Wealth and polity

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It’s not quite true that you can make statistics say anything, but it’s close enough. A standard argument from the economism contingent in response to complaints of rising inequality is to claim that that actually, inequality is decreasing. This claim is made by selecting a measurement that is pregnant with (intentionally) unexamined ideological assumptions, that measure involving a comparison among all humans on Earth. The assumption behind this is that every human lives at an equal “distance” from every other human, so that my neighbour has as much effect on my life as someone thousands of km away.

I found and wanted to bookmark a critique of this idea:

The curse of inequality falls upon people at the national level. Inequality results in the degeneration of dictatorships into fascism, and democracies into oligarchies with politics derivative from wealth, not the consent of the governed. It the United States we find clear evidence of this degeneration in the notorious Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court, which formalized the principle of one dollar, one vote. Growing inequality everywhere enhances the power of those opposed to social protection, equal access to health care and education, and eliminating discrimination. When you put these together — the economic power to control a political system, held by those opposed to public provision of social services — rising household income brings very limited benefit to the poor of the earth, in whatever country they may live.

There isn’t a neutral way to measure the well-being of the people who make up the “economy”. In the worst case scenario, we will devolve into feudal fiefdoms, if we haven’t already, with near-immortal super-techno-baron Übermenschen lording it over short-lived serfs. It is that “relationally-relevant” inequality that matters most, the one in which some people have power over others due to their wealth. It’s very nice that Chinese peasants are a little closer in quality of life to working-class Englishmen, if they are, but it doesn’t make the development class of unaccountable super-rich Randroids more excusable. If you’re interested in avoiding that sort of dystopia, one which has existed before, then you can’t leave political relations and boundaries out of your measurement.

But modern economism mostly doesn’t seem to care.

(h/t Naked Capitalism)

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Gaza: some revised history

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Gaza child1.jpg

Suppose that the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, generally considered to have triggered World War I, turned out to have happened differently? Say it was discovered he had been shot by some unaffiliated passerby rather than by a member of Young Bosnia?

Israel is now facing a similar situation, but it isn’t hypothetical. It turns out—and we have the word of Micky Rosenfeld, spokesperson for the Israeli Police, on this—that the kidnap murder of three Israeli teens was not, after all, carried out by Hamas.


It gets worse. It also appears that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, knew almost from the beginning that the three youths were dead. Nevertheless, he ordered the rousting of the West Bank by the Israeli military, supposedly to rescue them. Thousands of homes were invaded, hundreds of Palestinians were arrested, and several were killed. Hamas started firing its strikingly ineffective rockets into Israel, unleashing a deadly attack on Gaza that has so far claimed nearly 900 Palestinian lives, men, women and children.

The underpinnings of the Israeli justification for its assault, in other words, are completely gone.

As I write this, a 12-hour “humanitarian truce” is in effect. More bodies are being pulled from the rubble in ruined Gaza. There is no guarantee that the truce will be extended.

Israel has an insurmountable credibility problem at this point. But so does the West, with its baying pro-Israel media and cowed or complicit politicians. Hamas, not even consulted on an earlier ceasefire proposal put together by Israel and Egypt, had submitted its own opening position for a ten-year ceasefire, but it was almost completely ignored by the media and Western governments. Here it is again:

1) Withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border.

2) Freeing all the prisoners that were arrested after the killing of the three youths.

3) Lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people.

4) Establishing an international seaport and airport which would be under U.N. supervision.

5) Increasing the permitted fishing zone to 10 kilometers.

6) Internationalizing the Rafah Crossing and placing it under the supervision of the U.N. and some Arab nations.

7) International forces on the borders.

8) Easing conditions for permits to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque.

9) Prohibition on Israeli interference in the reconciliation agreement (between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority).

10) Reestablishing an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza Strip.

For anyone seriously desiring and end to the nightmare, rather than bombing and shelling Palestinian civilians to smithereens, this seems a reasonable starting point for genuine talks to begin. Note in particular the proposals for third-party involvement.

Most can agree that Hamas is an extremist gang of cutthroats, to put it charitably. But the “who started it” blame game isn’t particularly productive, as every parent knows who has dealt with disputes among children. And the brute fact is indisputable: at this point the killing and destruction are almost all on one side. It’s a grossly disproportionate response to a provocation that arose because of a counter-provocation.

That grisly chain extends far back into the history of the Middle East and will likely extend far into the future. As I said, pointing the finger of blame at any link in that chain is unhelpful and will resolve nothing. But when one of those links—the appalling murder of three Israeli children—proves to have been forged by fraud and error, the time has arrived for a serious and lasting round of internationally-brokered peace negotiations. Better to jaw-jaw than to war-war, as the decidedly non-bleeding-heart Winston Churchill once observed.

But is the West up to that challenge? Or will it prefer, as it has done for many years, to continue to provide cover for Israel’s expansionist aims, no matter what the human cost? We shall see: but readers surveying the horror of Gaza will forgive me for not being overly optimistic.

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Der Spiegel’s online English edition has an interview with former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, which is unsurprisingly written from the perspective of one who supports Israel, but nevertheless sees the danger in the current situation and Israeli choices for the “classical” Zionist goal of a secular state in the hands of a Jewish nation. Quite logically, he sees particular danger in the settlement enterprise, which is reaching the point where the West Bank would more or less be annexed to Israel, and the one-state solution, the bane of old-school secular Zionists, would then be inevitable.

The interview is remarkable and very much worth a read. One thing that struck me is the barely-spoken subtext of how connected the bombardment of Gaza is to the wider regional politics, a reality which some supporters of Israel are often at pains to deny. Hamas faces a very hostile Egyptian regime that views it as an arm of the (remember, elected) Muslim Brotherhood government it overthrew — a regime that wants Israel to destroy Hamas or to weaken it as much as possible. (The cease-fire gambit, as Dawg previously mentioned, was designed to humiliate Hamas.) From the perspective of the more rational Israeli policymaker, this is actually a problem, because Egypt is actually supposed to serve as a safety valve that allows for a Gazan kinda-sorta-quasi-normality to be reached without Israel appearing to relent on the internally politically popular blockade of Hamas. In other words, an Egypt that is almost openly (!!!) aligned with Israel in this makes it harder to preserve the status quo.

Diskin also mentions the rather hysterical reaction of Netanyahu when the PA attempted to form a unity government with Hamas, which Diskin would have seized as an opportunity to push forward the two-state agenda, but instead provoked Israeli official rage. It is only rationally explainable if the current Israeli government is actively against a two-state settlement; otherwise, there is no reason not to welcome a single unified negotiating partner.

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CRA spider.jpg

There is a salty expression that seems apt at the moment: “Don’t p*ss on me and tell me it’s raining.” A number of charities that have spoken out against various policies of the current Harper administration might well echo the sentiment expressed in that injunction.

The Canada Revenue Agency is currently auditing several Canadian charities, sniffing around for suspect “political activity.” The list of targets reads like a Who’s Who of Canadian charitable institutions: Amnesty International Canada is included, and so is Kairos, stupidly denounced as “anti-Semitic” a few years back by the egregiously dishonest Minister Jason Kenney; the David Suzuki Foundation, Tides Canada, Equiterre, Environmental Defence, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, PEN Canada, Canada Without Poverty, even the United Church of Canada.

It appears, and by no coincidence, that the Knights of Columbus and the Fraser Institute, both of which wade frequently into politics, have been spared a visit from the Grand Inquisitor.

But CRA claims, apparently with a straight face, that its hounding of charities whose missions and goals are not aligned with those of the Harper government has nothing to do with their progressive orientation. Mon oeil.

It’s selectively seeking out environmental, human rights and international aid groups, and organizations receiving donations from labour unions. And it’s spinning the process out, in order to bleed as many resources as it can from the charities under the gun, which have been forced to divert their scarce funds and staff to answering the incessant demands of auditors camped on their doorsteps, sometimes for years. Only one revocation of charitable status has been made—a doctors’ charity in 2012—since the government’s omnibus bill C-38 was passed in that year, setting aside millions to launch the current persecution. But CRA has now made its witchhunt (for that is what it clearly is) a permanent feature of its organization.

The purpose seems evident: to muzzle dissent—nothing new, of course, for the Harper government—and to paralyze the charitable operations of these organizations.

And it’s working. As researcher Gareth Kirkby notes: “The government is attempting with some success to narrow society’s important policy conversations.”

A chill has indeed fallen upon the charitable community. As Kirkby has found, charities are now afraid to speak out on public policy issues, fearing it could result in long and expensive audits that they can ill afford. They’re also spending more of their donations on paperwork just in case. Kirkby puts it squarely: “The data suggest that the current federal government is corrupting Canada’s democratic processes by treating as political enemies these civil society organizations whose contributions to public policy conversations differ from government priorities.”

That’s quite an indictment, and it should make all of us look over our shoulders, not just the folks on Harper’s ever-expanding enemies list. As Kirkby concludes, “It says something about the health of our democracy when these moderate organizations who many people donate to and support, peaceful organizations, are demonized…as being criminal or terrorist organizations…and then find themselves under threat of audits.”

Some charities are considering court action to force the CRA to cease and desist from its selective and costly snooping. A blue-chip Bay Street law firm has offered its services pro bono to PEN Canada. For its part, the NDP has demanded a third-party inquiry into alleged CRA malfeasance—which, in the unlikely event it were agreed to by the government, could not be completed before the next election.

Harper has already targeted scientists, and artists, and First Nations, and trade unionists, and Elections Canada, and Statistics Canada, and the employees of the National Library, and our diplomats, and even weather forecasters.

Now it’s the turn of registered charities who don’t toe the line. Tomorrow, who knows? But we can be sure that this government, perhaps better termed a “regime” at this point, will soon look about for new prey. “I did no more than you let me do,” said the Hangman in Maurice Ogden’s poetic fable. It’s up to every one of us to stop him—and our window of opportunity appears to be closing fast.

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Getting an education

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I’ve been following the whole saga of education reform in the USA off and on but have never really written about it. It’s a kind of hot spot where the retail politics I’ve previously mentioned, and it’s a fascinating mixture of class warfare, ideology, greed/ambition, and ill-fated good intentions. It’s that latter I want to focus on, mostly, after reading this long New Yorker article a couple of months ago, which I meant to write about but never got around until now.

The article describes an attempt to “turn around” a failing school district (Newark) that involves a $100M personal investment by Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and how the whole thing crashes and burns. I know that there’s an automatic (and sometimes justified) tendency to view everything a big rich guy does as part of some kind of nasty greedhead corporate trick, and, well, Facebook, but in this case I’m happy to give Zuckerberg the benefit of the doubt. A lot of well-off nerds actually do worry that there are a lot of diamond-in-the-rough kids-like-them stuck in failing schools, that there’s lots of wasted potential for building The Future, etc, etc.

But the problem is that education isn’t entirely a measurable product; the children in question are embedded in a network of social/economic relations that have deep effects on how much impact better instruction can have. These is where ideology comes in: it’s quintessentially neoliberal to believe that school funding and school structure can be simply be turned into a matter of developing the right incentivization system. The pushers of these reforms have a “no excuses” doctrine—that the poverty of communities with failing education should not be a reason why the children do not learn well. (Contrary to what we know about social stress and cognitive ability, I should add.) This doctrine is tailor (Taylor?) made for those who wish to justify inequality as a natural outcome of existing human capabilities and want to avoid larger-scaled social reforms.

(Similarly, I am partially skeptical of the popular claim that more education will solve the problems of “Third World” countries. Less poverty is often required to establish more education…)

In the USA, these reform attempts have torn communities apart. It turns out that even the most-blamed aspect of the system, teacher seniority-based job security, serves a purpose and is not lightly uprooted. It has also created a kind of target for corporate raiders, in the form of charter school chains, to Walmartishly gut local school systems. And it’s a case in point about the ideological bias hidden in our lionization of technocracy/meritocracy, even possibly well-intentioned philanthro-capitalism.

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Best Wishes to Saskboy

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The sense of community that linked progressive bloggers seems to have faded a bit, perhaps a victim of Twitter, Facebook and our inexorable and rapid achievement of global domination. But many of you will remember Saskboy, a moderate, funny and unfailingly polite western blogger. He experienced a serious collapse a few weeks ago, but is recovering nicely. His partner notes on Facebook that’s he’s doing very well, but is understandably still a bit shaky. Head on over and wish him well.

Here’s the story as covered in the Leader Post.

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With the abrupt removal of NBC’s key reporter on the ground in Gaza, Ayman Mohyeldin*, who witnessed and reported on the killing of four Palestinian kids playing football on a beach, it becomes that much clearer that we in North America are unlikely ever to see balanced coverage of the conflict in the corporate media. Mohyeldin was ordered out of Gaza by top NBC executive David Verdi after his widely-praised reporting on the scene. He was replaced by two reporters, one of whom speaks no Arabic.

It really doesn’t get more blatant than this. But if you take a look at the reportage in general, you can find wide gaps. Stories of the killings in Gaza sometimes manage to avoid mentioning who inflicted them. Perhaps the most bizarre lacuna of all is the continual media evasion regarding the failed Hamas-Israel ceasefire proposal.

Hamas, one of the belligerents, wasn’t even consulted. It has proposed its own conditions, and, aside from the inevitable quibbles over the finer details, they seem entirely reasonable:

1) Withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border.

2) Freeing all the prisoners that were arrested after the killing of the three youths.

3) Lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people.

4) Establishing an international seaport and airport which would be under U.N. supervision.

5) Increasing the permitted fishing zone to 10 kilometers.

6) Internationalizing the Rafah Crossing and placing it under the supervision of the U.N. and some Arab nations.

7) International forces on the borders.

8) Easing conditions for permits to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque.

9) Prohibition on Israeli interference in the reconciliation agreement (between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority).

10) Reestablishing an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza Strip.

The call for UN involvement and supervision, and international supervision of Gaza’s borders in particular, should be welcomed by anyone genuinely interested in peace. But the entire proposal is being studiously avoided by the media. Is it not even worthy of debate? Instead, Hamas, as noted not even a party to the discussions, has been roundly condemned for not agreeing to a ceasefire drafted by Egypt.

Meanwhile, the carnage continues, and it looks as though there will be no early end to it. Even the US has spoken out, if with considerable caution. All but one casualty are on the Palestinian side at this point: most are civilians. A prominent medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières, reports, with uncharacteristic bluntness, that its work is akin to “patching up torture victims in an open-air prison.”

Make no mistake, Hamas bears its share of the blame, for firing hundreds of rockets into Israel. They may have inflicted only one death, but intent matters. It’s a war crime, and it cannot be excused. However, as no less than the deputy Prime Minister of the UK has stated, Israel’s bombing and shelling of Gaza is “deliberately disproportionate.” For his part, Gideon Levy, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, is more outspoken than any commentator in Canada would dare to be.

Or politician. Here at home, it’s been unwavering, uncritical support of Israel by the Librocons as the killings continue. The NDP, once the fearless champion of human rights, has issued only a limp, boilerplate statement which boils down to “both sides are wrong, we need peace.”

To his credit, NDP MP Charlie Angus broke ranks, with a forthright statement of his own on Facebook, later closed to permit only FB friends to see it. Peggy Nash followed on Twitter, and Libby Davies, uncharacteristically silent on Middle East issues since Tom Mulcair became NDP leader, put up a solid comment of her own on Facebook—also restricted to FB friends.

Good stuff. But still, a handful of comments on Facebook and Twitter? Is this all we can expect in the way of dissent?

These are mere voices in the wilderness in any case: Mulcair, an “ardent supporter of Israel in all instances and circumstances,” has apparently all but shut down his caucus, not to mention vetoing the candidacy of former NDP MP Jim Manly’s son for daring to suggest that Gazans are suffering because of Israel’s blockade. The NDP’s National Director Anne McGrath continues to smear him—and the CBC’s Terry Milewski joined the pile-on with mendacious enthusiasm.

Want a balanced view of the Gaza conflict? Now Ayman Mohyeldin has been silenced, Likud talking points are faithfully reproduced by hordes of media stenographers, and politicians with a conscience have been duly cowed, you may as well get a Twitter account.

*/ UPDATED: Somebody at NBC blinked. Ayman Mohyeldin is being sent back to Gaza this weekend. Now, how about CNN?

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This whole prostitution/sexwork/C36 business, well, I’ve tried, partly out of cowardice, to stay out of it, because people I agree with normally are passionately on all sides of it, and while I long ago admitted my love of trolling, this is one of those issues that really has to be handled with kid gloves, because it touches on so many things. So instead, rather than straight-up trolling, I’m going to “concern troll.”

I feel that the motivations for why some feminists may hope and pray for anything, anything that stigmatizes and punishes the purchasers of sexual services (aka “johns”) are not always well characterized in this discussion, being associated too tightly with others who have the same aim but come at it from a more traditionally patriarchal perspective of enforcing public morality. The topic is a very large one with a huge history behind it, including a very large volume of internet discussion going back to Old USENET. I won’t talk about whether the Nordic Model has worked — I gather the evidence base is hotly debated — but rather the more thorny ideological question of “agency” and what it should mean in this context. So here is my attempt at contributing a clarificatory explanation.

Some of the misunderstanding comes through in this Colby Cosh article (just for example, I don’t regularly read McLean’s):

We seem to have exchanged demonizing women for infantilizing them. (Perhaps someday we’ll discover some kind of crazy third alternative!) The new law concentrates on the demand for prostitution, rather than the supply, because “women are vulnerable” and the sex trade is never a choice—except possibly for some male prostitutes, although Conservative statements on the law always speak only of women and children. Somehow, this is exactly the opposite approach from the one our law takes to the war on drugs: In that case, the demand is considered relatively harmless and natural, while the suppliers can never be persecuted harshly enough. Why do you suppose this distinction is never noticed, much less accounted for?

So: the idea is that sex and reproduction as a transaction under unequal/asymmetrical/unfree conditions is the ur-oppression, prior to and qualitatively different from other oppressions. There is a component of prostitution that is like other labour, no doubt, but there is a component that isn’t. That component consists of at least two parts: (1) the profound way in which sex and reproduction condition not only how we produce and consume, but also our familial bonds and obligations, not to mention the economics of pregnancy, etc, and (2) the “psychic” aspect of the traditional (hetero)sexual interaction, the experience of which is held to be asymmetric relative to biological sex.

In this manner, patriarchy and direct-sale of sex, especially without any continuing obligation, are deeply intertwined. In fact, the very interaction in prostitution is patriarchy brought down to its essence and reinscribed not only on the body of the woman sex worker, but on all female individuals, including e.g. lesbians. That men are by far the majority buyers and women the majority sellers is not an after-effect of patriarchy, to be straightened out to relative equality as time goes by, but in fact the raison d’être of the institution, with exceptional circumstances (gay prostitution, female clients, etc.) being mere sad mimic or pantomime of the real thing: men buying women.

From this perspective, decriminalization is simply a libertarian approach, equivalent to there being no protection against exploitative workplaces—-with the important caveat that radical feminists do not agree that there is a point at which the selling of sexual services is not exploitative, even if it’s a rich professional with other options doing the selling, as it is sometimes. From a narrow perspective, in the transaction, the (male) buyer is always the more powerful participant, creating a space where consent for intimately physical actions have been obviated by the transfer of money—-what could not be achieved even under “ordinary” patriarchal privilege is thus obtained by other means. Socially, the floor is thus ratcheted down for what males can and cannot expect from females, what they are trained to believe they have a right to, at the very least with money, and negotiating space is partly stolen from women as a class to set the terms of sexual encounters in general.

Now: whether it is right that sexual oppression is prior to other oppressions and must be treated differently from any other form of labour can be and is hotly disputed. But the position is not equivalent to the sort of moralizing performed by neo-Victorians, even if it coincides on certain overlapping policy prescriptions. Consent and agency and the denial thereof are red herrings that liberals pursue in their wars with conservatives to decide under which regime women’s bodies shall be commodities: in private or in public. Decriminalizing drugs may be a good thing, because it would reduce the power of the cartels who supply it; but women are not meaningfully a cartel. To “abolitionists” or radical feminists or whatever, women’s lives are conditioned by what position on the supply chain they have been placed, regardless of what kind of agent-y “empowerful” feelings they may have. The minimum requirement for ending this system is returning sexual relations to a position of mutual enthusiastic enjoyment and genuine feeling, and outside of the conventional domain of production and economic transaction. And the only way to do this, as they see it, is to impose a cost on the users of the ur-institution of patriarchy.

As I said, whether they’re right is another matter, and even if they’re right, whether the costs that may or may not be imposed on sex workers/prostitutes/whatever are worth the benefit is still another matter.

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spanish inquisition.jpg

Since when does a parliamentary committee turn into a showcase for religious revivalists and patronizing patriarchs? But at times the House of Commons Justice Committee, during its July 7-10 hearings on the government’s antediluvian and dangerous Bill C-36, seemed to become just that.

It wasn’t just Committee members like the near-caricature, “pro-life,” anti-gay and anti-transgender Joy Smith, M.P., mouthing inanities such as “Police have done a remarkable job on human trafficking because if you Google it, it comes up all the time,” or Stella Ambler’s unconscionable trashing of witnesses opposed to the Bill, or the unspeakable Robert Goguen making grossly insensitive comments about rape to a friendly witness who had been gang-raped by three men.

Check out the witness list.

12 of the 50 witnesses were God-botherers who’d found themselves with a bully new pulpit. There was Hope for the Sold, funded through an outfit called ITeams; U-r Home, run out of the Newmarket Evangelical Church; Defend Dignity, a creature of Stephen Harper’s Christian and Missionary Alliance; Embrace Dignity, not the same outfit, but sharing the same dismal perspective; a missionary group called Servants Anonymous Society of Calgary; a representative from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada—and an EFC lawyer, Georgialee Lang, who mucked about in the Bedford case; Ratanak International, an evangelical organization that works in partnership with Harper’s church; Christian youth minister John Cassells; Calgary Police Chief and motivational Christian speaker Rick Hansen; Rising Angels, which partners with the EFC and with Defend Dignity; and Trisha Baptie of Exploited Voices Educating, who is the Executive Director of Honour Consulting & Ministries.

Some of these these folks may indeed, in their own spheres, do good practical streetwork. But they have nothing to teach us about women’s rights. Steeped in patriarchal religion, sometimes wearing the rhetorical clothes of radical feminists, they’re on a contradictory mission: not only to “rescue” those who don’t want to be rescued, but to put those they would rescue at further risk of harm in an already hazardous trade.

There is a distinct undercurrent of dishonesty that runs through the prohibition campaigns, highlighted by that very contradiction. The prohibitionists know very well, I suspect, that you don’t “stamp out prostitution” (as Tricia Baptie puts it) by passing criminal legislation, any more than you stop abortion by making it a crime. You just make both that much more dangerous for the women involved. Somehow Canada fumbled its way to the truth in the latter case way back in 1988, and the Supreme Court in Bedford has taken a similar approach here: the security of the women involved is a Charter right, and it is paramount. But the Conservative government, playing to its so-con base, isn’t going down without a fight. After all, by the time this gets back to the Supreme Court, the next election will be over, and in the meantime it makes great campaign fodder. Stand with us or stand with the perverts.

The real agenda here, of course, is not practical, but moral. The purpose is to impose an official stigma upon sex work, and, by extension, upon sex workers. It’s not that much of a jump, after all, from patronizing sympathy to hellfire judgement. And to conflate this issue with human trafficking, as many have done, is a deliberate attempt to muddy the waters and arouse public sympathy for the prohibitionist position, because human trafficking is already illegal, and they know it. The alleged emphasis on “johns” in C-36 is a diversion: whichever party you criminalize (and the women do not entirely escape this net even in the Bill), it’s the sex workers who will suffer.

If it weren’t for the serious, life-threatening risk to those workers that C-36 will create, the Justice Committee sideshow would have been a great popcorn event. Rarely do you get the chance to observe such a cacophonous medley of (no doubt well-meaning) Ladies Bountiful, male and female, fervently telling us all what’s best for sex workers. To note that the sex workers in question are in substantial disagreement is to miss the point, or, alternatively, to reinforce it. Those exploited, degraded girls are victims, even if they aren’t aware of it. And, by God, C-36 is about to wake those poor souls up.

[Photocred: Andy Griffiths. And thanks to some good folks for specifics.]

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An additional fact about Italy

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Apropos of very little, I’m just here to remind you of one more thing about Italy that Dawg may have left out of his travel journals. I don’t know how he could have forgotten this!

Did you know that Italy is the land of casu marzu, the Sardinian jumping cheese? This delicacy consists of a local pecorino deliberately infested with the maggotty larvae of the “cheese fly”. Apparently, you spread the (possibly “weeping”) cheese/maggot mix (remember kids, it’s only safe to eat if the maggots are still wriggling!) on a small slice of bread and attempt to eat it before the 8mm maggots jump into your eyes. And they can jump 15cm, apparently! And according to aficionados, which is apparently a decent-sized chunk of the local population, the cheese is perfectly safe (when the maggots are alive!), and there is probably little risk of the maggots surviving your digestive tract and burrowing through your gut, causing abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and bloody diarrhoea. Even smaller risk of them reaching your brain and settling into your pleasure centres, turning you into a neurotransmitter-addled slave for their wormy majesties.

Italy, eh? Always thinking up noodly ways of making traditional foods better. Needless to say, I’m scheduling this post to appear right before dinner for your maximum enjoyment. So when’s that next trip to Sardinia?

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