“But Why Do You Hate Cars So Much, Jeff?”


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A buddy who reads some things I tweet asked me to explain my loathing of cars when I saw him this weekend. We were drinking and someone asking me to rant was highly appealing, but I figured I may as well set the basics down soberly in print, too.

It’s not that I hate cars, exactly. I hate our over-dependence on them. That a person who doesn’t own a car is all but isolated from society is barbaric. Car culture has normalized enormous sacrifices for cars that don’t even strike us as sacrifices because we’re all accustomed to them.

When you look at a house or a property, look how much of it is taken up by the driveway or parking. It’s not uncommon for around half a new home’s façade to be a garage, or at least a very large chunk. Almost one quarter of the city of Toronto is taken up by roads! Not parking lots, roads. Basically, any outdoor space that isn’t a commercially or privately owned, or a park, is consumed by cars.

Homeowners spend thousands to accommodate their vehicles and the city devotes its budget to cars, too. The city of Toronto charges much less for housing for cars (ie parking), than housing for human beings. One parking spot is worth tens of thousands of dollars. The city subsidizes street parking but refuses to do the same for people, and Free Market boosters don’t even notice the former, while the latter enrages them. If you asked motorists to spend on street parking what the actual rate should be, they’d be livid. They think they’re getting squeezed now, when really they’re getting subsidized.

Parents are quick to point out that it’s easy for a guy like me, no kids and works from home, to be opposed to cars, but just try schlepping your kids to hockey on a bike or bus! I get that and I’m not here to scold exhausted parents dealing with shit as best they can. I have a car too! I hate that it’s necessary, but we’re living in a world designed for cars and not having one is indeed difficult (so is having one).

Between the environmental, health, financial, and just lifestyle, a sensible, modern city would follow the data and do its utmost to remove private cars from the road, not by banning them, but by making alternatives more appealing. Busses, streetcars and subways should be clean, frequent, and reliable, then people would take them. Instead, under John Tory, the TTC continues its death spiral of critical under-funding (no North American city of comparable size funds its public transit system with fares to the degree Toronto does, not even close).

The cycle moves in both directions: everyone would love to take transit! But transit here is shit. That’s not because transit doesn’t or can’t work, it’s because we defunded transit for decades and pour our money into private car infrastructure. And why do we do that? Because nobody takes transit and everyone drives.

Instead of retrofit outdoor space to encourages safe and active forms of transit that get people around for less money in a way that’s fun and promotes good health, Tory and Ford are making unjustifiable and unconscionable decisions auto executives drool over because they lock-in car usage for years.

Cars are excellent when nobody else around you is driving them because they let you get around quickly. Decades ago, this was the case. But the more people do this, the less useful and more expensive cars become. They’re not a perk anymore, they become the baseline form of getting anywhere, which makes them essential, and therefore a burden. If you need to go to a far-flung location far away, by all means, drive. That’s what they’re best for. For short trips in the city or daily commutes thousands of people do at the same time…it’s stupid.

Because everyone is expected to own a car, developers buy cheap parcels of land in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t matter that there’s farmland around you instead of a baker or grocer you can walk to, because you can drive to these things. Land in the city that could be used for building high-rises are instead devoted to parking cars. Cars enable our worst decisions.

We should be fixing this by turning car housing into people housing. There’s acres of under-used or unused land in the heart of the city and across the GTA, but instead of focusing on that, Ford is re-writing/undoing the law to let donors develop environmentally protected greenspace they purchased weeks before he changed the law. The OPP is investigating corruption allegations.

Conservatives paint any critic of this obviously corrupt scheme as an opponent of affordable housing, as if Doug Ford is letting Gasperis develop environmentally protected land to house homeless people and immigrant laborers. It’s an absurd joke, but issues surrounding cars is very much related to the price and nature of housing. If you don’t believe me, ask anybody whose community was razed to build an urban highway (guess which communities get selected).

The above is far from the only reason I hate cars! There’s also the spiritual or marketing aspect. It seems incredible to me that anybody, let alone millions of people, identify themselves with their cars. Such and such a person should drive such and such a car. Macho right-wing guys with a penile complex drive monster trucks, even if it’s to get McDonald’s drive thru instead of hauling work-related loads in the rig or building an off-grid cabin. Meanwhile, flaccid-dicked little liberal cucks drive a Prius.

It’s the underlying premise I reject, that a person’s vehicle reflects who they are in some meaningful way. The extent to which marketing has rotted our brains is tragic and, frankly, embarrassing. It’s nonsense! Commute in a way that makes practical sense and stake your identity on higher things that actually matter.

Most of the trips people do in the city are walkable. Not all trips, and not everybody’s trips. But most people don’t need to drive to get groceries, they can just bring a nap sack and some bags and walk. But because we live in a marketing hellscape that promotes the automobile as the symbol of a person’s worth, many people view the idea of walking instead of driving anywhere as a form of giving up, or turning you back on society.

There are urban myths of CEOs who want to drive modest vehicles, but the company wants the BMW in the best reserved spot because otherwise it looks like a freak is running the company! Whether companies coerce executives into buying luxury vehicles or executives coerce themselves into thinking it’s necessary is mostly a distinction without a difference, but that they’re both entirely plausible is messed up.

To be fair, if people have an attachment to their car, perhaps it’s half due to marketing, and half due to the fact that our car-centric planning makes people attached to their car in understandable ways. For many working parents, their commute is a rare and important solo time where they can listen to podcasts or music and think their thoughts. They’re between work demands and family demands, and the idea of losing this private time to be on a crowded bus in bad weather and multiple transfers…it sucks.

The auto industry lobby is why we have such pitiful busses and trains–50% of Canadians live on a straight-shot route from Windsor through Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City, yet there’s no train service. Over-reliance on private cars ruins public transportation. Uber competes against the TTC, and the TTC is losing big time.

Again, I get that taking the neglected form of transit sucks! The point is, though, we should stop neglecting it!

I had a sad thought recently that’s related to this. It could be that most people’s main form of public interaction with strangers is, if not internet comment sections, driving. Cars let people navigate public spaces privately. We don’t talk with neighbours as much because, in a very literal sense, you can’t bump into someone when you’re driving and have a little chat. Instead of conversing, our interactions are all driving-based. This usually consists of things like, “Can you believe how this fuckin idiot is all over the road and in my lane?” We don’t talk to people; we try not to collide into each other on the way to everywhere.

Cycling and walking have no equivalent term for “road rage.”

This sad form of “interaction” shapes how we think of the people around us. The same thing that makes it convenient to get into your hermetically sealed and portable living room, with its infotainment centre, temperature controls, and whatever other indulgences, and cross a city without encountering another person is also extremely sad and isolating. And that’s sad for the person who has the car.

If you don’t have a car? The TTC is raising fares yet again, even while cutting services and investing in more Fare Enforcers. Tory spends billions to shave seconds off a suburbanite’s work commute, but wants you to spend more for less public transit. It’s known that fare enforcers treat non-white riders differently than white passengers, just like cops use car-related reasons to disproportionately pull over Black drivers, sometimes with violent and even lethal results.

On another basic level, Toronto drivers have never been more dangerous. Anecdotally, I’ve read stories in the last year about drivers crashing into poles, fences, businesses (a car drove through a bike lane, into a bike store, Sweet Pete’s), homes, even second-storey condos. And of course, people. Out on a walk a couple weeks ago, I saw the recent aftermath of a car that had driven through a bike lane, onto the sidewalk, and into a bus shelter. The previous night, blocks east, a driver crashed into a cyclist. A few days afterwards, a few blocks west, a car drove into a laundromat.

The hype over electric cars and self-driving cars is wrongheaded. As they say, if electric cars are the future of cars, car-free cities are the future of cities. Most “safety” feature only make it safer for the people in the vehicle. Cars, SUVs, and trucks are dangerously large now in North America.

The term “world-class city” is so embarrassing and I don’t mean to invoke anything like it. But right now cities worldwide like London and Paris are currently undoing car-centric planning to save money, improve health, and help people get around faster and safer. Instead, Doug Ford is proposing a bougie-ass waterfront spa costing taxpayers probably half a billion to pay for a private company’s underground parking lot. He campaigned on new highways and widening existing ones. In 2021, the private company that bought highway 407 owed taxpayers about $1 billion, and Doug Ford wouldn’t take the free money even while underspending on healthcare during a pandemic.

If something helps the auto industry, austerity governments that don’t have a penny for public services eagerly spare no expense.

Ultimately, cars kill cities in so many ways that it’s hard to even notice or convey. Indeed, there are sensational stories of violence in the TTC system lately, which are tragic. But there are deadly car “accidents” on the streets every day and those don’t put people off driving, and the media frames road violence stories as, essentially, a tragic whoopsie.

The idea that someone spends thousands to buy a car, thousands on insurance annually, then more for parking (from their wallet and city coffers), yet more for maintenance and fuel, all visit stores that could be located closer to them if planners didn’t assume everyone would own a car…it’s stupid! In a sense, the more refined and improved the individual cars get, the stupider the whole thing is. Just walk! Bike!

That the car industry promotes the idea that driving makes luxury car and truck owners somehow rugged individuals, not the cyclists braving the weather and lethal risks drivers present, is absurd and somehow funny and depressing.

The auto industry famously created the term “jay walker” in the 1920s because before then, people assumed public space was entirely for walking or tram, and private vehicles were the outsider. The classic “hey, I’m walkin’ here!” in the thick New York accent doesn’t register anymore today, because people identify with the driver. The car is now thought to be the city’s natural inhabitant, not the person.

In the same sense, shifting the safety burden away from city planners and drivers onto vulnerable roads users is illogical and dangerous. “Share the road” is bullshit! The whole point of physically separated bike lanes is cyclists shouldn’t share the road with drivers! Nobody wants that! Pedestrians are never told “share the road” because we’re used to them having “sidewalks,” a euphemism for the narrow lanes at the margins of public space (ie roads) reserved for people to walk.

It took me a while to grasp that all infrastructure is car infrastructure. Sidewalks aren’t for pedestrians; they only exist so drivers don’t crash into people walking. “Bike lanes” let motorists drive without the risk of killing a cyclist, which will raise their insurance premium and, also noteworthy, end a cyclist’s life. Cyclists and pedestrians would have unlimited freedom if it weren’t for cars! They don’t need paved lanes. Drivers need everyone else to be in reserved sections of public space so they, the motorists, can do their thing freely. Same with traffic lights, police enforcement (everything from cops at construction sites to highway speeding tickets issued from a Cessna flying overhead), R.I.D.E., “pedestrian bridges,” parking enforcement, crossing guards, street signs, and everything else we pour money into. It’s all for cars.

Injured, mained, and dead cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers are collateral damage.

City budgets and residents are being held hostage by the auto industry. Maybe it’s worse, and that they took control of policy decades ago and aren’t giving up control now. Worse still, people want laws written by the auto lobby because they’re convinced they can’t live without private cars. We’re getting bamboozled into pouring money into the blackhole that is auto-dependency because auto-dependency has made the alternatives to driving suck, and we can’t get out of that cycle. Plus, the voice on the commercial during the hockey game saying trucks are bad ass is gravelly.

It’s not too late to undo Toronto’s car-centric planning and design public space that people want to be in, instead of drive through.

(I was on the verge of drunkenly shrieking all this and lots more to my buddy Friday night but stopped myself last second because somehow this long complaint isn’t everybody’s idea of fun. I could have written more, too, because you can’t imagine just how insufferable I can be on this topic.)

Problems with Cars: Space

It’s hard to describe just how much space cars take up because we’re so accustomed to them. Mammoth parking lots in a housing crisis don’t make sense, but they’re everywhere. It should strike people as wrong that property is valued by the square foot, but the city hands out countless sports for free parking.

In a very basic sense, let’s just talk about the figures. Toronto is 630 kilometres squared. Stats Can only has stats on how many vehicles are in Ontario, not Toronto. Estimates peg the total at 0.9-1.5 per household—needless to say, there are well over one million cars on Toronto roads. The average car is, say, 15 feet long, 6 feet wide. But you can’t just park cars tip to tip, so they essentially require more space they actually take up.

When driving, cars require an even buffer around them. Take the physical space on either side of a car that needs to be void for the driver to feel comfortable passing through—that’s a car’s real width. In other words, a 6-foot wide car is in effect 8-feet wide, or wider.

Imagine how much accustomed we are to sacrificing space on our lawns (driveways, parking pads), or even building structures specifically to house cars (garages). Cars take up so much room at both ends of their drive. They go from one designated spot to another, which means every every trip requires a special accommodation at each end, which usually results in a huge oversupply or undersupply of parking.

No place can always supply just the right amount of parking! If stadiums have sufficient spots for the game, they have way too much parking 98% of the time. Malls have enough parking for Boxing Day, which happens once a year, if ecommerce hasn’t made parking unnecessary. Downtown only has so many parking spots available because that’s where most of the stuff in the city is, so when there’s a big night on the town, there likely are way too few spots. There should be a parking shortage, in other words.

Stable harmony is hard to come by because cars come in spurts of waves, not constant waves. There’s morning and afternoon rush hour and, say, a Jay’s game bringing thousands of commuters some days but not others.

The physicality of cars themselves are the reason cars clog cities. There’s no way for cars to at once be in the world and yet not take up space in it. There’s no way for over a million cars to be in the city without sacrificing the space over a million cars take up. Remember, a car’s footprint is magnitudes larger than the car’s size!

I just read an article saying the average Canadian spends 3 days in traffic a year. A year is 365 days, so this is approaching 1% of life. Billions get drained in lost productivity because we are scrunched between cars and cannot get away from the other cars on the road to our destination.

Every driver imagines a rout with no cars on it, then they’re shocked, shocked, when the roads are filled with cars. They act like bad traffic is a surprise even though gridlock is expected to the point reporters specifically report on traffic! That there is such thing as a “traffic reporter” is an indictment of car culture we’ve come to accept. It’s proof cars as a mode of transportation are an utter failure.

No amount of tinkering with traffic lights will solve gridlock because the problem is the number of cars, not how they move.

Induced demand is the idea that widening roads encourages more people to drive, which offsets any gains the additional space from the widened road once provided. Therefore, widening the roads is doomed to fail. You can’t widen roads forever not only because it doesn’t work, but because the city is only so big.

Something like 20% of Toronto is roads. A fifth of the city! At some point, a city needs stuff for the roads to lead to. It shouldn’t all be converted to roads. Which neighbourhoods get selected to be the site of new highways? Phrased this way, I suspect the answer is clear. That marginalized people are the first victim of car culture is true across America, Toronto, New Delhi, and beyond.

Low caste people get pushed aside to build a “flyover” in New Delhi just like Black neighbourhoods were razed to build highways post WWII. So it’s not just a question of how much space cars take up, but whose space it is.

If you look at the stark wealth divide on either side of the Allen in Toronto…I mean, it’s hard not to notice roads are pretty much a literal class barrier, or at least a demarcation of class. Even if you try to just talk about the space cars take up, eventually you need to talk about whose space it is, and it’s an unsettling conversation. It’s no coincidence that the first communities displaced for highways are also the least served by public transit.

Today, Toronto celebrates the public backlash that stopped developers from extending the Allen through Cedarvale and the Annex to connect with the lakefront highway, led by Jane Jacobs. This was of course a victory, but the shame is most neighbourhoods can’t similarly defend themselves.

Add up all the space taken up by roads, parking lots, driveways, parking pads, highways…no electric vehicle fixes the problem of how much space cars consume. As it’s said, if the future of cars is electric cars, the future of cities is car-free. We need to stop relying on cars and build infrastructure that assumes people won’t be driving.

Most drivers are in a car alone, while busses and streetcars take dozens of people. Sure, busses are fuller at some time than others, just like roads are full of cars at rush hour but are totally empty at other times.

But we need to move people, not cars. That’s what efficiency means. There’s nothing less efficient than making everyone effectively 4000 pounds, 6 feet wide and 15 feet long.

People are so attached to their car today because our brutally underfunded public transportation system isn’t reliable or pleasant. The cycle moves in both directions at the same time: because public transportation sucks, people all but need their own private vehicle to get around, and because so many people own a car, they’re happy we widen roads and neglect the TTC, even though a vastly improved and properly funded public transit, as well as safe active infrastructure, offers the freedom promised in car ads.

It’s understandable but sad how many people enjoy their alone time in their car, and see it as a calm period to listen to music, podcast or an audio book. I don’t mean to scold people who really like their car and enjoy this time! But they love their car the way a person in a storm loves their safe haven. Highways are the storm, not the haven, and this endless cycle of governments spending billions to make the storm worse, then people personally spending tens of thousands to find shelter from the storm, only perpetuates the problem.

So I get that in this obscenely car-dependent world you like your car, of course you do!

But if we can’t agree that cars with just a driver in them effectively make that single person 15 feet long and 6 feet wide and weigh about 4,000 pounds, and that it’s impossible to expect free-flowing roads when you do this to millions of people in the city simultaneously, we won’t be able to agree on anything.

As the popular adage goes, “cars aren’t in traffic; they are traffic.” Toronto doesn’t have space for this many cars and this many people and we need to choose. The choice should be an automatic slam dunk, but doug ford’s decision to enrich donors by increasing sprawl and paving over the Greenbelt is corrupt (that’s another article!), dangerous, braindead, and proves we’re going down the wrong road.

Book Review: In the City of Pigs, by André Forget


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Cover of In the City of Pigs, Dundurn Press, June 2022

Finally, we get Forget’s debut novel. It was no disappointment! Forget knows a thing or two about Canadian literature—the former editor in chief of The Puritan also has a Master’s of English with a focus on CanLit. I only mention this to say he knows what traditional pitfalls to avoid.

In April 2022, Forget released a collection of short stories he edited and compiled called After Realism, “24 short stories for the 21st century.” Whatever you expect upon hearing the dreaded phrase “CanLit,” you will get something different when you read In the City of Pigs.

Cover of After Realism, Vehicule Press, April 2022

Forget’s protagonist Alexander Otzakov navigates the semi-secret world of Toronto Money, which uses art as a mask in various ways, most notably to make itself seem noble and high-minded while committing shady deals. In the City of Pigs explores this literally and figuratively. ICP is refreshingly frank about sex and money in a way Toronto is not known for. What is really behind the large art grants? What is the nature of the grease that makes property deals work? Most profoundly and practically: does anybody who lives in the city even care?

The literal strain is the plot, which is straightforward, but I won’t reveal here to avoid spoilers. But the novel’s heart explores the relationship between art and money by asking what art really is. Forget is hardly the first author to ask, but his answers avoid debut-novel cliches, and are smart enough to make the novel essential reading, if for no other reason.

I suspect what people are liable to call “digressions” in my view is the novel’s meat and potatoes. No useful answer about the relationship between money and art can come from someone who doesn’t understand art, and Forget leaves his reader with no doubt about his grasp of the subject.

There are lengthy discussions about, for example, an underwater organ that makes the reader consider not only what hearing music really is but what seeing music is like, ie, pipes playing Bach underwater releasing air bubbles in certain patterns that render music visible. I happen to have read Pynchon’s Against the Day before reading this novel, and was reminded of Pynchon’s wonderful “digressions” about transmitting radio waves and other signals through the aether.

“God is the throbbing hum of an inhumanly low frequency, a bass note that sustains the universe,” is a sentence I’ll quote here for two reasons. I love it. Also, it describes Bootsy Collins’ role in Parliament Funkadelic so well. There’s no mention of funk in this novel, but great novels make you think of other unrelated things and tie them together. The novel’s in-depth discussions of classical music were joyful, even or especially when they were over my head.

The novel’s title comes from Plato by way of a fictional art group that launches guerilla events in abandoned buildings in the city. Without getting into the particulars, this is a novel that juxtaposes Plato, Toronto arts societies, Faust, Mozart, Toronto gentry, and gentrification. Local staples like The Communist’s Daughter abound.

For one thing, it references Dundas West and Norm MacDonald. It’s set in Toronto and Halifax, two cities I lived in. The protagonist is a former-musician, so dialogue brims with strong opinions and scathing judgements, two things always fun.

Perhaps the novel may be described as an apolitical look at political power via art. It’s also about love, sex, and money. It’s a broad novel I don’t mean to reduce narrowly. It’s about thinking and living.

The wealthy power brokers are treated fairly, which is to say the state of inner-life and creativity in their soul is not ignored while their deeds and machinations are described accurately. The loathing is earned, not pre-determined. The moral and artistic world of this novel may have exacting standards, but it gives everyone a chance!

Perhaps the best observation is that what seems like flagrantly corrupt business deals and cynical co-opting of art is something the general public will simply not give a shit about. When it comes to how business is really conducted, the public is as apathetic towards it as it is about serious art.

The novel’s highbrow strains are high, but Forget’s head is refreshingly not up his ass. Joyce responded to critics’ accusations Ulysses was inaccessible by pointing out that his characters were mostly poor. Bloom tabulates his day’s expenses at the novel’s end, and Otzakov looks for an affordable place to live. It is a very grounded novel.

There are tender, truthful moments where people discuss the full dimensions of their relationships in ways that echo Mordecai Richler in Barney’s Version. It’s funny and frank about unsavoury instincts and impulses that balance the highbrow chatter.

Forget takes on Toronto’s tendency to praise itself for being polite enough to avoid discussing how real power and money really work, while talking about much else along the way in novel ways, from booze to drugs and more. There are parties and pities aplenty.

It refreshingly explores whether the very idea of art is rarified, indulgent, useless shit in today’s age of ascending maga fascism just as intensely as it looks at the connection between art and commerce. In other words, the perspective comes from a deep desire for knowledge, honesty, and concern for people.

Without reducing an artistic, imaginative work to a didactic social novel, Forget recalls Michael Brooks’ edict to be ruthless to systems and kind to people. The “power” he explores here is not about a particular political party or easy satire of a specific corporation or industry. But about the interlocking systems we all operate within, albeit from very different positions and heights.

The moth just wants to move towards the light because that is the moth’s nature. “I’m the moth, you’re the moth…”

Forget understands that human nature may be constant in regards to this system, but not everybody needs to find somewhere to live. Moths may all be drawn to light, but some are flying in a podiatrist’s office while others are in Rosedale.

Long-Term Don’t Care: a Doug Ford Crisis



Photo Credit: Vlada Karpovich via Pexels

Canada had a relatively low COVID mortality rate compared to other OECD countries, but residents in Long-Term Care (LTC) died in disproportionately high numbers. To be clear, it’s not that COVID killed LTC residents in greater numbers here than it did young people because older people were more susceptible. It’s that LTC residents in Canada died in vastly higher percentages than LTC residents in other OECD countries.

Canada’s long-term care problems extend beyond Ontario, but our country was uniquely dangerous for seniors in LTC compared to other similar nations, and Ontario was and is a particularly dangerous province. In Ontario, seniors in for-profit LTCs were substantially more lethal.

Doug Ford’s ministers didn’t do much for LTCs when the virus hit in 2020. The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Long-Term Care submitted their reports, memos, and briefing notes concerning COVID-19 and long-term care to the CBC, which determined it sat back and was ill-prepared.

By May of 2021, 70% of all COVID deaths in Ontario were in LTC settings. This number has only gone up.

Doug Ford promised an “iron ring” around LTCs on March 30, 2020. He did not create one. A 2021 report by the Canadian Armed Forces led to widespread outcry as a picture emerged of seniors dying preventable deaths in “horrifying” conditions. Think cockroaches, dehydration, patients with ulcers neglected in beds, staff wearing contaminated gear. The backlash was so intense even Doug Ford promised an investigation and accountability. He had said the investigation was already underway, when in reality it had never begun and would never begin.

Instead, Doug Ford rushed to create a law protecting privately-owned LTCs from lawsuits. He claimed the law would protect all businesses from unnecessary lawsuits that could bankrupt them. That explanation seems a little convenient given the conservative connections to privately-owned LTCs.

For example, the former Conservative Party leader Mike Harris has sat on Chartwell’s board since 2004, and has made great piles of cash by reducing regulations and oversight. IE, cuts made prior to COVID resulted in LTCs being so deadly when the pandemic struck.

For-profit LTCs hire lobbyists with conservative ties. Current MPP Melissa Lantsman was a registered lobbyists for Extendicare. The list goes on. The revolving door between the conservative party and for-profit LTCs is such that the LTC’s failures are Ford’s failures, too.

The Liberals also deserve blame for overseeing the privatization of LTC for 15 years. This isn’t all on Doug Ford, but this is a story about governments deliberately sacrificing elderly Canadians’ quality of life for shareholder profits, a pattern that Doug Ford repeats so often, it’s about the only approach he knows.

Abandoning seniors was just the first stroke.

The federal government donated COVID tests to Ontario that somehow people never received unless they were students in private schools, and instead, for months, people paid Shoppers Drug Mart and other pharmacies $30 or $40 for a rapid test countries like the UK, US, and Germany made free or inexpensive (say, $4). (Ontario Pharmacies only began handing out boxes of free rapid tests weeks before the provincial election.)

By approaching the pandemic as a money-making opportunity for government insiders instead of treating it primarily as a public health crisis to solve, the Doug Ford government ended up relaying COVID tests to the very communities least likely to get COVID, and neglected communities that needed support the most.

This is a mutually reinforcing cycle: COVID initially spread in poorer, non-white communities because people there were more likely to work in-person jobs that couldn’t be done remotely. Existing systemic injustices made “frontlines heroes” more susceptible to getting the disease. But because Doug Ford governs primarily for the wealthy, poor people had to fend for themselves, which inevitably resulted in them getting COVID in higher rates while getting no to little government support.

Doug Ford refused to give working people paid-time-off, which experts said was required so workers with COVID symptoms could stay home rather than risk spreading the disease because they couldn’t afford to not work for a day. Ontario workers had more paid-time-off before the pandemic than during it.

Vaccination rates were initially lowest in communities where spread was highest. This pattern repeats itself and has done so throughout the pandemic.

It may sound like a cliché or oversimplification to say Doug Ford repeatedly put profits above people’s lives. I am confident that the more you read about his failings, the truer it will seem. This, despite his platitudes about representing ordinary people.

The idea that “frontlines heroes” were so actively neglected by this government, left to fend for themselves while the premier essentially handed over control to lobbyists and tycoons…it’s heartbreaking and unconscionable.

I half-joke that the media backlash was fiercer when a few young people tweeted “OK, boomer” in 2019 than when seniors died in appalling conditions under Doug Ford, who reacted by changing nothing except to further cement the dangerous conditions. We need to reckon with the underlying lethal economics behind our lethal long-term care centres. Indeed, conservative ministers were buying stocks in for-profit long-term care centres during the pandemic, while Doug Ford handed out millions of tax dollars to upgrade for-profit LTCs and changed laws to let LTCs increase their rates for rooms and charge extra for private ones.

The profiteers are already inside the government; they must be voted out in June.

War, Convoys, and the Point of it All


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I’m sure everyone thought a lot about life during the pandemic, the point of it all. If we were going to make it to the other side, what would we do once we got there? What is the point of life, society?

Being privileged as fuck, I was situated about as nicely as somebody can possibly be in a pandemic, and it was a fucking misery on all sides. The choice was doom-scroll or feel guilt and powerlessness at being unable to prevent what felt like society’s collapse.

I thought I was a cynical bastard, but it never occurred to me that people would oppose public health measures during a pandemic by invoking “Freedom.” The so-called “truck convoy,” which never represented the majority of Canadian truckers let alone Canadians, was fake-ass right-wing theatre from top to bottom.

Like all elements of cheap partisan political theatre, it needed some very real people to get swept up in it to give the appearance of legitimacy, and there were, but it was organized and coordinated by political extremists and violent crooks, including ex-military and ex-police. You can tell from the support it got from the alt-right shitbag pundit community that this was not a grassroots movement.

If it was actually a working-class protest, conservatives would have opposed it with every fibre of their being. The province’s conservatives have gouged workers and fought to undermine labour rights for the last 24 months of a pandemic, refusing not just what union reps said would be decent compensation but what doctors said was necessary to combat the pandemic–ie, paid sick days. Not even a global pandemic could shake the conscience of doug ford. The conservative support for the convoy was all the proof a person could want that the convoy was in no way working-class. Elon Musk, perhaps the world’s richest person, vocally supported it too.

The alt-right were deliberately conflating the right to protest with the right to park enormous trucks in very tight public places. Just like “50,000 truckers” became maybe hundreds at the pinnacle of that fake-ass protest, the presence of trucks made the size of the protest seem a lot bigger than it was. The physicality of the trucks compensated for the relatively low number of people.

All of this felt foreboding at the time. I saw a picture of a maga militia member (three-percenter) in camo fatigues and patches standing at University and College. The flags with swastikas, confederate flags, and other hate symbols in Ottawa have been well-documented.

But it feels small now that war has broken out in a major European city. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is horrifying for reasons too obvious to state. Seeing trucker carlson of faux news go from promoting the convoy to defending vladimir putin after the invasion…

Alt-right ratfuckery is all connected. I’ve seen rabid social media support from the same accounts for the so-called truck convoy, putin’s invasion, modi’s hindutva pogroms, the January 6 insurrection on the US capital…they’re all inter-linked.

Condemning the war is inevitable, but what else is there to say?

Despite everything, the crushing hopelessness gives way sometimes to optimism based on my belief that normal people are doing amazing things behind closed doors, in their private lives, things which will never be reported. Little things to cheer up those around them, support people. From community solidarity, people helping strangers and kin.

I’m not saying that these good and great private deeds will be enough to overcome war, the inherent violence of alt-right politics, end the pandemic, or fix the climate crisis. It’s just that people genuinely give me a good feeling. Being cynical about politics is reasonable right now, too utterly reasonably, but that’s not the same thing as misanthropy. I love people and always will.

I’ve had spiritual musical-revelations lately involving Parliament Funkadelic and somehow, not to be flippant, but this to me feels like the kind of thing that can fill in society’s hollowness. I’m not sure what the point of North American society is. It feels wasteful and dangerous in a stupid, vulgar sense.

The things people commonly point to as the crown achievements of civilization feel to me not just bad but anti-civilized. A legal code is an achievement compared to what you find in the jungle, but ours enshrine and protect racism as basically its central premise. Our technology is advanced, but it only exists for advertising, which in turn only exists to sell things probably unsustainably-produced things made by horrifically exploited people, if not outright slaves. Phones make people miserable, they’re expensive, and wasteful. Cars are sophisticated machines that can be beautiful and convenient, but they waste resources to a shocking degree, are the sole source of murder-inducing traffic jams, and they injure or kill people every day. Gas is rising in costs and our corrupt premier does everything possible to lock-in cars for the future in a way that disfigures the natural world, solves 0 problems, causes new many problems and exacerbates old ones, wastes billions of dollars, and benefits nobody except his oligarch donors and pandemic profiteers like galen weston (ford nixed public charging stations and is now putting them at en routes which galen weston owns; ford received COVID tests from the federal government, which mysteriously never got distributed, while galen weston sold COVID tests for $40).

During the pandemic my apartment got broken into while my girlfriend and I were asleep and her car was stolen and totalled, I developed shingles from stress, our place had roaches and neighbours who made my gf uncomfortable, we had to finally move apartments and after a year of not seeing anyone got COVID from the movers pre-vaccination Dec 2020, my GF broke her collar bone in a bike accident…still, I feel fortunate, humbled, grateful to be alive.

I can’t be the only one who has wondered, am I depressed, or is this merely a reasonable reaction to this moment?

We are governed by culturally impoverished aristocrats who don’t give a fuck. John tory, ford, and trudeau are all spoiled sheltered nepotism hires. If a private equity firm could take human form, it would take basically these human forms.

I’m from Forest Hill, I grew up anything but a radical leftist. Indeed, if anything, my upbringing only helps me to recognize a tycoon politician on sight. Toronto is lopsided as hell, and deliberately so. The mayor of a city where housing costs rose 28% in one year claims to be fighting for affordability? Our leaders aren’t failing to do what’s right, they’re successfully doing wrong.

So long as we continue to elect slum landlords as our representatives, who cancel public service under the guise of “savings,” homelessness will only grow and increase in severity and life will get harder and more brutal. I also feel like upper class people are miserable here, too. Depression is everywhere. What is the point of this city?

Either you need to rent a home to people to gouge them (ie, be a landlord) or be gouged yourself. Fuck or be fucked. Housing should be a human right, not a retirement strategy. If this is a wealthy society, what is the point of being wealthy if people need to either live on the street or stress about a mortgage their entire life?

Is it better to be a hammer than a nail? Maybe, but that’s a false choice, and the hammer is stressing over failing to live up to inflated, vulgar, unrealistic class expectations and feeling like shit because at heart it knows to “make it” in this society may involve causing harm to oneself or others or both.

I’m glad organized religion has lost its central position in society, but this is a society that doesn’t value human life or culture properly or at all. A spiritual crisis underlies our political ones. I encourage everyone to be outrageously nice to each other, read novelists like Roberto Bolano or Tolstoy or actual political writers and academics not the disgraceful postmedia blowhard class, and listen to deep funk and spiritual jazz very loudly on the best speakers you can access. Pamper your own soul, because we’re all going to die some day and you owe it to yourself. The point of life has to involve loving other people, friends and family and neighbours, but love for the species means spreading the work of our best artists and contributing to the life of the soul.

People need to come together now, at whatever stage of the pandemic this is, and that means privileged people with power need to condemn the racist violent barbaric tycoon politics being conducted in our name and exchange it for something genuinely peaceful, civilized, and cultured.

The Breakup Suite, by Trevor Abes — Poetry Review



The series of poems contained in Abes’ beautiful collection is almost too raw emotionally to be judged fairly in aesthetic terms, yet the language is undeniable. The Breakup Suite is about exactly what it sounds like.

You seldom ever see someone else at their lowest emotional moment, fresh after a breakup of a 5-year relationship, and if somehow you do, you don’t expect it to be written about at all, let alone like this. You expect the person to be a fucking mess, yet the outpouring of a heart here is graceful, measured, balanced, contained.

The poems are as much a triumph of spirit and resolve as of language. The love of writing is as palpable as Abes’ love for “E.”

I felt like, for Abes to move on in life, the sentence and the sentiment had to be pitch perfect. Working out his own feelings and expressing them just so was the same act.

Which writer said, “I write so that I know what I think.” Whereas poets and writers may sometimes select frivolous subjects or go on sentimental trips, the stakes here are high. Abes writes poems where another person may go on a bender, with the same level of sobriety and reflection that the debauchee invests into getting drunk. He’s responding to devastation by trying to master his emotions, not get conquered by them.

The result is poetry that documents the collapsing of a shared rich, complex, loving inner world without any such collapse in the poems. That these poems can face the onslaught of raw emotion like this and endure suggests the poet can, too.

Talking about the actual breakup feels like I’m cheapening out on the language, which is continually impressive. The love felt is inspiring, even if it’s over now. The poems come almost as a secondary accomplishment, like, they’re great, but, holy shit, this poet really knows how to love someone and live life!

Abes says in the intro that maybe these poems could help someone else who is reeling after a breakup, but the world of love he describes is, well, lovely. That it was written during COVID is incidental in a sense. It mattered to the couple in their lives, not to the poems per se.

“The number of hours I’ve spent worrying
About whether or not I’d ever be able to ignore your Facebook and
Instagram to get a taste of the life we had even though it stirred my guts
to tears…
It’s not embarrassing so much as evidence of how I loved you big enough
To not take insurance out on us…”

-Excerpt from When Hope Returns

The language is precise but modern and matter of fact, not overblown ornate Poetry. It’s honest and unassuming. Sensitive, but tough, and even muscular in its sensitivity. If being raw and vulnerable, open and honest at your deepest point, is a tough form of modern masculinity, The Breakup Suite lays a blueprint.

These poems contain a slice of love as charged as you’re likely to find, and, despite Abes’ contention it may only be suitable for people fresh off a breakup (“poetry for the dumped”), these are simply very moving poems. In the way you can listen to the blues even if you woke up this morning and all you had was not gone, anyone can and should read these poems.

Writing them was a courageous act.

If you’d like to read The Breakup Suite, please email transfer $10 to Trevor (trevorstevenabes @ gmail dot com) and he’ll send you the PDF, or you can order a copy of the physical book from Amazon.

Disclosure: Trevor and I briefly worked for the same company in 2019. We’ve met exactly once, at a staff party. I describe the extent of our relationship because a review this positive may sound like sponsored content. It’s not! Only, had we not worked together, I wouldn’t have found his poetry.

Some Scattered Thoughts About Racism


The point of eradicating racism is to allow everybody to exist in the same blessed and joyful state of obliviousness and innocence towards racism white people get.

Fellow white people: remember growing up, when race basically never entered our consciousness, and all we did and talked/thought about was fun stuff we liked? That! That’s what non-white people want, and to be safe, and to feel safe.  

If you are tired of hearing about racism, I assure you, so are non-white people!

Let’s put away raging political discourse about The Left or The Right or “anti-racism”: people have one life to live on this planet and it should be as full and as free as they’d like it to be. This isn’t partisan or particularly left or right wing, it’s just basic normal goodness. It’s the Star Trek view of things.

I suspect if you ask most people “Should everyone be free?” they’d say, “of course!” On the surface, everyone claims to value universal freedom. Right? Yet, racism persists. So where exactly do people’s views differ? Where is the fork in the road?

If you believe in standard Canadian mythology—that people here are unusually “nice,” that we live in an advanced country, and that racism is a blight indeed but mostly a historical one—you may be skeptical of reports of systemic racism.

The thinking is pretty straightforward: How can people say Canada is so bad when Canada is so good?

Where we mostly differ, then, is what we think is going on at a street-level, and what constitutes racism. It’s a difference in perception, not necessarily values.

Years ago, with Obama in office and anti-racism becoming mainstream in pockets of culture, it was easier for White Canada to deny racism ever existed, let alone persisted. trump and Black Lives Matter has made that impossible for even the most sheltered person imaginable.

You’d have to be living under a very remote rock to still believe there is no racism. But how much racism is there? How bad is it? Where is it? What effect does racism have on people’s lives?

What sources are you going to rely on to find out? Whose voice do you trust and why? When/if you read about racism/anti-racism, are you consciously/subconsciously invested in exonerating White Canada? Are you reading Black writers only out of due diligence because all formally educated people know to read both sides, but in practice, you’re reading with a closed-mind because secretly you don’t want to believe White Canada is in the wrong?

Nobody born wealthy and white is born Woke, and it’s very easy to understand how white people cling to old and untrue explanations of the world that, let’s be honest, reflect better on us.

If you are a white person making money in a country that everyone surrounding you, movies/TV, and textbooks all tell you is a model to the world, you are likely to be very eager to fully believe them! Not only do you get to live a life of wealth, you get to be respected by society and feel like the respect is merited! You get to have it all! You get to believe, essentially, “Canada is prosperous because it is just and good, and I am prosperous because I am just and good.” What does this person have to gain from considering what Canada is getting wrong, or who it is leaving behind? Even acknowledging the question may undermine not just their sense of accomplishment, but their world-view and sense of self.

If you aren’t making money here but subscribe to the Canadian myth, you get to have an entire political party dedicated to putting “Canada First,” claiming you’re getting left behind because decadent vacuous feel-good politicians are putting sissy internationalist values ahead of good ol’ Canadian boys!

Either way, you are at the unquestioned centre of the mythology. White Canadians are embraced by society from birth, which is great! But it should be done for everybody. It is precisely the thing that must be done for everybody.

You can come at this topic from different angles, and personally, mine is this: there is no god and race is a made-up concept we have horrifically imagined into existence to justify slavery/economic exploitation. Humans are free to make this world a civilized place by ending organized barbarism of paying police billions to jail and surveil historically persecuted people instead of genuinely supporting them with education and housing. This is possible, but the biggest obstacle is: we don’t want to. No communities/nationalities/religions are genetically or socially predisposed towards crime! White supremacy robs people of their childhood innocence—the worst heist imaginable.

Sometimes it may understandably seem like white anti-racists are scolding fellow white people on Wednesday for not knowing/accepting what we just learned about on Tuesday. Or maybe it seems like white anti-racists are saying: look at my lofty and understanding soul!

I’ll just say this: I don’t want to be talking about race, and I’m sure Black people don’t want to either! I’d LOVE to just talk about Dr John and Jerry and Alice Coltrane and the rest of my loves! I’m sure Black people also have a huge amount of much better things to do! Nobody would be in the streets every night directly facing off against a militarized army of violent racists who kill Black people and viciously attack innocent protesters unless things were really fucked up and needed to change.

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Many conservatives and even so-called liberal/centrists believe gender pronouns on campus constitute government tyranny or a threat to Free Speech, but they shrug or even applaud when public servants (ie police) kill innocent unarmed civilians/citizens–this flagrant double standard is a good example of how what is framed as an intellectual argument about society, and what embarrassingly passes for Political Discourse, is really just powerful people believing “if I am irritated, it is a threat to all civilization; if you are attacked or killed by the state, meh/lol, I’m sure they had reason.”

Racism often boils down to which skin colour is reflexively trusted, and which is doubted. Power maintains power through violence, then uses the power to tell nice stories about how it got the power. Privileged people seldom have their illusions punctured because society has historically run on those illusions.

In a world where Black people may tragically have their innocence robbed early on, being able to carry childhood innocence into late adulthood is a real blessing and a privilege, even if it encourages attitudes like the above which are untrue and repugnant!

Years from now, you’ll be humiliated you ever paid attention to people paid to be so embarrassingly out of touch.

Racists sometimes make the following defence: “a person can’t be racist unless they intended on being racist.” While there is a distinction between a proud racist and a person who unwittingly holds one or several racist views, the statement is not remotely true! Try substituting the word “stupid” for “racist” in the sentence above, and see how dumb it sounds! Really, do it: “A person can’t be stupid unless they intend on being stupid.” Makes no sense, right?

According to this defence’s underlying logic, if a person doesn’t intend on driving badly, but they keep crashing their car into trees, they cannot be called a bad driver!

A racist society is inhuman and frankly barbaric for everyone. It won’t get fixed until a critical mass of people with a lot of power decide they’re genuinely willing to trust and listen to people with less power. This isn’t about capitulating to Leftist internet activists or the SJWs or anything like that–everyone should be interested in understanding what is actually happening in the world, and ensuring we live up to the stated values we claim to believe in. What better way to rehabilitate our lofty but largely BS nationalist myths than by infusing them with truth by actually applying them to everyone in the country?

Tax Evasion vs TTC Fare Evasion: Selective Enforcement


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Society ignores tax haven criminals dealing in many millions of dollars but hounds poor people over pennies. This is one example of an infinitely-recurring pattern, where the ultra wealthy essentially rig society in their favour at the expense of society’s poorest people.

Let’s see one manifestation of this dynamic in action.

Canada loses $4 billion a year to tax evasion, because Canada’s wealthiest have more than $200 billion in offshore accounts, and these funds don’t get taxed. $4 billion.

The general public is not demanding blood. In fact, nothing is happening!

In Canada, over the past few years, the CRA has been financially hobbled in just such a way that it can’t really pursue the tax returns of society’s wealthiest people, who necessarily have the most complex, unwieldy paperwork. As a result, apparently it is more efficient for the agency to invest in assessing small- and medium-level tax returns…

How convenient!

Effectively, tax evasion is legal for the very wealthiest people in society.

Compare this lax treatment against how everyday TTC riders are grilled.

TTC riders face TTC Fare Enforcers, a subsection of police there specifically to ensure “the integrity” of $3.25 fares. All this, though more than 97% of TTC riders pay a fare, and the 2.7% who don’t includes people who can’t because a Presto machine was broken.

So, “fare evasion” is a rarity, what evasion there is is tiny, and “fare evasion” isn’t one person greedily draining the broader society of wealth, it’s just them traveling around their city, which is what the TTC exists to do. If the TTC received 5 times the amount or revenue supposedly lost to “fare evasion” annually, it’d still be critically underfunded! “Fare Evasion” is not the root cause of the TTC’s problem.

Still, we send patrols out because the idea of a poor person getting away with anything is cannot be tolerated.

The TTC is basically broke because unlike any other North American city this size, about 80% of its funding comes from the till box–ie, riders pay for it mostly, not government. Yet the TTC found the money to take out ads to shame and humiliate their own riders and plastered them on TTC vehicles!

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Similar ads were on the insides of buses and subways, and the outsides of streetcars.

The outrageous fine for “evading” an outrageously high $3.25 TTC fee is $425 or criminal charges. The smaller the crime, the more it is enforced and the higher the penalty.

When considering this backwards enforcement, is it really coincidence that John Tory, Doug Ford, and Justin Trudeau are more likely to have personal and professional connections with tax evaders than TTC fare evaders?

Look how they chase poor people.

Toronto’s mayor proudly sent fare enforcers on public transit into a global pandemic in March! Imagine paying $3+ to take a shitty public transportation system to a minimum-wage job during a deadly pandemic, hoping nobody is on your bus so you don’t get COVID, and still seeing Fare Enforcers circulate through the system. Public schools are crumbling, hopefully we have enough PPE for frontline healthcare workers, but this we have money for? This is our society?

Our indifference to poor people is evident from the TTC’s “plan” at the time for social distancing, which was this: Fare Enforcers exit the vehicle once 50 people are on board. Can you imagine society risking the lives of wealthy people to ensure financial accountability over any sum of money, never mind $3.25?

Unsurprisingly, a system built on a foundation of violence against poor people is also racist.

Statistically, Fare Enforcers issue tickets disproportionately to Black people. Fare Enforcers assaulted an unarmed Black teenager on a streetcar just down the street from my apartment. The enforcers were found to have committed no wrongdoing, which is not an exoneration of their conduct but a total indictment of the entire system.

Can you even imagine one scenario where an authority would ever physically tackle a tax-evading investment banker, and upon formal review it’d be deemed acceptable?

This charade of enforcement-theatre which lets mega criminality operate freely in broad daylight while violently hounding poor people out of a fake concern for Law and Order is grotesque, yet very typical. Indeed, if you look carefully, you’ll see this underlying dynamic repeated ad infinitum with only minor variations.

If TTC riders face humiliating ad campaigns suggesting they’re criminals and a dedicated team of armed enforcers over $3 fares, what would it look like to see proportionate enforcement against people stealing many, many millions of dollars?

The tax haven class would be cavity searched upon leaving their home in the morning. Growling bloodhounds would bark after them in the street. Billboards targeting the super rich would proclaim, “You unpatriotic dogs think you can swindle Canada? Think again!” and the super rich would be billed for these undermining billboards.

The TTC is a public good that only exists to affordably get people around the city. People have jobs and appointments to get to: The TTC is not there to generate profit, nor should it be!

Comparing the relative treatment of Class Haven Criminals versus TTC riders illustrates clearly that poor people are the ones paying for collective society, that “trickle-down-economics” is BS because in reality the money trickles down to Switzerland or Panama to be privately hoarded.

If our politicians were actually concerned with enforcing the laws on the books evenly and sensibly, rather than waging a war on the poor to benefit their friends and donors, they’d immediately send TTC Fare Enforcers away from public transit and into the Board Rooms, where all the real criminals and “evaders” are.





Thoughts About Narendra Modi’s 2020 Pogrom in New Delhi


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In late February a pogrom broke out in New Delhi, where I lived between February 2016 and August 2017. I was overwhelmed when I started reading about the violence, and still am while writing this. Still, I have thoughts.


Some basic facts about the violence
A mosque was burned. Footage circulated of a man from the Militant Hindu mob standing on a vandalized minaret, planting a saffron-coloured flag (BJP colours, Modi’s far-right party) and a flag of Hanuman, a popular Hindu god. Men chanted “hail Lord Ram” (a Hindu Nationalist slogan). In places, Muslim men were asked to sing the national anthem, or were beaten up right there.

To confirm their religion, Hindu mobs asked Muslims to show if they were circumcised. Elsewhere, in places Hindus put up the saffron flag so the mob would know not to torch their homes or businesses. A Hindu mob burned an 85-year-old Muslim woman to death, she was too frail to leave her home in time.

Footage of Delhi police shows them damaging CCTV cameras, so they won’t record what’s happening on Delhi streets. Yet I’ve seen a video of a police member instructing a mob to throw a brick (my friend translated the cop’s instructions).

The death toll was 4 in the initial reports from February 25. At the time of writing, it’s 53 and could still rise.

An editor in Delhi sent me pictures of victims way too graphic to post or even describe. Friends there advise me not to visit–“the country has changed.” One buddy told me, his friends aren’t talking about the pogrom–“let’s not discuss politics,” they say…as if a massacre is simply “politics.”

An Indian judge hearing the “Delhi violence” case came down on Delhi police, and was transferred away from Delhi days later. There’s other evidence this violence had explicit support from politicians and police, thought Hindus were also killed, and so was a policeman. How organized and predictable should the violence in a pogrom be?

Pogroms From all the reports I’ve read, and from everything I’ve heard from my friends there, this was a long-coming anti-Muslim pogrom organized by a fascist Hindu government.


India’s reputation
Modi’s India is dark, but you wouldn’t know it unless you’re there. In North America, we hear reports about the supposed eradication of poverty in India–Western Big Business is looking to corner the Indian market, and they’re eager to demonstrate their presence in India benefits India.

The pogrom in Delhi threatens to pierce this painstakingly cultivated image. To maximize profits from India Big Business can’t have India associate with political instability. Actually I think they don’t have much to worry about: media coverage about Delhi’s pogrom has been predictably shameful.

Right wing outlets that still reference Trudeau’s clothing during his India trip are not reporting about Modi’s second pogrom. Priorities.

The image North Americans have been fed about India (deliberately) ignores the all-too-real real undercurrent of violence and growing militarism circulating through the country.

India is not usually associated with Militant Hindu Extremism, but with softer, nicer things: yoga, vegetarianism or butter chicken/naan, non-violent protest, infectiously joyous Bollywood movies, etc. Indians should be proud of these things! But Modi uses this them strategically.

I saw and felt militarism-creep with my own eyes: the increased public Army worship, in the form of bigger parades and more statues; a new law requiring movie theatres to play India’s national anthem, compelling everyone by law to stand up; Hindus (gau rakshaks) lynching Muslims, and the shrugs which follow.

Still, I was totally stunned when the pogrom in Delhi actually happened, even if I wasn’t surprised. That’s the paradox. No matter how much you expect and even prepare for violence, you’re never ready when it happens.

Violence has been ratcheting up since December, when Modi introduced a law (CAA) that itemized which minorities entering India would receive certain citizenship rights on their path to becoming a naturalized citizen, and Muslims were glaringly not included. You can read about the rising violence, Modi’s “detention camps” in Assam (they seem like concentration camps), the different timeline of violence in Delhi and more elsewhere.

I’m not recapping such complex events, just want to write about my perspective on the aftermath of a massacre.


How to feel, after your adopted home saw a pogrom?
There are different ways to be at a loss for words, and they are not all equal. “Be safe” feels like a trite and impersonal thing to say, equivalent to “have a nice day” between strangers.

How can you tell a friend, “please, don’t die”? But what do you say?

I wanted to know that my friends were in fact safe. I assumed they would be, since they mostly live in posh South Delhi, but I didn’t want to take anything for granted.

Actually, a friend of mine’s wife is Muslim, and her family’s business was burned down by a mob. She is safe. They don’t live in Delhi anymore. No wonder.

My Facebook feed has been Indian friends non-stop reflecting, sharing reports, grieving…my Muslim friends are still worried. Their fear is palpable. My Hindu friends also lament what the country has become and are worried too. But it’s different.

I feel impossibly close and far away from the violence. My Canadian friends don’t have the first-hand sense of things to really understand what’s happening. They could intellectualize it and sympathize it, but they won’t get it.

But here’s the thing: neither do I. I’m close enough to feel my heart breaking, but I’m thousands of miles away. It was my home city for a period, but I can’t speak Hindi. My experience living in India was like an ultra immersive movie–I really did experience that country, but always through a bubble.

I wonder what my local gurdwara in Lajpat Nagar II is doing to help desperate people get their lives back together in languages I don’t understand. This is the closeness and the distance I mean. Guilt for being unable to help, close enough to feel a visceral sense of dread. 

I didn’t live in North Delhi where the riots largely took place, but I see the streetscapes from images and become nostalgic for what feels like my home.

One observation I’ve made is that maybe corny things are important to hear the closer you are to the violence. Yet I also believe the precise opposite at the same time:

“Don’t give up on the dream of a safe, secular India”…is this just twee crap that grates on the ears of people gripped by the realness of spilled blood, or is it a heartening and literal description of what peace-seeking Indians need to do moving forward?

In closing
All I know is I send my LOVE to everyone in Delhi trying to live among their neighbours in peace, who want nothing to do with Modi’s Hindu extremism. They have a proud democratic tradition amid regional challenges more complex than Canadians can imagine.

Canada has seen a mosque massacre. A Nazi unfurled a swastika at a Bernie Sanders rally just days ago, yet some North Americans simply think fascism can’t come here because our country is good, but that violence in countries like India (non-white, poorer) is expected.

At heart, Modi’s politics are identical to donald trump and doug ford’s–like McDonald’s operating in different countries, alt-right nationalist politics also makes adjustments and accommodations based on the region.

Consider, Canadian Conservatives lambasted Trudeau, not for having ties with Narendra Modi, a man so connected with mass-murder, the US wouldn’t let him enter the country for a decade–but for not having stronger ties with him. Scheer has still not denounced modi’s massacre. Neither has Trudeau.

I suppose Canadians naively think that after full-fledged mass-murder in the streets, the adults in the room will automatically stand up united to denounce all violence. In my brief experience what happens is this:

a) People who denounce modi for the Delhi pogrom are flooded by modi supporters on twitter accusing you of Fake News and being funded by an “Islamist Network” etc. (His elaborate Digital Army has been written about in detail.)

b) Modi’s radical RSS supporters claim to be the victims of a Muslim Mob, and anyone who even sympathizes with Muslim victims or blames Modi for the pogrom will face their fierce criticism and distortions of events–those who murder have no trouble merely lying.

c) outlets here that promote their own business interests as “news” will ignore a genuine massacre when their partner does it, but will fiercely denounce the wardrobe choices of non-clients for years.

d) the pattern to beware is this: alt-right parties portray critics as being outlandish and hysterical for calling them violent fascists; when the warned-about violence really does happen, they’ll say it didn’t happen, or it happened to them.

I want to send ALL MY LOVE to Delhi now! I didn’t know what to say to you through text messages in the immediate aftermath, and I still don’t know what to write even now, and I’m sorry about this. I send my love. Also, a caution: the pogrom did happen in New Delhi, and it can happen anywhere.


Jeffrey’s Version—My literary and literal journey with Richler’s beloved novel


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One day I stumbled on Barney’s Version at a book sale at my local bank for $1, and because I had heard the name Mordecai Richler before I thought, sure. It was 2008 or so. I had just finished doing a literature degree at Dal and thought I knew something about books.

But this one was just so funny, so honest, and seemed in all conceivable senses to be designed for me personally. This is not the place to analyze the novel or discuss anything inside it. I just want to tell a story that has a middle and ending that you won’t see coming, because I certainly didn’t!

Barney’s Version made me want to become a writer. So I started writing, and soon went on to read all Richler’s other books (except, on the written advice of Mordecai himself, his first three novels). Currently on my shelf are 27 Mordy books.

I read his non-fiction, secondary criticisms, the wonderful Foran bio, and even found for $2 a signed hardcover copy of Don’t Stick Your Neck Out. The Incomparable Atuk was released in the US under this alternate title. What I’m saying is, I got big into him!

In 2014 I was writing arts stuff for a TO website with a small but noble readership when I learned Noah Richler was curating the Luminato literary fest. I emailed him some questions, and we went back and forth a bit.

We met at the event, and soon after he graciously and very surprisingly invited me to “his local” to chat more over beer. I was excited! Noah has worked for decades as a journalist around the world, and is a great writer in his own right.

We talked about literature. He asked if I had ever read any of his father’s work, and I responded, “yes.” He asked me if I write fiction and I said “yes” again. He asked what my novel was called, I said it didn’t have a name yet. He asked what it was about. “Love and advertising.” He said that would make a perfect title, and he was right, so I called it that. (This novel is currently unpublished.)

Anyway, in about a year’s time I moved to New Delhi to help launch an international news station, World Is One News. I worked on the web desk, and my editor at WION has since become a dear, dear friend of mine. Tathagata Bhattacharya has reported from four continents, and has an astounding depth of knowledg on topics ranging from dog breeds, world history, military armaments, finance, to Dead/Band/Dylan. He also knows literature in his bones.

His grandmother, who died in 2016, was Mahasweta Devi, one of India’s most revered authors and social activists, and I understand was a runner up for the Noble Prize in literature, having published over 80 works. T’s father, who died in 2014, was Nabarun Bhattacharya, a radical Bengali novelist who transformed that language’s literature.

T leant me a copy of Vasily Grossman’s epic Life and Fate, inscribed by his father Nabarun. “Dear Bao, For a Brave Life & a Bravely Faced Fate.” I loved that novel, and it was good to get my head out of news for a bit and back into literature.


After a visit home to Toronto, I gifted to him an inscribed copy of Barney’s Version. He read and really liked it, saying it was funny and so readable, but its weave and structure was deceptively complex. Precisely.

Anyway, witnessing Tathagata proudly handle his father and grandmother’s legacy–ie corresponding with publishers, fans, news agencies, posting pictures and anecdotes on Facebook–inspired me to contact Noah again. Why not just be straight up and share a story he’d probably like, rather than be self conscious and do nothing?

I emailed Noah, reminded him who I was, and told him that I didn’t want to be a Fan Boy back when we met, but actually I had read all his father’s books. I told him that BV is what made me want to write, and how I gifted BV to Tathagata and he enjoyed it, and I explained who Tathagata was and that seeing him honour Mahasweta and Nabarun’s works is what made me want to reach out to him. I also sent him a picture of a copy of Barney’s Version sold in India, with a cover I had never seen before.

I got back a very long and warm email! And to my total amazement, actually, Noah had interviewed Mahasweta Devi for the BBC. Jewish Montreal, Toronto, Calcutta, London — small little world! Noah’s email was extremely gracious and friendly. In it he politely asked if I could do a favour and buy and ship to him a copy of Barney’s Version with the cover he had never seen before either for his mother’s archive (the Florence, ie Mordecai’s wife, the model of Miriam in BV no doubt). He’d reimburse me, of course.

Back in Toronto we met and had a very nice talk. After our initial meeting but before I had gone to India, he had been a high-profile federal candidate for the NDP, and had written a fun, candid and very well received book about the experience, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.

I gave him the copy of Barney’s Version with the Indian cover, and of course refused his money—I was very honoured and frankly tickled to contribute my favourite novel to Florence Richler’s own archive.

Over the years I’ve bought probably 10-15 copies of that novel for people. I left 3 or 4 in India. In addition to my reading copy I have the Uncorrected Proofs too, still with the handwritten notes from the reviewer and a letter from Knopf Canada outlining/boosting the novel, and advertising Mordecai’s availability for interviews.

I’m only telling this story because the other day on Twitter I saw someone with the handle “Barney Panofsky’s Best Intentions,” and told him that I followed him solely on the basis of his most excellent name. I couldn’t tweet this story to him, too long, so I wrote this. Why didn’t I tell this story earlier? Maybe I’m uncomfortable name-dropping and it’s impossible to tell this story without doing that. But really, who gives a shit.

I’m happy to celebrate Mordecai! My darling Mordecai! I say that while there are “Greater” novels, BV remains my comfort food, my bagel lox and cream cheese, and my death-bed meal.

And actually a documentary came out literally just two days ago entitled “Nabarun,” about the literature of Nabarun Bhattacharya. I had heard so much about him from T, and praise for his writing from other Bengalis, but until watching this documentary I had never seen him on video or heard him speak, either in Bengali or in English. The raw footage of him was excellent, and very inspiring even! Plus my dear bud Tathagata is in the documentary too, and I haven’t seen him since 2017. Pranati Bhattacharya, Nabarun’s wife and T’s mom, is also in it, a force to be reckoned with who I met briefly shortly before she died.

Looking back, that $1 I spent for my original copy of Barney’s Version was my best investment ever…I wish I could stretch every buck this far!