There is Some Sh*t I Will Not Eat

Bigots for Bucks

A morning radio host where I live was recently suspended after posting videos caricaturing people who live in a particular neighbourhood in the city. It is a lower middle class area besieged by vice and poverty-related crime and also home to a sizeable share of the city’s Aboriginals. Meanwhile, the radio host is a white middle-aged guy who grew up in an upper middle-class white neighborhood. The optics of a white guy mining laughs at the expense of the city’s poor and disenfranchised were tragic, especially since our city was, just a year ago, rated by a Canadian national news magazine as “The Most Racist City in Canada.”

I am aware how difficult it is for regular, middle-class white men to have “political correctness,” lorded over their heads since the nineties. It’s as if society is suggesting they are all bigots, forcing the whole to make amends for the excesses of the few. As a man, I feel the instant sense of similar recoiling when confronted with the idea that I am part of the “rape culture.” But then I resist the urge to soothe a bruised ego by man-splaining to generations of suppressed female voices why their “so-called grievances” are way off base – because I said so. Instead, I try to remain open to the possibility of a worldview different than that historically fashioned by generations of self-aggrandizing dicks.

The idea of “political correctness” is to encourage us to make a mental leap out of our situated selves, and examine our words and actions as if from the perspective of the “other” person BEFORE we unleash them. If the radio host in my town had paused for one second to ask himself “would I think this was funny if I were an Aboriginal?” my sense is he would never have posted the video.

A moment of “political correctness” would have prevented him inflicting a significant insult on countless Aboriginal Canadians in my town, many of whom are rightly sitting on the fence about the merits of joining white society. It would also have prevented many from believing him to be an unabashed racist. That is the point of political correctness; not to tar white men as bigots, but to compel us all to look before we leap, because our tolerance for insensitivity has worn thin. It is a word of caution that a nasty fate awaits he who is unable to restrain his mouth from uttering whatever bigoted detritus was  deposited in the recesses of his mind by the infinite possible sources in our culture.

This is one simple example of the reason why a strong social ethic that frowns on bigotry is still necessary. I’m no fan of “political correctness” because it has been appropriated by the very douchebags it was meant to counter, and they have masterfully turned it into a slur to rival the daily barrage of racist, misogynist, xenophobic slurs they unleash from their intellectual anuses. It’s a sensible idea made senseless by the those who extol their claim to “freedom” with bigoted, craven bombast like a noxious-smelling badge of honour.

The counterpoint to the idea that “freedom” bestows unbounded rights to slander and incite hatred of the marginalized, is the notion that the establishment of social norms against blatant insensitivity is necessary to protect the powerless from wanton bullying. It prevents oppressive biases in the dominant collective mind from being matter-of-factly vomited out of our mouths and victimizing innocent, disenfranchised bystanders. It is to ensure our societies are inclusive and don’t condone behaviours that alienate and exclude large swaths of its people. Insensitive, hurtful speech is a passive aggressive way to discourage the disenfranchised from opting-in to society. Mean-spirited words matter; in powerful, irresponsible hands they propagate the systematic, violent demise of those they target.

Anyone who is on the receiving end of bigoted knee-slapping has asked themselves this question at various points in their lives “is my desire to participate in society really worth the mental anguish to endure this?” In a pluralistic society that recognizes the rights and equality of all, nobody should have to face this kind of bar to their success. Since laws against bigotry are out of line, the only tool left is that of a strong ethic of social resistance to deeds that are divisive and damaging to social harmony.

I find it revealing when someone blasts “political correctness” as a bane that forces their mouth shut all the time. It says something damning about the content of a mind if every thought it produces is so offensive it shouldn’t be uttered. Here’s a test; if a part of you has to ask “is this offensive?” it probably is. This should be a source of relief; it means the part of your brain other animals lack functioned exactly as nature intended. It will continue to do so if you regularly consult it and pay it heed. The energy needed to resist the social ethic discouraging jokes that directly or indirectly denigrate women, minorities, Muslims, or foreigners, is much better spent examining why it is your mind is teeming with misogyny, racism, religious intolerance, and xenophobia in the first place.

On this subject, one of my favourite bloggers suggested there are a few social issues that are out of bounds for humourous treatment – rape, drug addiction, and mental illness among them. On the surface it’s hard to disagree, but my sense is there are no absolutes in this either. There is always context and intention – who is making the joke, how, and to whom. My feeling is, if you were never on the inside, don’t make the joke.

It’s why there are some jokes that, if I were a white guy, I simply wouldn’t make. True, it is your right to make the joke. The so-called dictates of “political correctness” are not trying to deprive you of those rights. But they will compel I or others to call you out as a bigot if you say something that is blatantly racist, intolerant, misogynist, or xenophobic. If you seek to poison mine and others existence with bigoted speech you should no longer expect to enjoy a consequence-free existence as you would have in another century.

I try not to make light of pain and suffering I haven’t personally experienced – it looks too much as though I’m laughing at another’s pain, which is deplorable. If I am lucky to garner a laugh at a serious social issue I see to it that it is at my expense alone. When I am lampooning any of the afflictions that dog me I try not to implicate all who share in the struggle. I talk about my issues in relation to me, and don’t presume anyone else experiences the issue similarly. I don’t know that I have always been successful in getting this right but I really try to think before I speak and hope the good part of my brain catches up when the bad parts of my mouth do the hundred-metre dash, as they are inclined from time to time.

It’s a delicate balance, but I believe it’s a risk worth taking. There are too many issues that need to be out in the open and one way to do so while reaching the widest segment of society is through humour. Avoiding conversations about the harsh truths of existence allows voices of ignorance to construct the narrative, with the risk of re-victimizing those who have drawn the short straw. I think there is merit in sharing our experiences, to reveal the truth of the human condition as, among other things, a constant engagement with calamity and despair. It’s a bummer, but it also puts the onus more squarely on ourselves to add joy wherever we can. If we can demonstrate we’ve lived through the downer moments, and do so in a lighthearted way, it elevates the hope in others that it is possible to find joy somewhere in our pain.

Blogs that explore personal subjects have been instrumental to increased self-compassion, even if the humorous approach does at times touch a raw nerve. Laughter is a non-threatening means by which people can be made to understand the pain around them, which they may inflame by their ignorance or insensitivity. The process of self-awareness is more likely to begin after a laugh than it is at the end of a righteous-indignant finger pointed. Throwing a pie in the face of your persecutor is a moral victory in some senses, it is a way to fight back without degenerating into violence.

Humour can be an effective tool to close a mind and to open it, which is why it is a double-edged sword in irresponsible hands. When we hold up the mirror to our worst selves it is the humour that will ensure we do not look away in shame. But it can also cause harm if the blade isn’t wielded skilfully when the treading needs to be more delicate. Sadly, some people just can’t help slicing and dicing everyone else around them for their own gain.

It seems we’re living in a time where society’s top notches are looking to protect their interests by recklessly sowing seeds of bigotry, giving life to poison trees that flourish in minds struggling with the perils of existence. It is important as decent human beings to resist the desperate cravings that sometimes propel us to swallow the easy meal served up as a balm to our insecurities. The indulgence in bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia is the worst of all the forbidden fruit we may choose to eat. For the fleeting pleasure of an outlet for your angst you will be reeling with ideas that rob you of your soul; that render you incapable of seeing yourself in your fellow humans; that subordinate the harm you inflict beneath the need for a laugh to quiet your tears.

Call it “political correctness” call it “decency.” Whatever you do, set your mind free from the self-serving bigotry that divides us all to line the pockets of the few. When they tell you “political correctness” is the thing that keeps you down, tell them “there is some shit I will not eat.”


The Coffee Sucks, Don’t Let Them Tell You Otherwise

Tim's - Shite

Tim Hortons coffee. Shite.

Two young women in the lineup at Starbucks behind me were talking about Tim Horton’s, a large Canadian coffee franchise that sells terrible coffee and crappy doughnuts. One of them said, “Hey, I love my Tim’s. I’m not a coffee snob.”

So, let me get this straight. Someone who, given the choice between a cappuccino made of fresh ground coffee beans exposed to the right amount of pressure, heat, and filtered water or a cup of Tim Horton’s made from low-grade coffee beans ground up and bagged seven weeks ago, sitting in a decanter that hasn’t been washed in three days, is a snob for choosing the cappuccino? That is some dicey logic m’lady.

I hear this kind of thing constantly in my town. It’s a working class town, full of people who take pride in being no frills, regular Joes. We’re a salt of the earth type ‘round these parts. Those interested in hoity-toity, frou-frou, whizz-bang anything are advised to just keep moving east to Toronto or Montreal. Most days it’s what I love about where I come from. If you’re a stranger or if you’re new to town, folks here will bend over backwards to help you out even if, at the outset, they don’t like the looks of you. If you’re standing at a bus stop you are guaranteed a conversation about the weather or how crappy the hockey team is playing this year. If you’re stuck in an elevator there will be no awkward silences because everyone will give their two cents on the situation. You will know every minute you’re not alone.

At the same time, beneath the folksy-town charm there’s a smothering, conformist leitmotif that is unhealthy in the grand scheme. We love country music; not the Johnny Cash, Willy Nelson, Roy Orbison good stuff, but the schmaltzy pop-oriented stuff. We like getting drunk, not as a by-product of an event where drinking happens, but as leisure in itself (like sitting in a garage), chugging back the cheapest, blandest pilsener beer to achieve the dubious aim.

We love our large, gas guzzling, parking-lot hogging, lane encroaching pickup trucks, even though most of us don’t need to haul bales of hay anywhere. A sports jersey and baseball hat is the weekend uniform for men over the age of thirty-five. We love lining up for shit coffee. You get the idea. These are the things we do where I live. Back in my twenties, I came up with a term for those who were devout adherents to these key elements of ‘folksy’ in my town: “ham’n eggers”.

I don’t disavow any of these local traditions or “ham’n eggers” per se. I love binge-drinking as I watch Canada win another World Cup of hockey. If you need to drive through snowbanks, nothing will do better than a half-tonne. And I absolutely love ham and eggs for breakfast. It’s divine. I love people in my town for who they are. I’ve lived in a big city with poseurs awash in fancy suits, name-brand gotch, who adorn their personas with elements of a fantastic life purchased on credit. It seemed mostly to impress the mirrors on the walls. Frankly, I much prefer the “ham’n eggs” of my town.

On the other hand, affixing of the label “snob” upon those of us who embrace things not ham and egg is a bit passive aggressive, isn’t it? Throughout my life, I’ve been variously called out for liking classical music, reading books with no pictures, talking about philosophy, doing yoga, meditating, not really caring about professional sports, or having an avowed interest in what goes on in the world beyond the wheat fields hugging my town. There’s always the insinuation “Ooooh, this guy is all fancy ‘cuz he knows stuff other than hockey fights and Duck Dynasty.” I think the word you were looking for, my ham and egg friend, is ‘pretentious.’

It strikes me as a bit of a shrewd way to punish and put down someone for thinking a little differently. I’m not suggesting everyone has to travel the world, drink exotic Indonesian coffee beans at breakfast, or run to their nearest yoga shala for a moral cleansing. But the lack of curiosity in the flat denunciation of the difference is maddening – and is very commonplace among many folks who surround me. Instead of this: “You’re such a snob for not liking Tim Horton’s or Rascal Flatts” how about this: “why would you say Tim Horton’s is shitty coffee and David Bowie is such a genius”?

Turkish Coffee - Not Shite

Turkish coffee. Made with finely ground coffee simmered in a cezve. Not Shite.

My partner and I often tussle for control of the radio dial when we’re driving to or from work. She wants to listen to one of the fifteen Top 40 pop or country radio stations on the radio dial in my town, each of which plays the same twenty hit songs. These are the auto-tuned songs, the songs with beats ripped-off from samples of real artists, songs that transform the existential angst of life into campy pop-culture massacres; songs which, in a year, will compel everyone to stick an ice pick in their ears.

Sure, they’re filled with catchy beats that make you want to bop your head. They sound great in a night-club; they are ideal background music for the spectacle of lights and dancers who flank the pop star on their circus tour. But here’s the thing; they’re pop songs. They’re made to appeal to the most undiscerning base demographic of music listener in existence. They’re window-dressing in a whole genre of music that, on the whole, can be classified as “music for people who give zero fucks about music.”

Hey, that’s okay. Not everyone has to care about music. That’s not the point. The point is that, just because this sludge is rammed down millions of people’s throats, and because millions like it doesn’t mean it’s good. Millions of people thought National Socialism and Bolshevism were good too, right? The point is, those who listen to pop or whose tastes in everything else mirror exactly that of the masses cannot claim to have discerning taste. Their faculty of judgement, dulled by the fact of its mass-production, is as we ham’n eggers like to say, as “useful as tits on a bull.”

Eventually my partner shakes her head, miffed that I’m insinuating she has bad taste again. She is a good sport about it. I dig a little deeper into my foxhole with explanations and rationalizations to talk my way back into her heart. I provide logically defensible reasons why her taste in music is terrible, “Okay, so we’ll be listening to Justin Bieber and Hedley in two-hundred years like we’ve been listening to Mozart, right?” I say. “Heck, even forty years from now, do you think we’ll be listening to Selena Gomez and Rihanna like we’re still listening to the Rolling Stones and John Coltrane!” I implore.

Ultimately I retreat from the fight. I accept that I’m a music snob because I am making her feel self-conscious about her bad taste in music. I brace for a chilly evening and sex involving baby oil, Google, and more self-love than I can usually muster.

Okay so I guess there is no measure for anything. I guess anything we do to occupy the excess hours of our existence – playing video games, wanking to reality TV porn – is inherently intellectually enriching. I guess those who read nothing other than Twitter feeds are right to claim their opinions on world affairs, the economy, and climate change are as valid as those who spend their lives immersed in these fields. 

Really? Let’s get serious now. I mean it. The idea that those who swaddle themselves in the vacuous chimera of mass culture to the exclusion of all else could possess authoritative views in matters of taste, or anything else, is totally fucking absurd.

Hey, I’m no less capable of guilty pleasures than anyone else. I grew up with a single mother whose most reliable babysitter was the television. I ate that shit up. Escaping into re-runs of The Big Bang Theory is a great way to avoid the damage you’ve done to your career by not being able to keep your mouth shut when the Director is being a dick at the office. Soulless, mind-numbing junk is an easy salve for the pain of existence.

At the same time, I would never say someone is a “loser” or something similar if they said Big Bang Theory sucks. I wouldn’t defend my bad taste by turning their rightful opinion around on them. In the grand scheme, television is drivel. I know that because it’s not how I spend 100% of my free time. I am a Curious George, and tend to spend more of my free time chasing my tail in pursuit of my intellectual curiosities.

Curiosity; that faculty of mind distinguishing human beings from apes and pigs. It’s what compelled we humans to invent the tools of modernity that have made our lives infinitely easier than those of our ancestors: the combustion engine, electricity, airplanes, computers, and so forth. It’s a mental faculty that has been vital to our survival; one whose slow death our culture seems to celebrate. Every day I am exposed to mass media I see reams of Westerners pissing on the grave of the one virtue that secured our place at the top of the food chain: human wonder.

Cappuccino and biscotti

Cappuccino and biscotti. Absolutely, positively, not shite.

Throughout history, there are scores of examples where absolute rulers have sought to cast a pall of ignorance over the masses. How did they do this? They withheld education, books, and sought to control the information available to them. In lieu of power and participation in the fate of the nation, they gave them bread and circuses to pass the time. The despots of yore knew ignorance was more powerful than a loyal army to keep the masses subdued.

A mind engaged inevitably comes to be a mind that reflects; one that is prone to ask “why are most of us struggling and poor while that small batch of billionaires are getting richer every year?” Minds accustomed to that kind of reflection are not as easily swayed by the answer “don’t worry struggling middle-class peon, the wealthier we billionaires are, the better off you will be. Eventually. Just wait a little longer.” Only people whose wits have been softened by inactivity could believe such royal horseshit.

This is what gets my back up about the “snob” comment, especially when it’s wielded against anyone or anything that reeks of intellectual discernment. It is part of the same anti-intellectual strain of thinking that has darkened our culture for decades; since the senile guy who once starred in Bedtime for Bonzo became the most powerful puppet in the Western world. It’s a catch-all to disdain anything that might pass for “high-minded.” It is a celebration of the trailer-park simpleton as cultural ideal; a belief that Homer Simpson is the benchmark for modern civilization.

Such thinking has made it possible for millions of people to believe Donald Trump is a legitimate candidate as president of the most powerful, wealthy, and influential nation on the planet. His supporters don’t seem capable of seeing through his “self-made” narrative or extrapolating from his misogynist, Muslim-banning, chest-thumping, race-baiting, simple question-avoiding bluster as to what kind of leader he would be. The lack of discernment in matters of taste seems to have overtaken their capacity to discern what is or isn’t politically in their own interests as well.

Closer to home, many of my fellow ham’n eggers swallow the turd in a cup about how taxes, government, and immigrants are bad just because the guy on television who looks white, male, and frightened of change, just like them, said so. All the while unrestrained corporate wealth, guns (at least in the hands of white Christians and police), and more millionaire hockey players are accepted as good simply because they too are so much more familiar than the other thing. For a long time, folks have been given cups and cups of this shit coffee. The longer everyone’s been drinking it, the more pressure each person feels to set aside their mental faculties and believe it grand simply because everyone seems to love it.

Angry Mob Politics - Shite

The politics of hate, blame, fear, and scapegoating propagated by Ayn Rand circle-jerking politicians. Shite.

Next time you hear someone say “that cuppa Tim’s sucks” try to restrain your instinct to defend the turd. Don’t automatically succumb to your impulse to silence the differing view by uttering slurs like “snob” or “bleeding heart liberal.” Don’t believe the hype; it will dull your capacity to adjudge the shit coffee and fascist demagogues as terrible for your soul. Instead, hear those who were able to taste the popular brand of nonsense a little more critically; who were driven by their curiosity about the possibility of something different and better; who have discovered that, sometimes, what we have been led to believe as virtuous and true can be utterly false and reprehensible.

In the end, I’d rather be a snob than a fool. Enjoy your shit coffee like the rest of the mob if you really want to. I can bet the billionaires are ecstatic you continue to buy it; that your addiction to the belief in its goodness will fill their pockets with your money.

Bu-Bye Harper, From a Beleaguered Civil Servant

(Written in November 2015)

Lord Harper, er Vader, and PMO minions

Ousted PM Harper and a couple of big-headed, small-minded minions from the PMO trailing behind.

Canadians from all corners of this vast country voted last fall to oust Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and gave the Liberal Party of Canada and Justin Trudeau a clear mandate to govern. The election results included a large swath of votes that went to the New Democratic Party and Green parties, and clearly signaled a widespread desire for government to play an active role in bettering the lives of Canadians. For many years we watched Harper and his clowns publicly engage in projectile vomiting toward the bureaucracy; we saw him toss a steady-stream of scapegoats under the bus to titillate the spectators of their three-ring circus who came with a blood-lust.

There isn’t much room for interpretation of those fall election results. It is a clear repudiation of the angry, divisive style and tone of the former Prime Minister. It was a rejection of his empty platform – if banning burqas and rallies with Rob Ford are rightly called parts of a ‘platform.’ Canadians demanded a plan that was more specific than “tax cuts” which, in Harper’s final term of office, seemed to fuel the belief he had a free hand to do anything he pleased so long as he cut a per cent off the GST – proroguing parliament three times, introducing bills amending twenty-six pieces of legislation without study by committee, passing unconstitutional laws, firing scientists from the bureaucracy for discussing science, and so on, and so on. Maybe Canadians want to pay less tax, but they also want a government to outline its agenda and be transparent in its actions; they want to be given something by which an informed decision about whether to give them a mandate can be made.

I say that not as a partisan, but as a civil servant who, like the vast majority of my public-sector peers, have made a career implementing the laws, plans, and priorities of government, hopefully for the betterment of the lives of Canadians. I don’t think it would surprise anyone to hear a public servant suggest that, under the tutelage of the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the last several years were totally demoralizing. It wasn’t just the cuts to thousands of colleagues, it was vitriolic way by which the public service as a whole was slandered to justify the deed; a mode of attack sustained well after the slashing had been done. It revealed the Harper Conservatives not as good governors or earnest policy-makers but as petty, vindictive human beings.

PM Trudeau - aka The Count of Monte Cristo

The man who saved the citizens of Canada from the evil reign of Lord Vader, the Count of Monte Cristo, er, I mean Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau

The relationship between the elected government of the day and the Canadian public service is grounded in the Westminster system of government inherited from our great- great- grandparents in the United Kingdom. In this model, there is a clear separation from the Prime Minister and Cabinet on one side, and the non-partisan government Ministries that administer the laws, regulations, policies, and plans attached to each of the portfolios of the Cabinet on the other.

The Cabinet Minister with portfolio is politically accountable for the activities of his Ministry. However, the person responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Ministry is the Deputy Minister. The relationship is much like that of a Chief Executive Officer and a Chief Operating Officer in a large, publicly-traded company. The former is accountable to outside stakeholders, the latter is responsible to run the place and keep the CEO informed.

Under this arrangement, Cabinet ministers are not expected to be expert in their portfolios. As avatars of the will of the people they are there to provide clear mandates to the Deputy Ministers (DM) who must implement the plans of government. As elected officials, it is the Minister’s job to engage stakeholder citizens to canvass their issues and incorporate them into directives their DMs must achieve in operating the department. It is also the role of the elected Minister to remain abreast of the progress of his Ministry in effecting the agenda, and to communicate progress to the stakeholders.

The role of the Deputy Minister and the bureaucracy is to take what can be very broad, vague instructions of their Minister and, as experts in the area, find effective ways to implement these plans with the resources provided to do so. Sometimes that means recommending new laws or policy to ensure that plans are undertaken in a fair and procedurally transparent fashion. Determining the best way to execute an idea or plan is a process, but relies on the expertise and resources of the public service to carry those plans through effectively.

On paper, it seems so simple. Except, imagine how hard it must be for a newly-elected Minister who was a pig farmer by vocation to suddenly find himself politically responsible for the day-to-day operations of a department like Foreign Affairs. The urge to interfere and micromanage to allay anxieties about being politically accountable for something way beyond your grasp is understandably strong. The new Minister doesn’t know his DM, the Ministry, or the Public Service from a hole in the side of his barn.

This is why the bonds of trust and respect between the elected government of the day and the Public Service is essential right at the outset. For the Prime Minister and Cabinet, this is where Deputy Ministers (and the Privy Council Office) make their bread. They are accustomed to working with people who do not know their portfolios in depth and they have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of public servants in their Ministries to do the necessary work in rolling out plans, monitoring progress, and reporting on accountabilities.

There is a reason Canada is a relatively centrist, middling country whose progress tends to be slow but steady. The day-to-day functioning of government Ministries is mandated by the laws of Parliament and as such cannot be subjected to political whimsy or interference. If that happens, then laws become meaningless paeans to corruption. At the same time, ideas that express the desires of the people, even if whimsical for their lack of specificity, cannot be flatly dismissed by stolid bureaucracies. That is why there needs to be mutual respect, discussion, and trust between the sides. They may start at opposite ends of how ideas translate into programs and policy and must, from there, arrive at a measure of what can feasibly be accomplished.

This is why the public service must not be partisan. It is expected to give the best advice possible no matter who is in power. Certainly, public servants have political views – they are citizens – however they take their cues from the will of democracy as exemplified in the elected government and focus their efforts on gaining expertise in the machinery of government. This allows Deputy Ministers to provide the most candid advice without taint of political machinations.

It is clear, the former government of Prime Minister Harper did very little to respect the Westminster model of government – either on the political side where he prorogued Parliament, introduced omnibus bills and the like – or in respect of the bureaucracy, which he politicized to a degree unprecedented in recent Canadian history. He took the premise of prioritizing government austerity and transformed it into a campaign to discredit and impugn the integrity of the public service in the eyes of the Canadian public. In dismissing the competence of the public service outright and attempting to reach far into the day-to-day functions of the Ministries he also undermined the very essence of a functioning government which relies on a partnership of elected ministers and a non-partisan bureaucracy.

For the most part, I dismissed Harper’s electioneering as the necessary bluster of politics. It was meant to give the public something of putative substance to spice up the most unimaginative political platform for a nation imaginable: “tax relief.” In my mind, that was a clever evasion; a bit of mental laziness for failing to outline one’s policy choices. It still shocks me that Canadians or any citizen of a democracy falls for such nonsense, but such is the tenor of the times. If Canadians wanted to believe that public servants are demons, fair enough, but no rational group of elected officials given a mandate to actually govern could possibly have believed that nonsense, I reasoned. How truly wrong I was.

In the beginning, Harper slashed and razed publicly funded programs like the Court Challenges Program on strident, ideological grounds and justified it by saying the electorate had given him carte blanche to cut as he saw fit. Toward the end of PM Harper’s reign, the PMO went rogue all over the public service, truly believing their own fabulist tales about how bureaucrats were devoid of competence or irrelevant to running a government. The Globe and Mail story about how the PMO requested refugee files of fleeing Syrian migrants to do their own audit of the immigration department’s file management was the most insidious reflection of this. What expertise lay in the PMO that would have outflanked that of seasoned bureaucrats whose careers had been spent assessing immigration and refugee applications? What kind of audit could a non-experienced political staffer have done that would have been qualitatively better than, say, one done by a senior executive within the immigration department?

I have to confess in the end, I took much of this very personally as a public servant because of the systematic attacks we were all subjected to for so many years. To this day, the mere utterance of the name Tony Clement makes me want to drive my fist into the nearest wall imagining his smug, self-satisfied, corrupt face as a target. But then I was heartened to have such strange bedfellows in my career woes: Harper’s most prominent Cabinet ministers began to drop off like flies before the last election. Backbench MPs were kicked out of caucus, senior Cabinet members were muzzled, party discipline turned grown adults into cheerleaders for Harper’s cynical agenda. I barely knew the names of a vast majority of Conservative MPs or Cabinet ministers until the press releases announced their departures. ‘Ah, so that’s who the so-and-so Minister was. Good to know,’ I found myself saying repeatedly.

Tony Clement his PMO minion and bureaucrat

Tony (Jabba the Hutt) Clement, his little minion/lackey, and a hapless bureaucrat enslaved for calling in sick one too many times for Jabba’s liking.

It became clear, the former PM believed he needed neither a public service nor an effective Cabinet and party caucus to govern this country. In retrospect, it is harrowing to think that the Conservative Party was so totally emasculated that it could do nothing to protest such iron-fisted rule, or rein in unilateral decisions that everyone in caucus must have known would be wildly unpopular with the electorate. It makes me shudder for Canadian democracy to think how close we were to having elected a dictator.

In any case, from the perspective of a public servant, Harper’s reign is so tragically peculiar. It is unbecoming of a man of Stephen Harper’s obvious intelligence and genuine desire to serve the public interest to have harboured such clear delusions about what could be achieved all on his own; to think he didn’t need a civil service to implement his plans. Not only is it idiotic but it is petty to the extreme. I think there are lessons in this for any party leader. His legacy is the cautionary tale of what happens when over-wrought ego and hubris combine not only to rob a party of its moral tether but to deprive a nation of a well-functioning government.

I make these points not in the interests of supporting a particular party, so much as to offer a lone voice from the public service to counter the repeated sermons demonizing civil servants Canadians heard from the bully pulpit of the previous government. I am also speaking out as just one of the thousands of public servants who get up every day and try their hardest to do their jobs to the best of their ability with the tools – and the orders – given them. Imagine going to work at your company and everyday seeing your boss on television or in the papers disparaging you, suggesting you’re over paid, under-worked, incompetent, undeserving, entitled, expendable, and mostly unnecessary. And then imagine that boss coming to you every day with a new plan, priority, or mandate and castigating you publicly for being unable to steer a teetering ship in seventeen different directions. Imagine.

In the end, Canadians were able to see through the vitriol and to the character and integrity of a man so easily capable of lobbing such relentless invective at the very people he needs to help him govern. I am glad collective wisdom prevailed. Not only has it maintained my faith in my fellow citizens, but so too has it restored my faith in democracy and re-invigorated my desire to serve the public.

Despite the number of Canadians who voted against the message of negativity in our Canadian election, there is still a sizeable element of the Canadian public who still lack faith in the integrity of the public service, who seem to doubt on a fundamental level the utility in spending a dime on public services. The former PM and a few of his ministers focused much of their effort on painting a picture of federal public servants as abusers of certain entitlements such as sick pay. They felt so strongly about the issue they fed the Canadian public misinformation about the cost and nature of sick leave in the public service. They passed legislation to impose a new sick-leave regime which violates the collective bargaining rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would ask, what are citizens supposed to take away about their rights as employees across all sectors if its own federal public servants and their employer, the Government of Canada, are flouting the constitutional foundations of Canada’s labour laws?


Then-MP Trudeau rightly pointing out the douchey speedo worn by the Conservative Senator. The skinny guy won the boxing match, the speedo can never be un-seen, regrettably.

At some point this type of dialogue simply marks those who utter it as stupid, ignorant assholes. I don’t know why, but it is conservative ideologues in Canada and the US that seem to monopolize these ranks. To be blunt, this isn’t conservatism at all; it is libertarianism, the right side of a continuum that ends in anarchism on the left. David Hume, Edmund Burke or Michael Oakeshott would recognize nothing in the movements passing themselves off as conservatism these days. The political discourse their proponents tout resembles a bowel movement, rather than a legitimate body of political thought.

In any case, many so-called conservatives tout specific policy priorities that only governments can implement, which makes their avowed desire to see the death of government through tax starvation really peculiar. For example, conservatives typically view military intervention as the preferred stand-in for real diplomacy in foreign relations. Person for person, the military is the most expensive of government operations a nation undertakes – each soldier comes with a huge price-tag in training and equipment that consumes tax revenue far more rapidly than other programs. To the degree right-wing ideology informs an over-reliance on military solutions, it posits a far more profligate use of the public purse than any number of items on a typical socialist agenda.

After the 2008 housing and financial sector crash, what would the US economy look like today if there were no government to intervene? That bailout was tax money, in case anyone was wondering. It’s interesting, when the government expenditures benefit corporate interests the reliance on such schemes upon buckets of tax revenue, or their deprivation of the public purse with preferential tax policies, which is effectively a tax subsidy, are completely downplayed. Make no mistake, these rely upon a government that collects taxes; in some cases lots of taxes.

Suffice it to say there will never be a state of affairs where a government collects little or no taxes and is then able to respond to the needs of its citizens with effective policies; yes, even if “conservatives” are elected. So, this line of rhetoric about zero taxes and the perfunctory role of government should no longer gain any traction politically. Taken to the extreme it benefits only those who would see our democratic nations turned into Corporations which are, by virtue of their purely economic nature, primarily fascist organizations. Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Pinochet are what happens when oligarch industrialists, teeming with ennui at the mere monopolization of a nation’s wealth, aspire to monopolize the political power as well; their zeal for propagating  disenfranchisement as they fatten their wallets knows no bounds.

Given that reality, Canadians are best served by parties offering something other than business priorities or tax policy; who do not tout cynical notions that undermine democracy and care little for social goods like education or health care. Citizens are best served by plugging their ears to demagogues who spew old albatrosses about “evil government” and “lazy public servants” as institutions that aren’t worth sustaining with tax revenue. It’s a great song and dance, but if taxes are cut the services and the government go with them. I shouldn’t have to spell that out, but there are throngs of people who support perpetual tax cuts without thinking about what will step in to deliver public goods – Corporations. It is a clever, elegant delusion which, if it continues to be believed, will destroy the foundation that makes Canada a global economic and political leader – an educated, healthy, and well-governed society.

I take the 2015 federal election as a clear sign Canadians want to get back to reality. We can’t deny the nation-building role of government – hospitals, schools, universities – these were planned, built, and continue to be operated by government. Those who say they don’t want to pay taxes are essentially saying they are in favour of letting the schools, hospitals, police detachments, and universities crumble. Any party that pretends to offer “savings” by gutting the ability of a government to deliver on its mandate, and slanders their key partners in governing – the public service – should be chased off the political stage as the disingenuous frauds and hucksters they are. They are selling snake oil to gain power.

I say that as a citizen foremost, and as a public servant eager for a government who proceeds with a vision and a plan to make Canadian lives better. I am glad last fall most Canadians put their votes toward parties that decided to run on actual policy issues. In order for the Westminster model to work as intended, it needs elected officials with a clear mandate who are eager to work with their mandarins to implement their priorities. The Westminster model needs elected officials who believe the reason they stood for office is to actually govern the nation.

Trudeau and Pandas

Let’s get some pandas, some bamboo, some civil servants and do this governing thing gangsta-style.

To Prime Minister Trudeau I say my colleagues and I are here with knowledge, experience, and eagerness to work as partners with the government of the day to implement its plans. I say the same to the next Prime Minister, be it yourself or another. We are here to serve our fellow citizens because that is what we do – we work for Canadians. True enough, we are less able to massage hollow partisan agendas into workable laws and real policy because, in their contempt for reality, they don’t translate into feasible, measurable results. We have dedicated our careers to advising elected officials in how to turn lofty political ideas into practical, executable plans. Now that the politicking is over, let’s rise above the platitudes to rouse a political base, dispense with scape-goating the public sector to feed the knuckle-draggers, and collaborate to effect real, meaningful changes to better the lives of Canadians. That is why we both sought to be where we are, after all.


Keep Your DICK in a Box Well Away From the Top Shelf

Dick With Balls

The one who started it all. The Dick of all Dicks, Dick Cheney. “Hello underlings, I am a DICK, and blah blah bullshit lie half-truth blah blah America blah blah War blah lie lie lie I eat babies blah blah blah I own shares in weapons companies blah blah blah I am the real President blah blah blah blah lie bullshit posturing blah blah blah …”

A toxic form of humanity is advancing rapidly through the white-collar ranks of large North American organizations. It drains the life of so many innocents trying their best to make a living in the workplace jungle. The scientific name for the phenomenon: Douchebaggus Ignoramus Corporatio Kleptomaniac, otherwise known as DICK.

Dick exists in droves where hierarchies create cadres of executives whose pay and decision-making responsibilities vastly outstrip the ranks at the bottom. In lucky organizations, the top echelons reflect the qualities of an individual you’d expect to have responsibility for so many lives and so much financial capital. Good leaders started at the bottom somewhere, and stayed there long enough to learn the ropes. They know what it’s like to be low man on the totem pole and can point to real achievements instead of lofty position titles along their career path. They are intelligent, humble, and treat people well, regardless of their rank.

Unfortunately in many large organizations there is an inverse relationship between the competency, personality, skills and high rank of the individuals occupying the upper-middle and top shelves of the org chart. Dick knows how to fly like an eagle in a place like this. With his prospects of advancing the ranks not limited by his incompetence and execrable personality, he tirelessly tramples over the well-being of his co-workers as he employs douchebag subterfuge to crawl his way to the top.

The screening criteria to diagnose whether that misery-inducing jerk in your workforce is a Dick are below:

1. Extremes in intelligence: either a profound lack of intelligence, curiosity, or lack of insight; Hyper-intelligence


2.  Male, usually small (literally and figuratively)

AND, one of the following:

3.  Profoundly stunted emotional intelligence, as if his six year-old emotional self wandered into the forest and was never found again, but still controls the behaviours of the adult from somewhere in the deep, dark, and frightening woods.

4.  An unnatural, hyper-inflated self-assessment that entitles them to whatever they desire: promotions, perks, to treat people like dirt, to have a tantrum, to say whatever small and petty thing pops into their douchey mind …

5. Hyper-aggressivity rooted in unexplored feelings of Ill-will, guile, rage, or hostility toward humanity

A Dick with all of the above traits would be in jail had they been born in an unstable home of less than an upper middle-class income. Even though Dick is a crime against humanity, his co-workers are the ones imprisoned in a living hell of his making. Every day they fight the feeling of having been entrapped like a dime-bag dealer on a police sting when they were sold on the opportunities in a job that was open clearly because nobody wanted work with “the asshole.”

As a child, Dick had people putting ideas of being a “professional” in his mind. One or both of his parents was a professional of some type – a corporate executive, lawyer, doctor, engineer, or academic – who instilled the idea that a profession was the only viable career choice for success. They made him believe achievement was rooted in status and rank rather than something tangible, like good work and skill.

True that, every Dick does fancy himself a big shot. I recommend you duck, because Dick's a bit of a reckless bastard.

True that, every Dick does fancy himself a big shot. I recommend you duck, because Dick’s a bit of a reckless bastard.

Some Dicks showed early on they weren’t inclined to the knowledge professions, but their parents were in denial about what this meant for their child’s white-collar prospects. They pushed the career aspirations on him anyway knowing they could always intervene with their network of high-powered friends to help him along. It never crossed their minds to push him toward a skilled trade, reflecting an ignorant bias harboured by many white-collar professionals.

Dick could have devoted himself to honing his skills as a tradesman, which would provide an outstanding living if he applied his time and effort to that enterprise. Like many people with practical skills he could have had his own small business and have been a real master of his own destiny. Sure, he wouldn’t be a CEO of thousands of people, but he’d be financially successful and would be his own boss. He wouldn’t have stolen his high rank away from others with his dirt-bag behaviour; he would have achieved success with honest, hard work.

Instead, Dick went to college with ideas of becoming as financially successful and prestigious as his parents in a profession he was not suited for. Realizing quickly he wasn’t cut out to be a doctor, lawyer, US President, engineer, or accountant, he joined a frat, partied, gang-banged sorority girls, and squeaked by to get his degree in Phys Ed. He entered the white-collar workforce intent on running the show, but found himself in the unenviable position of seeking to advance through the ranks over peers with minds and abilities more suited to the work.

Smart Dick, Dumb DickHe could have decided then to focus on his strengths as a people-person. One quality that Dick seems to have in spades is high energy and affability – sometimes genuine, most times fake. He wasn’t born a Dick, and if he had chosen an environment that didn’t constantly tap into his insecurities about his lack of book-smarts or social ineptitude, he probably could have avoided becoming one. He could have leveraged his people skills to build alliances – a vital skill in an organization with a bunch of big minds who often lack soft skills required to manage groups of people.

In relying on shrewdness, aggressiveness, and posturing to beat back others before they cottoned on to his limited intelligence, he chose to get ahead along the dirt road leading through Dicks-ville. Ever since, he’s been like a virus in the workplace. His colleagues can barely avoid violent fits of projectile vomiting from having to stomach Dick’s over-weening sense of self-importance and generous self-assessment of his capabilities.

In the early days his professionally competent colleagues ignored and avoided the confrontations required to put his bad behaviour in its place, dismissing him as a total moron who would easily be weeded out. What they didn’t see is how this re-inforced his blatant misbehaviour. Nobody realizes until it is too late that a Dick has risen to occupy a rank that vastly outpaces his abilities. But once a Dick has inserted himself, by hook and crook, into the organization’s power structure he has to be forcefully pulled out.

Since childhood, everyone told the hyper-intelligent Dick their brains were going to win them “great things” for the future. Instead of accepting the low-ranking social status of a teen of above-average intelligence and socializing with other gifted peers, they pined for acceptance and failed miserably, which fueled their pathological resentment. They spent evenings and weekends obsessively-compulsively masturbating to Ayn Rand novels in quiet solitude charting the course of their revenge against all the mean mediocrities of the world. Their emotional intelligence wilted on the vine with the total absence of a meaningful social life. They did not have even nerdy friends; they did not get laid. No matter. His prestigious credentials in hand, the world would deliver what was due including the money to buy a social life and all the pick-up artist videos needed to get laid without paying by the hour. See Dick be a Dick

From day one of his ascendant career path, Dick could never to stay long enough in a chair to keep it warm; there was always a nicer chair in an office closer to the top floor with his name on it. He’d finagle ways to be in the same place as influential people in the organization to learn where the opportunities to advance were and kiss their ass incessantly to get it. He’d find the emotionally weak and destroy their will with hectoring and condescension to crush their spirit and make himself look more dynamic.

He yelled and screamed when things didn’t go his way and kicked his co-workers in the gut like helpless dogs when he was in a mood. He always acted out when his insecurities ran high, making everyone else pay the price for his errors instead of owning up and using them as learning experience to help him improve. Dick’s mantra: always move forward, fake it if you have to, this place needs you.

As he begins the climb, Dick befriends those who are smarter and uses these contacts to click into networks of other smart-types. The smart-nerds he keeps close are those who cultivate and care about their reputation as experts. They keep Dick supplied with a steady, reliable stream of novel ideas to pass off as his own when he’s among senior people who will take notice. Once he’s on top, he’ll find a way to marginalize his former brainy confreres, knowing what a pain in his ass they’ll be.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Or rather, every Dick is a cock in disguise. There, I said it better myself. But still.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Or rather, every Dick is a cock in disguise. There, I said it better myself. But still.

Dick does everything to position himself as a prospect for any opportunity to advance in the organization chart. Everything that is, except really investing the time learning any of his jobs to be good at them. For the hyper-intelligent Dick, this would have been easy, had it not been for his sense of entitlement, which makes him too impatient to actually learn a job or to care about honing his people skills. Dick probably got an MBA, which requires more cash than brains, to help him chop twelve years of working in the real world to demonstrate his perceived right to an executive rank. For a Dick, smart or dumb, everything is a temporary stepping-stone on the ascent to out-rank everyone else.

God help the organization that re-inforces this shithead’s ideas of advancing the ladder before he’s really earned it. The moment Dick ascends the ranks he becomes an obnoxious, condescending ingrate who harbours delusions of grandeur. The higher he climbs despite his incompetence and maladjusted behaviour, the more insufferable he becomes. He is possessed by the delusion his abilities, or worse, his attributes as a Dick, warranted him the promotions. There is no incentive to curb the sociopathy in his behaviour. All is lost.

In those rare and fleeting moments of self-reflectiveness – usually when Dick is publicly upstaged by someone smarter than him or who knows more about his job than he does – Dick is momentarily seized by the idea he’s in over his head. “Fuck that” Dick says to collect himself, and then lobs a flurry of passive-aggressive, man-splaining tirades to attack the very being of the weisen-heimer who made him look stupid. He’ll keep up the rear assaults until ‘Mr/Ms Bookworm’ backs down or suddenly finds themselves blacklisted by Dick who knows how to slander with malicious intent better than the best Republican political strategist.

Most interesting man on ... DouchebagsThis is also how Dick deals with what he sees as obstructionist criticism – he shouts it down so hard the other person concedes defeat to spare themselves his incessant blowhard tactics. He has no tolerance for a diversity of views, nor does he see the value in a collegial exchange of disparate ideas to hash out a middle ground on a problem. He is too uncurious to care about other possibilities besides the ill-informed, blinkered one he believes is correct. He sees those who forward alternative perspectives as guilty of insubordination, flouting gratuitous negativity; as Cassandras who won’t follow the pack.

Persecuting underlings is one of Dick’s most conspicuous traits, especially when he’s reached a certain rank and has had a taste of authority, which he is unable to handle intelligently. He cannot understand how his abrasiveness would constantly undermine the morale of people who invest a high degree of job satisfaction in obtaining feedback about a job well-done. Dick’s definition of job satisfaction is having a job.

If Dick is a man, which he usually is, his unceasing torments are more a pathological aspect of a reactive personality completely devoid of empathy, than a calculated campaign of abuse. It’s how he operates, and he thinks people should realise that. It’s not personal, he’s just a tough cookie with high expectations. He cannot relate to what it feels like to be on the other end of his asshole antics.

In the rare case that Dick is a woman, the torment is probably calculated, less openly hostile, but absolutely eviscerating. The most dangerous person in an organization is an intelligent she-Dick, a person so frightening I’m too afraid to lampoon them in this blog post. She-Dick will find me and destroy my life. Did I mention she-Dick is really intelligent?

As a senior person in the organization, Dick’s incessant criticism, lack of encouragement, caustic demeanour, and capricious, panic-stricken series of unreasonable demands throws shards of glass beneath the feet of his direct reports. For years he has sub-consciously learned that a hierarchical corporate culture spawns legions of people-pleasers who respond to aggressive posturing, giving people like him the powers of a puppeteer. With a few churlish displays the shrinking violets scatter frantically to appease the angry ogre, dispatched as they are with meaningless chores of little value to the organization, meant to allay the ill-effects and smooth over the damage wrought by his incompetence.

Cameraman: "Hey Stu, how about you take your shirt off to have one of the last pictures with your mom, the emphysema patient, before she dies" Stu: "No way bro' I love this fuckin' shirt. I wanna remember me an my mom havin' a laugh. Take the fuckin' picture"

Cameraman: “Hey Stu, you wanna take your shirt off so the last picture with your mom, the emphysema patient, before she dies isn’t with the ‘Dick with the shirt’?”
Stu: “Hey bro’ I have a fuckin’ tattoo on my neck, cuz I don’t give-a-shit. I got this shirt my first day outta prison, so I got sense-a-mental value to it. Now, take the fuckin’ picture. Say cheese Ma!”

Here is the million dollar question: if Dicks are so bad, why do they keep rising to the top?

The easiest answer is Dicks love to do the circle jerk with other Dicks. At the top of an organization teeming with Dicks the boardroom is a bro-culture in pin-striped suits. It’s hard to continue being an asshole if the emotional intelligence, brains, and human decency among your colleagues holds a mirror the size of the moon to your stunted being. Even though a Dick at the top is advised to hire people to accommodate his profound shortcomings, he can’t help but promote one of his own because he’s too stupid or arrogant to believe more than his talents are needed. He possesses talent for a whole executive team and really only needs more sets of hands to carry through all the earth-shattering ideas oozing from his ego. In the end, a total Dick looks like the best candidate in the eyes of a total Dick.

His urge to remain unchallenged, to have obsequious subordinates to go along with disastrous errors in his judgement far outweighs his desire to hire competent people who can actually do a good job. They’ll make him look bad. They’ll constantly challenge his shallow decrees with arcane appeals to law, policy, or reason.

This is why it’s taken more than forty years of feminism for women to even begin to crack the glass ceilings across the corporate world. Bros before ho’s, as they say. The lack of women and introverted, brainy types is an historical Dick-slap to the axiom that calls for the upper echelons of large, complex organizations to be dominated by people of bona fide skill and competence. Instead, too many Dicks have risen to the top ranks with bluster, self-aggrandizement, and charm but little else of substance.

The adage is true, when it comes to Dicks, size does matter. Even when the top echelons of an organization is filled with competent and capable leaders, the size of the organization will be a cover for Dick’s misbehaviour. Because of scale alone, legions of influential people won’t really know how Dick operates. Dick is expert at spotting, and ingratiating himself into some fairly opportune glory-holes and hitting paydirt, knowing his reputation will benefit by sheer association. Dick can keep his malevolence in line to ingratiate himself with senior people in a functional division if it means he’ll win advancement. He can peel off his fluffy sheep’s clothing later on when he’s got the power and it’s too late to do anything about it.

Everybody loves a bunch of corporate dudes in suits getting their thizzang on with some gangsta shit.

Everybody loves a bunch of corporate dudes in suits doing their thizzang with some gangsta shit.

Organizations that rhetorically value competency, that have complex, challenging goals to achieve, will pay the price in poor performance if there are too many feeble-minded, megalomaniacal Dicks in the boxes near the top of the organization chart. Large organizations of knowledge-workers rely on the collaborative efforts of its human capital to succeed, which is totally undermined with the hyper-aggressive, childish, morale-killing behaviours of a hyper-ambitious, emotionally stunted leadership cadre. They will crush the will and spirit of competent, capable human assets wherever they exist in the organization. These valuable would-be leaders will leave before they deign to ascend the ranks, avoiding having to withstand the nightmare of working more often with so many Dicks in their face.

Nobody with genuine abilities to speak of will invest their sweat equity only to have it beaten down to nothing in the self-interested grabby-hands of a bunch of Dicks. That’s why organizations need to get a good grip on those Dicks and yank ‘em out; let the Dicks have a taste of what it’s like to get the shaft for once. Do it now, to preserve the long-term viability of the organization and restore sanity to your workforce.

A New Missouri Compromise: Compassion in Place of Fear

Like many others, I was outraged but not surprised by the Grand Jury decision on the shooting death of Michael Brown. Another senseless, preventable death of an unarmed black man in another act of violence meted out by an official sworn to protect and serve his community. No punishment can ever replace a life, and given many recent court decisions in similar cases, the common law suggests there would have been no conviction had the case gone to trial.

Such is the essence of legal nihilism that furthers a disturbing, growing trend in America; that of a gradual withering away of the value of a black man’s life in its institutions of justice. It is alarming given the Courts’ role as arbiter of substantive moral questions in American democracy. When it comes to the lives of black men, the justice system increasingly defers to the implied moral rectitude of police authorities, even where it is clear the series of events from an officer’s initial provocation to a man’s tragic death are racially motivated and involve criminally grave errors.

Racist Rage, Puts Innocent Boy in a CageI used to be in law enforcement. I wasn’t a cop in uniform patrolling the streets, but I had a badge and enforced laws of parliament. I know what it is like to have an enforcement mandate aimed at keeping the peace and compelling respect for the laws of a country. When you engage those who may be breaking laws you don’t have the luxury of knowing the level of threat you’re dealing with. I worked with enough police to know how thankless and dangerous the job can be. Every time there’s a story about a police officer using excessive force against a black man, knee-jerk outrage is tempered by an understanding of the threat and fear police must work with day by day.

The workplace of police is often textured by violence, especially in the United States, where citizens are passionate about their weapons of destruction. It’s a police officer’s job to engage in situations where there is little doubt about the violent intentions of those they encounter. There is little room for error, and possibly fatal consequences if they have to second-guess their authority to employ lethal force if the situation escalates to an unacceptable level of threat. While that may be, it is also obvious, the risks incumbent in the job combine with racial biases that lead too many American police officers to ascribe higher degrees of threat from non-compliant behaviours in black men. The thresholds to justify their use of force, especially lethal force, are much too low in these cases.

It is an outrage to have to say this in the twenty first century, but black men in America must find a way to contain their anger when engaged by a white police officer given the divergent world view they bring to the job. This almost certainly involves a disreputable narrative of black men they carry from a childhood largely devoid of regular, meaningful contact with black peers.

A black man competes with a mental image engraved in a white officer’s mind by years of adverse conditioning. It renders him deaf and dumb to your protestations, to your calm, elegant appeals for reason. It makes him misconstrue all your actions as indicative of escalating threat. It is best if you silently capitulate to their commands or risk inciting the wrath of an official drunk with delusion about the expansiveness of their power and authority.

This doesn’t justify cops who kill when a subject fails to comply with police orders. Anyone trained in law enforcement knows that non-compliant behaviours – yelling, clenching fists, uttering verbal threats – merely justifies enhanced measures to engage a subject; the use of pepper spray, batons, or tasers to subdue a person, place him in restraints, and sit him down in your vehicle for quiet reflection. The mere fact of non-compliance does not justify an officer’s drawing of their weapon, unless there is a clear indication a subject aims to use a lethal instrument themselves.

The drawing of a weapon is a de facto statement of intent to use it, and those grounds need to be as justifiable as the death arising if events subsequent to it spiral downwards. The officer’s reasoning should always be tested in a court of law if there is a death, especially when the dead is unarmed. All the facts must be laid out to confidently rule out criminal errors in the officer’s judgement and afford the dead a chance to rebut the officer’s self-serving assertions to justify his needless taking of a life. In America, the courts are supposed to be the ultimate judge of who is a thief, a drug dealer, or even a suspect, not a cop on the street; the punishment the law prescribes for said crimes is not death.

The fact black men must make their case in the street with guns pointed and adrenaline drowning out a man’s reason, when everyone else gets their day in court, is an insidious aspect of American police culture that black men cannot wish away. It must be heeded to ensure the worst in a police officer’s street justice you experience is an escalation of your righteous indignation. Your pride may be wounded, but at least you’ll be alive.

If a black man demonstrates anger at being unreasonably stopped by police it will amplify the inference of threat the cop believes you already present; which informed their reasons for engaging you in the first place. Every gesture you make will confirm the hypothesis, fueling a perception you’re reaching for your putative weapon. So breathe, do what it takes to be silent and still, and obey the commands. Learn the positions law enforcement in your area are trained to understand as giving them total tactical advantage and know how to assume these positions calmly.

Innocence, irrespective of colourThese are tragic words for a black man such as I am to concede. I am lucky compared to American blacks. I grew up with my mother and her white family in Canada, a nation whose racist zeal is largely reserved for Aboriginals. My maternal grandfather was born to a Massachusetts establishment family who were of Quaker descent and among America’s founding colonialists.

I did not have any contact with my African-American father or any part of my black lineage, so I am merely a distant witness to the indignities of black American existence. I feel possessed at times by conflicting emotions pulling at me from both sides whenever racial tensions are aroused. I think ‘it could have been me,’ and then I become fearful and angry on a purely existential level; the idea certain whites, none of those I personally knew as friends or family, would be capable of such wickedness and cruelty simply because of the colour of a man’s skin. The colour of my skin.

My entire life I have been a student of America’s political and racial history, keenly aware of my blood ties to both sides of the divide. I’ve witnessed those in US history who look most like the only people I’ve ever loved enslave, persecute, murder, and oppress people who I more closely resemble, but do not know. To gain a sense of black identity growing up in the seventies and eighties, I was captive to what was a clearly racist media bias. From the time I was eleven, my understanding of blacks came mostly from the US network television feeds that came into my city from Detroit. I know perfectly well what any white person not growing up alongside blacks would have gleaned from watching Detroit news.

Myself and my white friends and family saw crack house raids, gang-land murders, drug dealers, pimps, and domestic violence. There in our Canadian living rooms, we’d be left shaking our heads at the never-ending acts of iniquity those dispatches from the black ghettos provided. There would have been no shortage of evidence to make inferences about black delinquency if that is what we were inclined to believe.

It is not difficult for anyone to imagine the impressions about blacks a white rookie cop who grew up in a US white enclave would bring to their job; how that might play in his comportment toward those in a black neighborhood. There would be a felt need to assert their authority as police officers; their bias telling them blacks possess an inherent disrespect for law and order. That would be easily deduced from all the unflattering media depictions laid before their judging eyes since childhood. The inference would be reinforced in the attitudes they heard in comments by parents, family, or other influential adults in their upbringing.

The contact with “reputable” blacks – teachers, doctors, those in their parents’ social network – to sway them from their prejudiced view would have been minimal. That is what happens when nations balkanize; the solitudes exist within the narrow realities of their racial stovepipes. The communities don’t really know each other at all, in spite of how closely their lives are weaved together in society; their toleration for the other remains fragile, weakened by apprehension and mistrust, mired in mutual fear and hostility.

A young white cop in the US would have little personal context for the disrespect and ambivalence they may experience some blacks display toward them. They would have grown up with cops in their neighborhood who were regular good guys that, at worst, busted up a raucous party. As a man, he would not accord much intellectual weight to the sociological phenomenon of black crime; that, to the degree it is higher than other ethnic communities, it is more a function of inter-generational poverty and disenfranchisement than it is to an innate tendency for delinquency. It would require an incredible amount of will and concerted mental effort to dispense with all the negative conditioning about blacks to form an enlightened sense of what they see day-to-day.

Given this, the habit of a white cop would not be to de-conflict or stand-down in their engagements with those perceived – even if sub-consciously – as lawless thugs. Their learned biases kick in, and they are compelled to provocatively assert their power and authority. The lack of common ground between these two total strangers is the catalyst for a tragic misunderstanding. A black man takes umbrage with his perceptions of police abuse, a cop construes this as a lethal threat, and the black man gets killed.

Pensive Times At SchoolOutrage quickly yields to resignation about the sad reality the Ferguson shooting has laid bare. America is a country over-run by a fear so endemic that it’s even robbed police of the mental faculties to compel proportionality in their conduct. Regular citizens see enemies everywhere, carry concealed weapons to fend off all manner of threat, real or imagined, and ready themselves to make war against their fellow citizens. In other words, the people mirror the behaviour they witness among their law enforcement authorities.

Writ large, all individuals, lawmakers and citizens alike, view the right to employ violent means as paramount; to subordinate a life to their own fear and to react in anger for the insecurity it breeds. It is obvious, the fear of powerless black men is profound in America; so much that the laws of the land readily condone violent, angry repudiations of their humanity in the most despicable way for a civil society: by police, in the streets.

I can empathize with how much these incidents diminish the hope for real progress in the wider black community. There is obviously anger about this reality, which increases the odds conflict will escalate with police in encounters provoked by them on the flimsiest legal pretense. The mistreatment is so widespread, so systemic as to smack of genuine persecution; very similar in nature to the tactics of police officials in military juntas.

If I were a white cop, I’d be more self-reflective about my conduct toward the citizens in a black community. It may be unfair to put this on police officers, but excesses in their conduct not only diminishes their authority but it also weakens perceptions of the legitimacy of the state that allows their misdeeds to go unpunished. It is vital to a democracy that citizens’ trust and faith in lawful authorities is maintained, otherwise widespread belief in the corruption of its institutions takes root, and civil society is severely undermined. The very legitimacy of American democracy requires that no more of these deaths goes unpunished; that legal remedies are enacted to address gaps preventing the application of justice to these cases.

The site of the Ferguson shooting reminds me of a quote by a US President:

This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of racism, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of racism itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest. (Source:;cc=lincoln;rgn=div2;view=text;idno=lincoln2;node=lincoln2:282.1)

I’ve substituted ‘racism’ where ‘slavery’ once marked the words of President Abraham Lincoln, the excerpt above from a speech in Peoria Illinois in 1854. The poignancy of his message denouncing the indifference to the expansion of slavery proscribed by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 is relevant to the indifference toward the obvious racist underpinnings of the Ferguson shooting and of so many similar deaths across America.

The rhetorical hand-wringing in mainstream, reputable media of extra-judicial killings of blacks by police shares a common theme with many other political developments in the US. Voter registration laws, gerrymandering of black electoral districts, mandatory sentencing laws, repealing or proscribing of mandatory minimum wage laws, opposition to universal health care, and the slashing of social security benefits are spawned from the same tolerance for covert racism. They directly target the community of slaves brought against their will to build the country, who were supposed to have been free to enjoy prosperity alongside their fellow Americans, but have been willfully kept disenfranchised for generations since by the most conspicuous weapon of violence democracies possess: racist legislation.

Disconsolate SufferingThe world is a grateful benefactor of American ingenuity, innovation and perseverance, as well as to the democractic principles advanced in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. These are treasures in the human endeavour that rightly win admiration throughout the free, industrialized world. That is why the stridency with which so many Americans and their leaders deny racism, espouse racist policies, and condone wicked, racially-tinged actions by institutions at the heart of the nation’s democracy irrevocably tarnishes its reputation. It is a sad renunciation of the great spirit America was founded upon, and is by equal degrees the source of its declining moral suasion in global matters.

It is a state of affairs that renders President Lincoln’s words all too prophetic, another prescient example of his status as a luminary in American history. As he foresaw, the zeal of racism in spite of widespread American denunciation, has indeed robbed the nation of its just influence in the world. If there is anything to be salvaged from these terrible tragedies, one hopes it is the will to reflect on the massive gulf between the goodness Americans extol in themselves and the realities in the maligned existence of the powerless and vulnerable among them. It is a shameful come-down for a nation with such enormous prospects.

The desire to reclaim the noble aspirations upon which America was founded cannot come to fruition unless the cowardice of fear as a unifying principle is dispensed with for political gain and compassion is made to stand in its place. If there is to be no just compromise following this Missouri tragedy, if there are more Michael Browns in American streets, if there are more rhetorical flourishes to cultivate tolerance for acts of covert racism, then fear will have won and American interests advanced by appeal to what is morally just and right will be dismissed as insincere shibboleths around the world. They will seem like words as hollow as the promise of justice denied to powerless Americans who suffer, and need it most.

Let’s Not Spell Away the Soldiers and The Fright, Let’s End the Violence in the Fight

Any glance at the daily media easily attests to how attached humanity is to the use of violence to solve our problems. This is obvious in the global setting, but it is also true in our own societies; on our streets and even in our homes. Every day, someone is maiming, killing, or doing serious harm to someone else. It it so prevalent as to seem part of our very nature.

I aspire to be a good Buddhist when it comes to this stuff. I do a lot of meditating, and I am intimately familiar with how anger works in the mind, because for a long time I was an angry, cynical individual. Collective violence is a macrocosm of the individual, angry state of mind. The intelligent, educated, and skilled orators are expert at finding clever ways to mask the raw anger beneath ideas and polices that require violent action to see them through.

It is easy to lend support to actions that result in death of innocents when you do so from the extreme comfort far, far away from those who suffer for the violent policies you advocate. It is easy to wax polemic in ways that perpetuate deadly exchanges between enemies when done passionately at quaint dinner parties in suburbia or in heated exchanges on university campuses.

I am not a pacifist. Not exactly, at least. I don’t believe the world’s conflicts are always solved with group hugs. I studied war history in graduate school. My take on violence, in general, is this: if someone is coming at you with an axe, then your efforts to spare your life, by taking the attacker’s life if need be, are rightly viewed as necessary. This goes for when someone is pointing a gun at you with the intent to shoot.

I am an ardent supporter of the men and women who serve in our nation’s armed forces. This is not to say I agree with militarism, but I do believe there’s nothing more noble than to volunteer to serve your country without questions asked. These brave souls have made a career of training and sacrificing to defend their country and people, at risk of death. Given that, there’s a responsibility to see to it their lives and their skills are not unnecessarily employed in ways that dishonour the noble intentions compelling them to sign up.

There are some who claim to be “pro-military” but spend much of their rhetorical and political currency trying to spur politicians into armed interventions for dubious foreign policy aims. In this they cheapen a soldier’s life, as well as the lives of those living in the places they intend to do battle. They also place soldiers in the unenviable position of being the muscle to enact policies that dishonour the integrity in their decision to enlist. It is difficult to read the stories of former soldiers who are ashamed of their service because of the excesses they witnessed among their colleagues who were war-stricken and fearful. We should never have put them in that position. Ever.

Men in suits – politicians, the policy wonks – seem to have no qualms about using soldiers as pawns for their own global pet projects. In so doing, they are advocating killing, and dispatching proxies to do their bidding for them. Worse, they are flouting the responsibility to employ the armed forces in a way that prevents their death – that is, by not sending them where they don’t belong.

Any person who has studied military history knows that armies are made to fight ugly battles in the context of chaos and the constancy of death. They are not purpose-built to “nation-build” or “promote democracy” as many pundits, both left and right, seem to believe. To suggest armies are rightly used for these aims is to espouse delusion.

For example, the US mission in Iraq was doomed to fail, not because Saddam Hussein was a stellar leader, but because there isn’t a single example in the history of human kind where a war caused an instant, positive political shift in the circumstances of the polity left to endure its consequences. Clausewitz, be damned.

In the past, we weren’t as naïve or stupid enough to fight our battles for such nebulous purposes. Prior to the 20th century, militaries were used for nation-building, indeed: imperialism, colonialism, revanchism, and outright plunder for economic aims – to benefit the nations who dispatched their armies. For God and Country they went. This seemed worth the soldier deaths at risk, and there was little care for the “civilians” killed in far-flung lands.

We used armies for craven ends because, well, armies were, and still are, made of soldiers armed and trained to kill. When they weren’t fighting battles in the fields – where it was soldier against soldier with civilians watching unharmed on the sidelines – their more dubious missions seemed like reasonably good uses for armies at the time.

In the early 20th century the League of Nations and then the United Nations were created. It was a codification of a collective international belief that the old aims for dispatching armies were illegitimate in a world made of sovereign nations. The mutually suicidal, nihilistic reality fashioned by the possession of huge nuclear arsenals on both sides of the Cold War also helped keep the lid on military adventures of the old kind.

But today there are a bunch of baby boomers who grew up in the most prosperous epoch in human history. They never personally experienced the horrors of living in a state of total war like their parents. Since colonialism and imperialism were rendered illegitimate causes for dispatching armies, new ideas to fudge the rules were needed. So the lofty aim of “spreading democracy” became the stand-in for “imperialism.” Military interventions to “topple ruthless dictators” became the pseudonym for colonialism.

We don’t have to go back to the misguided revolutionary republican idealism of Napoleon Bonaparte to gain insights into how stupid and impractical using violent means to spread such political ideals is. Hey, I love democracy too. It’s just that, well, you can’t really craft one with the explosive power of tanks, surface to air missiles, and strategic bombing sorties. These are just antiseptic ways to gloss over repeated instances of killing people, which isn’t the best underpinnings for an ethically robust political order.

We needn’t go so far back in human history to make the point. Every single US military intervention from Vietnam onward – direct or by proxy – was grossly unsuccessful in achieving their objectives. The adventures failed to achieve the dubious, illegitimate aims of installing stable, if fascist, US-supporting regimes as much as the well-intentioned ones of toppling unco-operative dictatorships.

Only the first Gulf War was successful, but it was a UN-sanctioned intervention to defend a powerless nation against unprovoked attack. It was successful precisely because its objectives were limited and strictly military in nature: pushing the invading army back to its own agreed-upon international borders. That success should have taught us something lasting about fighting wars in the future.

Aside from unrealistic military objectives, the poor long-term success of many interventionist wars betrays a terrible lack of wisdom their theoretical adherents share. Humans, being what they are, tend to prefer internal machinations to combat the skullduggery of home-grown tyrants among them. Prolonging the misery for a home-grown plan is always better than a more immediate solution imposed by an outside force. It’s not hard at all to imagine how Iraqis or Afghanis would be mistrusting of a bunch of exotic soldiers parachuting in after having blown their country to pieces and saying they’re there for “goodness.”

I feel for modern generals. They have the most thankless job of all the senior bureaucrats in a democracy. They’re expected to prepare for and succeed in the most politically controversial adventures their political masters can fabricate. In my country, they must do so on a limited budget, with aging equipment and insufficient supports to help those who are charged to fight those battles cope with the traumas they face in theatre; situations that are unlike any their fellow citizens could even imagine.

Their noble sacrifice in signing up to serve is dishonored as they are dispatched like mercenaries and left to suffer alone the psychological scars of the horrifying experiences. Think of the massive perceptual shift asked of a soldier raised in Canada, Belgium, or Australia who is dispatched to a place like Afghanistan where they are engaging people like the Taliban who believe in a pre-medieval global order and cheapen human life as such.

All of us have a cousin, friend, or loved one who serves. It maddens me to think they’d be sent off to die or to suffer the psychological torment of having taken lives – all for sake of some political agenda with a very limited chance of success in the end. Secretly, I bet most generals take the same position as me, the pussy-footed Buddhist, when it comes to the utility of the armed forces: fight battles that are vital to your actual survival and no more.

The mission in Iraq, and others like it in the decades before, put soldiers who believed they were doing something noble into the unenviable position of being perceived as thugs and plunderers in the countries they were dispatched to occupy. Yet I will say those who have died in such missions have not done so in vain. They died trying to serve their country. That willingness to sacrifice gave their life more meaning than any citizen could hope to achieve.

The blood of the soldiers’ deaths is on the hands of those who sent them to battle without fully appreciating the realities of what is involved in such a mission. They sent people to kill and be killed for objectives that they should have known would not succeed.

The sad reality is, this true of nearly every decision to employ lethal violence to solve our problems. They do not work, even if we dearly wish to cling to the belief they do. The argument against killing is as much moral as it is practical, which is surely no coincidence, but an axiom which makes most decisions to employ violence for political aims reckless and inhumane.

The moment one has to start getting into rationalizations of why the killing of innocents is an unpleasant consequence of “necessary” violent actions, one leaps into an ethical abyss. Any human being who claims moral high ground from whatever pulpit they happen to stand upon, but then speaks from there to extol lethal actions to make amends, or to advance some specious doctrine or other is engaged in something reprehensible. Any demagogue who claims killing “infidels” or “occupiers” is a worthy pursuit – for God, for justice, or other alleged grievances is a fraud. Anyone who can ramble off their coffee-shop diatribes about the justifiability of actions that inevitably kill innocents is being a fool.

Those who see virtue in violence to effect lasting political change prey on the total, absolute, collective ignorance to the realities of what is involved in such actions. And in large part, they succeed. Shame on all who allow it, for lacking a sense of history and humanity that, if heeded, would easily compel our thinking to change. Shame on us for our lack of imagination, for our inability to come up with solutions to human problems that do not constantly entail the death of children and innocents in the achievement.

Worst of all, our addiction to violent solutions perpetuates the idea that killing for a notion, an artifact of a delusional mind, is a legitimate intention for a sentient human being to possess. It never is. I’d like to see any man try to convince a child otherwise.

To borrow from Robert Graves, our use of violence too often requires us to “spell away the soldiers and the fright” in our minds when it comes to armed warfare. It’s the way we’ve made it a palatable solution in our minds. I wish we’d take greater pause after counting the dead, and commit to sacrificing no more lives in violent actions that so not work and demean our humanity.

Why I Hate Golf

I hate golf. In my teens and twenties I played it dozens and dozens of times. I took a number of lessons; was the recipient of reams of unsolicited, compassionately offered, woefully conflicting advice and golf tips. I kept at it for many years, hoping against hope time would overcome my innate inability to grasp the game.

After all that money and time, I still sucked. So I abandoned it, partly out of frustration, mostly out of humiliation. Screw you golf. Screw. You.

The abandonment has left me in a dicey social situation as I enter my mid-forties. Where I live, most men of my age play golf for leisure and exercise.

The fact that I am abysmal at the sport is easy enough to overcome. Practice more, right? Except, I have other pathological reasons I can’t bring myself to spend the time to get better at the game. So I stand on the outside looking in on what I’m told are a host of lost, stellar networking opportunities.

I’ve always been a little wary of golf’s alleged economic utility as a “business networking opportunity.” It seems like a great excuse for executives to slough off work and family while looking as though they are working. It’s in the same category of bald-faced lie  I’d tell my mother when I was a kid as she stomped her foot awaiting my arrival at three-thirty in the morning. “Sorry ma, I was the only sober one and had to drive all my drunk friends home.”

Lofty, my good man. Dare I say, even noble of you. But still, total bullshit.

As a black kid who grew up in a fairly well-heeled, white establishment family – in other words, at the country club – I grew up around golf and those who played it. There was not much captain-of-industry behaviour on evidence, even though most folks there were, in fact, captains of industry.

Instead there was tons of problem-drinking, conspicuous consumption, and ostentatious displays of wealth. There were golf-widows sloshed at the clubhouse bitching about their ‘help’, parading exquisite wardrobes to fuel the outward pretense of happiness, and feigning jet-lagged exhaustion after returning from Third World getaways, where the people were so quaint in their inferiority and all-around poverty.

I learned every slur in existence for every non-white person imaginable; and some for white people who apparently weren’t quite white enough for the WASPs who golfed in my town. Irish people, Italians, and Jews seemed white to me, but noo-ooo they were much more than that; they were also mick, paddy, dago, kike, cheapskates.

This is documentary about some rich, blowhard white dude with stupid hair, and - surprise, surprise - is so mad about golf he decided to buy up pristine ecological land in a country where golf was invented so he and his three richest friends could have links to call their very own. Screw those funny-talking Scots where my "passion" was created. Fucking douche-ass golfer.

This is documentary about some rich, blowhard white corporate guy with stupid hair, and – surprise, surprise – who is so mad about golf he decided to buy up pristine ecological land in a country where golf was invented so he and his three richest friends could have links to call their very own. Screw those funny-talking Scots where his “passion” was created. What an ass-bag, frat-boy Trump has become in his old age.

Every single important member of the local establishment made a constant presence. These were all white guys with high-end cars glistening in the parking lot, and price tags that collectively could feed a large city in Nepal for a year. The golf course seemed the perfect refuge for rich white men to escape the persecution of corporate underlings, wives, families, poor people, insider-trading investigators, union thugs, and tax regulators.

The dinner conversations were scintillating for their lack of diversity and banal predictability: corporate types bashing unions, socialist politicians, and civil servants for being lazy, leeching pricks. Self-aggrandizing boasts about their latest property acquisition or appointment to some Board of Directors; braggadocio about the purchase of a yacht in Miami or a catamaran in the Bahamas.

There was never any self-reflection about the so-called profitability of their lavish paycheques being loafed away at the country club. There was genuine belief in the specious proposition that their trickle-down wealth was a boon for the masses, evinced as much by their stock options as by their unceasing commitment to golf as their chosen high-end pastime.

How naive I was to assume high falutin’ people like neurosurgeons or heads of banks, industrial magnates, and food manufacturers would not have five hours three times a week to spare chasing a ball around a beautifully landscaped field. I’m a white-collar government worker – or, in golf-corporate-guy-speak, a lazy, good-for-nothing tax-wasting leech – and I have never, ever had time to shirk my job on a Thursday afternoon for even half a round of golf. I barely have time to eat my lunch away from my desk. No matter, I am not making this country economically amazing by sheer force of my corporate essence.

But still. I do wonder, how the fuck does a CEO running a billion dollar company acquire a 2-handicap?

A shit-load of golf, that’s how. That’s a lot of *cough* *sniffle* sick days. Or, a lot of blowing off work and “delegating” it to minions. Or, a lot of cocaine so you can work your ass off and play enough golf to make the PGA tour, all of which can only be achieved if you sleep no more than two hours a night.

Herein lies the pathos from which my little poison tree of hate for golf springs. The country club is a throwback to a bygone era of monarchy and aristocracy that is now occupied by the corporate elite. It is extremely well-paid leisure, the modern-day salon for those of a certain hierarchical rank; a place of exclusivity to reward for sacrifices of time, energy, and commitment to a single cause: personal and corporate wealth accumulation. Once achieved the real work of soaking up the good life begins without pestering by underlings, and other quaint riff-raff elements of regular society.

But the exclusive golf country club is also a vital social space for the monied elite to collectively consolidate and perpetuate the power and influence their wealth affords them. It is a milieu like no other to allay misgivings the rare progressive-minded members of the group may harbour about the moral illegitimacy of their exorbitant wealth. Such trifles easily vanish among peers of similar status; those who, by comparison, render the perverse extremes of their charmed existence perfectly rational and normal.

No other setting is as instrumental as the golf club in cementing such a narrow, shared ethic among this group; one that postulates a singularly greedy, atavistic, heartless society that is collectively defended to the detriment of absolutely everyone; which undermines the democratic ideals that made their despicable wealth even possible.

It is at the country club where uber-rich, pale-faced men wring their hands of the graft and influence-peddling they routinely engage in on behalf of shareholders and themselves. It is where corporate mavens persuade politicians to stage military “interventions” in oil-rich places so their service companies can “re-build” those nations destroyed by the deployment of planes and munitions made in their weapons companies. This, for a massive, untendered, publicly funded fee that helped pay for the country club membership where they nefariously gloat.

A round of golf among plutocrats provides a spectacular setting to count their cash without fear of retribution and scorn; their media and lobbying companies having masterfully convinced scores of disenfranchised, ignorant, poor fellow whites that the piles of individual wealth and privilege they enjoy is their wealth too. At the same time, over cocktails at the nineteenth hole they scheme and cajole policy makers into eliminating their tax burden so those living on a diet of Doritos and microwave meals in trailer parks, who earn non-subsistence minimum wages are certain to have no affordable services as a safety net to guard their health and well-being from the perils of their shitty existence.

Even though these dirtbags propagated the trickle down bullshit that has stained our collective consciousness for three decades, they spend countless hours on the links making sure not a fucking cent of their amassed wealth actually trickles down. And as they proudly stroll the links they agree to pool their cash to ensure the poor schlubs for whom they’ve turned off the ‘trickle tap’ will never earn a decent living by buying off legislators to oppose any increases to their minimum wages. This, because the wage-increase threatens to diminish their ability to buy another yacht. Or palace. Or other country-club membership.

So, it seems I stand corrected. Business is getting done at the golf club. Mea culpa.

I’m told that this is apparently no longer a conspicuous aspect of golf. There are lots of public courses. There is golf around the world. It is “the people’s sport.”

There is Tiger Woods, too, after all. It struck me how quick folks in the industry were to demonize him for his philandering a few years back. The gaggle of frat boys getting their licks in – as if they really believed Tiger was the first golfer in the history of the PGA, the first rich celebrity, who took in a little extra-marital schtupping.

Tiger Woods is the only man of wealth and profile who didn’t keep his dick in his pants, eh? Give me a fucking break. I almost died from the sanctimony about how his salacious behaviour “had no place in golf.” No, but racist, sexist membership policies at country clubs is just fine, right?

The issue: Tiger was an uppity ‘nigra’ (as Strom Thurmond loved to call us) who was too dominating, and too dark, for the links. Plain and simple. The frat-boys just could not resist the first opportunity to give that boy, his long-overdue whippin’ for raising his head too high.

But let’s get real, Tiger Woods is one black ass in how many years of the game, among how many millions of blacks in the US? One. One!

Where are the Hispanic-Americans on the Tour? Why are Spaniards and Mexicans the closest thing we will get to seeing young Jesus Flores from San Antonio as the Hispanic household names we hear about in golf? Because in their countries the elite-filled country clubs simply could not ban Hispanics in the same way as US country clubs. That would have been weird and foolish in Spain and Mexico, one suspects.

Okay, so he ain't Mark Twain, but he was a great golfer... No. For chrissakes, it ain't Denzel Washington. It's Vijay Singh. Gawd.

Okay, so he ain’t Mark Twain, but he was a great golfer… No. For chrissakes, it ain’t Denzel Washington. It’s Vijay Singh. Gawd.

I haven’t forgotten Vijay Singh. For the degree he was dominating the game at the time, his profile was extremely limited. If Phil Mickelson had been winning as much as Singh, I’d have seen his chubby pink face covering every nook and cranny of ad-space where people buy Wonder Bread and bologna.

Vijay Singh was an enigma to the game for years. You could tell folks in the industry and the legions of American fans in suburban gated communities were happy he mostly slipped back to his opulent bamboo hut in the South Pacific. It was a relief to no longer see this enigma who looked like Denzel Washington but spoke with an accent that made him sound like ‘those people’ who drive cab kicking Billy-Bob’s ass every weekend on the links.

So yeah, of course, there are a couple of token non-white folks excelling at the highest levels of golf. But there are like, six billion non-whites in the world compared to a few hundred million whites. There’s something not quite right about those PGA demographics, methinks.

Every time I open up some business magazine because there’s nothing else to read on the porcelain throne, I’m struck by the canard my non-white buddies implore me to dispense with about golf being a white corporate-guy ‘sport.’ And yet there it is, staring at me as I flush, the profile of yet another CEO spewing the same drivel about a passion for the exact same hobby the other 499 fortune 500 CEOs share: golf. Snooze.

How does that happen in a place as geographically and demographically vast and as ethnically diverse and populous as North America? Just once, I’d like to see some CEO say he’s into yoga, or Ultimate Frisbee, or triathlon. These are all hobbies that would take less time away from the office than golf, by the way. Why aren’t shareholders outraged by this fact?

And so there it is. The treatise of my psychological disdain for golf. It ain’t The Prison Notebooks but it’s how I see it.

All this with full awareness that there are lots of nice, non-rich, non-white people who play golf. There are public courses for the plebes who care to hit the links. There’s tiger, and those Korean guys. True, that.

But it’s still in large part an elitist sport because of those who flock to it, and for how many courses are organized as exclusive and private. It’s had a history of foreclosing its doors to folks who look like me; to others with a vagina; to those who think Jesus was a way awesome dude, but not THE DUDE.

These issues are top of mind as I consider the time and effort it would take to improve my game. I’d like to be able to seize the opportunity to spend a few hours getting to know some dudes on the links. I would love to have a reason to tell my boss I’m out “networking” for good of the organization and not have them laugh in my face as they tell me to get my black, tax-leeching ass back to my cubicle.

In my case, at least three or four bags of 'em.

In my case, at least three or four bags of ’em.

But my golf game really sucks. I’ve had terrible experiences as a hack that have prompted me to avoid the links until I do what it takes to play with some level of acceptable competency. I know enough golfers to realize there is no such thing as a no-humiliation round in golf. But then, an unlucky few have had to bear witness to the atrocity, to the crime against humanity, that was my golf game. I would die to achieve the rank of just a few humiliating spectacles in a round of golf. That would be a darned good day in my golf books.

I’ve nearly had fist-fights with course Marshalls who simply thought I was fucking with them in how bad I was playing; as if I was an acting out seven year old and wanted to slow down the play of the entire golf course.

“No, Mr. chain-gang supervising Marshall Man, I AM, in fact, that shitty. Now back off and be quiet, I’ve got a tee-shot to duff.”

And then *bam-pfft-pfft-pfft*. I duff the ball as predicted, and my second shot lies twenty feet from the tee box.

The Marshall says “Okay gents, let’s keep the game moving.”

Before I know it, my skin begins turning green and my clothes explode away from my body. I become apoplectic; the insults to my pride endured far too much in a single day for a thin-skinned black man who once believed himself athletic enough to pick up any sport, especially golf. Pffft.

“Damn you, Marshall. Don’t make me angry!”

Small children flee in fear, retired nuns – all of whom I watched out-drive me on the seventh tee – pray for my soul as they scatter; for the blasphemy of my golf game as much as for my profane, possessed lack of grace in the face of adversity.

I storm off the course having impaled my seven iron so hard into the earth from frustration that I could not pry it loose. I wake up confused in the bushes hours later, wondering what destruction I’ve caused this time, and how I’m going to convince police I’m not a perv when my balls and ass are visible through my shredded clothes.

That was nine years ago, the last time I golfed. I think the Marshall’s hectoring touched a nerve in my ancestral karmic DNA. It conjured up the angry, enslaved cotton-picker inside who I never knew existed. He was tired of being bossed around by the horse-riding, ass-whoopin’ minions of those mean, mean plantation owners.

Afterwards, I had to write a letter of apology to ensure my brainwashed golf-loving friends would be allowed back on the course. But I think my photo is still on the wall of banned individuals who’ve been caught sneaking on course to steal golf balls or who’ve been chased off by security guards after skinny dipping in the water hazards at night (in which case, there are day AND night photos of me on the wall-of-shame).

Dear golf course,

Please accept my seven-iron as a peace offering for my inexcusable conduct. You will need a decent back-hoe to extract it from the ground near the sand-trap on the front of the eleventh green. In the hands of a more accomplished player, I am certain it is a top-notch club. In my case it was an outstanding landscaping shovel.

Please also tell Sister Mabel and the ladies from the bridge club in her golfing party that I didn’t really mean what I said about old people being like human mould. It was raw emotion behind insensitive remarks about detesting them because they fart in elevators and drive in the middle of the road at a speed that allows those riding their bikes to pass. It’s sweet how they haggle at the grocery store for fifteen minutes over coupons meant for a different store. I always know I won’t get bilked by inattentive sixteen year-old cashiers after Sister Mabel’s given them a drubbing-down.

There is no excuse, but by way of explanation it was my seventeenth stroke on the hole where things went awry. I was feeling frustrated by the state of my round. Sister Mabel seemed to be gloating a trifle more than golf etiquette – and The Lord – would suggest is appropriate about having made the green in one. So she alleges, anyhow. Only she and her Maker really know.

It touched a nerve. She seems like a sweet little, old innocent nun, but on the course and she’s as gnarly a competitor as Beelzebub and could give Robin Thicke a run for his money as douche-of-the-year.

As it happens I was on pace to beat my personal best of 173 before I scuttled the game. So it is I who lost more than the small children and others traumatized by my descent into lunacy.


Edmund K. Saunders

P.S. Your course Marshall is as nutty as a Jay-bird in enforcing the pace of play.

I realize golf is just a game, after all. It should not matter if I am terrible and random white people get angry with me when my amateurish play slows things down. It shouldn’t matter if it is a pastime for every witless, morally repugnant oligarch in North America.

But it does.

So, my ostensible plutocrat golf-buddies, you are free to plot your schemes for world domination. And you can do so without having to endure the caustic musings and foul play of this ‘nigra’ to burst whatever delusional bubble sustains your entitlement to horde society’s wealth. Carry on, chaps.