian pets would all have been banned decades ago.

I knew we would ultimately come to the next concern and here we are. Please won’t somebody think of the children!

Simply put, Bob wonders if the she-bop shenanigans of neighbours Beryl and Cheryl will confuse the emerging sexual identities of Bob Jr. and little Bobette. In other words, he is worried about contagious homosexuality in the same way that any parent might worry about mumps or measles. The fact that studies have shown that parental sexual preference has no impact on the choices made later by their adult children[ii] only increases his worries, especially since those very same studies remained mysteriously silent on the impact of Neighbour sexual preference! (Everybody loves a conspiracy, eh?)

Is Bob’s concern legitimate? Let us assume that adult sexual identity is contagious if it occurs between 35 and 50 feet away from impressionable children and only if the “germs” have to pass through two intervening external walls. Let us further assume that 5 % of the adult population in America is naturally gay. Finally, we will take as a given the fact that `natural` homosexuality was invented by communists at the start of the Cold War – say around 1950. We will use these assumptions to track the hypothetical growth of the feared Gay tsunami:

If, in 1950, the first subversive Gay Anti-American Sex Pair  (GASP) was infiltrated into, say, Smallville, then by 1965, the time it would take those born in 1950 to begin regular sexual activity, an additional 15 % of the population would have been infected. By 1980, GASP would grow to 45%. The takeover would be complete by 2010. As it is now 2013, Bob needs to accept that if Gay sex is communicable, not only will Bob Jr. and Bobette definitely be gay, Bob himself and Bobawa already are.

I sense we are now moving closer to the core of Bob’s concern. He believes that even if Gay behavior isn’t contagious, it is sinful and allowing Gay marriage means encouraging the growth of sin in the community. If true, this is indeed a troublesome notion and it deserves the same thoughtful consideration we have given Bob’s other arguments.

Let us begin by understanding the nature of sin. Sin occurs as the result of free choices we make. Eating, breathing and drinking are not in themselves sinful since we have no free choice in the matter. However, if we choose to fricassee our mother-in-law’s yappy poodle while inhaling cheap drugs and drinking bathtub gin, we have definitely committed several sins!

Now comes the difficult part. Bob and many of his buddies say that being Gay is a sin; ergo, it follows that people are Gay by choice. If this is so, then Bob’s argument becomes quite strong. However, we must be thorough. To determine if such actions are committed by choice, we must now ask Bob to select any one or more of his best buddies and go test this hypothesis, preferable behind the afore-mentioned closed doors and closed curtains. If neither Bob nor his closest friends are able to rise to this challenge, then we will have to assume that being Gay does not occur by choice and therefore cannot properly be call Sinful!

We’ll wait for you here, Bob.

(End of Part 1. Part 2 will be posted Wednesday)