Neil Peart, 1952–2020

Neil-Peart

Neil Peart had little interest in the Rock formulas, setting the band apart from their peers

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JANUARY 11, 2020 • Obituaries

IN THE EARLY 70s John Rutsey started a band with school mate Alex Zivojinovich. Their lead singer and bass player, Jeff Jones, left the band and soon after John left too. Jeff was replaced by Gary Weinrib, who took the name Geddy Lee, and Rush acquired a drummer by the name of Neil Peart. You know the rest.

My introduction to Rush was 1980’s Permanent Waves. This exciting new band had seven albums and a couple minor hits to their credit, but it was the songs The Spirit of Radio and Freewill that delivered fortune and fame. The songs sounded like nothing else we were hearing in 1980, a remarkable fact, because there was a lot going on then. Ska, Post-punk, New Wave, Reggae, and Disco were flourishing, but even among their progressive and hard rock peers, Rush were distinct. Hugh Syme’s grainy, post-apocalyptic, and artsy cover was an instance of form following content, perfectly capturing the spirit of a band that took its music seriously without taking themselves seriously.

Neil Peart wasn’t merely a drummer, he was a reader and a writer with a melodic approach to percussion. Neither Geddy Lee or Alex Lifeson had a knack for words, although Lee had been forced into the role of lyricist when John Rutsey tore up his sheets for the first Rush album. Peart’s imaginative lyrics recalled bands like Genesis and Led Zeppelin, grounded as they were in obscure myth and philosophy. At bottom they conveyed the struggle of the individual against conformity and compromise. Peart had little interest in the Rock formulas, which set the band apart in a manner satirized by the Trailer Park Boys character, Ricky:

Helix was a wicked concert. They had good lyrics. “Give me an R O C K,” and the crowd yells Rock really loud. Rush’s don’t do stuff like that. They got these lyrics about how trees are talking to each other, how different sides of your brain works, outer space bullshit.

Peart’s lyrics in other words weren’t for everyone, but in the 1980s and 1990s Rush produced a stream of albums capturing the restlessness of life in the 905 suburbs and celebrating the interior world of those who neither fit in nor wanted to. Along the way he penned nostalgic songs like Lakeside Park, a tribute to the St. Catharines waterfront where he had spent his youth. As a Brock University student I spent a good amount of time there myself. Rush was Canadian in a way and to a degree that others, such as Neil Young, are not, and to appreciate their music it probably helps to be from a certain time and place. This is not to deny their worldwide appeal, only to point out the fact that they remained rooted in their origins.

Neil Peart yielded an army of air drummers, and at one time or another many of us were the Jason Segel character from Freaks and Geeks, playing along to Tom Sawyer in our parents’ basement. John Bonham’s performance on Kashmir is the only worthy rival.

Rush’s Moving Pictures tour, which arrived at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium on May 9, 1981, was my second, or maybe third, stadium show. (Don’t ask me to recall the details: there were a lot of substances at a rock show back then.) The show was memorable not only for the skill of the performance, but because Peart lost the beat during The Spirit of Radio and threw off the band. The audience, and for that matter the band, had a good laugh. That was something audiences weren’t likely ever to see.

Rush would release fifteen studio albums and perform into the middle of the 2010s, when the physical stresses of performance would force Peart into retirement. In interviews Neil Peart was shy and retiring, as well as unassuming, and in life he was private. No one knew how seriously ill he had become. As Matt Gurney notes in an obituary, “Peart liked to slip out of his concerts without drawing any attention so he could ride off on his own, finding his centre again. It’s no surprise he chose to exit this life the same way.” ⌾

The President Doesn’t Know What He’s Doing

Donald Trump

Qasem Soleimani deserved what he got but this doesn’t redeem the clueless incompetence of the President

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JANUARY 3, 2020 • Current Events

I HEARD ABOUT Qassem Soleimani’s killing, by American drone, on Twitter—the same place where I found a National Post article describing him as (I’m not making this up) a “hugely prominent Iranian military leader and Instagram celebrity.”

Everyone could tell prima facie this was a big deal. Of course the Iranians would retaliate: the fact was so obvious, even Lindsey Graham soaked it in. Beyond that though everything was wild speculation. This attack is a diversion from impeachment; the President is going to declare martial law and suspend the Constitution; it’s going to be the Iraq War all over again. And so on, and so on. Alas and alack each and every reach for an analogous moment stretched into an era when wars were not conducted by drone and rumours of war were not arbitrated by Instagram celebrities. In other words, and in case you need to be told, it’s 2020 and not 2003.

ABOVE: One of the President’s agitprop stooges with a turd of a proposal. Last December, Trump abandoned the Kurds, and in doing so gave Syria and Turkey permission to undertake ethnic cleansing. The Kurds have watched Trump oblige dictators and would be fools to trust him.

It would be bad enough if history repeated. The American effort to bring democracy and peace to Iraq has fared poorly, to put it in the most bland of terms, but the proxy and cyber warfare that the United States is now likely to face will be even more challenging to its military and security capabilities. At the same time news of Soleimani’s death was making the rounds, a Haaretz article (Trump Envoy to Visit Israel, Discuss Middle East Peace Plan After Months of Standstill) put into my mind the terrible thought that the Trump administration will be as effective at war as it has been at peace, and for the same reason: the placing of loyalty above competence. On this principle the President has shaped the White House and the Departments of Justice and State. What does nepotism at war look like, you ask?

The Peace Team
ABOVE: Jared Kushner and Avi Berkowitz, the President’s Middle Earth Peace Squad. Neither of these kids have ever had a real job.

Donald “End the Endless Wars” Trump has threatened to bring fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen, to North Korea. (This was before he fell in love with Kim Jong-un.) He once bombed a Syrian airstrip. Momentary reactionary rage and impulsive but pointless bombings are what he does best and indeed his only military strategy, so far as we know. If he has anything else up his badly-tailored sleeves, he’s kept it a secret. Don’t misunderstand me. Soleimani deserved what he got and, yes, war with Iran hasn’t been so much declared as it has been acknowledged. What happens next is beyond everyone, including the incompetent President. ⌾

Mediocrity and Managed Decline

borisjohnson

Boris Johnson, Political Theatre, and Magical Thinking

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 28, 2019 • Current Events

BORIS JOHNSON’S first Parliamentary appearance as Prime Minister was a performance, but you needn’t have been told. Again in the Anglo-American world a celebrity made-for-television brand has sailed into office and it happens that you can step into the same river twice. Britain’s age of mediocrity and managed decline is over, said Mr. Johnson, adding other doses of self-help therapy and positive thinking. On the world’s stage Johnson has played the Etonian twit, provocateur and prevaricating flâneur, but in his new self-styled role—of Churchill—he now cajoles the British to Stay Calm and Carry On and to weather a storm that he himself created.

We live in an age of theatre and magical thinking, but the Boris Johnsons of our world are symptoms rather than diseases, and as such not to be held responsible. Given an opportunity the people will doubtless anoint him, as elsewhere idiots are receiving the village mandate. A no-deal exit is the path of least skill and effort to the maximum of chaos, reflecting the character of its perpetrators. It’s hard to imagine Johnson failing so long as success is defined in subjective sentiments rather than as objective units of achievement. It will do for this Prime Minister that the tribe is forever angry and anxious for a scapegoat. Johnson is a student of the classics and knows what an ostrakon is. He has learned from Herodotus that historia (ἱστορία) is found where power and drama meet, and he will be certain to whip the Hellespont.

Meanwhile as we are laughing at the spectacle he will govern in the manner of every iconoclast and populist—as a generic kleptocrat. His administration will starve the treasury of corporate revenues and put the makers of red tape out of business, thereby rewarding the special interests who fund his campaigns, and the foregone taxes will be balanced against diminished government services and enlarged deficits. His social and economic class will receive their comfort in the form of hard currency while the people get soft sawder. Carrie Symonds will keep at the business of making it harder to comment upon the buffonish cut of Johnson’s jib, but she will not conquer his love of rocking the ship. As in the past Johnson will claim that up is down and that the weaker is the stronger, and his policy on cake will continue to be “pro having it and pro eating it.” Apart from this the Prime Minister’s policies and principles remain a matter of divination, and best of luck. All we can know as certain is that Prime Minister Johnson will persist at the throwing of dead cats on dining-room tables and that it will take a Delian Diver to get to the bottom of his appetite for attention.

As I have said Johnson and his kind are a symptom and not the disease. The disease is credulity, and you will find it in large measure among his enablers. In the weeks and months ahead we will be informed that Mr. Johnson is not the tosser apprehended by our feeble human senses but a player of multi-dimensional chess. Somewhere Britain’s Ben Garrison will appear, to materialize the delusion of Johnson as a Saviour-King—one might as well start with this Quillette passage, by Toby Young:

With his huge mop of blond hair, his tie askew and his shirt escaping from his trousers, he looked like an overgrown schoolboy. Yet with his imposing physical build, his thick neck and his broad, Germanic forehead, there was also something of Nietzsche’s Übermensch about him. You could imagine him in lederhosen, wandering through the Black Forest with an axe over his shoulder, looking for ogres to kill. This same combination—a state of advanced dishevelment and a sense of coiled strength, of an almost tangible will to power—was even more pronounced in his way of speaking.

There is something Nietzschean going on here, or perhaps it’s pseudo-Nietzschean, and I’ve noticed it among the supporters of populism. It’s not the will to power so much as the will to believe. They understand perfectly that politicians are corrupt and incorrigible, that the system is against them, that corporations are getting away with murder, and that the populace is fed on a diet of lies. They believe no one and trust nothing—with one exception, a man (it is always a man) for whom they will suspend all disbelief. This man, these otherwise jaded cynics conclude, is different: he is doing this for me, and not for power or theatre. And once again they step into that river. ⌾

The AMC and Indigenous Media

Arlen Dumas

We cannot trust native politicians to deal with their dirty laundry. We need our Indigenous media for that.

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 19, 2019 • Politics

YEARS AGO, while working for a national Indigenous organization, I’d sometimes get a GTTM, or Going To The Media call. The jist of these would be that the Chief, or whatever figure of authority, was guilty of crimes that the caller—isolated, powerless, and alone—was unable to challenge. She (or, as was less often the case, he) would adumbrate the transgressions, ending with the flourish”If you don’t help me then I’m going to the media.”

Help them I did, and not because they had threatened. I had the good fortune of working for an ethical and competent agency, and if someone was misusing our resources I wanted to know about it. My experience was that people rarely if ever fabricated a claim: even when mistaken they believed every syllable of the indictment to be true. So for example a caller notes the purchase of a new dishwasher by a recently funded Director of Health, or whatever it may have been. Well obviously the Director is stealing funds from the program. What else could it be?

The story of Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, is not a new dishwasher story, but it is a Going To The Media one. Two women have told the newspapers about unsolicited texts from the Chief and a third says she and Dumas once had consensual sex. The Chief claims he is victim of a politically motivated smear campaign, and while he admits to sending messages he says that he was responding to an earlier request for advice. Some of these messages came through the account of a Charles Forbes. Dumas says that he has nothing to do with this account, that someone is impersonating him online, and that he has hired a third-party firm to investigate.

For days now this matter has been covered by CBC, CTV News, Global News, and the Winnipeg Free Press. But it was the reporting of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network that triggered an unspoken community rule not to air the dirty laundry where outsiders can see it. I was already well acquainted with this rule when I was getting my first Going To The Media calls over twenty years ago. According to early reports the AMC women’s council stated they would investigate but Chief Francine Meeches, chair of the council, told CTV News that they have no mandate to do so. A women’s council statement later asserted that they will no longer be part of “a media frenzy based on little more than Facebook posts.” The AMC itself took the side of Dumas and against a “media circus which focused on unfounded allegations.” APTN’s Beverly Andrews asked a question about Dumas at a Peguis First Nation press conference and was told to leave. A July 12 article quotes Francine Meeches saying that “APTN’s credibility is BS. It seems more are losing faith in your organization. You represent those who are against First Nations not in support of First Nations.”

Who knows where the Arlen Dumas story will go tonight or tomorrow or next week or month. What endures is this toxic idea that Indigenous media should cheerlead our politicians while burying stories which cause embarrassment in the world outside—especially stories of incompetent, abusive, or unethical community leaders. It’s true that “those who are against us” (a phrase that almost certainly refers to white people) —might read them and discover therein justification of their prejudices. But Going To The Media is also a path of last but necessary resort in the seeking of remedies that cannot be had in isolated communities dominated by powerful families. The Grand Chief’s laundry may or may not be dirty. We cannot trust our politicians to tell us. We need Indigenous media for that. ⌾

The Weaponization of Anti-Racism

I Know Your Are But What Am I

In 2019 everyone is a racist and no one is

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 16, 2019 • Politics

THE BELIEF THAT human characteristics, abilities, and worth are determined by the colour of skin is useful wherever societies are organized along tribal lines. A nation founded upon genocide and slavery will be a nation with a very bad conscience—unless a justification for these can be invented. If one category of human being can be said to be beneath another, whether as a matter of natural law or of divine will, then the myriad inequities established by organized human effort can be treated as a mere expression of nature.

In other words racial classification systems are the product of human barbarities and not the source of them. A man will sleep better at night if he is able to convince himself that the people he enslaves and murders are not as fully human as he is, incapable as they are of thinking and feeling as he himself does. The English for example already ruled over a great many foreign peoples when the faux science of human racial differences developed. Social Darwinism came to America in the late 1800s, after the institution of slavery and the mass murder of Indigenous peoples. The utility of racial conceptions is reflexive, for these conceptions affirm that whatever the supposed injustices or inequalities, some categories of people are by their nature lords and masters of others.

Because this way of thinking about the world regards human beings in the broadest of terms, as groups, it tends toward systemic outcomes. A mass of unique persons must be treated as individuals, especially where character is concerned, but a group whose human characteristics are thought to be shared by virtue of the colour of their skin may be safely organized and managed en masse. This is done most efficiently by means of a systemic approach, which is to say through law and custom and the general dissemination of ideas and beliefs and habits required to maintain the dominance of one group over another. Once a group of persons has been reduced to a common denominator, it is no matter to erect and maintain a system that manages their supposed characteristics, and indeed such a thing will be deemed fitting and even necessary.

The term for apprehending the human world by way of skin colour and other physical characteristics is racism. Once a society has been thoroughly organized according to the logic of racial conceptions, the machinery runs itself almost beyond the notice of its beneficiaries. In a thousand small and subliminal ways these beneficiaries will absorb the habits and outlook of their ancestors and compatriots. Having read only the books written by their forebears, they will know as a matter of course that their ancestors were noble and benevolent. The material and ideological derivation of their outlook will be hidden from view, like the making of sausage, and for similar reasons. For the doctrines of racial human characteristics and racial supremacy to survive, the illusion must be maintained that no such doctrines exist, or exist only as matter of nature and not of human exploitation.

A generation ago it was understood by scholars and activists that racism is systemic in nature. To grow up in a society organized around racist conceptions of human nature and human society is to have planted within one’s mind racist ideas and habits of thought. The work of anti-racism in a society understood to be systemically racist is the work of exposing and critiquing systems—laws, customs, ideology, workplaces, institutions, and so forth. So long as ideas circulate freely and widely in a society, without being challenged, the tendency will be for individual members of that society to adopt them uncritically and in many cases unconsciously. Racism was considered a social and cultural artefact and not the product of an individual and degenerate mind.

Somewhere along the way the work of confronting the rot of racism took a turn. The understanding that racism is a universal toxin, mediated through social systems, gave way to a vigilance for the individual offender. In all likelihood this turn occurred at a time when the perception of political progress made it possible to imagine oneself, and indeed to present oneself to others, as above and beyond the mental disease of racism. In any case the critique of systemic racism has yielded largely to a conception of racism as the provenance of bad people, that is to say as originating in the diseased minds of offenders. If only one can shame enough of these offenders, and drive them out the public sphere, then perhaps racism can be defeated.

Combatting racism from a systemic point of view is one thing, and combatting it from an individual and moral point of view is another. Under the social conception of racism it is a matter of no controversy that we have all inherited a toxic legacy of racist ideas, actions, and arrangements. Understood as an individual and moral failure, however, the charge of racism will in every case be denied and repudiated in the service of career and reputational survival. Over time the characteristics and criteria of generally-agreed-upon racism narrow. The President is unlikely to be considered a racist by his supporters for anything short of shouting the N-word at passersby (if even that) and doubtless there are few if any Trump voters who would say that they are racist. The term is today a grenade lobbied at one’s enemies, not to inflict injury but to hearten the troops, so Trump and his people retaliate in kind. He says that he hasn’t a racist bone in his body—the racists are the Congresswomen who criticize him.

None of this is to deny or downplay the existence of actual, existing bigots or the responsibility that they bear for the contents of their minds. As the politics of America descends into identitarian, tribal warfare it is easy to imagine anti-racism itself becoming simply another weaponized posture with no force or purpose or value beyond immediate political expedience. Perhaps a decade ago leaders might have brokered a deep and nuanced national conversation about race in America, but the time for this appears to have passed. The President does all within his powers to ensure a divisive tribal fight between his inflamed base and an outgroup of migrants, refugees, liberals, and media. The opposition obliges him. Nothing is gained, no one wins, and nobody is better off. ⌾

Nancy Pelosi

2020 Vision

Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi has a long history of knowing when to play it safe and when to rock the boat

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 12, 2019 • Politics

ON THE DAY Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born, 13 October 1989, Nancy Pelosi was two years into a Congressional career that would yield the highest ranking female politician of American history. Pelosi inherited a seat twice vacated by death, the first of Phillip Burton and the second of his wife Sala. From the former Pelosi also inherited a commitment to AIDS research and legislation, concerns which at the time set her apart from the Washington establishment and in particular the Reagan administration.

I begin here to remind the reader—should the reminder be necessary—there was a time Nancy Pelosi was something of an Ocasio-Cortez figure, pushing controversial and outside-the-box thinking on recalcitrant colleagues. As a San Francisco Democrat, Pelosi came to Washington from a district that had been consistently blue since she attended her first national convention in 1952. In the alchemy of these contradictory themes, of safety and boat-rocking, the career of Speaker Pelosi was forged.

No one survives even in the safest of districts without wits, and Pelosi is a sharp and shrewd politician. Obamacare could well and with good reason have been called Pelosicare, dependant as its passage was on her considerable skills. She is among the most competent and effective Speakers of the House of the past forty years. But longevity has its hazards. It wasn’t long ago that Pelosi held up the liberal end of the argument. Today we have the younger and more strident voices of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar—a fresh generation of Democrats keen to take on the President. Pelosi has now become the resistance, not of Trump but of the mavericks within her own party.

The President will not be removed from office by means of an impeachment vote. Pelosi’s calculation is that hearings will only aid Trump’s fortunes in 2020, by supplying fuel to his engine of paranoia and vindictiveness. She’s been around long enough to have noticed that impeachment is now (along with the special counsel) an all-weather political tool, drawn from the chest as a matter of routine business, a habit that does not exactly thrill the public. “You can’t impeach everybody,” she has said, when in fact her career seems to have taught her that you can’t impeach anybody—not even Bill Clinton, whose removal from office had the support of the House but not of the Senate.

The case for impeachment has two aspects, one political and one principle. On the political side one must calculate the electoral hazards, and who can doubt that Pelosi has done so. The principle aspect requires an answer to the question, Does the President merit impeachment? Pelosi’s rivals in the Democratic party have answered this question to their satisfaction. They want to exercise the oversight function of Congress and send a message that no President is above the law. Pelosi however appears interested only in the political calculation.

She believes the centre will hold and that Trump will succumb to something that she calls self-impeachment. The voters will decide. Perhaps in the meanwhile evangelicals will restrain the President in matters such as mass raids and deportations. Secretary Acosta’s illegal sweetheart deal with the child mass-rapist Jeffrey Epstein? The president’s call. There is no role for Congress. When presented a question touching upon the behaviour of the Trump administration, Pelosi spills the phrases I’m not focused on / don’t know much about / am not interested in that. “We have a great deal of work to do here for the good of the American people and we have to focus on that,” she says, without much by way of specifics. As for the mavericks in her party, “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.” Oof. Pelosi has gone beyond not wanting to rock the boat to not wanting to sit in it.

A year ago Joe Biden was the seasoned politician and the beloved Obama sidekick. He was untouchable until suddenly he wasn’t. Survive long enough and you will confront your own obsolescence. It may be that Pelosi is steps ahead of the rest of us, playing a Democratic version of Trump’s QAnon four-dimensional chess. Perhaps Trump will “self-impeach” and the world will be better for it. Perhaps the best course of action is to wait. Nancy Pelosi has a long history of knowing when to play it safe and when to rock the boat. She’s among the smartest politicians out there, until she isn’t. ⌾

The Rot At The Top

Alex Acosta

Was the President involved in the crimes of Jeffrey Epstein?

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 8, 2019 • Current Events

WHEN FBI AGENTS crowbarred their way into the Manhattan home of Jeffrey Epstein, evidence of his crimes was uncovered in a cache of pornographic videos and photographs. No one informed in this topic need be surprised by the chutzpah of a registered high-risk sex offender with a child-porn stash. It’s not as if Epstein hasn’t all along believed in his own version of a Fifth Avenue shooting, that he can do what he wants in broad daylight and get away with it. So far he has, thanks to rich and powerful acquaintances.

At times it was as if he were flaunting. Early in 2003, the journalist Vicky Ward was a guest at Epstein’s home. He left out one book and one book alone for her to notice, The Misfortunes of Virtue, by Donatien Alphonse François, better known as the Marquis de Sade—author of The 120 Days of Sodom and Philosophy in the Bedroom. Well, I mean. The article submitted to Vanity Fair included rape allegations Ward had uncovered, a subject excised entirely by Graydon Carter, at Epstein’s request, from the published version, “The Talented Mr. Epstein.” Between the first and the final drafts, Epstein phoned Ward’s office to tell her how good she looked, before resorting to threats and personal attacks.

Of course the authors of puff-pieces like the preceding Vanity Fair example could not have known then what we know now. What they had were quotations such as this, recorded in 2002 by Landon Thomas Jr. for New York magazine:

I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years—terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it—Jeffrey enjoys his social life.

This speaker now happens to be President of the United States, and the phrase “on the younger side” now happens to be understood as a euphemism for child rape, sexual slavery (according to Vicky Ward, sex slave was a phrase used by Epstein) and what Daily Beast reporter Kate Briquelet has called “a pyramid scheme of predation.” Not only did Epstein rape children, he recruited and paid them to bring other children for him to rape and recruit. In doing so he destroyed many lives, a number of his victims having died of drug overdose and suicide. This week’s news means that the victims, of whom there are now thought to be in access of a hundred, will relive their agony. Epstein in the meantime has enjoyed his considerable wealth, even throughout a 13-month sentence that permitted him to go to his office every day and to travel by private jet (one of which, used by Bill Clinton, was nicknamed the Lolita Express) to his properties in Palm Beach, New Mexico, Paris, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Read the indictment of Jeffrey Epstein

Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 11.18.37 PM

For over a decade the child rapist Jeffrey Epstein has been a registered high-risk sex offender. The list of people who have aided, enabled, and sheltered him both before and after this designation is likely long and will include names that are familiar to the reader. His long-time partner and enabler Ghislaine Maxwell is certain to figure in any credible indictment, and there should also be a reckoning for Alexander Acosta, who buried an investigation into Epstein’s crimes and shielded not only actual co-conspirators but theoretical and potential ones also. Only the tenacity of the victims, and the extraordinary work of journalists like Julie K. Brown, has made an eventual reckoning thinkable. At the very least Acosta—appointed Secretary of Labor by Donald Trump and made responsible for the country’s human sex trafficking laws—should be forced to resign.

Attorney General Bill Barr
Attorney General Bill Barr won’t recuse himself from Jeffrey Epstein case. Barr’s father, Donald, hired Epstein to teach at the Dalton School in New York. Epstein tutored the children of Bear Stearns Chairman, Alan Greenberg, and was later hired as an options trader.

Acosta’s resignation, much like the clean-up of which it would be a part, requires the steel of an administration that is crime-and-corruption averse. But of course what we have instead is a President whose adult life has been an elbow-rubbing and shoulder-slapping of conmen and crooks and thugs. Whatever the character of their relationship, Epstein and Trump are cut of the same cloth. Vicky Ward tells us that Epstein is “someone who wants to be known for the scale of his possessions” and who purchased Manhattan’s largest private residence (51,000 square-feet and nine stories) so there would be nowhere bigger to live. Epstein was a New York City-Palm Beach libertine who wanted to be known for his wealth and his pursuit of women. His modeling agency was itself modelled after Trump’s. So it’s reasonable to wonder how involved with Epstein, if at all, the President was. ⌾

Doug Ford and the Communication Wizards

Doug Ford

From time to time, a pig needs lipstick

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JUNE 21, 2019 • Politics

DOUG FORD’s cabinet shuffle arrives in the waves of discomforting polls and cold receptions—the most noted being the Raptors parade, where people booed the leader of a party self-described as For The People. The government concludes that they have not communicated effectively. In an age when the Party runs its own news channel, on social media, and has taken every opportunity to stage propaganda stunts (featuring cabinet ministers posing at convenience store shelves and gas pumps across the province) it’s equally plausible that they are communicating only too well. The people now know Mr. Ford and his works better, and as a result they are not happy.

Out has gone a Minister disliked by parents of autistic children, not only on account of the government’s cuts to services but also the manner in which the cuts were handled. Was this a failure of communication? Minister MacLeod did no worse than Doug Ford, who told Tommy Lenathen in 2014 to “go to hell.” Lenathen you’ll recall had a son in an Etobicoke home for teenagers with autism, whose residents were characterized by Ford as criminals responsible for ruining the neighbourhood. Lenathen issued a formal complaint against Ford and in response was accused of waging “jihad.” As far as I’m aware nothing came of this sound-and-fury exchange but smoke and ink. Like so much of the Toronto Ford years, there was little substance behind the noise, even Ford’s threats to buy and re-sell the home amounting to nothing more than angry bluster. Communication, ladies and gentlemen.

Having found himself as so often in the past tossing among rough waters, the Premier has rolled heads to make way for recruits who are, we are encouraged to believe, better at the business of managing the message. But let’s pause to note two things: Ford is an agent of malice and chaos, and in this capacity the source of his own misfortunes, and the blunders of his team are on-brand, precisely of the style for which Ford himself is notorious. As a municipal councillor, he drew a rageaholic’s delight in stirring the pot and raising the temperature. There was no issue he could not and did not leave more acidic than he found it. He was and is his own worst enemy, and his restless schtick of aiming a chubby finger at so-called jihadists and elitists changes nothing.

Still, from time to time a pig needs lipstick. Don’t expect the style or the substance of Mr Ford to change: this shuffle is about optics. Replacing the former Finance Minister Vic Fedeli is Rod Phillips, once tasked with the unenviable job of handling the proto-Ford mayor Mel Lastman. Let the CV show that as long as Phillips was in the building, the instability of Lastman’s ego didn’t yield a gigantic black hole. Likewise the new Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, once upon a time protected the Harper government from itself, as a communications staffer. Anyone who was in Ottawa during the Stephen Harper years understood that Communications was a euphemism for party discipline and the screwing of thumbs, a prime necessity in a party cobbled together from diverse and in some cases lunatic elements whose loose lips might on any given day sink the ship.

The Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Todd Smith, is the Government House Leader, a job given to those with a knack for imposing discipline and herding sheep. Like Lecce, Smith will inherit the public ill-will harvested by his predecessor. But the course that brought us here is unlikely to be re-oriented. Every portfolio will be mandated to cut eight cents from the dollar and to consider nothing sacred. Fortunately it turns out that cuts are good for you. The former Minister of Education reminded us that larger classroom populations promote resilience in children. Perhaps the present Minister of Education (who at age 32 is somehow old enough to have been a campaign staffer in the Mike Harris years) will be more saavy. After all, he’s had the benefit of the only decent form of education, a faith-based private education.

Or more likely the Ford administration will continue to have the look and feel and aroma of an administration shaped by the ever-intemperate ever-pugnacious Doug Ford, because that’s what it is and always will be. In no longer than it takes to say “Chardonnay Sipping Elitist” the cunning communicators of Queen’s Park will be recommending some variation on dented cans of tuna fish to Ontario parents, like their spiritual forebears of the Harris government. Ford will continue to surround himself with cronypals, and the cronypals will make it their prime directive to produce a caucus of standing-ovation dittoheads. Back home the voters will wonder over the point of sending MPPs to Toronto, only to have them turned into sheep by Dean French and fed scripts for Borg-like regurgitation in awkward social media videos. This too is a form of communication—a bad form, and one I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more from the communication wizards. ⌾

Update [22 June 2019]:

Dean French Resigns

The Arc of The Deal

The Trump years have taught us to be shocked but not surprised

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JUNE 18, 2019 • Politics

Trump on the escalator

A

S I WRITE THESE WORDS Donald Trump takes to the sky to begin his re-election campaign, fittingly at the Amway Center, a company associated with multi-level marketing and evangelical Christianity. Four years ago his ascension began with a descent (by escalator) and so as the President climbs tonight one hopes for the historical symmetry of an eventual fall. Up he goes today; may he go down tomorrow. There are encouraging signs. When Trump lands, this headline will be waiting: “Our Orlando Sentinel endorsement for president in 2020: Not Donald Trump.”

Enough of the chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption, and especially the lies. So many lies — from white lies to whoppers — told out of ignorance, laziness, recklessness, expediency or opportunity. Trump’s capacity for lying isn’t the surprise here, though the frequency is. It’s the tolerance so many Americans have for it.

An exhaustive inventory of the President’s deficiencies would be exhausting but also unnecessary, there being already many such compilations. In 2016 anyone who cared to know what Trump was knew what Trump was. For decades he had committed to drawing attention to himself. The tolerance of “so many Americans”—62,984,828 to be precise—was in many cases enthusiasm. Sixty-three million voters saw the qualities that the Orlando Sentinel editors see and cast their vote approvingly. The editorial evades the logical conclusion that Trump is no good for democracy and America but American voters (on a diet of reality television) aren’t much good for these either.

Tomorrow’s Sentinel will likely carry stories of white-power nationalists and of rowdy Orlando streets. For the garden-variety racists and the neo-Nazis and the theocrats and the admirers of dictatorship past and present, there has never been a better time to be alive in America. Whatever else one may say of them, the years 2016 to 2020 will be looked back upon by these elements as an American Golden Age, a time when views long driven to the margins could once again emerge into the daylight. Many impracticable objects, such as the mass-deportation of immigrants and state rule by Christian doctrine, became conceivable under Trump. Obama had often quoted Martin Luther King Jr on the “arc of the moral universe.” Maybe that arc could be turned back.

In a thousand ways big and small this has been the work of the current administration. In Donald Trump’s America a class of people who had learned to regard themselves as persona non grata were suddenly in demand and for positions in the highest of public offices. One after another grifters and cheaters and thieves and wife abusers ascended to Cabinet Secretary and Justice and Senior Advisor. And down they came, to be replenished by a fresh influx of third-rate crooks and malcontents. The Best People, according to the President. How surprised they must have been at their good fortune, just as the President himself must have been surprised by the outcome of his campaign.

The Trump years however have taught us that surprise has an arc as well and that it bends not toward justice but uncertainty. In 2015 a reality TV character pursued the Oval Office, and although he was mocked and dismissed, and for good reasons, he prevailed on the votes of 63 million Americans. In 2019 however he will be taken seriously. We are still capable of being shocked, but no longer of being surprised. ⌾

The Happiness of Kalashnikov

One pretends to be happy, but never to be wretched

✎  Wayne K. Spear | April 17, 2018 · Fiction

MY NAME IS KALASHNIKOV, it is true. Some things said of me, in my absence, are true. But also in my presence, some things are true. And yet many things are not true, or are true only in a sense, which is to say only in one sense of the word true. For example: the manner of a fool’s speaking, which is a sense in the form of nonsense, can be said to be true. I am speaking of the fool in Shakespeare, not of the fools one encounters regularly, such as I encounter here. Yes, even now I find that I am surrounded by fools. There is truthful nonsense and non-truthful nonsense, perhaps also sense that is nonsense. There is the untrue which nonetheless is not without truth, not entirely. There are fools, and there are fools.

So much is said in my absence, and I am unable to comment on this, being absent. If I were present, I would comment. Of course I would comment, being present. The absence, the not-being-there, precludes the commenting. The—what is the word for it? Ah, but to use a word is to not name the thing, the absence, and that is the problem, the speaking of it, in the words. One can only speak of the absence wordlessly, in a kind of sleep, the sleep for which I long but which forever (or so it feels) eludes me, until of course it does not. And then what? The unspeakable thing, the wordless thing, the thing we can never describe so long as we can describe.

The things said in my presence are scandalous. Such as: “Kalashnikov is happy.” Yes, they have said this, in words, in my presence. The fools, I mean. Perhaps I am to blame, for it is true that I pretend to be happy. One can only pretend to be happy, and not miserable, obviously. Yes, the thing speaks for itself. For only misery, only pain, only the wretchedness is real. There is no doubting the pain, the reality of the pain, the truth of the pain. But happiness! Well, it is another matter altogether, obviously. The wretchedness is certain, as certain as I, Kalashnikov, am. There is no doubting the pain, the misery, the wretchedness. One pretends to be happy, but never to be wretched, because one has no need of such a thing. And yet they say I am happy, as if they could know. As if I were not dissembling. As if I were not a semblance of a thing rather than the thing itself.

It works as follows. The semblance, I mean. The simulacrum, if that is a word, of happiness. Here is what I do.

First, I show my teeth. I have heard that this is what the happy do. And so everyone gets to see all of my teeth, as well as my gaping mouth, and its hastily masticated contents (for rarely do I chew) at all times.
Second, I repeat the word HAPPY over and over again. Sometimes it is the voice in my head, but from time to time I shout the word HAPPY as loudly as I can. This appears to make a most definite effect. In the bar, in the coffee shop, in the theatre—a good, loud eructation of HAPPY does not go unnoticed. Often, it is rewarded, by recriminations or ejections. Sometimes with joyful banter e.g.: SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU FUCKING CUNT.
Third, I speak loudly. Even when I am not shouting my HAPPY I am loud. The happy ones, the others pretending to be happy, seem to do this, and so I, too, speak loudly. It seems to make the proper effect, which is to say the effect of appearing to be among the happy ones.
Fourth, I carry about with me, at all times and places, a sign saying I AM HAPPY.
Fifth, I cannot recall. I have written it down, I think, in my book. The book where I write all things down, as I am even now writing.
Sixth, I am in continuous motion. Or continual. I confuse these terms, the continuous and the continual, please forgive me. What I mean to say is that I am forever in motion. One might even call it a gyration, if that is a word. If it is not, one may still say it. For once it is said, it is a word.

There appears to be no seventh. I thought I had written seventh in my book, but perhaps not. Perhaps I only imagine it. Or perhaps seventh is merely sixth restated, in which case why bother committing it to memory? If seventh is only sixth restated, as I suspect that it is, then to hell with seventh! Yes, I mean literal hell, the place of eternal burning. There is no need of metaphor here. Let us say no more of this infernal eternal business of the burning seventh, the destroyer, the very Beelzebub of my schemata.

And yet there ought to be a seventh, 7 being a sacred number. Why there is no seventh is a mystery, unless there is a seventh and I am simply unaware of it, which is likely, very likely indeed. So let us say there is an unknown seventh, and perhaps even an unknowable seventh, for aesthetic and schematic purposes. To do otherwise is a scandal and an outrage, an offence against those who pretend to know god, who pretend to believe in god.

I am speaking of the happy times in which we live. The President is happy, the world is happy, and the people are happy. Which people? Well, all of the people, of course! They move and speak, all of the people, as the happy do. I can say no more of it, it is a matter of national security. They have whispered to me in dark corridors of the President’s happiness, but I can say no more of it. They assure me the President is happy, and I have no reason to doubt it, beyond the reasons I have adumbrated, above, or have not adumbrated, which are many. Nor can I say who They are—they, the ones who whisper to me from the happy places. It may be the voice in my head. Yes, it has occurred to me that the whisperings may all be in my head. It has occurred.

Yes, everyone is happy. All of us together, pretending to be happy, are what we appear to be. That is what I meant to say earlier, before the unfortunate derailments, if that is a word. Before the digression, the perambulation, the odyssey, the peripatecian, the excursion, the circumlocution, the fucking around. Did I not say I was forever in motion, the happy one? No, perhaps not. And perhaps in not saying so I failed in my duty, the highest duty of a patriot, to dissemble at being happy, along with all the others, pretending to have the desires (desire!) of one’s heart fulfilled, pretending to believe that all is well, that all will be well, Amen.

Kalashnikov, Silenced

Everywhere, people sit alone, speaking on silent machines

✎  Wayne K. Spear | April 10, 2018 · Fiction

MY NAME IS KALASHNIKOV, it is true. Everyone acknowledges the fact, which is to say no one does. Indeed, and verily, there is no one who says of me, “There goes Kalashnikov,” as I make my way, my back seized in a grotesque parody of a standing man, a man in motion yet not in motion. I go about this way, resembling a man, yet not resembling; resembling motion, yet not. Thoroughly unlovable, and thoroughly Kalashnikov, but no matter.

Lately, on account of my back, I have found it impossible to sit or stand or lie. And so, after a period of what I shall call inquiry, I found a position in which I could pass the time. It happened as follows. During this so-called inquiry period of mine, I broke down, first, the nature of sitting: both what it is, in essence, and what it is not, in essence. And for the others, the standing and the lying, and whatnot, I did the same. And I wrote the results of what I am calling an inquiry into my book, which I am calling the findings.

It was a great success. I have put the sitting and the standing and the lying, and the whatnot, in a whole new light. You may think you know these things, but trust me. Yes, trust me, when I say you know less than you think. For instance, of the many kinds of lying, which I have adumbrated here in my book

[HOLDS UP BOOK]

and also, of the many kinds of sitting, there is more to know than you realize, until you have inquired. There are many things, to do with the feet and hands and so on. No two sittings are the same, I discovered, nor are any two lyings the same. From this I deduced an infinity of sittings and standings and lyings, and whatnots, and set about to create from these a posture of my own that avoids a definite commitment to the sitting and the standing and the lying, which the condition of my back forbids me from indulging, but which adapts elements of each, to create something other. Call it a non-sitting-non-standing-non-lying-non-what-not, if you must. Yes, only if you must. There is no word for it, yet, nor is there a need for a word, in my submission.

Picture it as follows. One foot pointed to the heavens. The other foot, tucked in the vicinity of the pit of the arm. Not in the pit, but in the vicinity. This detail is critical. My head, titled 22 degrees to my left. One arm outstretched forward, parallel to the earth, palm facing upward. My other arm pressed to the ground, the arm which I now use for locution. Also note that my torso is twisted, just to the left, at my hips, which feels good at the base of my spine. This is how I go about, drawing absolutely no notice as I do.

Now that I have sorted this out, my mind is free to take notice of the world. Imagine my horror and disgust, if you can, as I take notice of this world, for the first time in what feels like an eternity. To begin with, everyone is on the telephone. Everyone is speaking, all the time. Everyone is typing words into machines, and my inquiry (this is a another, separate inquiry) has revealed that these words appear to others, on other machines. Some of the words appear to the entire world, on machines. Everywhere people sit alone, speaking on silent machines to something called “social media.” What do they speak of? As best as I can tell, something called fake news, which is to say news that is not news and truth which is not truth. And of course they do not speak, for they are silent. And of course there is nothing social about it, for they are all alone, making the words that no one hears. I have written some of the words down, in my book:

– like
– totally
– omg
– brb
– lmfao
– nazis

It has come to my attention, as a result of my inquiry, that freedom of speech is under threat. Everyone is talking about it. On the machines, I mean, and in the entire world where the many words go. Apparently, they are silenced. Do not ask me “Who is silenced?” You can find them easily enough, on the machines and on the television and on the radio. They are everywhere, if you go looking, telling you about their silencing. Some of them travel the world to speak about the silencing. It is very frightening to hear them speak about their being silenced. Nothing seems to be preventing the silencing: not their books, nor their lectures, nor their many radio appearances. They go on, being silenced, despite having their books on the best-sellers list. They go on being silenced, despite the machines and the words. The silencing goes on.

I must stop typing. I need my arm, the arm which I now use for locution, to go to the drug store. I must get myself some back medication. If I leave now, I should be able to reach the corner drug store when they open, tomorrow morning. And I should be able to arrive back home, two days hence, medication in foot (for my hand is now my foot, and my foot is now my hand). Yes, by the week’s end, I should be well medicated. And perhaps then I will make the machine words, silently and alone, that go out into a world of untruth, the horrifying world that devours us, little by little, day by day, word by word.

Kalashnikov, Resurrected

I am returned, in the time of Spring

✎  Wayne K. Spear | April 5, 2018 · Fiction

Boiler Room

MY NAME IS KALASHNIKOV, it is true. And it is true I have come again, after a long absence, and after a kind of silence, in the season of the resurrection. Yes, even at the time of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior.

When the thought of a return arises, naturally the season of resurrections presents itself. Naturally, one chooses an auspicious moment, the moment of ripeness, the ripe moment. Or perhaps it is the moment when the thought of ripening occurs, the moment when Spring is at hand, that one thinks of a return. In any case, I am returned, in the time of Spring and in the time of rebirth and in the time of resurrection and ripening.

It happened as follows. I say that I thought of it, or that one thinks of it, by which I mean to say the returning and the resurrecting. But that is not exactly the case. I, Kalashnikov, was, for a time. Yes, most definitely, I was. In the flesh, in the word, in every sense of the word was, I was. For a time, of course. And then I was not, neither in the flesh nor in the word. The wasness yielded to nonwasness, which I shall call the silence, or the not thinking. Yes, that is it. The others spoke of Ivans and Dmitris and Yvors, but not of Kalashnikov. Because of course there was nothing to speak of, nor nothing of which to think. I was, and I was not, for a time. How could I have thought of a second coming, under such circumstances? Under such non-circumstances!

You may ask how long I was away, but I am unable to answer. It may have been an hour, or perhaps a year, perhaps also an eternity. It was probably not an eternity. Nor, in all statistical likelihood, which is the likelihood that matters most, an hour. To disappear, into the notwas unbeing silent nonexistence of oblivion, for one hour, is frankly impractical. It shows an utter disrespect for the thing. It is, in a word, impolite. One ought to undertake annihilation with more vinegar than that, if one is at all serious. To pass into this Beyond, and to return an hour later, is an affront to all that is holy. Therefore I am of the view that it was not an hour.

To have been gone an eternity seems unlikely. To begin, eternity is long. Imagine a long time, and multiply this long time by an infinity of long times, and then double this amount an infinite amount of doubles. I will wait. This may take some time, but no matter. I will be here when you are done. And when you are done, stack the amount on top of an equal amount, and double this infinitely, on an infinite redoubling of infinite redoublings. And the result will be nothing as compared to eternity!

It follows that I was away more than an hour and less than an eternity. And it follows that I was likely away at least a month, but probably no more than a year, for after a year one longs to return. It is the nature both of longing and of returning. It doubtless has something to do with the seasons, with the changing of weather, with the coming of Spring. After a time, one hankers for the return. I am speaking of hankering, of the nature of the hanker, of hankerings, of Hankerology. It is a well-documented thing, a matter of near certainty, this business of the hanker.

So many have departed. For example, I too once worked for the President. Once he and I were close, not as objects are close but rather as ideas are close, such as the idea of coming and the idea of hankering and the idea of Spring. Once, the President placed great faith in me, close as we were—in a conceptual sense, please note. The President trusted my words, my counsel, my notions, no matter how delusional or no matter how much under the influence of my medications. “I have full confidence in Kalashnikov,” he said. “Kalashnikov is not about to disappear into the silent unbeing,” he said. “It is fake news,” he said. “The rotten bastard, Kalashnikov, who I love.”

Imagine my surprise when I returned, in the time of the resurrection. It was not my idea, nor my will. I did not think of it, beyond all thought as I was, or was not, in the notwasness. It was not against my will, but also it was not my will. Will had nothing to do with it. Say nothing of will, it is a matter of irrelevance. As I said, I fell into a kind of silence. “A kind?” you say. “Well, what kinds of silence are there?” First, the not-speaking silence, the negative silence of negation. But there is also the silence of things that are not negation but are nonetheless silent, such as prayer. Or a silent fart, often the most deadly of farts, but not in this case. That was the kind of silence that I was, or rather was not: a prayer-fart, without sound and without smell. Not being able to speak of it, I did not speak. It was and yet was not. That gets to the heart of it, I think.

Yes, the heart, that bloody organ to which we advert in moments like this, when the invocation of an organ is requisite. It could well have been another organ. Goodness knows that the heart is among the least favorite of my organs, like the brain, very near the bottom of the list. If I am pressed to come up with an organ, then, yes, I may blurt out BRAIN! despite myself. Or I may scream FOOT, which is not an organ but let us not dwell on this. I am saying If pressed, there is a chance such words will issue from my orifice. My preference would be to return at the time of the erection, with a giant priapus. I am speaking of steely resolve, of standing tall and ready: I, at your cervix, ready to take matters into my own hand, if I must. Which, most days, I must. Ah the blessed days when I am taken by another hand, a stranger hand, in the alley or whilst riding the subway! I come with no hidden pudenda, cocksure, eye on the ball, a penetrating question on the mind. I take no responsibility. It is simply the time when one does such things.

The time, I mean, of seed and sun. The time of pilgrimages and of rebirth, of birds and flowers, of regeneration. In a word, of fucking. Yes, that is the word, the precise word for it. The dirty dirty life-force unleashed upon God’s blessed creation. He gazes down upon the fucking dogs and the fucking cats and the fucking ants and the fucking capybaras. Presumably, too, he looks down upon I, Kalashnikov, almost hidden from sight in the boiler room, furiously tugging at my engorged member, to no use, to no use. In my own way, I get into the Spirit of the thing, with help from the videos. I see roughly how it is done. Spittle appears to help. I shout OHMYGOD at what seems to be the advisable juncture. I search the boiler room for a proper hole, this business of holes apparently critical to the success of the enterprise. It is the Life Principle that compels me. I am at one with the life-force, as I make sweet love to the furnace.

As I said, I mean only to get into the spirit of the season, to not be apart or left out or otherwise non-participatory. Everywhere life returns to the Earth; everywhere there is romance and love and intercourse. And so I throw myself into it, with abandon, with all that I have. I have crossed the Lubicon, shouting, “Alea ejecta est!” It is my second coming, already today. I, Kalashnikov, returned after a kind of silence, from the non-being nothing of eternal notwasness.