Daniel J. Laxer

I'm Dan Laxer, and this is my blog.

Fuck This Blog Post!

Wikipedia defines the word “fuck,” in the first sentence of its entry, as “an obscene English language word”, but admits further on that “it is unclear whether the word has always been considered vulgar”. This much is clear, however, that the word itself elicits highly emotional reaction, even now, when our society is far less refined than it has ever been. Even those who use the word in casual conversation will disingenuously claim to be offended by its use, as it displays an apparent lack of decorum in certain situations, and by certain people. Case in point, actor Robert De Niro’s recent two-word statement of disdain toward President Trump at the Tony Awards, which elicited countless outraged posts on social media by Trump supporters, as if what De Niro did was tantamount to an assassination attempt. Even those who share De Niro’s disdain for the president, and who pay lip-service to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, argue that the film star crossed the line, whatever or wherever that line may be.

The word “fuck” has Germanic origins, as does the English language itself. It is unclear as to when the word came to be considered obscene, or profane (as opposed to sacred), but originally, going back at least seven centuries, it referred to cattle copulation, which might help explain how its sexual connotations came to be seen as dirty, like farm animals, and thus offensive when referring to sexual intercourse, should we be comparing ourselves or each other to animals (see Bloodhoud Gang’s 1999 hit “The Bad Touch”).

Of course, over time, as we know, the word and its many forms took on a multitude of meanings; we tend to use it to apostrophize God’s name taken in vain (“For fuck sake!”), to express utter disbelief (“What the fuck?!”, “no fucking way!”, or “Get the fuck out of here!”), in courtship (“let’s fuck”), in exhortation (“Fuck off!”), or command (“Go fuck yourself!”) – Actually that last one could also be taken as a wish or a blessing, similar to “have a nice day,” if the user were telling you to go and do something that you were probably going to do anyway.

I like the word. To quote Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, “I know at least 127 words, and I still prefer ‘fuck’.” Admittedly, I have tried to refrain from using it on social media for a month because I was promised a box of cookies if I could, but I digress.

People we admire, even those who claim to be as decorous as they wish Mr. De Niro to be, use it when they think no one’s listening. The reason why your 3-year-old runs around the house singing “Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck” is because he or she has heard you use it countless times. And the real reason you try to stop the kid from saying it is just in case someone as judgemental as yourself hears, and then looks at you like you’re a bad parent. Well, fuck them.

In this age of post-social media outrage we’ve all become so holier-than-thou. We still use the expression “How dare you?!” even though that mode of syntax has been out of fashion for decades. It’s gotten to the point where in the midst of a heated argument, one that might come dangerously close to fisticuffs, no sooner does the F-word slip past the lips of one party, then the other takes on a scandalized look, and says “I’m happy to argue with you, but could you please refrain from swearing. It shows a lack of respect. Thank you.”

But does it really? Is the word – or any other profane term – really so offensive? It kills me that the very people who claim to be so sensitive, and so offended by the term – a short, 4-letter, one-syllable sememe beginning with F – have the audacity to call me and my ilk “snowflakes”. They’re a bit too quick, I think, to run to the defense of the president – who, need it be pointed out, has said and done worse.

As for offense, I refer to yet another comedian, Jimmy Carr, who explained, quite rightly, in my view, that offense is taken, not given. Author J.K. Rowling recently tweeted “You’re free to offend. The rest of us are free to say we’re offended. That’s what freedom of speech means.” For my part, I’m skeptical that people are as scandalized by the word “fuck” as they claim to be. What say you?


The Real Story of Adam and Eve

People don’t always know what to make of me, and I think it has something to do with my stance on Satan. I mean, his place in our culture notwithstanding, he’s really not a bad guy.

Satan pops up in the Bible only twice. Well, in the Hebrew Bible, at least. Or as I like to call it, The Original Series. I mean, sure, he’s referred to in Isaiah and Ezekiel, at least as far as later Biblical scholars – and I use the term loosely – are concerned. But he’s really only in the stories themselves twice. Well, once, if you want to be strict about it.

You see, the Christian viewpoint is that the serpent in the Garden of Eden is really Satan in disguise, slithering into Paradise to fuck it all up for God, because he’s pissed about having been flung out of Heaven and cast into Hell. (You can read all about that in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and about Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the follow up, Paradise Regained). But as far as Judaism is concerned, the serpent is just a serpent, the craftiest of all the animals, destined to crawl, legless in the dirt, just as Eve, and thanks to her all women to follow, is destined to go through travails in childbirth (it never seemed fair to me that she got punished. But I digress…).

But just for the hell of it, let’s bring the two traditions together and allow that the serpent is indeed Satan, and have a closer look at what really happened in The Garden of Eden.

What does Satan really do to Adam and Eve? He tells them the truth, doesn’t he? But God… lies. Now, you may, as true believers in the Lord, allow that there was perhaps method to His madness, that God, in all His wisdom, had His reasons for lying to His first two children. But I digress (I do that a lot).

But fundamentally, God lied and Satan told the truth.

Here’s how it played out.

“Hey, Eve. Why don’t you have one of those fruit? They look delicious, don’t they? Here, I’ll split one with ya.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because God said we’re not supposed to eat those, or we’ll die.”

Satan sneers with laughter. “Is that what He told you? And you believed Him? Listen, He created you. He’s not gonna kill you. Just have a fruit. I promise nothing’ll happen to you.

“Wellll… Okay. But just one.”

Let me just take a second at this juncture to remind you, gentle reader, that Eve has been conversing with a mysterious talking snake this whole time. So whatever she might have told her husband, her account of what really went on is as unreliable as Mary’s account as to how she got pregnant in the first place. But I digress (See? I told you.).

So, Eve picks a nice, big, plump, juicy apple or orange or banana or whatever it was… FROM THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL! DID YOU CATCH THAT? THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE, FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!

Aaaaand nothing happened. Not right away, anyway. Eve gives Adam a bite of the fruit while Satan – or the snake – slips away, pretty satisfied with himself, muttering “Well, my work is done here.” Then, according to scripture, Adam and Eve suddenly realize that they’re both naked.

So, God comes in looking for Adam, and I’m pretty sure He knows something’s up.

“Adam!” He says. “Where are you?”

“Um… I’m over here, Lord.” Adam answers.

“What are you doing?”

“Um. Hiding.”

“Why are you hiding?”

“Because,” Adam responds sheepishly. “I’m naked,” he whispers.

“What?? How the hell do you know you’re—Wait a minute! Did you eat the fruit from the tree that I told you not to eat from lest you die? I told you ‘Don’t eat that lest you die.’ Now look what you’ve done!”

Then Adam, setting the stage for many a marriage to come, stammers “Uh, well, I, uh… It’s my wife’s fault! She made me do it.”

So now God’s in a bit of a pickle. He said they’d die. But then, rethinking His grand plan, He says, to no one in particular, “The man has become like one of us…” I don’t know who God thought He was talking to, I don’t know who “us” was, but I think that gets explained later in The Book of Job when there’s a big meeting in Heaven, a meeting that includes Satan.

So, anyway, clearly He can’t kill Adam and Eve. But He can’t let this transgression go unpunished. This will not stand, He might say if he was The Dude. Or the first President Bush. So He invents labour pains and farming, and kicks Adam and Eve out of Paradise.

What took place after that between God and Satan is a matter of conjecture, but I’m fairly sure the conversation went something like this:

“Dammit all to Hell, Lucifer, why do you always have to fuck things up for me?”

“Me?! What the heck did I do? I was just trick-or-treating in the new neighbourhood. Thought I’d try out my new serpent costume. I told you that whole free will thing was going to be a problem. But did you listen? Noooo. Hell, I’m not even under your command, anymore. You kicked me out, remember?”

“I supposed you want to come back to Heaven?”

“Shyeah, right! Not a chance. Remember what Khan said in Episode 22 of Trek?”

“I’m pretty sure he was quoting someone else.”

“Whatever. Nice trick with the fruit, by the way.”

“Thanks. I’m pretty proud of that.”

And then they walk off together into the mist like Claude Raines and Humphrey Bogart at the end of Casablanca.

“So,” Satan says. “What else ya got up your sleeve?”

Quebec’s Lady of Fatima: Lifting the Veil on Opposing Values

Fatima Houda-Pepin’s objections to her own party’s stance on Quebec values highlights all that is problematic about Liberal/liberal opposition to the PQ’s proposed values charter.

Houda-Pepin finally broke her silence this past week, taking strong, emotional exception to a statement by her colleague, Liberal secularism critic (I can’t believe we even have one of those) Marc Tanguay, who said that he’d welcome Liberal candidates who wear the chador, and would have no qualms about sitting next to them in the legislature. The problem is one that I’ve written about before: our province’s alleged concern with gender equality and how it colours our objection to the implicit racism in the values charter.

What Tanguay said is tantamount to the worn-out tokenism defense of the mock-tolerant: some of my best friends wear the chador. His statement is overly politically correct, and serves to undermine, and even ridicule genuine opposition to the racial and cultural discrimination inherent in the charter. Houda-Pepin’s stance, on the other hand, is more in keeping with the equality of the sexes and with opposition to the oppression of women in fundamentalist countries. It bears repeating that Houda-Pepin is the only Muslim woman in the provincial legislature. She is also highly educated, with several degrees, including a doctorate, and has amassed several honours for her work in the community. By speaking out this week she effectively proclaimed what our stance here in the west ought to be regarding women’s rights and fundamentalism. But that’s where the waters tend to get muddied. The absurdity arises when we claim to object to the suppression of women, while defending their supposed right to wear the mantle of the oppressed. It reminds me of a memorable scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The embryonic Peoples’ Front of Judea are arguing over policy when one man says he wants to have a baby, arguing that it’s every man’s right to have babies, his lack of a womb notwithstanding. Everyone around him thinks it’s ridiculous, until one woman offers: “I’ve got an idea. Suppose you agree that he can’t actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody’s fault, not even the Romans’, but that he can have the right to have babies.”

“What’s the point of fighting for his right to have babies when he can’t have babies,” asks a frustrated PFJ member.

“It’s symbolic,” another explains, “of our struggle against oppression.”

Of course, the struggle against oppression in Quebec is markedly different than the struggle against oppression, say, in the Islamic Republic of Iran. And a few things need to be worked out before we can have a definitive stance either for or against a charter delineating the values under which we all would like to agree to live.

First, let’s acknowledge that gender equality in Quebec doesn’t really exist. The government’s own website points out that there is still much to be done to ensure the economic equality of the sexes, to ensure pay equity, work-life balance, women’s healthcare services, respect for women’s physical integrity and safety, and the participation of women in decision-making. These would be anathema to fundamentalists who are reluctant to relinquish strongly-held views from their home countries in favour of the freedoms they might enjoy here.

Second, to what extent do we want to entertain a woman’s “right” to be covered vis a vis our distaste for what we think of as oppression, or the strong opposition that some have toward covered faces?

It seems to me that we need to clean up our own house before we can presume to impose our divergent views on others. And until we can narrow or even erase that divergence we probably shouldn’t have anything like a charter of values. To wit, we are being called upon to agree to something that we can’t even agree on. The debate continues (I wouldn’t say it rages, necessarily) in the media. But Fatima Houda-Pepin’s sudden, and apparently surprising declaration brings it to the fore, forcing us to question, to reconsider our own values both as individuals and as a society.

I’ve said before that the answer lies in education, and not in legislation. Learning the facts from those who are directly affected by them, as opposed to basing the charter on our own morality, or rather one foisted upon us by the state, would bring us closer to a harmonious society instead of the discordant one that we seem to be perpetuating. And despite my own views against whatever the charter is about to become, Houda-Pepin has raised some important points that deserve to be considered.

Targeting Mr. Rogers

I’m pretty sure that when Mr. Rogers asked the musical question “Won’t you be my neighbor?” he didn’t have giant corporate big box stores in mind. It’s been a while, but I’m pretty sure the Neighborhood of Make Believe didn’t have a Target store. So you can imagine my surprise, and maybe a little chagrin, when I heard a pop version of Mr. Rogers’ theme in a Target commercial.

Canadian bargain hunters were very excited when the discount giant announced their impending invading. Little did they know that Target would be invading Mr. Rogers Neighborhood at the same time.

There was a time when I hated hearing my favourite tunes in commercials. It made me feel like my rock heroes were selling out to The Man. There were newspaper articles written in reaction to Bob Segar’s Like a Rock being used on a pickup truck commercial. I bristled when Canadian power trio Triumph did a Pepsi commercial leading up to their Thunder Seven world tour. I guess it was kind of the rock n’ roll version of what The Jacksons had done, except that no one’s head caught on fire. Years later I remember feeling just a tad disappointed when the Barenaked Ladies’ One Week was used for a car commercial.

But where do you draw the line?

In recent years several little known artists found invaluable publicity opportunities by allowing their songs to be used for commercials. I discovered Ingrid Michaelson’s The Way I Am, perhaps her most successful song, in a Zeller’s commercial. The Golden Age, by Denmark’s The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, made it big, at least on this side of the Atlantic, in a Heineken commercial. Roseanne Cash’s Land of Dreams enjoyed widespread exposure thanks to a U.S. tourism television campaign. Lady Gag’s brand new Applause is already on a Kia commercial. And where would Feist be without the iPod commercial that featured her song 1234? Or Jet, for that matter, with Be My Girl?

And what about the classics? A whole new generation heard Etta James’ At Last well before Beyonce sang it after it was used for several commercials. It made perfect sense to use The Kinks’ Picture Book on a commercial for Hewlett-Packard’s digital photography products. A parody of Donavan’s Mellow Yellow was used in a butter commercial. And of course the California Raisins famously covered Marvin Gaye’s I Heard it Through the Grapevine (actually, they ended up with a record deal, covering all kinds of Motown tunes.).

But some things are just sacred, right? I heard the Target commercial and I thought “Mr. Rogers wouldn’t stand for that, would he?” I may not have liked Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. But I know what he stood for, and what he wouldn’t stand for. The new, pop version of Mr. Rogers’ theme song was recorded by a Canadian band called Dragonette. They’ve been around since 2005, and have a handful of records under their belt. I don’t know if they’d ever play “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” in concert, but they recorded it earlier this year specifically for Target, and fans of The Neighborhood are not happy.

A Target spokeswoman explained in an interview that it’s about community, about being neighbors. The U.S. is often referred to as “our neighbours to the south.” And I suppose the marketing implication is that Target has moved into the neighbourhood and is now part of the community. “Well, there goes the neighbourhood,” some might say. Certainly Mr. Rogers would be dismayed to look out his back door and see Target where he ought to have seen King Friday’s Castle. Would Mr. and Mrs. McFeely forsake the neighborhood shops for the great deals at Target? And how would Mr. Rogers feel about that?

Brittany Smith of the Fred Rogers Company told me in an email that since the song is still under copyright protection that she couldn’t tell me anything about how it came to be used in the commercial. Which is interesting because William Isler, president of the Fred Rogers Company, told the story to The Globe and Mail. “When we were first approached by Target,” he said, “we immediately felt very comfortable with the respect they had for Fred and his legacy. That is paramount to us.” Again, I can’t help but wonder what Mr. Rogers would have said about that. Would he have put his foot down and refused the partnership with Target? Or would his staff have been able to convince him that the monies they’d make would greatly benefit the company’s many children’s projects?

I can see it now. Syndicated reruns of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with a Target store digitally inserted in the opening credits’ aerial view. You’d be able to see it through the window as Mr. Rogers changed into his cardigan, singing the Target jingle. He’d open the kitchen door to find Bullseye, the Target dog, wagging his tail, waiting for the treat that Mr. Rogers no doubt gives at the same time every day. There’d be Target logos on just about everything. And Mr. McFeely would knock on the door and sing the new version of The Speedy Delivery Song: If there’s anything you want, if there’s anything you need, Target and Mr. McFeely brings it to you here with speed… because of course Mr. McFeely would have found himself a great job with their new neighbor.

There was a time when public broadcasting in American was under threat of losing its funding during the Nixon administration. But an impassioned plea from Mr. Rogers himself, in which he’d paid homage to Sears-Roebuck’s assistance, saved it. Goodness knows that public television was funded over the years by Mobil, by McDonald’s, by Chubb, and others. “Donations” from corporations like these have helped keep public broadcasting alive for 50 years. So how would Mr. Rogers feel about his company’s partnership with Target?

Mr. Rogers valued “Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.” Perhaps, then, he’d accept Target’s help. But he’d make sure to keep them in line. With all the talk coming from the Fred Rogers Company about Mr. Rogers’ legacy, let’s hope they carry it as he would have liked.

Why Those Who Support the Parti Quebecois’ proposed Charte des Valeurs are Wrong

“I don’t care what you wear on your head.”

Throughout this whole episode, and anytime the spectre of religious accommodation rears its ugly head in the ongoing cacophony that is political dialogue in Quebec, those who, wanting to profess their tolerance and support of ethnic, religious, and cultural freedom, say things like “I don’t care what you wear on your head.” It reminds me of those who say they have nothing against Gays, “as long as they don’t touch me.” Gays don’t indiscriminately make passes at everyone who crosses their paths. Likewise, those of a religious persuasion, as it were, will not indiscriminately try to convert you.

To the first point, I do care what you wear on your head, or around your neck, or draped over your shoulders. But make no mistake. My use of the word care does not imply that I am concerned about how your religious and cultural garb may or may not affect me and my children. Rather I care deeply about who you are, where you come from, and how you practice your culture. That means that I care enough to ask, so that I may learn, what a turban is for, and how you tie it, what a hijab is for, and why you choose to wear it, why you choose to wear a simple kipah, or an elaborate shtroimel. If we don’t care and never ask, then we will never learn about one another, and we might never learn how to co-exist, how to share the space, and how to greet one another. “Hello” is a good start. But “shana tova” or “eid Mubarak” is a lot nicer, warmer. It tells the other person that you are interested, that you do care, and that you took the time to learn about them. It tells them that they are a welcome and important part of our society.

The separation of church and state

Those who support the proposed charter make the same argument over and over again for the separation of church and state, and express concern over the ostentatious (characterized by vulgar or pretentious) display of religious symbols, particularly in the public sector: government workers & civil servants, teachers in publicly-funded schools & daycares, medical professionals, etc. They fear, I can only assume, that an overly religious public servant might take the time, while processing a request for a driver’s permit, or administering medication in a hospital, or reading “Love You Forever” to a group of 4-year olds, to proselytize, to preach the good word, to recruit you or your children to their religion. Why they fear this is beyond me. These fears are unfounded, to say the least. Nobody has ever tried to convert me to their way except for unilingual Francophones and separatists (and the occasional Jehovah’s Witness, but I digress.).

The separation of church and state refers to government. It does not, and should not, apply to those who work in public institutions. Doctors, nurses, teachers, and employment office workers do not represent the government or any particular party. If they did, then Liberals would lose their jobs under a Conservative administration, and vice versa. Rather, the separation of church and state dictates that the workings of government should not be influenced by a state religion. To wit, despite Quebec’s cultural history, the church no longer calls the shots. Nor should it. That’s what it means to be living in a secular society: not that we do not share our home with other cultural communities, but that no religious teachings slither their way into government policy or legislation. Nor will it. Even if someone with a kipah, hijab, or a turban works for the government. Consider that there are at least two Sikh MPs in Canada. One of them wears a turban and sports a long beard. While I don’t keep up with the news in Edmonton’s Sherwood Park, I’m pretty sure that The Honourable Tim Uppal has never… or at least has not yet… tried to convert Canada, if not his own constituents, to Sikhism.

When Lawrence Bergman was sworn in as a Member of the National Assembly, representing the Liberal Party of Quebec, he wore a yarmulke, and took his oath of office holding a Chumash, a book of the Pentateuch, the first five book of The Bible. It was the Chumash given to him at his bar mitzvah. He did this in the National Assembly! On TV! Since that time, not one Quebecker under his purview was forced to eat kosher or unwillingly give up his foreskin.

Neutral, adj. the absence of declared or intentional bias, cognate with neuter, of gender, being neither one nor the other, colloquially: having had your balls cut off.

Stuck in neutral: still, moving neither forward nor backward, no matter how hard you press the gas pedal, related to the concept of simply spinning one’s wheels.

Neutral is a term that, at least in context of the Charte des Valeurs, makes me uncomfortable. Quebec claims to be fiercely proud of what they say is our most important value: equality of the sexes (I can’t say just how equal the sexes are in Quebec in particular, except to say that gendre equality in our society is as yet an illusion). From that position they argue for equality above all else. But equality is not the same thing as homogeneity. To want to feel that we are all the same does not mean we want the kind of sameness that in another time and in another place would have been dangerous. That sameness, to borrow from Orwell, implies that we are all the same, but some of us are more the same than others. We should be working toward inclusion, not assimilation. We should be working toward equality and acceptance, not simply tolerance. In a recent interview with Le Devoir, for which she later apologized, Pauline Marois said that in England, and other societies where multiculturalism is encouraged, people get into fist fights. That’s not because of multiculturalism, it is in spite of it. Because in those places government and media sow the seeds of ethnic dissension rather than promote tolerance and acceptance. The way to put an end to that is to put MORE kipas, turbans, and hijabs in government. Not less. You can choose to foster a society in which diversity and equality go hand in hand. Or you can fan the flames of difference-based hate, which is what the proposed Charte des Valeurs will do, indeed is doing already.

We need to show the government, and the Quebec population, that the proposed instruction manual on how to hate and whom to single out is in fact NOT necessary in a society that values acceptance and equality. In the Parti Quebecois’ bid to promote inclusiveness, or at least their own version of it, they are actually showing themselves to be more repressive. If we are genuinely concerned about gendre equality, and if we accept that this apparent push for secularism or neutrality is really a thinly veiled (ha ha) Islamophobia, then we need to open our doors to Muslim women, make them feel welcome, empower them. Help them to understand that their presence in Quebec matters. Help them to understand what it means to be a woman in Quebec regardless of what they choose… CHOOSE!… to wear. In fact, as a powerful woman in Quebec, as the first ever female premier, Mme. Marois should set the example: she should put on a veil of her own. That way she can show how she can still lead the province without us having to look at her face.

Postscript: the recent march in favour of the proposed Charte des Valeurs, sparsely attended though it may have been, worries me. It calls to mind a time in pre-WWII Europe when those of “purer” race marched against targeted groups. And let us not forget, lest we be doomed to repeat it, the history of this very province, and the former Lt. Governor Jean-Louis Roux who, as a young student wore a swastika and participated in an anti-Jewish protest. Yes, he later apologized and tried to make up for it (when called on the carpet). But events like these existed and, like the cross in the National Assembly, a part of Quebec’s history and heritage.

Don’t Push the Hitler Button? I’ll Drink to That.

 “Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish.”  – Matthew 9:17


This one caught me by surprise.

I read an article, recently, about an Italian winery that produces and markets Adolf Hitler Wine. All in good fun, says the wine-maker, Andrea Lunardelli. It’s not about politics, he says, and has nothing to do with “eulogizing Hitler.”

Yet most buyers of the wine, Lunardelli admits… are German.

Make of that what you will. But it raises an interesting question.

There aren’t many things that offend me. And while I am careful, myself, to not be offensive, it annoys me when others claim to be offended by something. Because I believe that in some cases the emotional reaction of taking offense to something is, by and large, self-righteous and misplaced. But I do tend to get my back up when talk comes around to The Holocaust.

It’s a sensitive subject. As is Hitler.

When CJAD became a part of Astral Media we had a meeting with the company lawyer, an affable, smiling, perfectly bilingual francophone who simply wanted to let us know what the company policy was regarding on-air conduct. To wit, there were simply certain things we could and should not do or say on the air. The one, very specific caveat he gave us: “Just don’t push the Hitler button.”

Why not?

It would seem to be a stupid question. It should be painfully obvious why not. It’s offensive. To quote Lisl in The Sound of Music, “the flag with the black spider on it makes people nervous.” So just don’t push the Hitler button.

But is there ever a time or a context when Nazi regalia, a Hitler moustache, a swastika, the Nazi salute, or any verbal references to same, could ever be used acceptably?

In October of 2009 there was a language protest in Montreal. Hardline separatists gathered on the streets to protest some nonsense or other about English encroaching on French or whatever else they’d been whining about. That’s not important. What is important is the fact that some of them were carrying flags. Canadian flags. And over the maple leaf… a black swastika. I wondered, at the time: between 1939 and 1945 just how many Francophone Quebeckers were put into concentration camps, gassed, and then burned in Nazi ovens. And the Anglophones were no better. There was a time when you could find, scribbled on walls here and there, a graffito that looked like this: 101 =, referring, of course, to Quebec’s language law.

Last summer during the student protests in downtown Montreal I had quite a visceral reaction to a photo of protesters raising their arms in the Nazi salute to police. It was an emotional, perhaps knee-jerk reaction, and it was justified. One Facebook friend who felt the same way made reference to the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld, a character I was never completely comfortable with. Soup hopefuls lined up before the mustachioed gate-keeper. With a finger he’d either dismiss or call forward at will those to whom he would serve soup, and those who would be sent soupless to wherever the soupless end up. Tell me I’m reading too much into it, if you like. But the scene was reminiscent of Josef Mengele who, with a wave of a finger, chose would live and who would die.  At CJAD we had a secretary who was the “Kitchen Nazi.” She was charged with keeping the kitchen and the office fridge clean. Cross her, and lose your lunch. There was also an assignment editor referred to as the Scrabble Bitch. Someone had drawn a dominatrix in Nazi regalia and stuck it to her bulletin board. This was supposed to be funny.

Context is everything. Or is it? When I was a graduate student classmates would argue back and forth whether context could justify the use of either sexist or racist language. I maintain that context is everything. Still, I’d never use the N-Word because, to quote Maya Angelou, it’s poison. I’d never use, nor would I condone the use, of the word Kike, for the same reason.

But there are times, aren’t there, when we forgive, or even agree with, the use of such provocative symbols. Indeed, the blogosphere is currently alive with vociferous debate over Roger Waters’ use of symbols of various kinds, the most galling of which is the Jewish Star of David, to make his political points. This would seem to be the polar opposite of the Nazi swastika; the use of either, depending on the context, can be offensive to Jewish sensibilities. Waters has his reasons for co-opting the symbol of the Jewish state, and by extension the Jewish people. And the African-American community, particularly in the Hip-Hop domain, have successfully appropriated the N-word to make it a source of empowerment rather than a source of shame and pain.

But what of the Nazi swastika? Can it ever be ironic? Can its use ever be contextualized, co-opted or appropriated to make a political point?

I ask the question because the other night I was watching one of my favourite videos, a live version of Green Day’s Holiday. It’s from the band’s 2005 UK tour. “This next song’s a big fuck you to all the politicians,” Billie Joe Armstrong says, introducing the anarchist, anti-war anthem. It’s a fantastic version of the song, and a great performance by Amrstrong. He commands the crowd, rousing them all in the name of rock n’ roll, in the name of something that turns Triumph of the Will on its head. Then he gets to the part in the song where he raps “Sieg Heil to the president Gasman, Bombs away is your punishment,” while giving the Nazi salute. It comes from the same deep, dark place that spawned American Idiot, an anti-redneck anthem. The middle section of Holiday is spoken in words that are not to be taken as Armstrong’s, but as a character’s words, the words of an apparently war-mongering politician who will brook no opposition or protest. “Pulverize the Eiffel towers Who criticize your government. Bang bang goes the broken glass and Kill all the fags that don’t agree.” Do we saddle Green Day with those views, or do we accept the use of the ironic to make a statement?

And if so, do we excuse either the protesting students, or the protesting separatists, for trying to make the same statement? Is it even the same thing? Or does one succeed and the other fail?

The Hitler wine is part of a line that includes labels with images of Himmler, Göring, Eva Braun. The problem with the vintner’s assertion that it’s all in good fun is that his apparent intention stays behind when the bottles leave the plant; neo-Nazis, Nazi punks, and white supremacists would happily raise a glass to the cause, to their führer, and to a world where those who would take offense to the wine would no longer exits. “It’s history,” says Lunardelli, “not propaganda.” Except that the two are inextricably tied. New wine, perhaps. But old bottles, to be sure.

Let’s Hash Out The Pot Legalization Argument

It’s been a long time since I’d smoked a joint.

Not that I was ever any kind of pot-head. I wasn’t. I was always more of a drinker. I never learned how to enjoy pot properly. But I learned how to drink. I was a quick study, too. Started with beer, moved on to screwdrivers, rum & coke, whisky sours at weddings and bar mitzvahs, cheap scotch. I tended to drink fast, so that the drunk hit me harder, faster. Sometimes a little too hard and too fast. That was when I was younger. Now, 2 or 3 glasses of wine and I’m ready for bed. These days I’d rather sip and good single malt on ice, enjoying its smoky or peaty character, along with a good book, or just staring up at the stars on a calm summer night.

Is that really any different from enjoying just a bit of weed with some good music, and the night sky a net of fireflies overhead?

The essential difference between booze and pot lies not in either substance, but rather in our attitudes toward both. Both are drugs, at times addictive and as harmful as any drug could easily become, yet alcohol is accepted and marijuana is not. That’s because alcohol is still not thought of as a drug in the conventional sense, but as a beverage. Pot, however, gets lumped into that basket of bad apples, cocaine, heroin, acid, and all of those big, bad, scary drugs that destroy lives. And I suppose it is indeed possible for pot to become a so-called gateway drug into harder stuff. But has that first sip of booze never lead any drinker along the road to ruin, losing home and family, finding himself on the street drinking Lysol or other poisons?

Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star wrote a column earlier this week with the headline “Justin Trudeau’s plan to legalize pot is endorsing stupidity” (Wednesday, August 7). With all due respect to DiManno, nothing could have been a stronger endorsement of stupidity than her column. DiManno is a self-professed one-time heroin user. Heroin is one of the hard drugs that marijuana supposedly leads to. I say supposedly because I don’t believe that it does, necessarily. Unless you are the type of person that is prone to addiction, and would indeed recklessly chase down that dragon regardless of the consequences. I don’t consider DiManno such a type, since, by her own admission, she shot up only 3 times, and never again.

Still, her argument is as flimsy as the straw man at the forefront of the Conservatives anti-pot position.

“Of all the substances,” DiManno writes, “available from your corner dealer, or your office connection, the most dimwitting, the dummy-down rope-a-dope champion, is cannabis.” And then further on she adds, “Not a single habitual user I’ve ever known has been enhanced, augmented even slightly in personality or as good company, by weed. You may think you’re being clever and witty, but you’re merely imbecilic” (italics mine, and let’s overlook, for the purpose of this blog, the grammatical and syntactical awkwardness of the writing.).

Again, I was never much of a pot-head. And I can’t remember the last time I smoked a joint. So I don’t know that it’s necessarily my place to run to the defense of pot smokers, or to hold an opinion either way with regard to legalization. Except to say that if drinking oneself silly is perfectly legal, despite the dangerous path to which it sometimes leads self and others, then pot ought to be just as legal, and just as available to those who would, to coin a phrase, toke responsibly. That being said, I do take issue with DiManno’s blanket characterization of pot smokers as “merely imbecilic.” Especially when you consider the following list, by no means exhaustive, of those whom you might be surprised to learn either are or were pot smokers:

Carl Sagan, the late, great astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, and author, was a regular pot user and advocate for its legalization. He felt that pot helped him to think more clearly, an effect he said stayed with him even after the drug wore off. In a 1969 essay that he’d originally penned anonymously he wrote “the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.” He attributed his deeper appreciation for art and music, and some of his best ideas, to pot use. Would DiManno describe one of the most brilliant men who’d ever lived as dimwitted or dummied down?

Sir Richard Branson, one of the world’s richest tycoons with a following akin to a pop idol, has admitted to smoking weed with his son. “I don’t think smoking the occasional spliff is all that wrong,” he said in an interview in GQ Magazine. “I’d rather my son did it in front of me than behind closed doors.” He is even alleged to have asked US President Barak Obama for a joint at a recent White House dinner. You may recall that the president himself has admitted to smoking weed as a young man, famously saying in an interview “I inhaled frequently. That was the point.”

Bill Gates has admitted to smoking marijuana, as has New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The late Pierre Burton, one of this country’s foremost journalists and authors, had once admitted to smoking dope to relax. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, toked in his youth, and had no compunction whatsoever about admitting it.

The Conservatives who took Justin Trudeau to task on legalization argued that drug use leads to adverse effects. Our first prime minister was a notorious, and at times an embarrassing drunk. Would the creation of our country be considered an adverse effect?

No, I wouldn’t agree that pot advocates are stupidity advocates. But I would suggest that DiManno, and apparently tea-totalling conservatives, sound more like the kettle calling the pot black.