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Friday, March 25, 2011

At the Milestone

A few days ago we welcomed our thousandth reader; this event came just 6 weeks after Rescumi begin its life on Google. Thanks to one and all for taking the time to visit, and welcome newcomers.
    At this point, it's useful to pause, not just to salute the readers, but to develop a mission statement.
    Well, mission is perhaps grandiose. The question is, "What's this blog all about?"
    I must admit I have asked myself that same question. Or rather, I avoided confronting the question, while implicitly exploring it, by posting on a number of topics.
    Finally, it dawned on me: this Blog is about Everything and Nothing. It's about everything you wanted to talk about, but found little opportunity for. And, it's about the looming Nothing that's allowed to be said openly, or discussed candidly, in traditional media.
    For example, a certain amount of chatter is available on Sharon Pollock's Blood Relations in university papers, journals, etc. But no-one seems to have examined it through the lens I've provided in my article on Rescumi. Why? It's possible no-one ever considered the issues I've raised; but I rather doubt that. No, given how eagerly the play has been promoted, I suspect some people have worried about the kernel of it, why it gets produced, why it was even written in the first place. But to ponder those matters is to raise indelicate questions that are banned from conversation.
     Then, there's the series on the residential real-estate industry. When  I began writing it, I did whatever research I could on  the topic. Not necessarily to "understand" real-estate agents: I've had rather too much contact with those people for that to ever be a need. But simply to ask, "What's been written on the topic?"
      The answer astounded me. In professional and academic databases, in commercial magazines, newspapers, the Internet, there was not a single word. There was a bit of chatter about whether or not you needed to hire an agent, but that was sparse, and all of it was generated by agents themselves.
       Even more amazing was the bland acceptance of "house staging." When I looked, there was not a single, third-party, disinterested, and genuine examination of that very current issue. And yet, "staging" is now a vast cottage industry, one of the biggest  make-work schemes for the under- or unemployable since F.D.R. set up work camps in the Great Depression.     
      So we must tackle it, first, because it's a colossal distortion, even perversion of an essential trade; but mostly because critical examination of the topic is banned from the mainstream media.
         And so we seem to have done it, stumbled onto a mission for Rescumi -- simply by writing about what everyone else won't touch; by interrogating that which is being actively stifled. As Auntie Mame said to a horrified room of Upscale types: Someone should open the curtains in here!
    Signed, Recti

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jobs in the Green-Tape Sector?

You might enjoy this page, which documents the emerging "green-tape" sector, a new hive of bureaucrats that is growing under Climate Correctness laws, particularly in Europe.
This page is from JoNova, a lively blogsite run by an Australian skeptic.

On a Blue Moon Science will Bloom

Rare are the days when media stars are taken by surprise. The shows are carefully scripted. This is true not only for drama and comedy, but also for the News. Although news is sent out "live" in some markets, the newsreader is always reciting a script, normally off the prompter. At the very least, the anchor is following a plan that he or she developed earlier in the day.
   So there was Peter Mansbridge of the CBC, talking about Japan and the nuclear industry. That's how he set it up: We know what's happening in Japan; but how will that crisis impact the Canadian nuclear industry? What does Japan suggest for the relationship, between nuclear power and public safety, or pollution, or ecology?
    He said he wanted answers from the CBC's science expert; so onto the set strode Bob McDonald, the lively figure who has been reporting on Science for many years at the CBC. And then Bob took Peter by surprise.
    The first thing McDonald did was reassure the viewers: Those Japanese reactors were old, due to go offline only two weeks before the catastrophe. No other plant in Japan was designed that way. There was essentially nothing to worry about. Mansbridge gaped; he seemed to want McDonald to say more.
    The next thing Bob said was that it was a testament to the good design of reactors that they'd survived the greatest earthquake in Japanese history. The troubles had been due to the tsunami, not the quake. In fact, nuclear energy had a good track record for safety, said Bob. Mansbridge gasped. You could hear him murmur: "And what about...?" 
    No, but McDonald was emphatic: there was no reason to be against nuclear power. Not only was it soundly designed and engineered, it was the safest energy on Earth. You had to look at it scientifically and count up the risks and the rewards.
    At this point, Mansbridge recovered and leaned forward. Out came some objecting noise, not articulate, just a few mutters: "Yes but of course we know that..." and, "However, when we consider, and having seen the news..."  No, said McDonald, Nuclear Power is the safest when scientifically measured; it's safer than burning fossil fuels or any other current energy; it does not contribute to global warming, etc. Mansbridge went pale; one could almost hear the rattle of his dentures.
     Peter Mansbridge is a "rock star" of the TV news. I once heard him lecture to a group of students, students of Journalism. He was onstage to talk about his career and the role of journalists in society.
     Mansbridge made it clear that journalism was exciting, not for writing the reports, but for the influence those reports might have on society. There were many nefarious schemes that Industry was up to; journalists could uncover those. There were many progressive or alternative movements around; journalists could report on those.
    Mansbridge acknowledged that he'd never been to university. In fact, our Peter really does not have an education: his Wikipedia entry says he dropped out of high school in Ottawa. Was it necessary to get an education, somebody asked. Well, replied Peter, education is great, but you really don't need it to become a journalist; experience is everything.
     Uh-hunh.
     Off the set went Bob McDonald to prepare his next stint at the CBC. Bob, we really wish you were in charge down there.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Upon My Honor Killing, Sir, I Am Offended.

Canada's Liberal Party is in panic mode this week, in reaction to Justin Trudeau's gaffe about "honor killings." In a media interview, Trudeau said he was "concerned" about a reference to "honor killings" and other foreign habits of mind, which had appeared in a Guide for the Immigrant prepared by the current Conservative government. He did not like the idea of calling female genital mutilation and honor killing "barbaric."
    The politicians went ballistic: was Mr Trudeau suggesting that when Indians or Afghans kill women for "family honor" this was not barbaric? Were they just venting some sort of ethnic tic, not to be so harshly stigmatized by us white people? Within hours of his statement, Trudeau had backed down and issued an apology for his remarks.
    Justin Trudeau is the son of ex-prime-minister Pierre Trudeau. P. E. Trudeau governed in the 1970s and 198s, but is still a hero to the left and centre-left in Canada. Correspondingly, he's a villain to the right and centre-right. Trudeau was responsible for inserting a personal-rights philosophy into Canadian law that  had not existed previously. His new Charter of Rights now supersedes the body of precedent law that is more typical of British-style democracies. On the basis of it, all sorts of good has been done, but also some questionables and some evil. For example, the unreasonable accommodation of private or group complaint has emerged as a powerful principle of law. That means that you'd better step lightly when you editorialize about a person's ethnicity and what it urges you do do.
   Justin is the son who went into politics. He was the one who delivered the eulogy at his father's funeral, a State event held in Montreal in 2000 that was attended by an old soul-mate of Trudeau's, Fidel Castro (Trudeau was not a communist, just an open sympathiser of Castro and Castro's Cuba). At this event, Justin got up and delivered a weepy, poetic, histrionic, and altogether preposterous encomium to Pierre the Father. It went beyond sobriety or sincerity, to reach the limits of grand-standing. Sure enough, it was that speech which attracted fans, and which eventually got him into politics.
    And now here he is, defending the culture of honor-killings because we don't have the right to call it "barbaric." Call it "an unfortunate choice of options," or some-such.
    The Tories have made great music over this, calling for disavowal but also trying to smear the Liberals. They've not accepted Trudeau's apology; they want the issue to stand and spread -- help them into an elusive majority government. This too is not unreasonable; in fact, public outrage over Trudeau's gaffe has been palpable, and the Tory gambit might work.
   On the other side stands the Liberal Party and the liberal establishment, especially in the press, and that's small-l liberal as well as Liberal. In Ottawa, a Liberal media writer satirized the Tory attitude and tried to convey its dishonest flavor:

How utterly typical. You don't love Canada. You don't support the troops. You sympathize with terrorists. You don't care about victims of crime. For the [Conservative] prime minister ... there is no such thing as honest and honourable disagreement...[E]nemies must be defeated by any means necessary.

Unhappily, both sides are missing the point. The Liberals do not appreciate how corrupt and deeply decadent Mr Trudeau's views are -- and yes, we're talking about his views, not just his "vocabulary." The Conservatives have attacked the statement and the man, period. What they haven't queried are the Why's and Wherefores. What led Mr. Trudeau to say what he said? After all, he seems to be a nice, well-read citizen. Is it true that he doesn't consider it "barbaric" to kill your sister for going out with  the wrong sort of boyfriend?
   In fact, were Conservatives to plumb this issue, they'd find it much deeper, much darker than perhaps even they care to admit. Mr. Trudeau's gaffe was a culturally programmed response from his own culture; it wasn't from some disorganized heap of verbal errors, as he claims.
    Mr. Trudeau was educated at a university English department and then went on to do studies at a Faculty of Education. That's his culture, not the ambient values of general society.  His education is what he knows and thinks, and his education is what he was expressing that day. His university training is the prompt for his words.
   The education Mr. Trudeau received (and swallowed) suggests that there's no such thing as higher, more civilized cultures, and cultures that are less civilized, even unto being barbaric. Everything is "relative." The ways of a woman-beating Afghan must be "understood," not condemned. It's imperialistic to suggest otherwise.
    Why, not even a feminist is supposed to disagree with that. A Western feminist who condemns a third-world practice might be accused of Western thinking and imposing her thoughts upon an alien group: bad form. Skeptics of this approach call it moral relativism and condemn it appropriately.
     It's also part of what's called "progressive" or "feminist" epistemology. Literally, that means "there's a progressive (gender-defined) way of knowing the world," and an un-progressive way, two competing truths; therefore there is no consensus on any matter; therefore there is no consensus for civic or moral value.
     One feminist I knew related the story of a thesis defense at a Canadian university. This was the late 1980s-1990s, when feminism in the Academy was hardening its epistemology; minting new degrees; and inventing new disciplines. The thesis being defended, for a Ph. D. degree, was about women on the Indian sub-continent. It explored the ways in which females in that Asian country coped with male chauvinism; more significantly for us, the thesis author was rationalising that society in ways that justified it to Western observers.
      Her committee was composed of an Indian professor of gender studies  -- the candidate's mentor -- and two other faculty, including a woman from outside gender studies.
     The latter took the mike to ask her question: The analysis was interesting, she said. But was the candidate taking into consideration such things as dowry burnings and honor killings?
     Instantly, the Indian professor was on his feet: How dare you, a White woman, raise that question! You have no right -- you are part of an oppressor/alien culture. It is your duty to listen and learn.
     Privately, I heard this story with deepening horror. Could we possibly be granting degrees to such people? could they possibly be sheltered from scrutiny by the bully rant of a South-Asian? And this committee member: could her questions be so egregiously silenced?
     I looked at my feminist friend; she was smiling at the memory of this event.
   
  Justin's gaffe was not a gaffe, it was a reflex sprung from the strands of feminism he must have had scrawled on his grey matter. The gaffe explains the man, because that's who he is: a re-genderized, cultural relativist who can never understand why Canada is a civilization, not a base camp for immigrants.
      As for the Conservatives, one wishes for more penetration, more depth. Get beyond the jostle for power. Understand that philosophical toxins stick around. Notwithstanding that campuses are autonomous-- as they must be! -- the Tories need to be alert as to what a faculty of Education actually turns out.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A wicked observation...

This earthquake news is nothing but a Japanese horror flick being remade for CNN.
I'm waiting to see Godzilla, who will have to be coaxed out of retirement. Was this done by Toho Films?
A sample scene here.

Advocacy Radio Tackles Cancer

Yes, I know, we're always on Matt Galloway, that CBC radio host who warbles his way into our mornings. He does get picked on in this space -- the poor soul! At this point, I suspect some are worried this blog is biased and Matt is a victim. They should not be. Matt's got a billion-dollar public utility on his side, CBC. Not only that, he's welcome to post rebuttals in our Commentary section, or rebut us on air. We're ready for our closeup, Mr DeMille!
    What's it all about this morning, eh? Cancer funding.
    This morning, Matt had a guest on, a lady, of course. Said lady was fighting breast cancer. She had discovered a fairly small tumor and wanted it treated with a very expensive new drug. Treatment would cost $50,000, she said. The province said No, that's new, that's too costly, and the cancer is too small (therefore it's early enough to treat it conventionally).
        After all, this is a public health-care system subsidized by Ontario taxpayers. It's not Free Unlimited Care-on-Demand; it's a rationed system. Based on triage, it can't afford to treat everyone with all the latest drugs.
     On the radio, the lady was indignant-- also, articulate, highly educated, very upper class. Matt wished her well in her just cause; in reply, she said she "owed it to my family to keep struggling" for her $50,000 health subsidy. Perhaps she thought this sounded self-sacrificing.
    Not that cruelty is in order here; despite the irony in my last paragraph, I heartily sympathise, and understand her frustration. I understand her fear, and wish her speedy good health. Having lost some of my dearest friends to breast cancer, I could not be indifferent.
     But, in media as in life there is a thing called context. No phenomenon can be understood without knowing its context. 
     Guess what: other people have cancer too. We have to ask: Who is entitled to exactly what in Ontario Health Care? Also, from the medical standpoint, Why? Where does the needed care get defined?
     Women suffer the trauma of breast cancer; but there are other malignancies about, deadly ones. Also, there are cancers that, like breast cancer, are sex-specific and deadly. In men, there is prostate cancer. These cancers are subject to standard triage, the sorting out of early, medium, and emergency cases.
     Did Matt point this out? Did he frame his interview with that reality? After all, a show about breast cancer is not a show about learning the clarinet in retirement. Covering the topic on radio implies covering it as a responsible journalist.
     To be fair, Matt did add a few words of balance. He did suggest to his guest that "lots of people request new and costly treatments and the system can't subsidize them all." This was good, but it was an after-thought. It was loaded into a tiny, late-coming single sentence! In no way did it frame the discussion.
     In other words, the show was much closer to advocacy than it was to responsible journalism. 
     Here's the essential question that Matt did NOT ask: To what extent is your health statistically compromised by using existing treatments?
     Or: In terms of risk, does your early tumor require this new treatment for you to survive?
     Or: Given the population of cancer patients and their risks, is it justified to guarantee your survival while we correspondingly risk other deaths?
     These are the hard questions we needed to hear, questions we will never get from the Women's Advocacy Radio.
     One other thing we needed was the voice of scientific authority, an actual, live doctor or researcher. Did Matt try to contact one? Was no-one at the Ministry available? Could he not have phoned someone, talked to them, and just sort of...taken notes?
     And was I the only one in his audience interested in their answers? Or is his listenership composed exclusively of women who all want the system to fund blanket coverage of every breast-cancer treatment under the sun.
       Possibly, it is. Don't blame 'em for that, it's only natural. But this channel is Public Radio, not Women's Advocacy.
       Arriving in Ontario several months ago, I checked into a "family practice" of medicine. The first thing I told my new doctor (actually, an intern; I will never be allowed to see a practicing doctor) was this: I am required to have a colonoscopy every 5 years. My time is nigh.
      Oh, she said, We don't do that in Ontario; we give you a blood test. Seeing my shock, she recovered and said, Oh, but if you begin to have symptoms, serious cancer symptoms, then we'd order the colonoscopy and it would be covered.
       Breast-cancer research is funded so well in North America that the US coalition dedicated to it now boasts of eradicating the disease. In fact, it has set a deadline for total eradication: 2020. Now, that's confidence! We do wish them well. However, by contrast, prostate cancer, killer of millions of men, is under-funded. Men do not whine about their health; men do not clamor for $50,000 special treatments, and men certainly don't have the CBC in their corner.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Advocacy Radio Cranks Up

Thirty-six hours after the Japanese earthquake-tsunami disaster, CBC One (a.k.a. Radio FemIntern) had already attacked the nuclear industry. The program was Sunday Morning, normally hosted by Michael Enright, a credentialed voice of the Canadian left. Initial reference was to the ongoing drama in Japan, with two or three reactors shut down. Radioactive vapor had escaped into the atmosphere and the potential for core meltdown was not yet excluded.
   The program dealt with the industry in Japan, focusing on alleged lax safety and poor design. But the show-host quickly glid and slid: from particularities of Japan to a blanket questioning of the world-wide nuclear industry, including Canada.
   It was clear that the host was against nuclear energy. Not only that, he thought the crisis was a great opportunity to re-examine the licencing of, and support for, nuclear power. I listened carefully, and was confused: this did not sound like Michael Enright. I had turned on the radio late; so, when the broadcast was over, I checked, and discovered the show's host was a man named Robert Harris.
   So it isn't Michael's performance we're appalled by today, it's Robert Harris's.
   Let's first note the cynicism of this report, which seized upon a natural disaster to attack an energy policy...virtually one day from the ongoing event. Yes, there are all sorts of issues we need to examine; however, rushing these issues onto the front page is both hasty and suspect. The timing is not innocent and timing of media coverage is not inconsequential. The entire nuclear sector in the US, for example, was shut down for a decade after the Pennsylvania incident. This was not due to safety concerns; it was a  result of bad press and public nervousness, period.
   This sort of political mash-up is predictable on the CBC, and no, we're not talking about the smashing of houses in Japan, but of the use of Japan to batter the nuclear option.  Here's the quote from Sunday Morning's promotional website:
 
"The thing that a lot of people cannot comprehend is that Mother Nature doesn't have a bullet with your name on it, she has millions of bullets inscribed with 'to whom it may concern'"...

...which says a lot about panic radio, but little about the substance of this story.
   This jump to influence public opinion might be questioned by listeners. After all,  the CBC is not a private concern; it is OWNED by the taxpayers, and, in terms of its radio outlets, entirely financed by us, with zero revenue from advertising.
   So we can question this instant amalgam between Japan and Canadian policy, and worry about media timing. However, this was only a part of the story. The most curious thing was the reporting style of the show host.
    Mr. Harris had two expert witnesses to interview. One was a legitimate expert, a man from the nuclear policy intelligentsia. The other was a man from an environmental lobby, traditional foe of industries such as nuclear. Mr. Harris fired questions at both men.
   The questions were sharp-edged and dealt with the consequences of employing nuclear energy in the first place. They did not ask the one question that a serious reporter should ask: What are the real risks and real benefits of using this technology? What are the risks in Japan, as opposed to those in other countries? Rather than examine that, the discussion focused on whether this event shouldn't instantly harden our minds against the nuclear.
    Now and then, the nuclear expert sensed this lack of probity. He was the only speaker who had dealt with true risk and reasonable benefit. However, sniffing the desires of CBC Radio, he quickly slid to Mr. Harris's bias; after proper, scientific caution, he appended a disavowal of the nuclear option -- onto the same sentence.
    Perhaps the most assertive part of Mr. Harris's performance was his questioning technique. It was suggestive, aggressive, and adversarial. This was especially true of his approach to the nuclear expert, who, it must be said, was neither politician nor lobbyist.
   Questioning this putative "adversary," Harris pressed his own bias relentlessly. Getting the expert to admit "possibilities" of risk led Harris to demand more than that, certainties. And so, he sounded like a prosecuting attorney: Didn't this [assertion] mean that....? Yes, but, why couldn't we say that.....? Sure, but, wasn't it true that...?
    CBC militates on, while Japan burns.
    There are some questions surrounding nuclear power and safety. However, in the mind of  this observer, they are complex, not straightforward, as Mr. Harris was suggesting. Yes, placing reactor plants on the Japanese islands is dubious, perhaps reckless. But what about Canada? The country is the most unshakable mass of rock on the entire planet. Furthermore, the damaged reactors beautifully survived this magnitude 9.0 quake! It  was the tsunami that caused the power outages.
   So: how many Canadian reactors are vulnerable to a tsunami? I can't think of one.

   In France, power is delivered largely from nuclear plants. In that country, the earthquake risk is low outside the Mediterranean provinces. Yet France is attached to Italy, where earthquakes are a common risk. Should the French dismantle their power plants? The French have made a reasonable reply: No.
    The Pennsylvania incident resulted in Bad Press. Bad Press became a driver of policy. But bad press can also be poor science and terrible politics. How unfortunate it is, to see the CBC contribute to this narcissistic exercise.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Prostitution: a Liberal-Feminist Outreach

This June, the government of Canada will attempt to restore reason and responsibility to the control of  prostitution in the country. The government will be in court to respond to Susan Himel, an Ontario judge who, in 2010, attempted to legalize all forms of, and venues for, prostitution.
   Judge Himel's decision had struck down the laws that punish pimping, keeping a brothel, and communicating for the purposes of prostitution -- all laws against the sex trade. There is no law in Canada that penalizes the actual performance of a sexual act for money; the law merely makes it harder to do that.
    In her judgment, Judge Himel had maintained that laws set up to protect prostitutes actually endangered them -- by forcing them to engage in furtive transactions conducted in shady locations. In other words, legislating against pimps and bawdy houses made it more desirable for prostitutes to walk the streets and ply the highways -- so it followed that we should just let the pimps and gals do their stuff indoors and out.
   The response by Justice officials -- an attempt to restore the existing laws -- has been met with outrage, especially in liberal media. A pro-prostitute lobby has sprung up, complete with dominatrix figureheads and leaders from feminist factions. They want Susan Himel's ruling to stand, and they want to abolish all sanctions against prostitution. 
   I agree with the government's response to Himel. First, I'm not interested in condoning or fostering the sex trade. It is in every respect a stain on society. It degrades the prostitute and the client, and surrounds itself with other forms of vice. We've known this for about 100,000 years, and that wisdom is not to be cast aside by Judge Himel.
    Second, I'm not shocked at the knowledge that there are risks in the sex trade. It's still an activity curbed by law, and shunned by decent folks. Any illicit commerce is by definition more dangerous to the trader than a clean business would be. This not a mystery to prostitutes, it's patently obvious. Most such women (and men) choose prostitution, they're not forced into it. They inherit the trade from their addicted mothers, or learn the habit from role models, particularly among aboriginals. When a vice is thus passed on, the knowledge of its risks is also passed on.
    According to newspapers (I can't locate a press release), here is the Justice Department's position: "Prostitutes voluntarily enter a world known for violence, drugs and death. The State does not owe prostitutes a promise of safety if they choose a profession that is fraught with danger... It is the practice of prostitution in any venue, exaggerated by efforts to avoid the law, that is the source of the risk to prostitutes.”    The brief suggests that Himel was wrong to rule that prostitution is a career entitlement, and goes on to say that Parliament “is not obliged to minimize hindrances and maximize safety for those [whose work is] contrary to the law.”

To be clear, I do think prostitutes deserve equality before the law. Despite the fact that they are self-degraders; despite their willing engagement in risk; they should be equally protected by our law enforcement; when a crime is committed against them, that crime must be prosecuted vigorously.
     However, the prostitute lobby seeks more than equality: it demands workplace protection, blanket protection of the prostitute corps wherever it is, as if sex-traders were women working in a factory. Cops would then be patrolling under bridges -- benignly -- and cities would have brothels intermingled with Toys R Us. This is wrong, arrogant, and preposterous.
 
Who, then, is lobbying for legalized and open prostitution in Canada? Chiefly it is organized prostitution, a portion of the feminists, and liberally minded people who are sympathetic to poor aboriginals. The liberals are mobilized when they get news of crimes against prostitutes. It is hard not to be moved by such stories, especially that of the Picton outrage in British Columbia. I share the emotion. However, I'm not about to throw social values (to say nothing of reason) out the window simply because one criminal has pounced on his grisly opportunities. And that is the unvarnished case: most prostitute victims are victims of an environment of crime they've chosen to live in.

Radical feminists tend to dislike prostitution, as this site demonstrates, although it's true that feminism denigrates ALL heterosexual sex, therefore, prostitute sex. Feminists will vilify the clients, while they absolve the prostitute of responsibility. However, feminism is a concatenation of enthusiastic sentiments, not a coherent ideology, so you never know what sexual politicians will say.
     But there is a body of people who are happy for a world full of prostitutes. They tend to be liberals and liberal-feminists. They imagine a world where Joe the Coal Miner and James the Barrel-maker trawl the streets of London to quench their burning desires; for these men (yes, they did exist in 1825), poor females are a swarm, an army of starving wretches newly drawn from outlying villages. No woman will get hired into any respectable employment. Remember, we are in the Industrial Revolution; Charles Dickens is beginning to write.
    For Joe and James, the closest thing to sex they encounter is the racy postcard they saw in a shop, the one from Paris. And that's why social reformers all agree that "prostitutes can help develop sexual hygiene in the frustrated masses," as a character from George Bernard Shaw or a pamphlet from the era might put it.
   Our liberals and lib-feminists are a projection of this 19th-century construct. They see themselves as sexual emancipators, just like the streetwalker herself. The hooker icon is a good-hearted therapist of the orgasm; perhaps, at night, she reads Susan Faludi to improve herself; the only distinction between the whore and the feminist soul-sister is that the former is into erotics: she gives blow jobs to teenagers for reduced rates.
   This body of people has never actually met a prostitute. But pay that no mind -- it's the prostitute's aura that dictates attitude. So, in today's liberal concoction, the prostitute is liberator, dominatrix (among males!), foxy outlaw; vanguard of the libido; anointed Whore.
      Here's a description of a house that is located in my neighborhood in southwestern Ontario. The occupants here described were on the premises until the neighborhood had them all evicted:

In good weather, johns arrived at noon, fresh from work at the local factory; or, they arrived after work when neighborhood kids were around. They parked up and down the street illegally. The johns purchased sex, but also drugs of every type. They smoked marijuana and drank beer on the sidewalks.
   As the johns had their indoor communion, associated whores cruised the walk; these women  lived four doors away but were controlled by a pimp stationed at the house near mine. The pimp handled streetwalkers on the lawn using a cell phone. Clients pulled in and out of the property; we had the impression of sex happening in the cars.
    Sometimes, there were disputes. The street women fought with each other, shrieking curses, and particularly went after Larna, the gal who actually lived next door. Larna was the pimp's favorite, so the streetwalkers were rivals, working their way up. Some day, one of them would be the new Larna.
   When johns had finished their business, they peeled off in the cars, or were invited back onto the lawn -- especially if they knew someone at the house. There, they could join the block party.
    The party began at 10 am and often lasted until 9:30 pm. It  had to end at 11:00, because that's when the noise bylaw was enforceable. Men and women drank and danced and shouted obscenities, often for 10 hours a day. Women were groped. The noise could be heard in a radius of about 100 m, over three different streets, an uninterrupted screech.
    One hot evening two police cars came racing down the street and took up positions, one pulling onto the lawn, the other blocking traffic. The cops drew their guns; a man with a dirty ponytail was seen exiting the house; the cops took him down with the whole street watching.
   On another night, police and social workers arrived in a convoy. Once again, guns were drawn; we quickly discovered that a woman inside the house had been raped. Out she came, with her panties still in disorder, and she raced down the street to the address four doors away; it was learned later that she refused to testify. Nevertheless, there was an aggressor, and he had to be booked; he was carted away in handcuffs.
    Finally, the social worker emerged from her car, impeccably dressed -- a peach suit, matching gloves and shoes. She gathered up documents and made her way into the house. An hour later, she emerged with three very young, aboriginal children on her arm.
    We had all lived on the street for awhile; however, we knew nothing of the children. Soon, their story did the circuit: they belonged to one of the streetwalkers. One of them, about 6, was afflicted: fetal alcohol syndrome; I had seen him, now and then on the lawn, since the mother -- strangely -- allowed him, but only him, to emerge. He had no control over balance, could barely stand on his feet.  The other two were a mystery; it seems, though, that they had been hidden in the basement by their prostitute mother.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blood Relations: Part II

I.
Sharon Pollock is a Canadian playwright whose work has been produced since the 1980s. She is chiefly known for “social” and “historical” work, that is, plays that explore politics and society more than issues of private life. Her chief successes date from the 1980s. Among the better-known plays are Walsh, Doc, and Blood Relations.
             Since the '80s, only Blood Relations has had a sustained run on Canadian stages; in fact, it’s almost a repertory play in some companies. The most recent revivals were at Brock University and the University of Ottawa in 2010. The play is constantly put up in commercial theatres, but especially on campuses. For our part, we witnessed a campus production in 2005, and another at a downtown space, in 2009. So it seems appropriate to look at it, and to ask where the demand for the play comes from.
             We'll be interested in that because theatre in Canada is not entirely market-driven, and especially not for Canadian plays. There are audiences for select works and authors, to be sure. However, theatre is subsidized in Canada, and that deforms the choosing of plays, as directors are mandated to mount scripts that tell the stories they most relate to. Also, there is theatre at universities, and those offerings will be even less market-driven. So this blog will look at the actual demand for Blood Relations
            Once we've done that, we'll explore ethical questions that arise both in its programming and in its construction as a script.
             Let’s start with the obvious: Is Pollock's play really good theatre, strong writing?
             Not really. Blood Relations tells the story of the character Lizzie, and eventually works its way through a plot. But, like many texts of the era, it avoids linear and clear presentation of events that would build a backstory to sketch a character. Instead, it inserts hallucinatory scenes into realistic ones, confusing timeframes and cluttering the viewer’s perspective. This is Pollock's attempt to say something about personal autonomy, self-concept, and memory. Pollock herself refers to this as a “dream thesis.”
             In a strong play honed by a seasoned writer, such technique might be both successful and exciting. In this particular play, it probably fails. There’s a veil of confusion that falls over Pollock’s stage as “true” characters talk to “imagined” ones, with no clear marker between the one and the other. So, in terms of playwrighting skills, Blood Relations has justly been called a noble failure.
             Then why do we see it over and over again, particularly on campuses? Here are some suggested answers– ones you won’t read in typical discussions of the play.
             Possibly, Blood Relations is valued – and promoted – for political reasons, not dramatic ones. This is not something we are particularly surprised at or alarmed over. Politics rule the choice of many playbills, particularly in an age where a very select demographic goes to live theatre. At universities, politics dominate the curricula of many drama departments. And so, politics are with us. However, along with politics come ethics – the one following from the other. A drama is a powerful story. As we'll see below, there are ethical issues around Blood Relations that are profoundly troubling.
             To start, let’s look at the politics in, and the politics of, Blood Relations.
             That consists entirely of sexual politics. After all, the play is about a nineteenth-century lesbian, Lizzie Borden. Although Pollock opaques Lizzie's lesbianism in indirections, it is implicit in the text, and her late-life bond with an actress is explored. But aside from sexual orientation, who was the historic Lizzie Borden?
             No-one unusual. She was the daughter of a Massachusetts Victorian named Andrew Borden, and his second wife, Abigail. The wife was hated by Lizzie, perhaps out of jealousy. Lizzie’s life as a daughter was unrewarding and stunted. In events that loomed, Lizzie was going to be excluded from her father’s will.  So Lizzie’s tale is that of a lesbian who, refusing to marry, would soon be a poor spinster, and who rebelled against unsympathetic parents.
             In August of 1892, Andrew and Abigail were murdered in the family’s home. An axe was taken to their heads. Lizzie was immediately declared a suspect; she had sought to purchase a cyanide compound previous to the murders. She was seen burning a dress a few days later – bloodied? Sent to trial, she was acquitted after a sensational hearing covered by national media. 
             As a wealthy woman, though, she had enjoyed the best of lawyers. More importantly, her femaleness was underlined, in this case, to her benefit. Here’s a quote from the transcript of her lawyer’s plea:
"To find her guilty you must believe she is a fiend. Does she look it? As she sat here these long weary days and moved in and out before you, have you seen anything that shows the lack of human feeling and womanly bearing? Do I plead for her sister? No. Do I plead for Lizzie Andrew Borden herself? Yes, I ask you to consider her, to put her into the scale as a woman among us all..."
It is fitting to ask what Sharon Pollock’s interest was in these events, the clue to her liking the story. What was she piqued by, inspired by? Was it the media attention that the trial provoked – unprecedented for its time? No, there is no in-text discussion of that. Was it the fact that Lizzie was a frustrated woman? Partly, but that doesn’t tell us much: how many such women were there in the nineteenth century? Millions, and writers such as Henrik Ibsen wrote about them. And why Lizzie Borden? Was she a poet like the oppressed Elizabeth Barrett? A hero like Sojourner Truth? No, no, and no.
             Pollock could have asked other leading questions about the story, questions such as “what goes on in the minds of a nineteenth-century jury?” or, “what is justice for rich women versus justice for poor women?” But she does not. She is entirely consumed by her character’s moods and loves – her main character, Lizzie. And so, the play is a sympathetic poem to Lizzie Borden.
             And that is a clue to the endurance of this play: it’s a sympathetic text about an infamous lesbian of the nineteenth century.
             Among some theatre people, directors and artistic directors, this is sufficient to drive programming: sexual orientation + historical reference = social importance = reason for doing a drama. Well, let’s accept this as the state of the stage, an impoverished state, in our view, but one that we have no control over.
             But then, there are the university stages; they are not entirely driven by what is popular or will sell tickets. They are partly pedagogical, partly driven by what professors want their students to see. On Canadian campuses, Pollock’s play is a regular.
            This too must be set down as politics. If Blood Relations is cherished, it must be because it was written by a woman and sympathises with a notorious female character. It helps that many teachers are women and most of their students are female. Also, and perhaps this is the key, Lizzie belongs to a feminist political elite: lesbians. On this point, the agenda in Queer Studies goes hand in hand with that of Drama.  
             Today’s drama curriculum is certainly full of such politics, much of it feminist and female-focused. Most of it is of questionable value. Minor early writers such as Aphra Behn are forced onto the canon, despite little talent. The antique comedy Lysistrata  (Aristophanes) is offered year after year. In Lysistrata, the females force a change in State politics by going on a sex strike. Naturally, feminists, particularly lesbians, find this conceit thrilling. Lysistrata is de rigueur for the fledglings, who are taught the text and frog-marched into the auditorium, autumn after autumn. But there's no reason for this:  Lysistrata is a quaint, odd, crude, and vulgar artifact, an outsized visual joke.
II.
Finally we turn to ethics.
             First, a definition. What do we we mean by ethics? How do ethics relate to drama departments? What do ethics have to do with plays and playwrighting?  Good questions.
             Ethics, for this writer, relates to ends and means. Our choices and actions are ethical if they take all consequences into consideration; if they consider the impact on everyone; and if they consciously avoid harming the innocent.
             Ethical conduct can be argued for every job and every profession. The plumber is ethical if he does not perform expensive repairs before telling you the costs. The doctor is ethical if she outlines all courses of possible treatment.
             The university professor is bound by all sorts of ethical codes, most of which are not relevant here. However, some university ethics are relevant to us. For example, a teacher is ethical if she does not hide the weakness of her views in an effort to get students to agree with her, or join her in a partisan faction. A professor is ethical if she does not argue ad hominem: You are wrong (or irrelevant) because of who you are, not what you espouse. A professor is ethical if she does not substitute her own agenda for the consensus on what is exemplary, or significant, in the discipline she is teaching.
              So an ethical drama curriculum will do just that: present a fair, reasoned, scholarly, and consensus-based picture of what the theatre is, how it developed, and how it pleases its audiences. An ethical curriculum will not select female plays that are poor, over male plays that are brilliant, just because we are touts for female authorship.
             By that ethical standard, it’s hard to see why Blood Relations hangs around. It’s a play that is part of the country's cultural history – its early work. It did win an award as Best Play of the year (but not Best Play of the Last Several Decades). However, it’s a clumsy thing with a confusing narrative conceit. The text is not high poetry. It explores aspects of the mind of Lizzie Borden. Period.
             And, guess what, Lizzie Borden is nobody to most of the Earth’s population. If lesbians are 2% of the population, lesbian murderesses can't be more than a fraction of that. In the nationalistic Canadian culture, she can't even be counted as Canadian! So this seems to have been just a private interest of Pollock's.
             We’ve examined the business of ethics in drama departments and theatre programs. But what of the plays themselves? Do play texts need to be moral? Do they adhere to any ethics? Are they entirely exempt from such judgements?
             The answer is No, they are not exempt.
             Classical drama – and all its modern extensions – has a moral or ethical core. Into that core is poured ethical dilemmas: if my father abuses me, for example, do I have the right to kill him? If he now has Alzheimer’s, do I have the right to steal from him? If the Venetian owes me money, and is anti-Semitic, do I, like Shylock, have the right to my pound of flesh?
             The playwright’s job is to identify that core and that dilemma, and expose them to view. The playwright customarily does this by enrolling at least one character, and having the character represent moral society on stage.
             So now we have to ask: Who represents ethical or moral society on stage in the play Blood Relations? The answer is “pretty well nobody.”
             Why do we say that? Because nobody asks the single, outstanding, ethical question: Lizzie, we know you did it; now tell us, were you right to kill your parents because you were unhappy with them?
             Oh, there are lots of other questions. Lizzie’s sister Emma keeps asking one: Did you do it? Did you kill our parents? And Lizzie keeps refusing to say No, I did not. This is certainly interesting and points to either her confusion or her guilt. But it’s also irrelevant, completely irrelevant. Lizzie’s crime was committed before modern forensic science; certainly, there were gaps in the evidence; she was acquitted, partly, because the State could not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
             She did have financial motives for killing her parents. But that’s not what leads us to her story… or her case. Lizzie's voice in Sharon's play is all about feeling frustrated with being a girl, daughter, and lesbian. That’s the truth of Pollock’s play – it’s not a murder mystery. It’s a portrait of a woman who envies and hates the men around her and the step-mother who’d taken over the family.
             This leads us to the only ethical question this play could possibly ask on stage: Was she justified in killing them?
             However, Pollock never allows this question on stage, not via Lizzie herself nor by any other character.  We might then conclude, that, on the evidence, the play is ethically or morally ambiguous. 
             And yet, can we say it's ambiguous? Is that what Pollock is saying, that you can’t say one way or another that Lizzie should not have murdered her parents?
             Not quite. In fact, Pollock does make a statement as to the ethical basis of killing the Borden couple; but she’s careful not to make it clearly. She buries it in the text.
             Watch the play carefully and it’s there. The clearest evidence is in the story of Lizzie’s pigeons and a conversation she has with the character called Dr. Patrick.
             In the story of the pigeons, based on reality, Lizzie has kept these birds in the barn behind the house. Starved for affection, she'd developed a bond with the creatures. One day, she enters the barn and finds them all dead. Not just dead, but dead by axe-blows!
             According to legend, the fatal blows had been delivered by her father, just days before he himself fell to an axe-murderer, which directly links his murder to the story of the birds.  However, we’re focused on the play, not the history. The question is: does Pollock, like the original Lizzie, consider the killing of Andrew Borden a fitting answer to the killing of pigeons?
             In the play, Lizzie seems clearly to answer “yes.”
             More revealing still is her conversation with Dr. Patrick. In that, she poses the question this way: “whose life is worth saving and whose is not?” She puts it point-blank to the doctor: If you had two accident victims, and you could only save one, would you save the “good” person, but not the “bad”? The doctor is shocked by the conundrum and does not answer; however, it’s reasonable to assume that Pollock would answer “yes,” and that Lizzie’s escape from her impending poverty is considered a saving of her life. This escape might justify the killing of her parents. 
             Other clues and hints abound. For example, Lizzie discusses euthanasia with the doctor; is killing the Borden couple a form of euthanasia? Also, she mourns the pigeons as gentle souls; but refers to her step-mother as a “fat cow.” Yet the cow is an animal of no moral standing: we slaughter it when doing so meets our needs.
             For these reasons, we conclude that Pollock sympathises, not only with her beloved character Lizzie, but with the whole idea of dispatching Andrew Borden and his wife.
             Perhaps our greatest ethical worry is that Pollock has not revealed her own sympathies, not clearly at least. As we've seen, she never brings the issue into the open, never stages the debate. She leaves it floating in air. Yet a spectator will detect it immediately; and some student spectators may depart with a sympathy, not only for Lizzie, but for the killing of her parents.
             We may thus be out there, staging an apology for patricide and parricide, and a brief for Lizzie and her murderous ways. Should we now consider the consequences?

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Newly Minted Discipline

Word has reached us of a job posting at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. The post is in the Psychology Department.
   Traditionally, psychology examines thoughts and behavior reported among, or exhibited by, all humans, then posits theories as to how they emerge. There are various theoretical schools-of-thought on the matter of human psychology: Freudianism, behaviorism, etc. It's customary for a psychology department to teach all approaches as having potential merit, while suggesting to students that they can focus on applying one philosophy after graduation. Also, it's customary for the department to subject ALL approaches to logical critique and scrutiny.
   The posting we have is for a professor of "feminist psychology." In other words, for a teacher of theories of the mind whose background is in feminist theory. In an of itself, that's no issue. But it does raise a serious educational question: How rigorous, how neutral, and how pluralistic is the U of PEI's psychology department in the matter of curriculum?
    It is unclear from the posting (see below) whether the new hire is to examine the psychology OF feminism, or to ESPOUSE it as THE PSYCHOLOGY of choice... and teach that to students. For example, the hired professor will be paid to teach the theories of Gender construction as a basis of psychological construction; however, Gender Theory is simply a re-interpretaton of things: of actions, culture, history, etc. Therefore, Gender Theory is itself a human thought construction, not a critique of the way we humans construct thoughts.
    Feminism does, of course, theorize about the way people think. However, a feminist will suggest that, if a woman is unhappy, it's probably because she's oppressed by a man (or a male culture). So now we have to ask the question: Is this the psychological counselling that UPEI's graduates are typically going to give their clients?
     Feminism is not a branch of mainstream psychology, in this sense: it does not stand back from its own political biases and critically examine them; it does not base its conclusions on its own field research, through rigorous clinical trials; it would not seek to accredit hypotheses that contradict its own, received opinions. On the contrary, as a body originating in ONE identity group, but not humanity, it would want to validate findings that comfort that identity group and are welcomed into that group.
     Also, it would want to see findings that denigrate scholars that it felt were adversarial. So it would favor political advocacy, not scientific research.
     In the recently politicized academy, this is not unusual. For example, there is a university subdiscipline called Feminist Stewardship of the Planet. Some call this a pseudo-branch of Environmental Science. Certainly, its mission is to examine the way pollution has happened; however -- ominously -- its mission is also to validate the theory that women NURTURE the Earth, while men tend to despoil it.
     If you, dear reader, are a feminist who wants a job as a feminist psych prof, here's a posting for you:

OPENING FOR A TEN-MONTH TERM POSITION IN
CRITICAL/FEMINIST PSYCHOLOGY AT UPEI
 
The University of Prince Edward Island is inviting applications for a ten-month term position in Critical/Feminist Psychology at the Assistant Professor level beginning August 1, 2011. Qualifications include a Ph.D. in psychology (or a Ph.D. in final stages of completion), demonstrated teaching ability, and a student centered approach to teaching. Evidence of research potential and evidence of research success, while not requirements for this position, would be strong assets. The teaching assignment is three courses in each of two semesters, and would involve courses such as:  Psychology of Women; Gender and Sexuality; Media, Sex, and Power (or other courses that can be cross-listed with Women’s Studies, as this position involves 2-3 courses per year that are cross-listed); Adolescent Development; and, Introductory Psychology. 
     The Psychology Faculty are a team of dynamic, creative, and diverse educators and researchers. At UPEI, faculty have the freedom to develop their unique professional and personal potentials in a variety of ways...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Blood Relations, Part I


One of the problems we encounter in debates is vocabulary. There are many words, especially those used in Humanities studies, that had common meanings and usages, but that were made to evolve. Often, they were recruited by academic theorists to cover other, more complex phenomena. This is especially true in the highly partisan and political realm of social theory and sociology.
   For example, the word “gender” never related to human females until modern feminism wanted it to. Gender is an abstract concept of linguistics that explains why certain words use different “forms” to express similar functions. The French, for example, don’t have “a table” they have ‘a [female form] table.” The French are obsessed with the gender of their nouns; they upbraid any member of their community who cannot navigate noun genders; children who stick the masculine article, un, before a feminine noun are reprimanded.
    So navigating the gender of French nouns is rich in meaning and socially validated for the French, even though it’s meaningless to the point of vexation for English-speakers.
      It would be difficult and highly suspect to posit that this sort of gender has anything to do with politics; however, much of modern politics is obsessed precisely with notions of “gender.” That’s because, as everyone knows, the word “gender” has been assigned new meanings by feminist writers and academics.
     The word gender defines today’s feminism and marks its evolution. Many years ago, feminism made no reference to “gender,” and was all about “equality between men and women.” Not any more. Today, feminists acknowledge that they themselves argue two kinds of feminism: “equity feminism,” which is about civic equality, and “gender feminism,” which is a separate movement.
    Some believe that “gender feminism” is about how women are different from men, full-stop. Not quite. Gender feminism goes far beyond that observation, which, in any event, is, and always has been patently obvious. So no, this gender focus is not about difference; it is about the polar opposite to “equality”: superiority.
     Far from suggesting that women struggle for some sort of equal sharing of the world, gender feminists militate in favor of supremacy. Their theories argue the inherent, historical superiority of women over men. One of the ways they do so is by re-interpreting what they see as the history of the way women have lived among men.

To provide a flavor of this, I have copied short passages from the Internet-based description of a book by Chris Knight. The book is considered a foundational text of gender feminism.
   The book’s title is Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture (1991).
    It’s all in the words – difficult though they may be to decipher. Here’s an excerpt from the product description (amazon.com) that may illustrate:

The emergence of human culture is generally traced to the development of a social order in which males hunted large game animals and females had access to the meat. This book presents a new theory of how this culture originated. Integrating perspectives of evolutionary biology and social anthropology within a Marxist framework, Christopher Knight rejects the common assumption that human culture was a gradual extension of primate behaviour and argues instead that it was the product of an immense social, sexual, and political revolution spearheaded by women. Culture became established, says Knight, when women realized that men armed with hunting weapons could not be trusted to share the spoils of the hunt with women and offspring. They began to assert conscious control over their own sexuality, refusing sex to all males except those who came to them with provisions. Women usually timed their ban on sexual relations with their periods of infertility while they were menstruating, and to the extent that their solidarity drew women together, these periods tended to occur in synchrony. Thus every month with the onset of menstruation, sexual relations were ruptured as the prelude to each successful hunting expedition; it was the means through which women motivated men not only to hunt but also to concentrate their energies on bringing back the meat. Knight shows how his hypothesis sheds light on the roots of such cultural traditions as totemic rituals, incest and menstrual taboos, blood-sacrifices, and hunters' atonement rites. Providing detailed ethnographic documentation of his theories, he also explains how myths and fairy tales . . . seem to be the derivations of the same cultural symbolic rituals.

Here is how one enthusiastic academic reviews the book:
[P]erhaps most important of all, [a thesis] has to excite me. There may be things my mind will not be specifically educated enough, multi-lingual enough or quick enough to pick up, but you cannot fool my heart. All these three are BLOOD RELATIONS' great achievement and great contribution.
    Chris Knight . . . does this all . . . with such remarkable clarity and erudition, [that] in fact, attempts to disagree with his findings becomes [sic] pointless. His unified field-theory of the prehistoric African woman's role in the formation of human culture is so incredibly well done, and so profoundly earth shattering in its implications, that I read the book twice to fully soak in all the sacred pre-verbal intuitions I have had that it reveals to be historical fact and obvious science.
   . . . Chris Knight . . . shows unquestionably that women, via sex and the rhythm of menstruation, nurtured the primal creative impulse of civilization and they essentially created human culture. And he shows it to be made up of communal solidarity against oppressors and oppressive situations (be it prehistoric animals or alpha males), symbol-driven creativity, and achieving a certain oneness with the rhythms of nature. This primal social movement that is the womb of human culture, told in every ancient culture's foundational myths, could naturally just as easily explain the birth of democracy and/or capitalism in the historical ages of feudalism as it does the advent of Marxism in the age of capitalism...and what is next for human kind.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Put your head between your legs, and...

Pray, everyone, for our collective salvation.
The science journal Nature reports that "The Sixth Mass Extinction May Be Underway."
It does say "May," not "Is," so we can all hope for the best.
Quote: "The sixth mass extinction could arrive within as little as three to 22 centuries."
To translate for the innumerate, that's between 300 and 2200 years.
The article says that "until mankind's big expansion some 500 years ago, mammal extinctions were very rare: on average, just two species died out every million years." The article does not say how many mammal extinctions science has yet to discover, the assumption being that we know for certain each and every extinction. The article continues: "In the last five centuries, at least 80 out of 5,570 mammal species have [gone extinct]."
My own conclusion is that humans have crowded out of existence 80 out of 5,570 mammal species. What the article does not mention is that humans are capable of restoring endangered species and whether or not the planet required those 80 to survive in order for the planet itself to survive.
It does, however, give us pause.
I have a defined-benefit pension; I'm OK for the next 2200 years.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pearls and Perils of Morning Radio

Half-asleep, I was expecting to hear Matt again this a.m., the do-gooder of Metro Morning. But no, I’d turned the radio on late and was startled to hear Karen Horsman acting as guest host.
             As mentioned in a previous post, I only use the CBC to catch news, but with Radio One, they’d be random bits – the weather or taxes – that bookended the social activism. 
             Surprised to hear Ms Horsman, I thought, be grateful for small mercies; at least she has a neutral radio voice –not quite the re-genderized undergrad from Advocacy Studies that Matt projects.
             But oh, I had spoken, or rather wished, too soon. Matt's spirit was still around, so here was the Advocacy that Karen had lined up:
  • An increase in traffic at the Women’s Shelter
  • A story about “The Non-profit Sector” and the Ontario Minister that supports it               
First up was a woman from the Toronto Women’s Shelter. Her topic was “feeding women at the shelter.” She claimed that traffic had doubled recently; she was feeding twice as many mouths as usual. Not only that, her traditional clientele had expanded into new demographics.
             How so? Well, the Aboriginal core was being reinforced by non-Aboriginals. This must be significant, and proved what a hell of an economy we had.  She claimed she fed “125 women a day.”
             While I paused in silent tribute to this social carnage, I did some heavy thinking. Was this truly about the economy? The speaker claimed it was; because it was "the economy," she was empowered to claim more funding from the government.
             And yet, thought I, perhaps this index of the economy – 125 women getting breakfast in Toronto shelters – might not be significant. These women could be poverty cases, but not ones related to the ongoing economy.
             The Aboriginals, for example, how did they normally get by? Mightn’t we assume they were all on Welfare in the first place, and never off it? If so, that was their share of the economy. Also, didn’t they supplement their incomes in non-traditional (i.e. non-taxable) ways, ways that circumvent the Welfare rules on declaring income?
             Based on personal observation (I live in a VERY poor neighborhood), this means prostitution. If the Native women were going hungry, I thought, why then, prostitution was drying up.
             This could be an index of a poor economy, I suppose, or it could be the opposite. Either randy males had less discretionary income at hand, less lubrication for booze and hookers; or, the men were occupied elsewhere, as for example, going to a new job. Or, possibly, the pimps had gone off, but hadn’t they too migrated to other jobs?
             Also, where were these women from? Were they themselves migrants? If so, then poverty was located elsewhere, not in Toronto, where the sample was supposed to have been taken. And then, so far from indicating Toronto poverty, it would point to prosperity, the attractor of new migrants. Well, the speaker did not speak of such things, she just trashed the economy and had clients to feed.
            As Karen listened, she lobbed soft questions at her guest, ones that prompt politically desirable answers: “What do you feel you need from government?” was typical, and responses were predictable. It was a very cozy chat indeed. But there was one set of questions that was never asked: anything to do with the fate of men, not women.
             As in, “How many men are hungry?” “Who is sheltering them?” “What rate of violence do they suffer?” “How many grieve the loss of children in a divorce settlement?” “How many have been ruined by a divorce lawyer?” “Who provides them counselling, medications, and especially, public-relations support?”
             That would be left to a different radio station, I suppose.
             What was Karen’s next topic? More Welfare Policy. Next on the agenda was a session featuring the Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Eric Hoskins, and Helen Burstyn, Chair of the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The latter is the umbrella agency for funding public-policy outreach; in other words, it's the grand dispensary of the Grand Welfare Republic of Ontario.
             The patter, whose theme was the "not-for-profit sector,” was remarkably amiable. The minister congratulated his ministry, and praised Trillium for all their good work. The Trillium official thanked and praised the minister and requested a lot more money. The minister – presumably facing re-election – thought this not unreasonable: we had the sense that money was there.
             Despite this, the Trillium chair focused on “economics.” Not that the economy was bad, mind you (shelter lady, are you listening?) but that “non-profit” was an “industry,” as she put it, a generator of employment, and it was fiscally important to keep it going. All sorts of people were working at social-welfare agencies, she stressed, and so pumping tax-money into their payroll was a good thing for Ontario.
             To be inclusive, she touched upon “cultural industries,” dance troupes, that sort of thing, which she lumped with all that Diversity, Divorce Lawyers, and Soup Kitchens. On the matter of high-culture, Ms Burstyn was on reasoned turf: there is evidence that high culture requires State help and that a society benefits from such intervention. However, the lady’s heart was clearly not in the theatre district, it was down at Queen and Sherbourne.  No further mention was made of culture.
             Ah, but, this was not about “doing the right thing,” it was about proving how valuable Trillium’s work was for the economy. Notwithstanding that her groups help defaulting tenants destroy your mother's duplex, or alcoholic wives battle husbands for the kids, this was not about social issues, it was about providing employment in the bureaucracy. Remarkably, the minister did not disagree.
             There were allusions to all sorts of groups and causes. However, in that long list, some notable omissions were made, both by the Trillium chair and by the minister:
  •  Males. Not a single example of helping (or employing) men was offered. Not one.
  •  Self-generated funds. Trillium’s agencies are supposed to be out there, raising money from the public. Trillium’s groups call themselves “charitable,” and provide a Revenue receipt for donations. And yet, not a word was heard about charity or about raising donations. All we heard was the cozy relationship between Ministry budgets and the Trillium, its big beneficiary.
Also absent, in this broadcast, was discussion of Trillium’s links to the “Green economy,” one of Trillium’s pet concerns, and one shared by this minister’s government. Just the night before, news had leaked of Trillium’s connection to wind-energy developers.
             How did this happen? Through government funding, of course: funding of a pro-wind umbrella called “comeclean.ca,” to the tune of $3,297,900. Money had been forwarded to enterprises promoting “green” energy – and the forwarding agency had been the Trillium Foundation.
             There is a biggish issue with that: Trillium is supposed to be about charity, the “non-profit” sector; Trillium is supposed to be about “volunteers,” not commercial interests. Yet it is now sheltering lobbies that push business start-ups, the so-called wind industry.
 Neither the minister, nor the Trillium person, nor Karen raised that contradiction. I need to keep spinning the radio dial.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

When the Little Green Creatures Come

This time they came at the doorbell and it was gentle. In the past, they had skipped the bell in favor of the door, beaten on twice, a bit like a SWAT team. They were busy hanging from the outside storm, loose on its rusted hinge, so I decided to open.
             They were a couple, man and woman, she bundled against the winter, he in a sort of miner’s cap, but with muffs. We were cracked open, lest Kate the cat escape.
             “We’re from OntarioGreenhome!” the man sang; I stared. The woman gulped. Yes? I replied.
             “Can we see your water heater?” he pursued.  No, I said; Why?
             “To inspect it,” he growled, pressing his nose dangerously into proximity. I said, Why?
              “GreenEnergyStar!” they howled. I think I must have winced and turned, since the man shifted and pushed a sheaf of papers at me. “It’s brand-new, doesn’t need inspection,” I muttered, pulling the door, but for the man, this was a cue: he moved a corner of his papers into the door-jamb: “OntarioGreenhome!” he hissed. “You don’t have the Star!” There was a tiny decal with a tinier logo on his package; it was green but beyond that, indecipherable. “What are you selling?” I asked. The couple stared.  “New, not buying in the near future,” I repeated, “also, rented, belongs to the Utilities.”
             "No," shouted the man, "just because it’s new doesn’t mean it has the Star!"
             I was now on the door like a diabetic needing his cookie. Whoa! shouted the man. Wham went the door.

Prior to that, it was the couple I came to call The GreenPlanners. Both men, one was middle-aged, the other, a callow youth.  Together they went like Mormons, pacing the icy walks, thumping doorposts, waving their arms. They too were laden with books, chief among them a sort of register resembling the Domesday.
             They never rang any bell, but bounded onto the porch and walloped whatever surface would boom. As I finally went tottering out, they were restless.
             “Are you on the GreenPlan??” they crooned. I looked. Quickly, I moved back, making haste to close the door. No, said I, I’m fine.
             “Oh, said the fatter of the two,”you need to sign up!” He was waving a pack of papers. “I already have energy,” I replied, “I don’t need any more.”
             But are you on the Plan, they chorused, like a TV jingle, one  of them in falsetto.
             “But what are you selling?” said I; “Oh,” said the fatter, “no big clauses or locked-in contracts.” "You’re an energy company, right?" “The Plan,” they howled, “Are you saying you are not on the GreenPlan!!”

Weeks later, about an hour before the OntarioGreenhome invasion, our GreenPlanners had hobbled back and done a second attempt, and it was even tipsier than the first. Possibly, this poisoned Greenhome’s chances. And now  in my mind’s eye, I see four unhappy figures, cold, unprepared, resentful, wondering why the world hates them so much on such a modest street as mine.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

US tax hints for 2011

A note to the wise. Even if they're personal, you may deduct the cost of additions, extensions, and other improvements. See the video