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May 10, 2006 11:38 AM

The right stuff

It's so simple: In Sweden, it sez here, "by law, companies are responsible for collecting the entire waste stream stemming from their products, either on their own or through public or private contractors.

"Needless to say, there is a strong economic incentive for companies to produce less waste -- from products and product packaging -- at the outset of manufacturing, rather than deal with it later."

There's the kind of courage we need in North American politicians. Whereizit?

May 9, 2006 6:14 PM

Front page news

WOW. "The research team led by Ivanka Savic at the Stockholm Brain Institute compared the brain reactions of volunteers who sniffed chemicals derived from male and female sex hormones. These chemicals are thought to be pheromones -- molecules known to trigger responses such as defense and sex in many animals."

And the lesbians responded to sex pheromones differently than did the straight women! They responded like straight men respond to sex hormones!

Researchers have discovered that lesbians react physically to OTHER WOMEN.

Fuck. Science is amazing.

May 9, 2006 5:55 PM

Honouring the seditious

The contrarian in me, browsing through an arena full of discarded municipal library books, spotted a spine: "The Ultimate Guide to the Opposite."

I was charmed. Perfect for my carefully nurtured rebelliousness!

Then I realized a sticker was obscuring the final word in the title: "Sex."

May 8, 2006 9:30 AM

To arms! Destroy Mary Worth!

The reason we all hate the comics pages of our local daily paper is quite simple: they're trying to please everybody. And so every ego-obsessed reader scowls angrily at what they despise. The more segregation in media, the more we can program for ourselves and our interests, the less patient we are with the interests of Those Who Are Not Exactly Like Us.

Thus "legacy" comics -- like "Blondie," "Peanuts," "Family Circus," and "Mary Worth" -- are on the same page as "Get Fuzzy," "Pearls Before Swine" and "Rhymes with Orange." (But not "The Boondocks" any more, which is on a six-month break. The TV series was on Comedy Network -- the very first episode featured a nekkid grand-dad's fuzzed-out groin -- but seems to have gone AWOL, as well.)

This story has the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Frank Rizzo saying: '"It's sort of like programming for a TV network. You can't target just one audience.' ... Younger readers complain about older-skewing strips, says Rizzo, and older readers don't understand the humor of something like 'Pearls.' Meanwhile, his newspaper, like most in this time of shrinking circulations and aging newspaper demographics (the average age of a newspaper reader is 55, according to a 2005 Carnegie Corp. study), is trying to attract new readers -- an area in which comics can play a key role.

"'They do help sell newspapers,' says Rizzo, pointing to surveys ranking the importance of newspaper features to readers. '[Comics] are one way of having readers get attached to the paper.'

"But some newspapers are nervous about taking on edgier strips, says 'Get Fuzzy' cartoonist Darby Conley. He observes that he's received complaints from papers about using the word 'butt' in his strip, 'but then you turn on 'South Park,' and you go, what? It's a really weird situation,' he says.

"'Newspapers are, in my guess, in 1959 in terms of morality,' he says. 'They'd rather have a dead comics page than have people writing in.'"

Sez Rizzo: "It's a tightrope. How [can you] be cutting edge for one generation but not upset the sensibilities for other readers? There's got to be a balance."

That's right, fisticuffs over the 'toons. Yup, it's always easier to argue over the window boxes and the colour of the trim than having a nice long chat about the major reno that's gonna require smashing some walls and redoing the basement. But everybody still needs a comfy chair and a reading lamp. Unless as readers we really do want to kick some people out? Only hang out with the cool kids?

May 4, 2006 4:07 PM

Segregate properly

The queer lobby group Egale Canada has put out a press release complaining about the Census Canada questionnaires, which ask same-sex married folk to tick on the "other" option, instead of on the "husband or wife" option.

Of course, common-law spouses are already separated out into opposite- and same-sex. That's apparently fine.

But we need a queer marriage count.

"Egale is recommending that same-sex married couples list their relationship as "Husband or wife" rather than "Other." According to Statistics Canada, either response will be captured correctly as a married same-sex couple. In addition, Egale is calling on all concerned Canadians to add a comment on Page 6 of the questionnaire, such as 'Same-Sex couples deserve equal treatment.'"

The complete press release is in the comments section (click on the headline above to get there).

May 4, 2006 11:54 AM

Keep talking, but, uhm, over there, maybe? Not here

Gawd help us, but we need arrogant bastards and bastettes who love to hear themselves talk. Because those people, my loves, are activists. They are the bulldozers who won't shut up, and because of this, they keep issues in the public eye and sometimes even manage to change a small corner of the world.

I was reminded of this at the recent comic book con, as I listened to the endless self-indulgent babblings of Quebec author and anti-censorship smart-ass Charles Montpetit. He wouldn't really answer questions, just fell back into his well-worn groove.

And more power to him.

Montpetit is paid a pittance -- a few hours per month by the Union des écrivains/es québécois -- to try to stop libraries, politicians and Canada Customs agents from banning books. Montpetit claimed Customs alone censors 48,000 publications a year.

Comic books comprise big chunks of that loot, and once they're blacklisted, they must be destroyed: "Canada is a country that burns books," said Montpetit (en francais, the translation is mine). Yes, literally.

But it's not just the literary critics at the border; Montpetit gave us an endless tour of the silly. Crime comics are banned in Canada: they come under a "corrupting morals" clause, and are defined as "a magazine, periodical or book that exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially the commission of crimes, real or fictitious." It's never invoked anymore, but it's still on the books (section 163 of the Criminal Code). (When cops tell you they're enforcing a stupid law because that's their job, demand that they raid the local depanneur and arrest the owner for selling crime comics. Then see what happens to the argument....)

In 1941, the Action Catholique de Quebec newspaper would regularly redraw panels in Harold Foster's iconic Prince Valiant strip, as the women were "too sexual." Bare shoulders, naughty, naughty.

We laugh now. But it's still happening -- and in libraries, to boot. In 2001 in Hull, a woman's complaint about the allegedly sexist contents of a handful of comic books -- all of them filed in the adult section -- resulted in the entire 180 comic book collection being withdrawn from the shelves. Including those by noted feminist Claire Bretécher. Montpetit said it took three months of work to reverse the decision.

Oh, and Canada Customs. Agents watch specific people and addresses. One reader, whose previous shipment had been found to be particularly problematic, tried to again order comics by mail. Customs agents just banned every single book in the box.

And what was in the shipment? "Asterix and the Cauldron" and "Tintin in Tibet." Banned in Canada in 1993, for three months.

So go, go, go, Charles. Yell, snort, stamp your feet. I'll be rolling my eyes, but hoping you win.

May 3, 2006 8:34 PM

Welcome to the 21st century

Ahoy! The CBC has finally worked out the sillies. I'm talkin' podcasts!

Oples readers will be aware of a certain... contempt... in this corner for the slowpokes at the MotherCorpse, busily pushing busy Canucks into listening to the fershlugginner Americans on their -- on our -- Mp3 players.

But we can now come in from the cold! Twenty-two Canadian podcasts, eh. Up from a measly three. Yippee!

Please, sir. May I have some more?


ADDENDUM 9pm: Radio guy Tod Maffin's readers tackle the changes.

May 3, 2006 1:15 PM

Mr. Roboto goes gay

Chuck Panozzo, of the rock supergroup Styx -- you know, "Lady," "Babe," "Show me the Way" and "Come Sail Away" -- is out.

"Panozzo still plays bass for the group, the first musical act to ever have four consecutive triple platinum albums, that remains one of the most popular musical acts in history. Styx still plays scores of dates per year, often as a double bill with other classic acts like Journey, REO Speedwagon or Kansas.... And they still attract sell-out crowds that are now multi-generational."

Sadly, Panozzo thinks this has everything to do with talent, instead of simple boomer nostalgia for their youth (and youth obsession with irony): "We have lasting appeal because we play melodies that people can hum, and we have lyrics that are meaningful," Panozzo says. "Nobody is fabricating our songs through us, nobody is making us through 'American Idol.'"

And here's the gay stuff: "In the early years of Styx [in the 1970s], Panozzo says, the other members of the band knew he was gay and quietly accepted it. Because there was so much sex on the road, and because many of the band members were married, most of the sexual exploits of the band members were kept quiet. So on the occasion that Panozzo brought a guy back to his hotel room, that was done discreetly and quietly as well, he says....

"Panozzo describes it as being similar to the 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' policy of the armed forces."

When Styx got back together in 1996 after a seven-year split, band members were worried Panozzo might be loud about homo sex. "Panozzo reassured them he was just there to play music. But a brush with death in 1998 changed his vow of silence." That's when AIDS hit (seven years after his HIV diagnosis), and he got mouthy about condoms.

The hyper-masculinity of cock rock is so hopelessly campy, I just assumed they were all gay. I mean... there are heterosexuals in Styx?

May 3, 2006 12:49 PM

Last call

Will & Grace, the TV show we all loved to hate, ends Thu., May 18. And GLAAD has published a Will & Grace Resource Guide. Seriously.

May 2, 2006 10:59 AM

Girls, boys, and mass killings

I bought the very first Tomb Raider game on Boxing Day, along with an older video card that lets me play it on my PlayStation2. So far, I have drowned 15 times, and am getting a bit crabby about it. While also giggling every time the "camera" stops all play and gives me a slow pan of Lara Croft's freakishly giant and pointy gazongas.

Writer Clive Thompson has an interesting take on why teen boys love Lara, and it has nothing to do with wanting to do her. "I suggest that it's not just about her humungous ta-tas, but something much odder: The penchant of young teenage boys to viscerally -- and covertly -- identify with young women in peril," he blogs.

"I base this on a re-reading of Carol Clover's famous essay on the appeal of slasher movies and the 'Final Girl.' But since I'm basically suggesting that the sexuality of young men is kinda fluid, I have received about 4,000 emails from gamers stating that 'dude I totally luv lara croft but I totally AM NOT GAY.' Heh."

From Thompson's piece itself, a quick review to start of the newest humbug: "As she runs through the catacombs, Croft's spectacular chest heaves and her behind wiggles. In quiet moments between action sequences, she stretches up on tiptoes and arches her back, to get the kinks out. Ahem.

"She's a piece of cheesecake, all right. And among cultural pundits, this is the prevailing wisdom about why young men so loved Tomb Raider when it debuted in 1996. Teenage boys are horny; teenage boys like to ogle hot women; Tomb Raider allowed them to drool over Croft for hours on end. This dismal equation, as the theory goes, also explains the subsequent explosion of games with hot-chick characters...."

Oh, those young testosto-guys, they are such piggy-oes, eh. Destroying society with their evil lusts. "I beg to differ. I think young boy gamers loved Lara for reasons that were considerably stranger. They weren't just ogling her: They were identifying with her. Playing the role of a hot, sexy woman in peril -- surrounded by violence on all sides -- was, unexpectedly, a totally electric experience for young guys."

Back in 1985, "most feminist theorists loathed slasher films, and regarded them as classic examples of male misogyny. It wasn't hard to figure out why: Thousands of young men were trooping into theaters to cheer wildly as masked psychos hacked apart screaming young women. That really didn't look good.

"But as Clover sat in the theaters, she noticed something curious. Sure, the young men would laugh and cheer as the villain hunted down his female prey. But eventually the movie would whittle down the victims to one last terrified woman -- the Final Girl, as Clover called her. Suddenly, the young men in the audience would switch their allegiance -- and begin cheering just as madly for the Final Girl as she attacked and killed the psycho.

"This, Clover argued, was not mere garden-variety sexism. On the contrary, it was a generation of young guys who apparently identified strongly with the situation of a woman who faced agonizing peril yet came out victorious. The slasher dynamic was unprecedented in film history: 'The idea of a female who outsmarts, much less outfights -- or outgazes -- her assailant (was) unthinkable,' Clover wrote. With this new crop of slasher movies, the young men in the audience essentially became the Final Girl: exhausted, freaked out and ultimately triumphant. They weren't just ogling the sexual violence. They were submitting to it.

"The sexuality of young men, Clover concluded, is profoundly weirder than you'd imagine."

And so, Lara Croft, lone chickie with big guns against many baddies. She's a he. But nobody's gay. Heh.

May 1, 2006 11:58 AM

It absolutely positively might happen, Mr. Spock

The gossip is official: Star-Trek-dot-com reports that there is talk of a new movie. XI, that would be. Of course, the odd-numbered ones are never as good as the even-numbered ones....

May 1, 2006 10:03 AM

Who needs an axe for Thanksgiving? Zot!

Before helping found the United States, Benjamin Franklin shipped letters to the British Royal Society of London, arguing that lightening was electricity. The kindest thing the eggheads could think of doing was to ignore him. In France, Franklin was ridiculed outright, most notably by a certain Abbé Nollet, whose own pet theory argued elsewise.

I myself am more inclined to ridicule Franklin for his inattention during an experiment in 1750, where, "being about to kill a turkey by the shock from two large glass jars, containing as much electrical fire as forty common phials, I inadvertently took the whole through my own arms and body, by receiving the fire from the united top wires with one hand, while the other held a chain connected with the outside of both jars." Once his brain started up again, his hands felt "like dead flesh; and I had a numbness in my arms and the back of my neck which continued until the next morning."

Franklin sheepishly forwarded a warning to a comrade, "but do not make it more public, for I am ashamed to have been guilty of so notorious a blunder; a match for that of the Irishman, whom my sister told me of, who, to divert his wife, poured the bottle of gunpowder on the live coal; or of that other, who, being about to steal powder, made a hole in the cask with a hot iron."

Silly old scientist. But, uhm, I admit that hindsight makes criticism a bit easier.... In any case, the Brits sheepishly reversed ferret and made Franklin an honorary member of their snazzy club.

In a letter dated October 1752, Franklin explained to a correspondent how the home-hobbyist could prove that lightening was electric. "Sir," wrote Franklin;

"As frequent mention is made in public papers from Europe of the success of the Philadelphia experiment for drawing the electric fire from clouds by means of pointed rods of iron erected on high buildings, &c., it may be agreeable to the curious to be informed, that the same experiment has succeeded in Philadelphia, though made in a different and more easy manner, which is as follows:

"Make a small cross of two light strips of cedar, the arms so long as to reach the four corners of a large thin silk handkerchief when extended; tie the corners of the handkerchief to the extremities of the cross, so you have the body of a kite; which being properly accommodated with a tail, loop, and string, will rise in the air, like those made of paper; but this being of silk, is fitter to bear the wet and wind of a thunder-gust without tearing.

"To the top of the upright stick of the cross is to be fixed a very sharp-pointed wire, rising a foot above the wood. To the end of the twine, next the hand, is tobe tied a silk ribbon, and where the silk and twine join, a key may be fastened. This kite is to be raised when a thunder-gust appears to be coming on, and the person who holds the string must stand within a door or window, or under some cover, so that the silk ribbon may not be wet; and care must be taken that the twine does not touch the frame of the door or window.

"As soon as any of the thunder-clouds come over the kite, the pointed wire will draw the electric fire from them, and the kite, with all the twine, will be electrified, and the loose filaments of the twine will stand out every way, and be attracted by an approaching finger. And when the rain has wet the kite and twine, so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it stream out plentifully from the key on the approach of your knuckle.

"At this key the phial may be charged; and from electric fire thus obtained, spirits may be kindled, and all the other electric experiments be performed, which are usually done by the help of a rubbed glass globe or tube, and thereby the sameness of the electric matter with that of lightening completely demonstrated."

- from "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin," my copy being the 1940 Pocket Book edition

April 30, 2006 8:52 AM

On Brokeback's head gear

Finally overcame my hype-hate and rented "Brokeback Mountain." I enjoyed it; it's a good flick.

But I also found it very mannered. Kept imagining director Ang Lee yelling, "Keep your head down!" Over and over and over and over again. "Come'on! Show off that expensive hat! Chin down! More hat!"

And, "Pose against the car, lean back like that guy in the gay porn movie I made you watch!"

Now what does that say about its sensibility?


And BTQW, not as good a film as either "Crash" or "Capote. A better soundtrack, though.

April 29, 2006 1:16 PM

No more dancing on the speakers

Unity went up in flames yesterday. The fire started around noon on the rooftop terrace, with 150 firefighters reportedly taking four hours to put out the flames at the Montreal gay bar. The Gazoo quotes a firefighter -- er, the fire department chief of operations -- as saying it looked like an accident. No one was in the building at the time.

That is all.

April 28, 2006 12:34 PM

Clean the space between the thumb and index finger; Work the finger tips into the palms to clean under the nails

So, we're awaiting the pandemic. Whatever it is. But one of the ways to avoid mass death is... to wash your hands. Properly. Regularly.

The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters has published a manual for coping with avian flu, here. Why has the CME produced this? Because pestilence is bad for business.

Despite my snark, this is actually an interesting guide to Canadian labour and health law (including the legalities of quarantine) and includes a handy-dandy plague symptom checklist.

There's a brief look back: "Historic evidence suggests that pandemics have occurred three to four times per century. In the last century there were three influenza pandemics ('Spanish flu' in 1918–19; 'Asian flu' in 1957–58 and 'Hong Kong flu' in 1968–69), separated by intervals of 11 to 44 years. The worst, in 1918–19, killed an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 people in Canada and 20 to 40 million people worldwide. During each of the last three pandemics, the greatest increase in death rates occurred among persons less than 60 years of age; in 1918–19, the greatest number of deaths occurred in those 20 to 40 years of age."

And this: "Upon arrival, the virus will spread across Canada with great speed (In 1918, returning soldiers with influenza traveling on trains carried the virus from Quebec to Vancouver in only a few weeks). The first peak of illness in Canada is likely to occur within two to four months after the virus arrives in Canada. The first peak in mortality is expected one month after the peak in illness."

We will become, for a time, afraid of each other. Managers should "implement guidelines to modify the frequency and type of face-to-face contact (e.g. hand-shaking, seating in meetings, office layout, shared workstations) among employees and between employees and customers."

In all, 90 pages, and worth reading. But not at bed time.

Oh yeah, the hand washing: "Provide sufficient and accessible infection control supplies (e.g. hand-hygiene products, tissues and receptacles for their disposal) in all business locations." And make sure you've got lots of soap and paper towels on hand, because "it may be difficult to purchase such products once a pandemic begins."

April 28, 2006 7:58 AM

The play's the thing

"The play which turned a nice quiet young woman named Lillian Hellman into one of the best-known modern playwrights -- The Children's Hour -- again comes to life in all its tragic fascination Thursday night at the Coronet," wrote Harry Gilroy in the New York Times on Dec. 14, 1952.

But the play itself first saw the stage 18 years earlier. What a run! And in Montreal, The Children's Hour premiered in 1949, the very first play to be performed at a new spot called the Theatre du Rideau Vert. En français, it was "Les innocentes." (Rideau Vert was also integral to building Quebecois theatre -- these folks were the first to take a chance on the very gay Michel Tremblay, who sympathetic drag queens and street level French (joual) changed the cultural landscape. But that's another story.)

A memorial service was held this week for one of Rideau Vert's co-founders, Mercedes Palomino, who died April 18 at 93.

Nineteen-forty-nine, in Catholic-run Quebec. The choice of inaugural production was pretty darned courageous. It was "well received by a small audience." One day, I'll find the reviews in the old Montreal papers..... As Gilroy noted in the Times, "Most people interested in the theatre probably know this is a drama about a girl in a boarding school who spreads the story that two women have an abnormal attachment for one another."

How hilarious (now) it is to discover that a writer could not mention lesbianism outright in a piece about a piece about lesbianism.

But that was the way we were.

Hellman's first production was a mess. No big-name actresses would take on the lead roles, "afraid that police would close the play." It was said a big-name critic refused to even attend, ensuring that the show was shut out of that year's Pulitzer Prizes (which that year went to something called "The Old Maid"). Writes another pundit, "At the time, any mention of homosexuality on stage was illegal in New York State. The play was such a success and so widely praised by critics that the authorities overlooked its subject matter (the law would rarely be enforced until it was repealed in the '60s)."

Hellman's ouevre was inspired by the Scottish William Roughead's "Bad Companions," published in 1930. In the chapter "Closed Doors, or The Great Drumsheugh Case," wrote Gilroy, "there is the story of a scandal in Edinburgh in 1809, caused by a malicious child who said that the two headmistresses at her school had 'an inordinate affection' for each other."

Hellman can't help but tell the reporter that she's not a lesbian, but it's so slyly done that I can't be too crabby with her: "One thing that has struck me about The Children's Hour is that anyone young [she was 26] ordinarily writes autobiographically. Yet I picked on a story that I could treat with complete impersonality. I hadn't even been to boarding school -- I went to a school here in New York."

Two movies are based on The Children's Hour.

The first is titled "These Three." It was made in 1936, starring cutie Merle Oberon. Hellman adapted the play herself... and the lesbian element was excised. Snipped out like it never existed. The second woman is instead believed to be schtupping her best friend's guy. (As one reviewer noted, the original concept, although allowed on the New York stage, could not be presented as is for the masses: "it was considered far too raw for the new Production Code, which would barely allow movies to acknowledge the existence of things like divorce." And another critic notes: "According to legend, when [independent producer Sam Goldwyn ] was warned that he couldn't film the play because it was about lesbians, he replied, 'That's okay; we'll turn them into Americans.' In truth, he was convinced to purchase the screen rights when Hellman argued that the play was really about the power of a lie."

Sadly, the flick has a sappy ending.

Twenty-five years later, director William Wyler went back and filmed it all over again. And he and Hellman, again adapting her own play for the screen, were able to do it right. Sort of. It's more true to the original, but not a great movie.

Weirdly, some scenes in both movies are mirror images. It's an odd deja vue.

The 1961 film "The Children's Hour" is full of innuendo, and at least this time, it's lesbian innuendo. (The Production Code still banned the use of the word.) Both women consider the accusation sickening -- although the one who discovers her true sexuality by the end of the flick... kills herself. Liberal and homo moviegoers hated this, of course, and blamed Hollywood. It's in fact the way the play was written. Blame Hellman.

April 27, 2006 12:05 PM

Too easy?

The Ryerson Review of Journalism's newest issue has a go at the Montreal Gazette: "To expand readership, The Gazette has made some impressive editorial improvements. Sadly, they may not be enough to attract the one audience it needs for long-term survival."

April 26, 2006 2:42 PM

Supporting the right economy

The new hip leftie thing is caring about the environmental evil of transporting goods around the world. Lotsa planes and trucks belching aero-nasties. The solution is eating only that which is produced within a 100-mile radius.

I'm not sure how we're going to equalize power and capital on this planet without trade. Local production is good, but it's not a panacea. And certainly we're turning the bio/organo/free-range food industry into something that further separates the poor from the rich, who can afford the higher costs of certified pesticide-free-all-organic-edibles. And the 100-mile diet takes more time than I'm willing to give to foodstuffs.

Is it truly horrible to buy lemons? Cuz I'm gonna buy lemons.

Oh, but wait! It turns out that trade is good. As This Magazine notes in the May issue, "A new brand of coffee is catching the attention of fair trade consumers across Canada -- one produced exclusively by women in the mountainous Andes of Northern Peru. Both product and project, enterprise and experiment, Cafe Femenino is transforming the roles of women in coffee-producing communities. Although still in its infancy, it could also be the new face of fair trade."

Lefties screw the environment and buy products from far away if they're produced by the right minority group.

One world, eh.

April 26, 2006 11:51 AM

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio

I luv bones. A cow's skull is trussed up on my wall, another displayed on a bookshelf. That one features a bullet hole right between the eyes. I bought it from a farmer, and soaked it in bleach for days. Sometimes, I cover it up.

The cow, of course, is one of the more mundane creatures of Earth.

I also have an African water buffalo's head, its great, rounded horns perfectly mirroring the span of my arms when lifted to the ceiling. It's too heavy to hang, and sits silently on the floor.

I dream of a full human skeleton, a purchase beyond my means. They're hard to get, anyway, what with worries over ethical harvesting. (How's that, Orwell?) And a specimen's unlikely to be welcomed to the homestead by my sweetie. I may go for a bull frog, instead.

Skulls are very big right now, everywhere emblazoned on running shoes, bags and shirts, becoming a pop culture cliché. But these days camp and irony have become parodies of themselves (twist yer brain around that one, eh!), so the merch (let's call it the Boney M) isn't my upended cranial cavity of tea.

My love predates the hip, she types in haughty grandeur.

Why do I adore skulls so? I'm not obsessed with death, nor dying. But there may be something to be said for this old custom: "Plutarch says that toward the close of Egyptian banquets, a servant brought in a wooden skeleton, about 18 inches long, and cried aloud to the guests: 'Look on this! Eat, drink, and be merry! For tomorrow you die!'"

Certainly atheists can't look forward to an afterlife. There's nothing but living for today, and -- for some -- the hope of making a difference. Yet few make a mark on the world; few manage to be noticed beyond immediate friends and family.

So what's with this skellington thing? A reminder of mortality, perhaps. The brutally honest acceptance of one's place in the world, and of what I'll leave behind.

Or maybe bones are just damned pretty.

April 26, 2006 9:20 AM

My Canada is owned by the government

From today's Ottawa Citizen: "The federal government is spending nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year chasing down people who take Canada's name in vain, and making them stop. If you use our country's coat of arms without permission, the Treasury Board will tell you to cease and desist. Same thing with the 'wordmark' -- the 'Canada' with the little flag over the final letter."

Who's been targeted? BlogsCanada, for one (its logo can be found elsewhere on this page). And the Sex Trade Workers of Canada. "Their website posts news about prostitutes: For instance, how police in Calgary are investigating a prostitute's death, and a list of missing women. It used to feature the Canadian coat of arms. No longer. Today the site restricts itself to a map of Canada, and a photo of a blond woman in a jaunty, not-quite-Mountie outfit. (The skirt seems suspiciously micro). And they're not happy with their treatment."

They were threatened with charges.

The queer heroes at Vancouver's Little Sister's Book & Art Emporium were also slammed. The story doesn't give details -- but gosh, isn't it odd how Little Sisters fights the power, then keeps getting targeted? An odd coincidence indeed.

"The federal government is using the Canadian Trademark and Copyright Act to maintain the value of a recognized set of symbols for the good of the country."

Not my country, though. Somebody else's version of my country.

April 25, 2006 5:39 PM

The perils of meaning well

The problem with goodie-goodies who use comics as way of educating the great unwashed is simple: the propagandists of safe sex, or who're battling spousal abuse or female circumcision, often don't understand the joy and artistry of comics. So they -- they being the often well-intentioned non-governmental organization -- produce bilge. And they're shocked when no one pays attention.

There's the damned preaching, of course. But it's worse with bandes dessinées, because some still think that a comic is a picture surrounded by text: Draw me a happy face and a word bubble where I can fit 700 words on animal husbandry!

That's not a comic book, that's an illustration. In a novel. (My current fave illustration portrays Robert Lewis Stevenson's infamous, mustachioed villain clutching a walking stick in threatening fashion. The caption reads: "Mr. Hyde listened with an ill-contained impatience." It's from an abridged, ESL version of the classic text. Oops; tangent.)

So yeah, pop a righteous message into something hideous, and the message itself becomes suspect -- because the creators have no respect for the medium, nor for the people who are(n't) reading it.

Journalist Sebastien Langevin's presentation "Vue d'Afrique: bandes dessinés et savoirs partagés" (again at the recent comic book con for librarians that I attended) took a quick look at the emergence of an indigenous comic book scene in French-speaking Africa over the last 20 years. Sadly, NGOs are leading the charge.

And Langevin had lots of examples of beautiful pictures overwhelmed by static design, by endless text, by.... Nobody in North America or Europe would bother with this crap. Why should Africans? Cuz it's good for them and we said so?

For liberals living outside of Africa, it's far too easy to blame outsiders. But that turns Africans into mindless victims. Yes, some of these NGOs are staffed by Europeans who seem unaware that, whatever the specifics of the local aesthetic, the concepts of narrative and dynamic drawing aren't culturally specific. But social workers of any colour undoubtedly suffer from the same paternalism.

And in fact, some African comic book artists are themselves learning as they go. Langevin offered a quick tour of the evolving African cartoon scene, focussing on the bad. There's A l'ombre du baobab, Koulou chez les Bantu ("didactic"), the painful environmentalist tracts "Le temps d'agir" and "Objectif Terre," the confusingly illustrated Senghor Cent Ans (recalling the life of the Senegalese poet and politician), the tediously anti-booze "Plongée dans l'alcool" (from Gabon), and Farafina Express (called simply "a catastrophe" of a book). Then there's the circumcision-related "Le choix de Bintou," which never quite manages to decide who its audience is.

But there's art, too. "Tchounkousouma" is "great," said Langevin. It's a bit of a soap, a slice-of-life comic that reflects the realities of teenagers and, just at the end -- surprise -- AIDS shows up.

In Cote d'Ivoire, far from the helping hands of an NGO, there's GBich (the sound made as a fist hits its target), where recurring characters tackle politics with humour and zest. It's published in and by a populist newspaper staff.

Langevin's moral? The end doesn't justify the means. Cuz people just won't read your ends.

April 24, 2006 11:00 AM

roach hotel

there is an old saw in journalism that one should never write about ones cats

so i will write about anothers cat her name is mehitabel whose open quote soul once belonged to cleopatra

mehitabel is toujours gai but archy square bracket who is a cockroach end bracket is more philosophical it is he who records their songs and observations on the bosss typewriter late at night but he is not strong enough to make capital letters so it all comes out lower case close quote

so archy used to be a poet but was reborn as a bug and used don marquis clatt clatt clattering keys back in 1916

this is my second copy of archie and mehitabel the first was eaten then barfed by my cat

archy interviews a pharoah

boss i went
and interviewed the mummy
of the egyptian pharaoh
in the metropolitan museum
as you bade me to do

what ho
my regal leatherface
says i

greetings little scatter footed
scarab
says he

kingly has been
says i
what was your ambition
when you had any

insignificant
and journalistic insect
says the royal crackling
in my tender prime
i was too dignified
to have anything as vulgar
as ambition
the ra ra boys
in the seti set
were too haughty
to be ambitious
we used to spend our time
feeding the ibises
and ordering
pyramids sent home to try on
but if i had my life
to live over again
i would give dignity
the regal razz
and hire myself out
to work in a brewery

old tan and tarry
says i
i detect in your speech
the overtones
of melancholy

yes i am sad
says the majestic mackerel
i am as sad
as the song
of a soudanese jackal
who is wailing for the blood red
moon he cannot reach and rip

on what are you brooding
with such wistful
wishfulness
there in the silences
confide in me
my imperial pretzel
says i

i brood on beer
my scampering whiffle snoot
on beer says he

my sympathies
are with your royal
dryness says i

my little pest
says he
you must be respectful
in the presence
of a mighty desolation
little archy
forty centuries of thirst
look down upon you
oh by isis
and by osiris
says the princely raisin
and by pish and phthush and phthah
by the sacred book of perembru
and all the gods
that rule from the upper
cataract of the nile
to the delta of the duodenum
i am dry
i am as dry
as the next morning mouth
of a dissipated desert
as dry as the hoofs
of the camels of timbuctoo
little fussy face
i am as dry as the heart
of a sand storm
at high noon in hell
i have been lying here
and there
for four thousand years
with silicon in my esophagus
and gravel in my gizzard
thinking
thinking
thinking
of beer

divine drouth
says i
imperial fritter
continue to think
there is no law against
that in this country
old salt codfish
if you keep quiet about it
not yet

what country is this
asks the poor prune

my reverend juicelessness
this is a beerless country
says i


well well said the royal
desiccation
my political opponents back home
always maintained
that i would wind up in hell
and it seems they had the right dope

and with these hopeless words
the unfortunate residuum
gave a great cough of despair
and turned to dust and debris
right in my face
it being the only time
i ever actually saw anybody
put the cough
into sarcophagus

dear boss as i scurry about
i hear of a great many
tragedies in our midsts
personally i yearn
for some dear friend to pass over
and leave to me
a boot legacy
yours for the second coming
of gambrinus

archy

April 23, 2006 9:13 AM

Ode to narcissism

Lesbianism as self-absorption? Follows the complete text of a two-page ad in the April glossy In Style magazine:

There's a hot chick in the mirror
She knows the coolest moves.
She makes her arm warmers from sweat socks.
Her pelvic thrusts are the stuff of legend.
Even her earrings have attitude.
I can't believe
that hot chick is me
but I give her a thumbs-up
and she gives me a thumbs-up.
She gives me a sexy smile
and I'm flattered.
But hey, I have a boyfriend.

Just do it.

Nikewomen.com.

April 22, 2006 11:50 AM

Bom, bomm, bom, bomm

Am delighted to hear about the reverence still accorded the metal washtub. "The bass fiddle is now considered to be the main rhythm section of a bluegrass band," notes Jack Lewis (here), a member of the Virginia-based Oriskany Strings band and a podcaster.

"Old-time country folks, Jack says, could never afford to buy a bass fiddle so it was rarely found in the early bands. Instead, folks made an imitation bass fiddle out of a galvanized washtub and a sawed-off broom handle. A clothes line was tied to one end of the broom handle and the other end was tied to the bottom of the tub. The tub was turned over and the player held it down with one foot, being careful to touch only the rim so the sound from the bottom (drum head) was not muffled. The line was then pulled tight by the broom handle using one hand, and plucked once with the other hand. Then the line was pulled tighter to hit a second higher 'note' and plucked again. The two 'notes' were played alternately in time to the music without regard to playing in any key. It worked, sort of."

Jack Lewis special-ordered a Cable Tub Bass, and marked all the notes he could find with pieces of tape. There are instructional videos.

The tunes at times have to be, well, a little slower that you might want: "If the notes are too far apart on the strings, he can't play fast tempos because it takes too much time to move his hand up and down the neck."

April 22, 2006 11:33 AM

My head hurts

Can we accept the loony if it's irrelevant to a visionary's main task? I speak of Montreal's Great Green Hope, Richard Bergeron, who ran on a municipal transit platform in the last municipal election that seemed quite progressive. (True, his promise of heated bus stops was a bit much, but I attributed that silly statement to a brief moment of media-encouraged fancy.)

At a recent bicycle-power meet, Bergeron was a painful talker. Yet, bad speaker that he was, his expand-public-transit presentation was also full of ideas and examples from around the world. (In fact, the worst presenters, I noticed, had the most to say; the suave presenters were almost content-free.)

Bergeron is head of the upstart Projet Montreal party. Shockingly, the newbies won a seat on city council. Go make a fuss, tiger!

But this morning's paper reveals a Bergeron opinion that the media missed the first time around: He's a 9/11 conspiracy nut who believes it possible that the Americans staged the airplane crashes in Pennsylvania and D.C. on September 11 in order to have an excuse to invade Iraq.

Er.

"It may be that what we witnessed on Sept. 11, 2001 was a simple act of state banditry of titanic proportions," Bergeron wrote in his 2005 book, "Les Québécois au Volant, c'est Mortel." And, recently contacted by a reporter, he reiterated the theory! Give him one for honesty. But zero for brains.

Bergeron is a local transit visionary. And whoop-whoop-whoopy-bonkers on international stuff. What to do, what to do.

April 20, 2006 12:14 PM

The rate of interest

Montreal real estate agent Boris Theodore pleaded guilty a coupla days ago "to his part in a family loansharking operation," reported my morning paper. Boris helped out his brother, Ted Theodore Sr., "when he picked up and delivered envelopes of money to the office, located in a Jarry St. wig shop." (Just goes to show me -- I thought all fronts were esthetician walk-ins. The industry is expanding its repertoire!) Boris told the court: "I didn't see any harm in it."

And where is the harm, after all? Loan sharks lend out money to people who really need it. The catch, of course, is a usurious rate of return. Ted "charged between five percent per week and 2,000 percent a year on his loans."

The whole idea with loansharking is to keep the mark from ever catching up. Endless interest makes for a quite nice income.

It was in the 1970s that Quebec's infamous "Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Organized Crime and Recommendations" came out, which spent a chunk of time on loansharking. (I'm not saying the Theodores are organized crime, eh. Just writing about loansharking and what the commission discovered about the milieu 30 years ago.)

Loansharking was quite lucrative, wrote the commissioners.

The commissioners give the example of a poor schmuk who's borrowed $300. Four weeks later, he's paid back $40, but owes another $507 in interest and penalties for late or missed payments. "Such a case is typical.... The borrower could in this way pay the loan shark $3,300 a year without having paid back a cent of his $500 debt." In short, loan sharks are creeps targeting the most desperate of the poor.

"They all have one problem in common: they cannot borrow from traditional financial institutions. The slightest need for money inevitably sends them to the underground market, that is, to the loan shark. Since their inability to pay remains unchanged, they are unable to pay back the borrowed money, which has obviously been increased by exorbitant amounts of interest and, gradually, under pressure of threats and intimidation, some agree to commit crimes in an attempt to extricate themselves. Among the underprivileged, it becomes as normal to be continually repaying a loan shark as to pay for the telephone, gas, and electricity." So some 30 years ago, in order to pay off his rising debt in lieu, one guy stole a car transmission a week from his employer. It took 18 weeks -- and 18 transmissions -- before he was caught and jailed.

Solutions? Accessible loans. And I mean accessible. Quite a few financial institutions have set up community programs to allow for cheap loans. And while this is in the bank's public relations interest, it's not a big moneymaker. So I'm going to suggest that financial institutions prefer other options. Like credit cards with ridiculous interest rate charges.

I have one that charges more than 20 percent interest, at a time when the Bank of Canada's rate is down around -- what, five percent? For many, credit cards are the new loan sharks. And they're legal!

Pushy people can demand a credit card with a cut rate. I was told it would be difficult, but they'd look into it. Take the you-should-be-terrifically-thankful-for-this switch-sales-pitch with a grain of salt. Just demand one, and you'll get it. Then transfer the balance. Down goes the monthly interest ding.

A line of credit -- another loan -- is also possible, again with littler interest charges.

Still, many can't even qualify for a credit card or a loan. There are actual alternatives -- but only if you already have regular income. You can go to a Money Mart, or some other payday lender. They're everywhere, even though some critics say they're completely illegal. Just another example of how you can get away with anything these days if moolah's involved. Now, the industry has moved into screwing the middle-class, too. Which -- swallow your bitterness, o poverty-stricken one! -- may mean that things will change.

"The payday loan industry," it sez here, "emerged in the 1990s, and quickly established itself as the fast food of the banking world: convenient, but unhealthy financially, with sky-high interest rates and fees. The loans these outlets offer are really small advances, which average under $300. They are covered by a postdated cheque to be cashed on the customer's next payday, and always include a criminally high interest rate."

Vancouver-based critic John Young, of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is quoted as saying: "It is illegal: 24/7, 365 days a year, every single payday loan is in contravention of the Criminal Code of Canada and everybody knows it."

"The Criminal Code sets the maximum interest rate at 60 percent [!]. Payday loan companies routinely charge upwards of 1,000 percent, after various fees are taken into account."

Plus ça change...

In March, the Manitoba government had a go. "It introduced legislation to protect consumers and regulate fees for short-term loans, while also calling on the federal government to allow all provinces to regulate the industry," it sez here. "This burgeoning industry now serves two million Canadians every year and is one of the last unregulated financial services sectors in the country....

"A recent City of Vancouver study found that most payday loan outlets are located within steps of a bank and along busy commuter routes. In downtown Ottawa, there's a payday loan store attached to the lobby of the federal Department of Finance. Well-paid public servants are its biggest customer."

Now. About the poor....?

April 19, 2006 4:04 PM

GLAAD to be gay

Ha. The scabrous American lobby group Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, otherwise known as the oxymoronic GLAAD, has declined to trash "Basic Instinct 2," a movie in which Sharon Stone reprises her 1992 role as a bisexual psycho killer.

GLAAD, of course likes to trash everything. Remember the press release condemning a soap opera for featuring a lesbian character's rape? Apparently it hadn't occurred to the mindless watchdogs at GLAAD that, in fact, lesbians do get raped as some sort of twisted payback by straight men. And that publicizing that evil might be a good thing. (On that one, GLAAD eventually apologized.) Or how about the more recent Gene Shalit controversy, where a gay-positive movie critic -- who's written a book about accepting his gay son -- was pilloried for disliking what he saw as Brokeback Mountain's obsessive stalker character -- something he thought could hurt the gay movement. For this well-meaning opinion, Shalit was forced into an abject apology. Just a couple of GLAAD's embarrassments.

It's a group that sees anything negative as inherently evil. As if there are no bisexual killers. As if a work of the imagination is real. But at the same time, it refuses to see that it is possible to demystify queer life via the medium of entertainment. (And no, these sentences are not contradictory.)

GLAAD's sudden silence on "Basic Instinct 2" is a step forward, you'd think. Not.

Because it's undoubtedly got nothing to do with a change of heart, and everything to do with BI2's star.

"Today, bisexual activists and GLAAD seem uninterested in the release of the sequel. GLAAD representatives said they were too busy planning their media awards gala to talk to the Blade about it, and they weren’t even planning to screen the film until just before its opening," notes this publication. Why would GLAAD stick its collective head under the covers? Just a guess: "Sharon Stone has become something of a gay icon."

More than that, Stone has picked up an award from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and chairs the American Foundation for AIDS Research's annual fundraising campaign.

GLAAD may be humourless; it may not understand camp, nor even everyday gay reality. It doesn't get the line between fact and fiction. But it sure understands that it can't afford to piss off Sharon Stone. We can add rank hypocrisy and opportunism to GLAAD's faults.

April 19, 2006 1:41 PM

The prostitution rag (with descant)

While the Conservatives continue apace with Turning Election Promises Into Reality, I worry about law and order. It's clear that solicitation won't be decriminalized; I sure hope the penalties aren't tightened further.

Though legalization isn't necessarily so swell, either. There is in the world a slow but growing movement toward requiring regular STD checks for hookers. Not to protect the prostitutes, of course (such as telling them that their HIV infection means they need meds and condoms), but to protect johns and the reputations of the cities they frequent. (Not that I'm saying here that the health of johns should be ignored.)

Most prostitutes, in North America, anyway, want to be by-law free. Few businesses manage to work that way (though many freelancers in a range of professions do manage -- I'm thinking writers, translators...).

The April POZ mag features a quick rundown of rules and regs elsewhere in the world.

In Tijuana, Mexico, a border town with the U.S., the HIV infection rate is rather high. There's no clear proof it's because of the booming prostitution business with the touristas, but hookers will always be blamed, whether they're the disease vector or not.

Prostitution is illegal, but cops have long looked the other way. And Tijuana city council has effectively legalized solicitation through the back door by requiring that the municipality's 7,000 sex workers get tested for HIV and other STDs -- once a month.

Prostitutes are required to carry a coded magnetic card that lists their sero-status and the date of their last test. Cops get to see it on demand, and if you're poz, you're outta work. If your results are out of date, you're fined. Latex is not an option under these rules.

Elsewhere:

In India, prostitution is legal, soliciting sex isn't. The Songachi Project, founded by sex workers, has upped condom use in its (geographical) area from three percent in 1992 to more than 80 percent.

In Australia, prostitution is legal and there are unions for hookers. Brothel employees (where such houses are legal) benefit from AIDS health pointers.

In Brazil, prostitution is legal. Sex workers have helped reduce the HIV infection rate. "Last May, Brazil refused to condemn prostitution, a requirement to receive U.S. AIDS funds, losing $40 million."

Yup, because in the U.S., "the Bush administration launched a widely reviled policy requiring that foreign AIDS organizations condemn prostitution before receiving U.S. funds."

POZ notes: "Prostitution is illegal in every state except Nevada, where sex workers must get HIV tests monthly and brothel owners may be held liable for clients who test positive. In several states, possession of condoms can be used as evidence against a suspected sex worker."

A court case is underway now in which a judge is being asked to toss the foreign aid/anti-hooker rule.

April 19, 2006 1:19 PM

Grit in yer teeth

Obligatory Canadian Political Notice: the out Nova Scotia member of Parliament Scott Brison is expected to launch his run for the Liberal Party leadership veddy soon. Whiff of scandal, anyone?

April 19, 2006 12:22 PM

Making beautiful moo-sic

I took a long weekend. But then I always feel the need to bulk up on posts to make up for it.

From composer Aaron Copland's 1939 book (and revised 18 years later), "What To Listen for in Music": "By comparison with rhythm and melody, harmony is the most sophisticated of the three musical elements. We are so accustomed to thinking of music in terms of harmonic music that we are likely to forget how recent an innovation it is, by comparison with the other elements. Rhythm and melody came naturally to man, but harmony gradually evolved from what was partly an intellectual conception -- no doubt one of the most original conceptions of the human mind.

"Harmony, in the sense that we think of it, was quite unknown in music until about the ninth century. Up until that time, all music of which we have any record consisted of a single melodic line.... The anonymous composers who first began experimenting with harmonic effects were destined to change all music that came after them, at least among Occidental nations....

"The birth of harmony is generally placed in the ninth century, because it is first mentioned in treatises of that period. As might be expected, the early forms of harmony sound crudely primitive to our ears." This nascent harmony was the "organum," and consisted simply of repeating the main theme at an interval below (the fourth) or (fifth) above. The end.

It took almost 300 years longer to come up with the descant.
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