Thursday, January 8, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

Nearly ten years ago, a Danish newspaper published "offensive" depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, cartoons reprinted and not unlike the content of French publication Charlie Hebdo. At that time, the world's media abandoned responsibility to freedom of speech and condemned the cartoonists.  The scandal proved that terrorism works, the threat of violence from religious extremists can successfully shut down discussion and solidarity can be thwarted in the Western World.  One of the only voices speaking truth to terror was Christopher Hitchens, who wrote a piece for Slate which has been republished today. That article appears below which stands as a prescient observation of the where we stand ten years later, in the bloodshed of twelve cartoonists, journalists and policemen in Paris, France, January 7th 2015:

As well as being a small masterpiece of inarticulacy and self-abnegation, the statement from the State Department about this week's international Muslim pogrom against the free press was also accidentally accurate.

"Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief."

Thus the hapless Sean McCormack, reading painfully slowly from what was reported as a prepared government statement. How appalling for the country of the First Amendment to be represented by such an administration. What does he mean "unacceptable"? That it should be forbidden? And how abysmal that a "spokesman" cannot distinguish between criticism of a belief system and slander against a people. However, the illiterate McCormack is right in unintentionally comparing racist libels to religious faith. Many people have pointed out that the Arab and Muslim press is replete with anti-Jewish caricature, often of the most lurid and hateful kind. In one way the comparison is hopelessly inexact.

These foul items mostly appear in countries where the state decides what is published or broadcast. However, when Muslims republish the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or perpetuate the story of Jewish blood-sacrifice at Passover, they are recycling the fantasies of the Russian Orthodox Christian secret police (in the first instance) and of centuries of Roman Catholic and Lutheran propaganda (in the second). And, when an Israeli politician refers to Palestinians as snakes or pigs or monkeys, it is near to a certainty that he will be a rabbi (most usually Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the leader of the disgraceful Shas party) and will cite Talmudic authority for his racism. For most of human history, religion and bigotry have been two sides of the same coin, and it still shows.

Therefore there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.

Which is what taboos are for. Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find "offensive." (By the way, hasn't the word "offensive" become really offensive lately?) The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a "holy" book. But I will not be told I can't eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.

As it happens, the cartoons themselves are not very brilliant, or very mordant, either. But if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion. And here one runs up against a curious reluctance. … In fact, Sunni Muslim leaders can't even seem to condemn the blowing-up of Shiite mosques and funeral processions, which even I would describe as sacrilege. Of course there are many millions of Muslims who do worry about this, and another reason for condemning the idiots at Foggy Bottom is their assumption, dangerous in many ways, that the first lynch mob on the scene is actually the genuine voice of the people. There's an insult to Islam, if you like.

The question of "offensiveness" is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it "pixilated" the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be "offended" will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.

Second (and important enough to be insisted upon): Can the discussion be carried on without the threat of violence, or the automatic resort to it? When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, he did so in the hope of forwarding a discussion that was already opening in the Muslim world, between extreme Quranic literalists and those who hoped that the text could be interpreted. We know what his own reward was, and we sometimes forget that the fatwa was directed not just against him but against "all those involved in its publication," which led to the murder of the book's Japanese translator and the near-deaths of another translator and one publisher. I went on Crossfire at one point, to debate some spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun. (The menacing Muslim bigmouth on the other side refused to forswear state-sponsored suborning of assassination, and was of course backed up by the Catholic bigot Pat Buchanan.) The same point holds for international relations: There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient. It is depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts, and it is positively outrageous that the administration should have discarded them at the very first sign of a fight.  (From

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top 10 Lamest Christmas Gifts of 2014

Let's face it, the holidays suck for adults.  As children we only had a couple chores to every December; Write to Santa Claus and be as good as possible for about four weeks. That was it! As adults, the responsibilities and stresses of Christmas have been handed down from our parents.  

Now it's up to us to make the holiday season full of joy or sheer misery. To help in your shopping adventures this year, we have for you the top 10 Lamest Christmas Gifts of 2014. Shop at your own risk, but if your kids have been little bastards this year, by all means, shop away! 

1. 3D Brachiosaurus Puzzle: Batteries and fun not included.

2. WiiFit: If you loathe sunshine and fresh air and want to stay by the fridge, why not partake in this exercise game from Nintendo. Kick and stretch like an idiot at your TV before you break out Call of Duty after 5 minutes.

3. Clothing: For the fashion savvy person in your life who wants to be unique and make a statement while wearing the same as everyone else making a statement. Also a good choice if your significant others underwear resembles Swiss cheese....or smells like it.

4. The Re-Gift: You probably got this from the office party. It usually smells of vanilla. It's the gift that says “I had the time and money to get you something you actually wanted, but fuck it! This line is too long and Game of Thrones is on in 10 minutes!” You will also re-gift this to a relative who stops by unexpectedly for the sole purpose of receiving a gift. The rest of the year you don't talk.

5. The Chia Pet: You thought they were fucking gone, this gift has been around since the first Christmas. Joseph gave it to Mary, who re-gifted it to her sister, who in turn re-gifted it to Steve the shepherd.

6. Singing a Song: Unless you're Harry Connick Jr, this is probably the douche-baggiest gesture one can pass off as a Christmas gift. If you want to share another Christmas together, stop by Tiffany & Co. Your balls will thank you.

7. Toothpaste: We don't want to hurt your feelings Tom, but we all put our money together and got you this really nice toothbrush gift set because your breath has been killing all the plants in the office as well as making us sick every time we share the elevator. Again, sorry if we've offended you, but this is Canada and we bathe and keep up on our hygiene. 

8. McMillan & Wife The Complete Series on DVD: Nuff said.

9. Home-Made Gifts: Because after a year on Pintrest you think you're an expert.

10. One Direction “This is Us on DVD: Make your season merry and gay!

Whatever wondrous gifts you find for your loved ones and frenenmies, it's best to follow the Golden Rule of quantity over quality. Do your best this year not to get too caught up in the love and instead, remember the importance of getting stuff, because isn't that what the holidays are truly about?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Jian Ghomeshi, Feminist Activist & Violent Predator

Dr. Alan Gunty gives his analysis of the Jian Ghomeshi allegations and the paradox of a predator disguised as a sensitive feminist male alley.

Jian Ghomeshi was a feminist. Not only did he identify himself as one as early as his freshman year at York University (and possibly earlier than that), he also put into practice feminist values. He was a women's studies student and while president of the student union advocated for increased funding for the York University Women's Centre. He even co-founded a pro-choice network on campus.

Jian Ghomeshi also allegedly physically and sexually abused women. And he did so from a position of authority as a celebrity of CBC radio. He took advantage of his power to abuse and silence women who are just now finally coming together to destroy the patriarchal and institutional veil that was draped over his trysts. So if feminism and education about feminism are so crucial for women's equality, then how did this slip through?

If a person, much less a man, can hold and practice feminist values which espouse equality for women while committing acts of violence against them, then how effective is feminism as a means to end said violence? This is the reality of abuse towards women that feminism now faces.


Feminist theory has long stated that the patriarchal causes of abuse towards women could be reduced and eventually eliminated with adequate social reprogramming. From rape culture to street harassment, men's attitudes and beliefs towards women collectively influence an ethos which affects a society at large. By helping to influence the beliefs of young, college-aged men, said ethos would change into a female positive one, thus reducing abuse.

The "Ghomeshi wasn't a REAL Feminist" fallacy.

But it should be clear that Jian Ghomeshi was as educated and enlightened as any person who subscribes to feminist core beliefs of social change. And in working on campus and actually advocating progressive, feminist values, he went to lengths much greater than an average person paying lip service to the cause. He was both a participant and a driver of changing men's beliefs towards women.

To respond to the cries of, "this is why we need feminism:" Are we to believe that if Jian Ghomeshi had just read more feminist literature, donated more money to women's shelters, or avoided supporting misogynistic video games that he would have not beaten those women? Or, conversely, if he had never taken that women's studies course at school would he have done much worse? It would seem unlikely.

So was Jian Ghomeshi a feminist who abused women, or a misogynist who believed in feminism? He was both and that is the problem. Ghomeshi didn't beat women because he wasn't a feminist, he beat them because it had nothing to do with feminism. He, like criminals, rationalize any internal behavior that they would easily dismiss as being immoral in another person. "If you kill me it's murder, but if I kill you it's self-defence; if you steal it's theft, if I steal it's a necessity to survive." Ghomeshi beat women, but could have easily committed various other offences unrelated to women.

Ghomeshi held mutually exclusive beliefs because he found a way to rationalize them, and no amount of educational influence can touch that. The Jian Ghomeshi scandal is the perfect example of what feminism cannot do (at least not on its own), and why feminism as a sole solution to violence against women is inadequate.

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Naomi Klein Takedown of Jian Ghomeshi circa 1992

An article running on the Huffington Post Canada has been making the rounds in the fallout of the Jian Ghomeshi story.  The article includes excerpts of a piece written in 1992 by Naomi Klein and has been posted to Facebook by Mick Sweetman, chair of the board of directors of Canadian University Press. Featured below is Klein's article, a woman whose observations and skewers of Ghomeshi and his Moxy Fruvous group are strikingly prescient given the last several days:

Dr. Seuss, Fruvous, the CBC and you
The Varsity confronts Moxy's sober and sobering acappella satire
Published, Oct. 5, 1992 in The Varsity newspaper (University of Toronto)

By Naomi Klein 
Varsity Staff 

For ethical reasons, I will begin by admitting that my motives for interviewing Moxy Fruvous were less than pure. Truth be told, it was more of a vendetta than an interview. I think my feelings are best explained in verse — Fruvous-style. 

I don't like them that's the key, I do not like them on the CBC. 

I do not like them on a stage, I do not like them on a newspaper page. 

I would not listen to them on the air, I would not marvel at their flowing hair. 

I would not, could not, don't you see? I do not like them, so just let me be. 

I do not like their faux-politics. I've had enough of that Moxy-schtick. 

I do not like them at a pro-choice rally, I do not want to meet them in an alley. 

I do not like their P.C. ham, I hate them hate them, Sam I am. 

Moxy Fruvous, in case you have been frozen in time, is the latest brand of nursery school all-Canadian rock. Healthy, squeaky clean and painfully well groomed, this semi-acappella band's cartoonish quality recalls an all-male Josie and the Pussycats. 

Why this level of hostility? For starters, there was a period this summer when I seemed unable to turn on the radio, see a band that I do like, or even walk down the street without being assaulted by the friendly sounds of Fruvous. The most disturbing occasions were: a benefit for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics where Moxy Fruvous upstaged Morgentaler, the opening of Molson Place which was billed only as Holly Cole but featured a surprise cameo by, you guessed it, Moxy Fruvous, and the Toronto Star picket line where the boys entertained the workers with lyrics even cheesier than the paper's Lifesection. They were tailing me. I swear it. 

Although I had already heard Moxy Fruvous' headline-rhymes several times on CBC radio, I was still taken aback when, on one somber morning following the Toronto riot, I turned on CBC's Sunday Morning only to hear the boys cooing a Dr. Seuss condemnation of police brutality. Where were you when...  

Predisposition aside, I still believe that I went into the interview with an open heart and an objective mind. I even started with a joke to put the band at ease. The pre-interview press material included a Toronto Star article which opened with the warning that if there is one thing the Fruvous boys hate, it is the description that they are the "Nylons-meet-Barenaked ladies." 

"So, you guys are like the Nylons-meet-the Barenaked Ladies, right?" I said as I sat down with the four band members last July. My remark was met with stony stares and sulky glances. I then spent the next 10 minutes backpedaling, trying to explain irony to a group which bills itself as political satirists. Yikes, this was not going well. 

In the words of band member Mike Ford, Moxy takes satire mighty seriously. "Our job as satirists is to discover the irony inherent in the issue or with a public perception that is off." Well then, as the self -proclaimed satirist of these satirists, the irony in these political humorists is that they are neither effectively political not particularly humorous. 

Their lyrics, which tackle issues ranging from cross border shopping to Harbourfront development to the Gulf War, are hit-you-over-the-head-we're-so-sensitive political, while their presentation, which includes stupid hats, improv troop antics and mime, is goofy slapstick. They coat their pill with jam and thus make themselves easy for the likes of Peter Gzowski to swallow. Fruvous—which writes to order for the CBC—is pureMorningside

Moxy member and former president of the York Federation of Students Jean Ghomeshi disagrees: "I think there are some really great messages in these lyrics that I'm very proud of. It's a pop medium but it has its message. As long as we can play the kind of things we want, we are using Moxy Fruvous to help the causes." 

A pet cause is the pro-choice movement. Ghomeshi sports an OCAC t-shirt and boasts that they played a rally and a benefit. I know, I was there. At the benefit in question, the crowd separated into two factions: those who thought these cheesy white boys should get the hell off stage and those who thought these sensitive young men should be commended for bringing the cause to the mainstream — and for having great hair. There's the Toronto left for you. 

David Matheson, who plays Sam in "Green Eggs and Ham", is less convincing. Asked if they cater their politics to their medium, Matheson admits "We're not going to write something they are going to freak out over." 

Levelheadedness, is perhaps not the most sought-after quality one looks for in a rock band. But then they're not really a rock band, are they? The Fruvous-phenomenon, however, is not something you can just chalk-up to Paul Mitchell. Their fans span a hugely wide age-range from swooning underaged drinkers to crotchety CBC fans with opera glasses. It cannot be denied that Moxy Fruvous is appealing to something. But what? Ghomeshi puts forward one theory: 

"The reason people like what we do is that there are so few young people doing political satire. When we played Voice of Women we were symbols of young progressive males. That gives them hope for the future." 

So why do I feel this sense of impending doom? Slick and sanitized, Moxy Fruvous is not the only Canadian pop band to emerge that clearly goes to bed before 9:00 and won' t make the decent gesture of returning hero-worship with self abuse. Not only don't these guys drink alcohol, you'd be hard pressed to catch them drinking tap water. 

On a hot night last summer, band member Murray Foster bounced into a bar where he was playing later that evening munching a green pepper. 

They will eat green peppers in a bar, they will eat green peppers in a car, eat them eat them, you may go far.... 

View the Huffingtonpost Article here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Jian Ghomeshi Denies Rape Allegations He Made Preemptively...of Himself?

Author of "1982" claims to be victim of Orwellian scheme out of "1984."

After an excruciating week in Canada we have laid to rest a soldier lost in a senseless attack on our nation's capital. Now this morning we return to distractions in Canada's largest city for a look at the people whom our brave men and women of the armed forces risk their lives every day...

Jian Ghomeshi is, er, was the most popular radio personality on CBC until yesterday when the broadcaster dropped him with almost no explanation. What a shock, exclaimed so many, at the perceived unjust dismissal of such a sweet, sheepish, and endearing fellow. Within minutes of the news, the backlash began with accusations of the CBC bowing to some force within the government.

Ghomeshi gained a lot of sympathy when Billy Bob Thornton
bullied the sweet and sensitive radio host in 2009.

In order to try and get ahead of the story so to speak, the former rock star turned pop-culture commentator posted a lengthy message on Facebook. To paraphrase, the message boils down to an assertion that "look guys, you're gonna here some stuff about how I'm a rapist so I'm letting you know that I'm not so anything you hear later isn't true and it's a conspiracy by my crazy ex-girlfriend."

Substitute sexual assault for "smoked crack" and you've got a play straight out of the Rob Ford handbook: deny, deny, deny and accuse, accuse, accuse.  Ghomeshi claims that because he's into kink, rough sex and bdsm and that his personal life is being used as a smear campaign to discredit him.

Sparring with the late Christopher Hitchens.

The only thing smutty here is his attempt to use his sexual preference, and implicitly a community of people who share that preference and its celebration of consent, as a red herring: I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writerIt's not Ghomeshi's private sex life that seems to be the issue with the prudes at the CBC - it's the allegations of lack of consent that are disturbing. 

Last year, Carla Ciccone wrote an account of a very disturbing encounter
with an unnamed Canadian celebrity.  The hints were pretty clear at the time of
whom she was speaking and Carla faced a vicious backlash form Ghomeshi fans.

Comparing his preemptive strategy to that of Toronto's embattled Mayor Rob Ford there is a familiar pattern. Whereas Ford's alcohol abuse was an open secret at city hall predating his escapades at the Garrison Ball and long before the allegations of crack use, it's been an open secret to some that Jian Ghomeshi has engaged in "creepy, rapey" behavior.  Like the professor who "everyone knows" is having sex or making creepy uninvited moves on a student, there is no solid evidence beyond hearsay and personal anecdotes.  Should that be sufficient to ruin a man's career and reputation?

Well, when he posts a long explanation on Facebook in which he implicates himself in something that no one has yet to accuse him, stating a number of times "they set out to try to find corroborators to build a case to defame me." It creates a very disturbing and familiar impression.  That's saying nothing about how such a response serves as an attack against potential victims of sexual assault who are afraid to come forward.

There is heated discussion on campuses about combating rape, namely
finding a balance between protecting victims while preserving
due process for the accused.

Hiring a PR firm and going on the offensive as Ghomeshi has, (he's threatening to sue the CBC for $50 million) instead of hearing his refutation through a lawyer is a clear attempt to cash in on the good karma that his seemingly affable personality has built in the last several years.  The question is, will the strategy that spelled the end for Rob Ford's drug allegations, save Ghomeshi from accusations that are far more serious?