Sunday Morning Coffee 4: The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary of Helpful Words and Phrases

In which the Elegant Bastard undertakes the Herculean task of addressing past instances of word abuse, and vows to continue this crusade until death or the availability of really good ice cream.

Words, like people, are dynamic things. They live. And since they live, they appear to be very good at doing something else people do. They change. They do this arbitrarily, more often than is really polite, and generally without my permission. I find this to be unreasonable. I see nothing wrong with expecting words to stay quietly in one place for several consecutive centuries. In fact the world would be a much better place if more people did the same thing.

I suppose I would be less agitated if words went about changing with a little more honestly. Instead, words stroll around as if all were normal, whistling innocently with a “Who? Me?” look plastered across their oh-so- innocent syllables. They even maintain their spelling and pronunciation.  Then, suddenly – WHAM – they shift their meaning. Some see this as subtle. I call it sneaky!

That’s also why I resent it.  I like meaning. Meaning and I are good friends. Meaning is the reason why, when I order tortellini, I don’t get tofu. It’s ensures that people are not able to safely refer to others with terms like “ferret-face” or “toad-breath”.  It’s why STOP signs contribute positively to population growth. It’s all about stability. I like stability.

It’s when words don’t mean what they used to mean that we get wordquakes. I don’t like wordquakes. They make me nervous. When I get nervous, my palms sweat, I start to mutter and my eyes roll unattractively. I conceal myself in small dark places and eat all the chocolate cookie dough ice cream. These actions create tension in those closest to me. They share it with others, it spreads and eventually there is turmoil in Egypt. I think this is unfair. I like Egypt.

It is to prevent situations like this that I urge everyone to try very hard not to mess with the meaning of words. Then, when the man on the street corner tells us that our duck is mooing at the barking cat ‘cause Obama’s wearing boxers and the snow is firing bullets in Barbados, we can assume with some certainty that this is not “Breaking News” from CNN. We can start cautiously backing away from our informant while uttering soothing sounds and perhaps promising to bring candy when we return with the nice people in the white coats.

Sadly, all our vows of proper verbal behavior in the future will do nothing to eradicate the mess we created in the past. Therefore, to assist those few still hoping to make sense of the world they must live in, I humbly offer my services as lexicographer, providing periodic lists of those words and phrases that have escaped and are preparing to betray such innocents as you, Dear Reader. I will accept no payment for these efforts, heroic though they may be. However, should you encounter me on the street and wish to reward my efforts with a smidgen of foie gras, a sip of fine burgundy or a spare Twinkie, who am I to deny altruism its due.

The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary (Part the First)

Beer: A word once denoting a beverage associated with hot days or hard work, its meaning has been usurped by vacationing college students and obese ballpark residents. Beer is now to them as a ball is to a dog – the reason they will Fetch, Carry, Roll over, Lie down and Play Dead. Sadly, dogs do it with more class and with less noise.

Mayor: Once a title referring to the holder of municipal office, in Canadian cities of more than 3 million the word now means “has been or is about to be arrested.”

Liberalism: In an apparent Hollywood variation, Liberals are those who condemn Paula Deen’s use of the “N” word but remain silent as Alec Baldwin launches an obscenity-laced violence-filled homophobic rant viewed by millions on Twitter. This should be regarded as a very liberal definition of liberalism.

(Yes, I promised a dictionary. No, I did not promise it would be alphabetical.)

Leak: An unfortunate event occurring when levees are badly built, children are tickled and narcissists are left unsupervised near microphones.

Religion: While traditional notions concerning love, charity and hope still dominate, in both the Christian and Islamic worlds there are now large groups believing that religion comes in the box marked “Guns”.

God’s Work: is what happens when they find the box marked “Bullets”.

Underwear: Once a garment worn beneath outerwear for reasons of support, comfort and hygiene, it appears to have become an optional accessory, like cuff links or good manners. On its own it is now deemed suitable attire for talk show guest appearances. Once used, it can apparently be sent through the mail as a souvenir or a greeting card. The Elegant Bastard requests that all friends continue to express their affections through Hallmark rather than via Hanes

Pope: A title not yet bestowed on either Julian Assange or Edward Snowden, but both gentlemen seem to believe that this is a temporary oversight soon to be corrected.

Weather Forecasts: In newspapers arranged from front to back according to likely accuracy, these are found just after the horoscopes and just before the ad for Harold the Jewelry Buyer

Pakistan: A chaotic mix of tribes, clans, hates and prejudices that periodically pretends to have an interest in democracy. This is done to ensure that other countries keep sending the money needed to finance the tribes, clans, hates and prejudices.

Afghanistan: An alternative spelling of Pakistan

F#ck: For several hundred years, the word meant to have sexual intercourse. Since people who regularly have sexual intercourse do not spend all their waking moments talking about sexual intercourse, the word occurred less frequently than the act. It now appears that many many millions are having little intercourse of any sort since the word is being used more frequently than the verb “to be”. It can now mean “Oh my goodness” or “Are you teasing me?” or “Please go somewhere else and pass away” or “No I don’t want broccoli” – in other words, almost anything other than “have intercourse”. This state of affairs is unlikely to change as it can only really be resolved by better sex education and/or better sex and very few governments are willing to provide either.

Waiting Room: A space set aside for 1) those wishing to be ignored by medical professionals 2) those too cheap to buy their own magazines and 3) those waiting to be invited to live in countries no one else wants to visit.

Better: For most Torontonians, the word used to describe conditions everywhere else.

So ends Part One. The Elegant Bastard would like to acknowledge the kind assistance of others who are committed to the same great cause. We will return but for now we sheathe our semantic swords. Heroics are a tiring avocation and the really good ice cream has just arrived.

And those wishing to read the inspiring and heroic tale of the Elegant Bastard’s triumph over the biggest of the Big Banks may do so here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-58

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/

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

In which the Elegant Bastard becomes fascinated by the similar ways once very different societies go about dealing with leftover children. We will begin with musings on  matters geophysical

I must, Dear Reader, ask a question of those living safely upon the normally stable bedrock of the Great Canadian Shield and its lesser American extensions? Did you recently feel the earth move under your feet? You did? And would you like to know why that happened? You would? Well then, allow me to be the first to reveal this to you. (No kudos are necessary but please feel free to support me in the five star Hong Kong hotel of your choice. I will provide my own pole dancer.)

Apparently, what you felt was not simply some great geosexual coupling of tectonic plates. Rumours suggest it was something far more profound. That shudder we felt could have been the seismic consequence of an entire American state picking itself up, dusting itself off and moving itself half way across the world. Naturally the redrawn maps and the new McDonalds menus would not yet be available,  so final proof is sketchy, but who cares about that, right? Allow me to introduce you now to that brand new state of being:  Arkansistan!

Discussions of flora and fauna will necessarily be left to those more able than I to deal with such trivia. I would instead draw your attention to a startling social similarity now existing between Arkansistan and its close ideological brother, Pakistan. Both apparently have an enormous abundance of male children, so many as to not know what to do with them all. Both are busily designing ways to deal with any extras.

Pakistan, having had a considerable head start, is far more advanced than its new neighbour. Still, the process it uses has been documented and is reasonably portable. What is true of cheap fabric turns out also to be true of male children.  There is generally a profit to be made if any surplus can be exported. It’s easier with t-shirts, but imagination makes anything possible.

It helps if large groups in society get enthusiastically involved and Pakistan was fortunate enough to have three, all very motivated.  Its upper classes decided that the paying of income taxes was inconvenient, a bit dull and just not their cup of tea. Its military, long the victim of a massive inferiority complex vis a vis India’s nuclear weapons program, decided it also needed a big one and undertook what was essentially the most expensive penis transplant in history. The ISI, Pakistan’s version of the CIA, wanted badly to play games with its neighbours and decided it could best do this by creating chaos in places like Afghanistan and Kashmir – one more example of big toys for little boys.

A financial consequence of these developments was the disappearance of anything even remotely akin to a comprehensive and well-funded public school system and the simultaneous appearance on the streets of hundreds of thousands of poor, illiterate and under-nourished male children wandering  around looking for food, employment and shelter. Inconvenient and – given their bedraggled state –  decidedly unphotogenic, these children posed a problem. And despite the heroic humanitarian efforts of the owners of Pakistan’s sweatshops, only a paltry few million could be rented from their parents and efficiently utilized in the weaving of cotton fabrics or the manufacture of  soccer balls.

The answer to this best-practice conundrum also required the involvement of powerful groups. For Pakistan, these saviors included fairly extreme religious groups. Together, they (and others) created thousands of radical madrassas (schools). These became nurturing agents for tens of thousands of Pakistani boys. Sadly, the word “school” does not always mean what it should.

Life for children in some of these schools is simple:  a daily dose of religious and sectarian hatred, unceasing indoctrination, the banning of any “Western influence”, pseudo-military training, minimal and/or poor food, the occasional beating (or worse) and lots of outdoor marching and/or chanting whenever a jihadist leader or a tribal commander or a powerful politician needs a mob or a martyr or a mob of martyrs. These madrassas have helped spawn a number of interesting and exciting off-shoots, among them Al Qaeda and the Taliban, nasty  ironies not lost on the Saudi and American governments, both of which were very instrumental in getting this unholy mess started.

Are there madrassas and NGO run schools in Pakistan that try to educate boys and girls and that try to go beyond religious instruction? In fact there are many. But the dark dormitories referred to here are not some desperate but praiseworthy effort to save young people from grinding and dehumanizing poverty. The raggle taggle child armies they send forth are used to serve the political, personal and cannon-fodder needs of those who finance or run them. They have very little to do with anything most Muslims would regard as legitimately Islamic. Nor are they fundamentally focused upon saving or healing or growing the minds, bodies and souls of children.

Instead, they have everything to do with establishing and maintaining the power and honour of innumerable self-proclaimed leaders.  They are the real-world occurrence of Jonathan Swift’s satire, A Modest Proposal, in which the writer argues that the starving children of famine-stricken Ireland be fattened and butchered to feed the English elites. The only difference is these lost children of Pakistan do not even experience the pleasure of being fattened first!

(This innovative use of disposable children is not limited to Pakistan. Nations are also guilty but we will discuss those another time. For now, it’s on to Arkansistan and its strange encounter with the Boy Scouts of America.)

A partial list of readings is provided here and at the end of Part 2

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.

 

 

One Too Many Phallic Symbols?

In which the Elegant Bastard accomplishes what both the UN and the CIA have failed to achieve and retires from the scene with all appropriate humility.

Apparently Justin Beiber has a small monkey he likes to play with when he is far from home. Ah, boys and their toys. I think it nasty of the German authorities to deprive the boy of his monkey when he arrived with it in Munich. I mean really, what is the child to do between performances. Hopefully they were gentle when they took it away and will be just as gentle when they return it.

The little Bieber has not been the only young victim of recent monkey-related misfortune. I am of course thinking the similarly sad tale of Kim Yong Un – he of the perpetual Bad hair Day – who, it is rumoured, has no little monkey at all. Well no wonder the boy always seems so upset. Perhaps if we all chipped in together and got him one, he wouldn’t need to play with missiles any more?

http://petslady.com/articles/german_officials_grab_justin_biebers_monkey_video_62537

 

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)

 

Of Teachers and Old Sisyphus

In which the Elegant Bastard makes the necessary argument that one cannot buy or bully a rolling stone.

Like the wars of religion, debates regarding the duties of teachers return to plague us time after time. Nowhere is this now more hysterically true than in normally calm Toronto.  Here the usual armies are fighting over whether teachers do or do not have a duty to provide extra-curricular activities. On the extreme Yea side we have those who cite the skills gained by students, the relief offered to working parents and the extraordinarily generous salaries and benefits given those”lazy-overpaid-pension-thieves-who-don’t-even-work-during-summers-like-poor-me-has-to!” The more rabid Nay Sayers are those few teachers and those many teacher union voices who talk incessantly of noble sacrifices, ungrateful parents, self-serving politicians and all the other “take-us-for-granted-and-pay-us-crap ingrates who refuse to genuflect to us even when asked nicely to do so”.

Strangely, issues of this nature are often best understood from a great distance. When forced to see things from a different place and a different time, combatants might achieve a new clarity and a greater wisdom, and if not, they are at least blessedly far away from us and so we may once again sip our lattes in peace and quiet companionship. It is in that spirit that I suggest we use the ancient story of Sisyphus to help us understand the wars now being waged on the shores of Lake Ontario.

The original story involves three main players: Sisyphus the King, the largest rock in the world, and a variety of old Greek Gods who were as usual behaving badly. For whatever reason (and there are several different accounts) poor King Sisypus ticked off either the wrong God or too many Gods and ended up condemned to forever roll the afore-mentioned rock up some mountain somewhere. Sadly, just as he neared the mountain’s summit, his rock would escape his grasp and roll all the way back down to the bottom. Sisyphus would have to start again, and again, and again, and keep doing so for all eternity.

What has all this to do with teachers and extra-curricular activities? Let us assume that the rock represents all those activities – the clubs and sports and trips that teachers labour to provide. The teachers are, of course, a modern day version of King Sisyphus, one who has acquired labour contracts, social networking skills and nice shoes. We will not identify the Gods just yet.

Now consider. Our modern Sisyphus rolls the rock for one of three reasons. The first would be because the old Gods command it. But if this is so, then all our freedoms are mere illusions, debate becomes a charade, and we will have put up with election speeches, hockey wars and telemarketing calls for no valid reason.  Let us all agree not to raise this possibility again.

The other two reasons are more useful. Sisyphus either enjoys the suffering he endures while pushing the rock or he simply enjoys pushing the rock. The first of these is problematic for those arguing the noble selflessness of teachers, a concept that necessarily involves suffering. If teachers did not enjoy suffering, they would stop. And if they do enjoy suffering for its own sake, the rock becomes irrelevant. Other far more creative and less strenuous ways to enjoy the suffering sensation are available. There is no need to hang about in smelly classrooms or on poorly manicured playing fields for days and weeks and months on end while supervising other people’s loud children. They could pierce new body parts daily (or the same one repeatedly). They could shop endlessly at Walmart. The truly masochistic could listen to the collected speeches of Rick Santorum (or in Toronto, Rob Ford) over and over again. What glee club or football team or museum trip could possibly provide so intense a pain as these?

However, the third alternative seems to offer even less support for the teachers’ side. If Sisyphus enjoys pushing his rock, then teachers enjoy the extra-curricular activities they provide. Running all those clubs and teams is therefore a selfish endeavor.  English teachers actually like debate and journalism clubs. Gym teachers truly value the respect and admiration young athletes often bestow on coaches. Arts teachers really relish the opportunity to guide a new Picasso or Yo-Yo Ma to maturity? Whatever the teacher-activity combination may be, if teacher egos get great big wet and sloppy kisses from all the extra-curricular activities they lead, isn’t it time they just shut up and got on with it?

Ah, but it is at this point that the Yea side loses control of its own rock and has to watch it roll down the hill. It is precisely because teachers enjoy pushing their rocks that we need to take the withdrawal of extra-curricular activities seriously. Teachers do not suffer when they perform these tasks; they suffer when they are forced to stop them. This suffering is not enjoyed and is therefore significant.

Examine every club or team that stopped during the recent labour strife in Ontario. Yes, you will see the disappointed young people and hear the angry adult voices, but you will also note the dejection of teachers who created these opportunities out of passion, conviction or personal need. And while you think on this, consider the fact that while parents and teachers experience one academic year of disappointment, the cancellation of an activity can destroy years of prior work by its teacher mentors. No gardener happily destroys the living garden.

What forced the cancellations? The answer to that goes far beyond mere money. The freezing of salaries during a period of restraint is not exactly anyone’s Happy Pill but most teachers would have swallowed that with the Grin-and-Bear-It stoicism we can all occasionally muster. However, when employers start clawing back, when government campaigns question dedication and professionalism and when hate-filled public voices make it all very personal, the insult is not to dollars but to dignity and self-worth.

This is the essential point and fully understanding it requires us to finally identify the Gods who gave our modern Sisyphus that extra-curricular rock. The answer is not the usual set of suspects: governments, taxpayers, children. The Gods at work here are private dieties.

Think of the homemaker who sings operetta, the chartered accountant who runs marathons, the chef who volunteers at the local animal shelter or the CEO who has spent twenty years developing a rose. Each serves two masters. The first we will call Work. The other – the After Work master, the private God – lives in the private Soul. The physics teacher who organizes after-school hockey tournaments is not just a public servant obeying some school board, nor is the English teacher who organizes after-school theatre trips or the mathematics teacher who provides after-school bridge lessons. Do not let the setting fool you. When the 3:30 bell rings, the Public Servants leave the building and in come the Sisyphi and the rocks their Gods have given them! (Oh they may look like hockey sticks and ticket stubs and playing cards, but trust me, it’s the rocks.)

This is why cannot legislate extra-curriculars as a duty. “Extra” is precisely that. We can no more force a teacher to run an after-school Gay Straight Alliance than we can force CEO’s to invent new roses. And when we try to make these after school gifts compulsory, we demean the giver and the gift. We trample down dignity. We insult the Self. We sneer at the Rock.

We can, I suppose, continue to coerce and batter and bruise our teachers if we choose, although to do so seems self-defeating in the long term. And when all the shouting stops, one consequence will immediately be clear. Public servants will remain.

But Sisyphus will have left the building.

Of Dolphins and Dancers and Teachers and Tricks

The Elegant Bastard believes that Ken Kesey’s protagonist, Randall Patrick McMurphy, was correct when he told his friends that those who lose their laugh lose their footing. But there are times when laughter must be tempered. This is one of them.

(Dedicated to the public school teachers of Ontario, Canada)

 In which the Elegant Bastard explains to the governments everywhere the essential importance of flowers and fish chunks to all our futures.

Imagine a dolphin, elegant and graceful master of sea and air, leaping forever into a succession of suns, scattering diamonds across the sea’s surface as it rises and returns, rises and returns. Nearby, the crowd is enthralled. Later it will speak of symmetry and strength, power and poise and beauty.

There will never be any mention made of the chunk s of dead fish the dolphins’ choreographer will subtly distribute to each performer after each trick. The chunks seem distasteful. They deny the magic. But for how long would the dolphins climb the air for the benefit of others without those less than elegant chunks? We all know the answer. We understand what we would rather not see. No chunks; no tricks.

Now consider, Dear Reader, the following question. How different are teachers – or any of us – from dolphins? No different at all; this we know. What? You do not like the dolphin metaphor?  Then consider a dancer. A partner approaches, perhaps with flowers. At the sound of the music, the two enact a graceful pattern across the shimmering floor. The crowd marvels at the intricacy, the shared confidence, the natural flow and the subtle shifts. No one notices the sweat or realizes that one of the dancing pair experiences the pain of a blister on one toe.

The teaching arts, done well, are always subtle, always natural. However, they are also transactional and because they are so, fair exchange must be involved. In fact, exchange is part of every transaction in life, so much so that we overlook its fundamental nature. As much as we may wish to believe that others are driven solely by Truth or Beauty or Duty, we know that at a fundamental level it all comes down to fish chunks or flowers. We ignore that at our peril.

Canadians have always seemed more aware of the fish and flower dynamic than most. Thus I was surprised when the Government of Ontario, a province generally as far away from Wisconsin as Neverland is from the Middle East, decided to run a Scott Walker steamroller over its teachers. The vehicle was nicknamed the “Putting Students First Act”. Essentially, this piece of legislation eviscerated the idea of sick leave and retirement gratuities, froze teacher remuneration for two years, and reduced the concept of collective bargaining to a charade for the same period of time. The Premier of Ontario, then one Dalton McGuinty, a liberal, said that this was necessary to preserve the progress made in education over his tenure.

(Here I notice a few readers yawn, mutter “about time!” and turn on their cell phones to see if they can access NetFlix. Please – a moment or so longer!)

I do not doubt that Ontario faces difficult financial times. In my own situation I am also made to exercise financial “restraint” by greater powers.   I do not like it, but if this genuinely and demonstrably serves the Greater Good, I might find it in myself, if asked very nicely, to agree. If a convincing case can be made that some long cherished entitlement must go the way of the dinosaurs or at the very least evolve dramatically, I may summon forth a stiff upper lip and try not to cry too loudly. But please, Mr. McGuinty, Mr. Walker, Ms Merkel and the many other Mr’s and Ms’s, hear this.

I will not do so alone.

Neither I nor Ontario’s teachers nor New York’s bus drivers nor D.C. Walmart workers nor Greek pensioners will walk down this path without protest so that those who govern and those who seek to govern can spin competing narratives. If, in the Ontario example, Premier McGuinty was cruel in introducing the Act, his opponents, social democrat Andrea Horwath and (Tea Party style) conservative Tim Hudak, responded with predictably sycophantic and self-serving drivel.)

Why ?

Let us pause for a moment and consider the nature of the average voter in the average western democracy. Ontario, like any other similar state, is comprised of people who, while they can rise under duress to benevolence and even sacrifice, are essentially self-focused. In fact, Dear Reader, we all on occasion chant some part of the following mantra.

No one works harder than I do. No one is as abused as I am. No one is as underpaid and overlooked as I. Those who have more than me stole it. Those who have less don’t deserve what they have. Everyone else is in it for what they can get. No one has ever been so screwed as I have been. Canonize me now you bastards. (By the way, that’s why I cheat on my taxes, steal grapes at the supermarket, speed and watch porn on my office computer.)

An occasional recitation of the above – accompanied by several Coors (not light), a good sized bottle of Seagram or a box of  the best Lindt – can actually restore our battered egos and drive away those nasty niggledoubts that attack us all.  (Repeat after me: Catharsis is King!) But eventually, the vast majority of us recover our equanimity and return to our less selfish states of mind where we are ruled by sweet reason.

The problems emerge because many, many others are permanently caught up in this “Haters” mentality. Their  jaundiced eyes see the external world as filled with those who have so much more than they: a pompous Lord Black “jailed” in a mansion, an arrogant Justin Beiber scampering away from traffic tickets , a randy Prince Harry with a better butt than theirs, a long-haired patched-jean university “student” with his grant in one hand and his dope in the other, the welfare bums with booze bottles and all the others who seem to laugh as “We” (Haters are always “We”) work our fingers to the bone.

Inevitably, the Haters notice the teachers. Now their anger creeps up another notch.

What a sweet deal, eh? A six hour work day. Spares.  A big salary.  A massive pension (that “We”are paying for.) A union that keeps the lazy incompetent bastards from getting fired. Sick days. Summers off. SUMMERS OFF! And now they want more? Screw ‘em!

Enter Mr. McGuinty, Mr. Hudak, and Ms Horwath, bellows in hand. Let’s stoke these fires, boys and girl. There’s votes in them there embers.

I was once a teacher, by all reports a reasonably good one. I remain proud of my former profession. But to the Haters out there – and you, Dear Reader – I admit the following. Villains do walk among the teaching ranks. There are incompetent teachers and they are more dangerous than bad doctors. Doctors kill one at a time; teachers can massacre whole classrooms. Yes, there are lazy teachers in the world, so many that other teachers have nicknames for them, like the “3:00 P.M. Track Team”. Oh yes, teacher unions are often appallingly amateurish, riddled as they are by “I Hate The Man” refugees from badly re-formatted 1960’s socialism. And if you want more to hate in public education, try cowardly Supervisory Officers, petty ego-driven Trustees and self advertising Directors who can’t even copy well.

However, we need to remember this. Every Hater and everyone else can remember the dedicated Teacher. Imagine this heroic figure, preferably clad in a flowing toga and carrying a golden sword. Let us add a blizzard raging all around. We’ll have a few ravenous wolves circling for added effect. Does our heroic teacher falter? Never! The lessons are always compelling, the voice caring, the hand on the shoulder comforting, the marking effective, the grades fair, the smile genuine and the hours of work endless. The impact, finally, is enormous.

Nor are these heroes few in number. In my experience, they actually outnumber the villains, albeit not by the desired margin. Why then did the mass of Ontario citizenry not respond to Mr. McGuinty’s “Putting Students First” and Ms Horwath’s sneers and Mr. Hudak’s histrionics with loud outrage? Why did so many in Wisconsin, apparently a quite mild-mannered place in the best of times, leap on board their governor’s bash-the-unions juggernaut? Simply put, hate and fear are more powerful than fond memory and gratitude. Every politician knows this.

The Ontario government knew if it offered up teachers (“lazy and overpaid”) and their perks and salaries, followed by the doctors (“greedy and REALLY overpaid”) as scapegoats for all that ails Ontario’s economy, the Haters would coalesce. They would enjoy what they see as vengeance obtained on those who dared to be better than they.  Ms Horwath knew that if she claimed that the government was “absolutely” doing this to serve its own selfish and hidden agenda, Haters and conspiracy theorists would believe her and revel in their own now validated cynicism. Mr. Hudak knew that by declaring he would act even more decisively against teachers, he would remind the “Give everyone except me Hell!” Haters that he was of their tribe.

The fact that “Putting Students First” didn’t in any measureable long-term way put students first is irrelevant. Politics is optics and even teacher strategists conceded the optics here were brilliant.

What political leaders in Ontario did to teachers is precisely what class has done to class and race has done to race and ethnicity has done to ethnicity and sect has done to sect and damn near everyone has done to the Jews: make one group the target for all resentment, fear and self loathing. If you want to see the same drama enact itself with far more bells, whistles and music, watch the Pro and Anti gun people rip each other apart in the US for the foreseeable future.

And when all is said and done, what’s the harm?

The harm is profound. McGuinty and the others did not start this rot, nor will it end in Ontario, but they have caused it to spread. They have done so by splitting society into good and evil groups. Even the name of the act, “Putting Students First Act”, is divisive, implying that all who opposed them were nothing more than so many greedy guts lined up at the public trough! After the teachers and doctors have been scapegoated, who will be next? The civil servants have been butchered, roasted and well picked over already so will it be other union contracts? Corporate pay scales? Expense accounts? Pension indexing? Why not? I can hear the Haters now:

Lazy union labourers! Cheating business people. Seniors who got us in this mess with their cushy pensions. And while we are at it, let’s make all those drug taking students pay “their fair share”.

(To Haters, everyone else’s unfair share is exponentially larger than their own.)

In these times when restraint seems a necessary option, politicians from all sides could sit down with representatives of all interests groups and together produce something like a Restraint Act. Had this happened in Ontario, perhaps everyone there would have made some meaningful but not grossly expensive contribution to balancing the books. The pain and the potential gain would have been shared.

Perhaps we would have seen the rise and spread of Restraint parties, Restraint parades, Restraint awards and Restraint buttons, scarves and beads. We are an enterprising people, are we not, and as I said earlier, we can rise to compassion and sacrifice if the need is there. Teachers and everyone else would have shouldered the burden.

But no. That scenario would provide no useful optics, would offer nothing to entrenched political machines. Instead there was finger pointing and organized teacher bashing.

Again, what’s the harm? Think back to the dolphin and the dancers. Ontario wiped the blood from its corporate hands and turned back to its teachers, expecting the same tricks, the same shared music. Instead they found seething resentment, the elimination of extra-curriculars, an unwillingness by many to do anything that sounded remotely voluntary, and a whole new cynicism. Teachers will continue to teach just as dolphins will continue to swim. But there will be no tricks or worse, much worse, the tricks will be done badly.

Nor will the dancers leave the floor. But their message has been made clear. When you step on our feet or dance on our heads, then you will dance alone.

And you, Dear Reader, now sitting in the audience and more than a little disappointed in the performances you’ve seen lately, look about you. Look at the legion of Haters grumbling in their seats. Do they make you nervous? Do you wonder, “Am I next?”

Ah, Dear Reader. Yes. You are.

Of Rob Ford and his Tribe of Little Men

In Which the Elegant Bastard Determines that Size is Not Everything!

Despite my status as the oldest (only) male in my family, I have made it a point to impose few rules regarding the behavior of others. True, this has as much to do with the fact  my family regards rules as bulls do red flags, ants a picnic and televangelists a dollar than it does with any notion of “live and let live”. Still, I have on occasion drawn my own lines in the sand, circled my wagons (difficult as I have only one) and stood with my back to my wall.

The issue is simple: the naming of descendants.

People being people, the need to name babies comes along fairly regularly. I am rarely asked my opinion regarding whether or not new off-spring will be sprung off. Therefore, given that I will be required to share with these new arrivals everything from a last name to the scandalously small amount of dark meat on a turkey to post-mortem unspent money, I claim and defend my right to exercise certain naming rights.

My rule is this: under no circumstances will any child whose diapers I might change, buy or stand within olfactory range of be named Genghis. Attila is also off limits, as are Napoleon, Charlemagne, Tamerlane and Thutmose. I do not jest! Let those with expectations of beneficiary status take warning – I ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie here. (I will also not allow the name Dixie.)

My intransigence has nothing to do with iambic or alliterative weirdness, although none of these first names would go well with Smith, Ali, Singh or Li. It simply acknowledges the fact that children named after the great military heroes and butchers of the past rarely go on to great and glorious lives in the present.

Allow me to offer two final proofs of the above. The first is self evident. Have you ever met a cute little sprite with blond curls, a pink dress and a lollipop whose parents had named her Boadicea? Of course not! Add to that fact the following:  Toronto, the Big Little city on the shores of the Big Little lake is experiencing some fundamental and profound pain. To many, it has gone from wannabe World Class City to Local Joke, even as its downtown towers multiply and grow taller. (Our city planners seem to have decided if they can’t have the biggest they’ll at least have the most!)

The reason?  In 1969, a male child was born and carelessly named. Here follows a tiny bit of Scottish history.

In the early 1300’s, a man by the name of Robert the Bruce, born of a powerful mother and an obedient father, spent much of his early life joining whatever army happened to be winning at the time. He ended up being both King of Scotland and a major figure in that nation’s roster of heroes. Legends abound, not the least of which was one cackled often by my grandmother, who delighted in telling me that Scotland’s greatest king was famous for gnawing on the bones of those he slaughtered, something that I never doubted given my own early experiences with Scottish cuisine. Still, while this might explain my attitude towards haggis and oatmeal, how does it relate to Toronto’s recent history?

Because, Dear Reader, our large and decidedly imperfect mayor is named Robert Bruce Ford. The poor wee mite never had a chance.

A large group of over-weight men are outside trying to determine what exactly one does with a football other than bounce it noisily and repeatedly off the pavement and each other. Forgive me while I go and make a suggestion.

You shake your head at “wee”, I know, but size is not merely to be measured in vertical achievement, horizontal displacement and in the case of Wee Robbie, tonnage. The breadth, height and length of things may interest engineers, cooks and the occasional pervert but those of us in search of Truth know she will not be quantified so easily. And so we recognize that ‘wee” here refers to the inner Robbie, the one we have observed wolfing down KFC, giving the finger to passing motorists, introducing adolescent football players to maiming tactics and public transit, suggesting that cyclists killed in traffic were asking for it, and otherwise making it perfectly clear to all that he is no renaissance man – or even a renaissance mouse!.

A recent article in Toronto Life alluded to any number of reasons why our Robbie does not generally play well with others. There are references to a powerful mother, a father at once too generous and too demanding, an older bigger brighter sib (o.k., not bigger!), a mother-in-law who makes all the stereotypes too true, a failed football career, and a mound of other baggage designed to make one both little and aware of one’s own littlehood. And so perhaps it is to compensate, to appear to be as large as he wishes he were, that he turns – as so many have before him – to the public stage, or in his case, the political arena. Which forum is chosen matters not at all; the essence of both is performance. And Robbie performs.

Sadly, he achieves mostly faint sound and feeble fury. As he struts and frets, as he smoulders and gesticulates, as he stabs his finger at invisible enemies and thrusts his belly forth in an awesome display of … well … belly, he achieves only noise and in a very limited way, spectacle. It’s as if a gladiator arrived at the forum without his sword or a lion without its teeth. In his mouth, language is badly served, and his mix of fatuous argument and flatulent style will no doubt give birth to whole new synonyms for fart. Yet he will persist. He will flail and fail. He will run after his name and his dream of greatness. For once the “Chain of Office” is well-named.

Does it appear as if I pity Wee Robbie? It would be easy to do so. I recall seeing him on his feet at Toronto City Council, spreading his arms as he made an entirely forgettable point, and he did rather look like a man attending his own crucifixion.

But I don’t. One cannot pity a puppet. And whatever else Robbie may be, as gross and gargantuan and ghastly as he is, he is not his own man. He is servant to a larger master. As soon as he entered the public consciousness as something potentially more than a crackpot voice from the wasteland, he was seized – caught – captured. He was taken by … The Other.

Some of us will now spend a brief moment or two exploring the existential concept of “The Other”. The rest need feel no guilt whatsoever if they choose to explore either naps or chocolate.

The normal example used to explain “The Other” requires you to imagine yourself as a peeping Tom, or, in the politically correct 21rst Century, a peeping Mary. As you kneel at your peephole, staring at whatever or  whoever busily doing whatever, imagine that you hear the floor creak behind you. Dying inwardly, you stumble to your feet while desperately fumbling with any loose ends. Shame thrusts itself upon you. You turn to face the judgmental gaze of … The Other.

In that moment, you have been captured, judged, labelled and defined. You will now be forced to rebel against that judgment, thereby being weirdly controlled by it or you will take the easier road, yielding to it and playing out the part it assigns. Wee Robby took the second path.

Yes, Dear Reader, I hear you.  Who, you ask, is Robby’s Other? Sadly, it is us, or rather, some of us, or rather, many of us, or rather, most of Etobicoke, Scarborough, York, North York and large chucks of Toronto. We are Wee Robby’s Other. We pull the strings to make him dance.

Have you ever trained a puppy? Puppy does his good boy dance and we lean forward, praising and offering a cookie. Puppy does a different dance and out comes the rolled up newspaper. (Be advised that this is a metaphor and that this technique does not work well on real puppies. It will, however, work superbly with Tim Hudak.)

Consider Wee Robbie in this light. He mutters about liberal downtown effete elites who screw the working stiff and tens of thousands of self defined stiffs lean forward offering cookies. He argues that subways belong to Scarborough by right and act of God and only Fat Cats and Pinkos would deny them their due. Scarborough chucks him under his little chins and offers even more cookies. He slams the lefty conspiracy (gays, cyclists, environmentalists, light rail lovers, men who don’t spit) that unfairly has more than you do since they have tickets on the gravy train and cookies avalanche in from everywhere. In short, he embodies the oldest commandment of all: Hate Thy Neighbour.

What we call Ford Nation is largely a Nation of Haters. They seethe inwardly, attributing the loss of their dreams to all around them. Everyone else is “in it for themselves”, a “rip-off artist”, “selfish”, a “cheat”, “not a real man” or  “a bitch”. Only they are patriotic hard-working Joes blessed with a little common sense. (And if they cheat a little on their taxes, so what. It’s their “hard-earned” money and “everybody else does it” eh?)

Wee Robbie simply says out loud what they may only whisper. And if he someday chooses not to speak the words they dare not, they will abandon him to his former littlehood. In fact, in the same way that Don Cherry’s jackets will need to get louder, so will wee Robbie.

Shouldn’t we then pity Ford? But why? Look at the man! If anyone were ever over-cookied, it is he! He will waddle on. Wrapped in self-love and swollen with the bile of others, he will avoid self knowledge unless some inconvenient law finally swats him down. Even if that does happen, he will seize on Noble Victimhood and charge thousands to deliver after-dinner speeches. Wee Robbie shall have cookies wherever he goes.

No, save your pity for Ford Nation. They rally around him as they have around others like him and they will continue to do so, worshipping in him their own unspeakable image.

And no one ever gives them cookies.