Monday, July 31, 2006

Hot off the press

In its apparently desperate search for readers, Le Devoir has elected to publish the stranger sexual escapades of Montreal's bloggerati. Shameless, really.

Incidentally, I had a much better story to tell, but I was implored not to blog about it. Which brings me to my question: is there a statute of limitations for sex posts?

Friday, July 28, 2006

And speaking of existential crises...

From uberfrau's blistering screed on California's proposed cigarette tax:

I should thank them for giving me an opportunity for spritual growth as well. Not only is smoking killing me, irritating innocent bystanders, and hitting my bank account that much harder, but this tax, at last, proves to me that I am an awful and amoral person who clearly sees the universe as a giant ashtray for my existential angst. If this tax goes through, I will have the state of California to thank for giving me a means of penance for my manifold sins, or really, if you will, a way to balance that karmatic wheel of life. Given all of the great things that this tax would do for me and god and the children, how could I quit?

Also, she didn't care for An Inconvenient Truth.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Things to do to distract yourself from your existential crisis

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Things to do when you’re having an existential crisis

  • Take a test to confirm your condition.
  • Feel crushed by the weight of your own despair.
  • Take another test.
  • Resign yourself to your actuality.
  • Seek professional help.
  • Falsely deny freedom; reject professional help.
  • Study the philosophical underpinnings of your condition.
  • Fight waves of nausea.
  • Blog.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Changes Six

Tomorrow, my parents will arrive at the Ontario Superior Courthouse for their preliminary court date. It will be the first time they’ve been in the same room in almost three years.

My father received the papers from my mother’s lawyer last month. He is anxious, and, at moments, infuriatingly morose. He insists that everything in his life has failed him, including me. I am trying, unsuccessfully, to ignore him.

The best case scenario is that the judge will order an equitable division of their assets, which is to say, the house. Our house. Or, as the neighbours have taken to calling it, the crazy house. I suspect that we won’t be missed.

My mother just called. I didn’t pick up.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


I had to turn off the TV today. I suspect the war will still be there when I decide to turn it back on.

In the meantime, I am thinking about my friend Netta. An Israeli-Canadian Jew, she married a Palestinian man several years ago, and last I heard from her she was pregnant with their first child. Netta always believed that the situation in Israel was unjust, and she has devoted her life to working as a peace activist. I wonder if she is still living in Palestine, and how life is for her now.

Having lost touch, I decided to look for her online. I found pictures of her digging up army roadblocks and speaking to the governor of Nablus. I found dozens of articles from when she went to Ramallah in 2002, and interviews she gave inside Arafat’s compound. I read about how, under fire, she had helped to retrieve the bodies of two Palestinians who had been killed by Israeli forces, and what she said to a frightened colleague:

It's so good that you can feel the fear, and then not let it stop you from doing what you think is right.

I can hear her saying it.

Once, she told me about a children’s book she wanted to write. A little stick girl would walk from page to page, and on each one she would encounter a different monster. When she did, she would look the monster right in the eye and say, simply, “No!” and the monster would disappear. When all the monsters were gone, she would stand by herself in the middle of a blank page, squeeze her eyes shut and proclaim one last “No!” And then the little stick girl would vanish too.

I deeply admire that Netta is still saying “No!’ I wonder when I stopped?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Life during wartime

I hate to say it, but I told you so.

The war in Lebanon has entered its second week, and, as all the war correspondents keep saying, there is no end in sight. According to the BBC, 230 Lebanese and 25 Israelis have been killed to date, the vast majority of them civilians.

Leaving aside the reasons for the conflict, I am amazed by the refusal of the international community to demand an immediate ceasefire. It is becoming increasingly clear that the United States tacitly supports the Israeli army’s stated goal of “neutralizing” Hezbollah, and that it is willing to risk the destabilization of the Lebanese government, as well as the lives of countless civilians, to achieve it.

I’m far from an expert on the Middle East, but this strategy strikes me as being dangerously naive. Even if Israel succeeds in routing Hezbollah--which, by all accounts, is unlikely--this will only displace the problem it is attempting to solve. The anger and resentment that fuels Hezbollah will inevitably find another agent, and the cycle of violence will continue.

Setare just sent me a link to this Guardian piece, which neatly summarizes the problem:

[T]here is nothing in the history of the region to suggest that Israel's destruction of mass popular movements such as Hamas or Hizbullah (even if this were possible) would drive their successors closer to western-style democracy, and every reason to believe the opposite. Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 did away with the PLO and produced Hizbullah instead, the incarceration and elimination of Arafat only served to strengthen Hamas, and the wars in Afghanistan, the Gulf and Iraq gave birth to Bin Ladenist terrorism and extended its reach and appeal. And we should not be surprised if the summer of 2006 produces more of the same.

What the author describes is a series of actions that have had unintended but entirely predictable consequences, all of which have taken Israel farther away from its goal of securing peace for its citizens—which, I should add, no sane person would suggest that they do not deserve. The average person in Haifa has had nothing whatsoever to do with the creation of Israel, with the displacement of the Palestinians, or with the invasion of Lebanon. The average person in Haifa, like the average person in Beirut, is simply trying to live amidst forces over which she has absolutely no control.

That being said, what the Israeli government and its Western allies consistently fail to understand is that few human beings will respond to being attacked by embracing their attacker. When confronted with soldiers, or snipers, or missiles, most of us will feel fear above all else, and fear inexorably drives us to seek protection for ourselves and our loved ones. If the only protection that is available comes from a terrorist organization, then we will gladly take it, regardless of our political inclinations, because it gives us a chance to live.

Moreover, what those of us who have never experienced mass killing cannot possibly comprehend is that identity becomes profoundly essentialized in war. The desire for physical survival leaves little room for discussion about our political or philosophical views, or the precise degree of our empathy for the other side. In conflicts that are based on ethnic and/or religious affiliation, the attacker confronts you as one of them, which is to say, not one of us, and in the milliseconds before violence occurs, it is infinitely more sensible to run for cover than to protest.

Even more dangerous than fear, though, is grief, which is as much a factor in armed conflict as political ideology. For every person who is killed, there is a larger community of family and friends who are wounded by loss. For them, the conflict ceases to be an abstract argument about rights or land or power, and instead becomes a violation of their deepest personal bonds.

What does it do to a person to collect the scraps of flesh of their child from a bomb crater? What is politics then? At best, the experience will radicalize them; at worst, it will destroy them. Either way, the experience will haunt them for life, and often for the lifetimes of their children and grandchildren as well. This historical memory may fade as the conflict fades, but it remains sequestered in the DNA of the family, ready to reemerge when violence next erupts. Governments and terrorist groups understand this, and both are all too willing to turn grief to their advantage. They know that it is the lifeblood of power.

This, in essence, is why I am a pacifist, even when great injustice has been committed. It is also why I am not optimistic about the outcome of current events in the Middle East, even if a ceasefire is reached tomorrow. It still wouldn’t be over.

Postscript: According to this UN report, over 3000 people were killed in Iraq during the month of June alone. See above.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On the Metroblog

On the bus

PS. When this post was conceived, it was 42 degrees with the humidex. Great White North my ass...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Quote of the day

From a recent post on Louisiana’s new smoking ban:

Health issues aside, I've always loved a ceiling-high haze and I've always thought cigarette smoke on a woman is sexy as nine kinds of hell. It's like posting a sign (on the wall or around her neck) saying, "If you can't handle it, go back to your sandbox, junior." Kinda like hearing Howlin' Wolf on a jukebox -- you know Real Adults are involved.


On the Metroblog


(For R.H.)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Bitch slap

From yesterday’s G-8 press conference:

George Bush: "I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion. I told [Putin] a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same thing.”

Vladimir Putin: “I'll be honest with you: we, of course, would not want to have a democracy like in Iraq.”


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Accidents will happen

Maybe it’s because I’m tired, but is it starting to seem to anyone else like the world is completely losing its shit?

Let’s review, shall we? North Korean missiles in the Sea of Japan. Train bombs in Mumbai. Sectarian rampages in Iraq. Air strikes in Gaza.

And, as of tonight, Israeli troops in Lebanon.

Maybe it’s because I’m tired, but I keep thinking about the way history works. Tensions build, alliances form, diplomats shuttle back and forth. It’s the daily grind of global politics, the constant, droning hum that we learn to ignore. Just business as usual, we assume, and we’re usually right.

But then, someone hauls off and shoots the Archduke, and the hum is transmuted into gasoline.

I am remembering that World War One was essentially a war of mismanagement, fought by inept political actors who were suddenly overwhelmed by forces they did not fully understand. If this is the hum before war, then it's that kind of hum.

Already, CNN has a graphic: "On the brink." Not good.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Phone call


“Hi. It’s me.”

“Hi, James.” He sounds strange. “How are you?”

“I’m okay. How are you?”

“I’m trying to write a stupid fucking union report. I’ve been at it for hours…”

“Oh, sorry. Sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to let you know that I’m okay.”

“Excuse me?” I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

“I just wanted you to know I’m okay.”

He’s speaking much too quickly. “Sorry, but I don’t know what you mean.”

“I was in a car crash, but I’m okay.”

My heart stops. “What? When were you in a car crash?”

“Just now. S. and I were driving to the mountain, and this other car ran a red light and drove right into us. It was going really fast.”

“Ohmigod.” I wonder if he’s in shock. He sounds like he’s in shock. “Is everyone okay? Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. That’s why I called. To tell you I’m okay. The cars are gone, though. Both cars are gone.”

I think about the word gone. “What do you mean?”

“They’re totalled. The airbags were completely fucking useless. Mine was like a flaccid penis. I was just staring at this flaccid penis, and then S. said, ‘get the fuck out of the car.’ He smelled smoke and thought the car was going to explode. So I got out of the car.”

“Fuck.” I light a cigarette. “But you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay.” I hear him light a cigarette. “It was really bad, but I’m okay.”

“Thank god…”

“I could have died.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t.” Jesus Christ, he could have died. “You cheated death.”

“Yeah. I cheated death.” He inhales. “I should go. I just wanted to tell you that I’m okay.”

“I’m glad you’re okay. And I’m glad you called to tell me.”

“I should go.”

“Okay. Bye.”

Happy birthday, James. I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’re okay.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Independence Day!

Okay, so let me see if I’ve got this straight.

If you’re a brutal dictator who has no weapons of mass destruction, America invades your country, kills tens of thousands of your citizens, and subjects the survivors to indefinite occupation.

However, if you’re a brutal dictator who has a large stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and actually launches six of them in the general direction of a neighbouring country, America ignores you and hopes you’ll go away.

Makes perfect sense to me.


Tonight, monsoons, followed by stifling heat. Each time the thunder cracked, I willed myself not to flinch. I only slipped once.

Oh, and duh.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Week four: A glimmer of hope

While returning home from a cinq à sept the other day, I ran into the owner of a small café that keeps me in coffee when I am at work. He was sitting on a nearby stoop smoking a cigarette, and I decided to stop and smoke with him.

We chatted about his business, which is doing fine. “The turnover’s higher now,” he told me. “People don’t linger. It’s just in and out.” Still, he remains incensed at the smoking ban, which is killing his friends’ bars, and mentioned that he is talking to his lawyers about opening another café. A smoking café.

Apparently, the provincial ban contains a loophole that allows for smoking in members-only establishments, but only on the condition that their patrons are not visible to the general public. According to the lawyers, this means that a private club which is located on an upper floor of a building, or which is located on the first floor but does not have any windows, may legally permit smoking.

While walking home, I thought that this was quite possibly the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Nevertheless, if it is true, then it is only a matter of time before the city is overrun with windowless smoking clubs. Having endured four weeks of this smoke-free nonsense, I can hardly wait.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Random notes

More rain. Soon, Montreal will be completely submerged, at which point the STM will be replaced with a city-wide gondola service.

In the meantime, I have created a Bloglines account, and am presently considering my audio hosting options. I really must get out more.

Finally, I am completely enamored with this Broken Social Scene video, which I discovered at the Avenger’s Mansion. Sweet as it is, I do not regret ditching Jocko High for art school, where queer goth boys abounded.

Thank God for art school.