Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Story of Physi-O

He was unlike any man I’ve ever known. Tanned, muscular, confident, almost cocky. Under his jogging pants, his legs were like thick, hard trunks. Following him into his room, I felt nothing for him.

Then it began.

He asked me to lie face down on the table. Cautiously, I obliged. Standing above me, his voice was gentle, almost kind, as he explained what he was going to do. Momentarily soothed, I let myself relax.

Then, I felt his hands on me, hands that were so strong I trembled underneath them. Hands that could have snapped my spine in two without any effort at all. Involuntarily, my muscles tensed. This displeased him.

Suddenly, he was cruel. He pressed his fingers deep into my flesh, bringing with them a searing pain that made me gasp for breath. I recoiled from his touch, and instantly felt the weight of his massive arms pinning me onto the table. I cried out, but was helpless.

Again and again, he found my most sensitive places and forced himself in, as I writhed in fear and pain. He said that I weak, that I had no choice but to obey, as he pushed in harder, deeper. Hating him, I closed my eyes and tried in vain to will myself free.

The violation was endless. He manipulated my body as though I was a doll, arranging my limbs into the positions that suited him. Each one brought a new note of agony, even more intense than the last, until finally I gave myself over to him, utterly broken.

In that moment, everything changed. This was what he wanted. He became kind again, his voice cooing into my ear. He said that I had been good, that I was learning what was good for my body. Then he brought out a machine and placed two small electrodes on the places he had ravaged. I braced myself for what would come.

He turned on the machine and the electrodes slowly warmed. I felt currents of heat radiating out from where they were attached to my skin. The currents became waves of pleasure, cresting, then falling, then cresting again. I moaned. Softly, he asked if it was good, and I said that it was.

He stayed close for what seemed like hours, as the waves grew stronger, wider, sweeter. I drank them in, feeling a pleasure I had never known nor imagined. Knowing that he was there, that he had given this to me, I forgave him everything, loving him with every muscle and bone. Lost in the waves, I prayed that they would never end.

And then, it was over. Already, I wanted it again, but I was too much overcome to speak. Sensing my need, he asked me to come see him again next week. Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Well, if that's what it takes...

Virgo Horoscope for week of April 20

In early spring, some of our forebears made love in newly seeded fields, hoping to magically propitiate the growth of the crops. Right now would be an excellent time for you to perform a similar ritual on behalf of what you love. If you're game, find a secluded outdoor spot on a warm day. Bring a partner if one's available, or take the earth or sky as your lover. Then carry out a rite of pleasure in which you offer up the spiritual essence of your bliss to the health and success of a beloved person or creature or situation that you want to thrive in the coming months.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Impeccable timing

Okay, so I’m watching CNN today, and this commercial comes on. My first response was to wonder if all that acid I did as a teenager had finally come back to haunt me. Then, I found out about the Make Work Pay campaign, which isn’t in the least bit trippy. That is, unless you’re a corporate CEO, in which case it’s commie-pinko angel dust. And a damn fine idea.

Monday, April 24, 2006

On the seventh day...

...Vila rested, after a week of no-holds-barred partying. Then, she did her taxes.

I will spare you the details of my three-day struggle with my tax forms, other than to say that being a Quebecker is sometimes a royal pain in the ass. Here, and here alone, we are obliged by law to complete two separate tax returns, a form of cruel and unusual punishment that makes sovereignty look good by comparison.

I will also spare you a rant about poorly designed software programs which, in their zeal to “simplify” a task, instead manage to complicate it to the point of absurdity. (I’m looking at you, Quicktax!) And it goes without saying that technical support people who know less about the programs they have been hired to troubleshoot than you do—and who, after having surmised this, try to blow you off—should be shot on sight.

But I digress.

After completing my tax returns, I decided that I should look in on where the poverty line is these days. According to Statistics Canada, it is, for a single person residing in a large urban centre, $20,337. Which is, incidentally, $4529 more than what you would make if you worked forty hours a week for one year at the current minimum wage. Before taxes.

Call me a communist (and believe me, a few people have), but doesn’t this discrepancy suggest that the minimum wage should be raised to at least $9.78 per hour, a rate that would match—but still not exceed—the poverty line? As a certain dreamy intellectual recently opined:

We must take steps to enhance the equality of life chances for the working poor. Canadians working 35 hours a week earning minimum wage are making less than $15,000 a year. These hard-working Canadians are now under-represented in our income security regime. We need to make certain that our system provides the incentives for them to remain or return to the labour market, to work hard, while removing the fear and insecurity that blights their potential.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I come up $4154 short. Maybe next year?

Friday, April 21, 2006

A house with one cat

It’s different now. Quieter. He never talked as much as she did. She was chatty like me.

The night after I put her down, I had a sense memory of being five. I had arranged all my stuffed animals on my bed, which wasn’t a bed anymore but a ship, like Noah’s Ark. Except my bed-ship could fly. We flew all over the world, my animals and me. No one else was allowed to come, and no matter what happened, we could always fly away.

Thinking about it, I realize that, in certain respects, I haven’t changed at all.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Oh, good

Beer drinking, even if it is relatively moderate, heightens the risk of contracting lung cancer, while imbibing a little wine can have the opposite effect, suggests a striking new Canadian study.
More...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Milestone

It’s official: I am sick and tired of being broke.

Wait, that’s not quite right. What I mean to say is, I am sick and tired of working my ass off and still being broke.

Hmm, I think a list is in order, don’t you?

Things I would do if I wasn't broke:

1. See a first-run movie

I saw one last summer. It was fun.

2. Buy music

The last CD I bought was Arcade Fire’s Funeral, which was released in 2004.

3. Buy underwear

If my mother wasn’t as crazy as a loon, she’d be horrified at the state of my underwear. Which is still vastly better than the state of my socks.

4. Get away from it all

The last time I went on vacation was to New York City in May of 2002. New Yorkers were still rude back then, which is just how I like 'em.

5. Pay off Simone’s vet bills

How the fuck can it cost almost $600 dollars to do absolutely nothing for your dying cat except put her to sleep?

6. Buy a pair of shoes

I own exactly one pair of shoes: five-year old black Cons that have holes in both heels and one toe. I also own a pair of combat boots that I bought when I was in undergrad, but they're boots so they don't count.

7. Drink a brand of beer that isn’t on special

Boréal is always on special. I hate Boréal.

8. Drink something other than beer

At my age, I should be drinking martinis. With my twenty-three year old lover. In Paris.

9. Pay for my physiotherapy

According to the Quebec government, it's one of life’s little luxuries.

10. Buy a lottery ticket

‘Cause this could be my lucky day. It could be, couldn't it? C'mon, lie to me, will you?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

I am somewhat fond of New York

With its precipitous drops in crime, New York has increasingly been able to turn its attention to policing offensive behavior, from the mere faux pas to outright misconduct that puts others at risk. And that has put it on the front line of a national crackdown on incivility.

More if you can stomach it...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

We interrupt our regular news programming to bring you this Pfizer Health Break!

I went to the doctor today. Not just any doctor, but a doctor at the university’s Sports Medicine Clinic. The clinic is located in the school’s gymnasium complex, a building that has, until now, remained as mysterious to me as the Great Pyramid, or the inside of a church. No more.

I was dispatched to the clinic to investigate how it is that my shoulders came to be replaced by two jagged rocks, the dimensions of which have grown steadily larger over the last year. As I explained to the doctor, the rocks hurt like a motherfucker, and I’d really like them to stop.

After some exceptionally painful prodding, the doctor pronounced that I am afflicted with costovertebral joint dysfunction: T 3/4 R, T 2/3/4 L. She then wheeled a life-sized model skeleton into the examining room and cheerily explained my condition. She must get paid very well.

“See that?” she said, pointing to the back of the skeleton. “That’s where the ribs connect to the spine. The problem is that your ribs aren’t connected properly anymore. They’re twisting upward,” she continued, jerking a rib upward for effect, “which causes the surrounding muscle tissue to protect itself by going into spasm.”

“Oh,” I said tonelessly. “So, what causes this?”

“You probably injured yourself at some point, and the problem has become worse over time,” she explained. “Do you play sports?”

I looked at her like she had just asked me to join the Raelians. “Um, no. I don’t play sports.”

She frowned, a little disapprovingly, I thought. “Okay, have you been in any accidents?” I shook my head, no. “Or strained yourself?”

I thought about it. As a graduate student, I engage in virtually no physical activity of any kind, so it wouldn’t be anything obvious. Could it have been the time I carried seventeen books home from the library to read for my synthesis paper? Or was it that day a few months back when I flipped my mattress all by myself, despite the fact that the tag clearly states “DO NOT FLIP ALONE”? The only other possibility I could come up with was that I had carelessly lifted an especially heavy bottle of beer some night at the Café, but was already too drunk to notice.

By this time, the sports doctor had written me a referral for physiotherapy and was ushering me out of the examining room. As I waited to book an appointment with the receptionist (who was so healthy and blond he was practically Danish), I realized that I have lived with constant pain for months, thinking all the while that it was perfectly normal. Apparently, it isn’t. It will also, apparently, cost me $42 per session to find out what life is like without it. Screed to follow.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ignatieff, Iraq, and me

Now, about those horns...

I've been thinking a lot about Michael Ignatieff’s recent announcement, and I am genuinely torn between two different responses.

On the one hand, I am almost giddy at the prospect that, for the first time in memory, I may have the opportunity to vote for a mainstream political figure who is not a lawyer, a businessman, or an international shipping magnate by trade, but a scholar, and, even better, a historian. I am, I admit, slightly desperate for a politics that has some point of reference other than the strictly economic, and for a politician who is bold enough to express his or her ideas in full sentences rather than sound bites.

Seriously, if I hear another fucking sound bite come out of any politician’s mouth I will scream.

I am also impressed by Ignatieff’s stated desire to move the Liberal Party back to the centre-left of the political spectrum, after years of rightward creep, and by the emphasis he places on the term left. It has been a very long time since I have heard a federal politician say that particular word out loud, and even longer since one has said it with anything resembling pride or conviction. That Ignatieff gives a damn about education and the arts, and knows a little something about both, is also a significant plus.

On the other hand, I strongly disagree with Ignatieff’s position on the Iraq war, which he has modified recently, but which is nevertheless steeped in a doctrine of humanitarian intervention that I simply cannot support. In this sense, I concur with the anonymous commenter who wrote in yesterday, but I suspect that I may have arrived at my position via a somewhat different route.

The commenter asserted that Ignatieff’s support for the invasion of Iraq puts him “on the side of power,” which is, to my mind, too coarse an accusation. To begin with, I believe that Ignatieff, like others who have devoted many years of their lives to human rights issues, is well-intentioned, as this Maclean’s article suggests:

[Ignatieff] supported the NATO air war in Kosovo after he personally saw refugees pouring across the Serbian province's borders into Macedonia and Albania in 1999, fearing for their lives in the face of ethnic cleansing by Serbian forces. "I remember the switch going in my head: this has to be stopped." When what to do about Iraq became an unavoidable question last fall, Ignatieff's mind turned to his experiences a decade earlier in the country's northern Kurdish region. The independence-seeking Kurds were brutally repressed by Saddam Hussein's army. Those memories may be what pushed Ignatieff into the regime-change camp. "I was there in late 1992, talked to victims, talked to survivors," Ignatieff says. "We know that hundreds of thousands of Kurds either died, disappeared or were driven from their homes. So that is when the iron went into my soul on this one."

More importantly, I don’t think that there is a “right” and a “wrong” side of power. Power, and the struggle for it, is everywhere, in every individual and institution; it does not respect political classifications or geographical boundaries, and it certainly does not conform to liberal notions of “the powerful” and “the powerless.” Power works in myriad and microcosmic ways, sometimes without our knowing it, and it can turn on a dime, as it so often has since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Yes, Vila, but what about Iraq?

As I said, I don’t support the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, which Ignatieff is a leading proponent of. War is, by definition, not a humanitarian endeavour, and to describe it as such is either disingenuous or dangerously naive. War may be, in certain cases and always, always, as a last resort, a means of altering political configurations that lead to humanitarian abuses, which certainly have occurred in both the former Yugoslavia and in Iraq. It remains, however, a thoroughly brutal business, as Human Rights Watch noted in an excellent report published in January 2004:

To state the obvious, war is dangerous. In theory it can be surgical, but the reality is often highly destructive, with a risk of enormous bloodshed. Only large-scale murder, we believe, can justify the death, destruction, and disorder that so often are inherent in war and its aftermath. Other forms of tyranny are deplorable and worth working intensively to end, but they do not in our view rise to the level that would justify the extraordinary response of military force. Only mass slaughter might permit the deliberate taking of life involved in using military force for humanitarian purposes. [Emphasis mine.]

To take the argument one step further, I also cannot accept the implication that intent is the sole criterion that distinguishes death from murder. Let me try to explain what I mean. It is commonly held that Saddam Hussein’s regime was responsible for the deaths of as many as 300,000 people during the 1980s and early 1990s, a figure that does not include casualties inflicted during the Iran-Iraq war and which clearly meets the standard of genocide. However, it is estimated that more than 100,000 Iraqis have been killed since the US launched its invasion in 2003, a number that continues to rise. These deaths do not constitute genocide, but they are, to my mind, no less a humanitarian crisis than any other form of mass killing. Again, from the Human Rights Watch report:

Another factor for assessing the humanitarian nature of an intervention is whether it is reasonably calculated to make things better rather than worse in the country invaded. One is tempted to say that anything is better than living under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, but unfortunately, it is possible to imagine scenarios that are even worse. Vicious as his rule was, chaos or abusive civil war might well become even deadlier, and it is too early to say whether such violence might still emerge in Iraq. [Emphasis mine.]

And this is the key: it is possible to imagine scenarios that are even worse, and these possibilities are now coming to pass in Iraq.

The thing is, Canada supported and, as a member of NATO, participated in the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia, and it did so with the support of all of its major political parties, including the NDP. As in Iraq, tens of thousands of people died in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo, and, as with Iraq, then NATO-commander Javier Solana described the intervention as a humanitarian war. Was it? If so, why was it acceptable for Canada to go to war against Slobodan Milosevic and not Saddam Hussein? How are their genocides different?

Despite appearances, this is not a theoretical debate for me. I visited Yugoslavia during the 1992-95 war, and for the first time in my sheltered, Canadian life, I saw tanks that had actually killed people up close. Some of them were people I knew. Like Ignatieff, I felt a visceral horror at what was happening—at the wretched, stinking inhumanity of it, and the needlessness as well. I felt a similar sense of horror, though, as I watched NATO planes, my planes, bomb Belgrade, a city of one and a half million civilians. Some of them were also people I knew, and a few were people I loved. It is my opinion that the wars in the former Yugoslavia could have been prevented well before the killing began, at which point it was and is always too late. But that is another story for another time.

If Michael Ignatieff does become the leader of the Liberal Party, and if I choose not to vote for him, it will be because of this issue. However, as I mark my X for the same marginal party I have voted for in every single election since I turned eighteen, I will do so with a real sense of regret. Then again, some other asshole will probably become Prime Minister anyway, and it won’t really matter in the end, will it?

PS. For Bob’s considerably briefer take on this matter, click here.

Friday, April 07, 2006

On the Metroblog

You know it's really spring when you can smell Molotovs in Mile End.

Isn't he dreamy?


Yes, children, it's true. Canada's "Sexiest Cerebral Man" has officially announced his candidacy for the Liberal Party leadership. Which leaves me squirming on the horns of a dilemma: how the fuck do I not vote for him?

To be, I suspect, continued...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Gift

Atomic has safely returned from another UN mission, and will spend several weeks in Montreal before leaving for the Democratic Republic of Congo. When we met for dinner, she presented me with a gift of Herbal Virginity Soap, which she picked up during her last stint in Iraq.

Chuffed, I decided I had to do a little research. The soap is manufactured in Thailand “with ingredients of USA,” and is distributed under the name Argussy Paris, which I’m reasonably certain isn't located anywhere near France. Nevertheless, the soap is one of a line of products that includes “Gentleman Men Gel,” “Fitting Insertion,” and “Pink Nipple Lipstick,” as well as the disturbingly named “Whitening Face Cream.”

Considerably more disturbing is the company’s marketing strategy, which heavily targets southern African countries such as Malawi. Malawi is one of the world’s ten poorest countries, and the average life expectancy of its citizens is 36.5 years. This is due, in part, to the high rate of HIV infection that is common in the region, which is estimated to afflict close to 30% of the country’s population.

The fear of AIDS has reinforced the social value of female virginity, and has lowered the ideal age of a new wife to the early teens. Capitalizing on a desperate market of potentially unmarriageable women, Argussy Paris claims that its product will “tighten the vaginal muscle” if used daily, thus simulating virginity in its consumers.

The soap costs $8 US per bar. The average annual household income is $160 US per year. You do the math.

Women's groups in Africa are fighting to have the product banned, despite the ongoing efforts of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to impose radical stimulation of the free market. Wish 'em luck, will you?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Random notes

Today, at 1:43 AM, The Smoking Section received its twenty-thousandth hit. In statistical terms, this means that my blog has an average-sized penis. I can live with that.

In other news, this explains a lot:

Virgo Month Ahead: Anyone who expresses ambition goes through the experience of taking something out on the world, or at least working something out on the world. We could ask what the world is for, if not for this. Gradually, anger gives way to a sense of clarity about one's goals, and past injuries start to be seen and felt in the context of the wisdom they offered you. For you, working and creating in the exterior world is vital to healing a division in your mind that results in an inner struggle that is, despite the challenges, best worked out in physical reality.

And I thought I was just being a complete bitch. Who knew?

Finally, a hearty fuck you to Canada’s evilest sitting premier. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.