Over the years I have written about all sorts of things: politics, economics, film, love and more, in fiction, non-fiction and news articles. These are some of my favourites.
China, the incumbent super-powerThe Bottom Line, McGill Department of Economics, November, 1999
In signing a bilateral trade agreement this November 15th with the U.S., China moves one step closer to joining the World Trade Organization and asserting its position as a world power. President Jian Zemin’s main goal in accepting to reduce tariffs from an average 23% to 17% is to open China to the world and eventually turn it from a market into a producer. Once membership in the WTO is achieved, China will be in the advantageous position of possessing bilateral low-tariff accords with many WTO countries, a huge labour force, new technologies and production methods, and the drive to be the leading power in global economics.
The hope is that this deal, the terms of which come into effect when China joins the WTO, will boost and eventually stabilize China’s failing economy. Chinese economic hard-liners complain this deal will cause massive unemployment as inefficient state-subsidized industries will fail. Premier Zhu Rongii, counters that although state-industries will fail and unemployment will rise, new jobs will be created in the ever-expanding private sector and eventually the economy will stabilize.
Allowing 49% investment by foreign telecommunications companies at the time of accession and 50% two years thereafter, China’s telecommunication network, technology and telecom potential will flourish. In this field, China might be seen as yielding to economic pressure from U.S. companies seeking access to 1.2 billion new customers. Foreign interests, however, must first build the telecom network. Even if half-owned by foreign interests, the technology thus introduced will allow China to leap forward and quickly be on par with the West. What’s more, telecom companies will use Chinese labour.
Under the new deal, foreign banks will be able to conduct business in local currency and will, therefore, be able to provide loans directly to Chinese private interests. (For years, China has maintained two hard currencies: one for foreign trading and one for internal trading.) Heretofore, much of the state’s funds were tied up in state-industries. With these industries disappearing, further moneys will become available to the private sector. Foreign and government funds will thus be readily available to reinvigorate China’s capitalist economy, introduced two decades ago by the late Deng Xiaoping.
WTO director-general, Mike Moore, sees the deal as a huge step towards China’s joining the global economy. Indeed, he said, as he has said before, that “we are not the World Trade Organization until China has joined.’ With such glib wit from the man-in-charge, China’s eventual membership in the WTO seems assured. Canada will shortly be signing a similar bilateral agreement with the incumbent super-power as will the European Union – although the latter is not expected for quite some time.
U.S labourers are not so keen on the bilateral U.S. - China accord. China has a large and inexpensive labour force. And for years, many goods have been produced in China and imported. U.S. labour now fears that with lower U.S. import tariffs on goods produced in China and that countries increased output capacities, U.S. manufacturers will be unable to compete.
This concern, persistent concerns regarding China’s human rights record and the treatment of Taiwan are some of the Congressional points raised in opposition to this deal. Even after thirteen years of halting talks, the U.S. Congress can scuttle the deal. Economic analyst, Robert Litan argues that Congressional mood will depend greatly on the success of the WTO summit in Seattle. If all goes well, freer global trading will be seen positively and the U.S. - China deal will most likely pass. If not, China will be forced a few steps back from its WTO membership.
China’s economic manoeuvres do not come without a cultural price tag. China will loose the ability to block the import of such consumer goods as cars and Hollywood films. Automobile tariffs will be cut from 80-100% to 25% and China must import at least 20 Hollywood films a year.
Activists claim that human rights stand to benefit from China’s WTO membership. Economic co-dependence as well as general openness will allow for greater pressure and influence from human rights groups and the United Nations. China thus sacrifices its legendary economic and cultural sovereignty in order to win out in the end.
The accord at a glance
-Average tariff levels drop from 23% to 17%
-China will allow 49% foreign-ownership of telecom providers, rising to 50% two years after
-U.S companies will be allowed to invest in Chinese Internet content providers, heretofore prohibited.
-Chinese import tariffs on automobiles will be cut from 80-100% to 25%
-Auto companies will be allowed to provide financing.
-Foreign banks will be able to conduct business in local currency.
-China will cut import tariffs on agricultural products to 15%. China will also phase out state trading of soy oil.
-Measures will be adopted to prevent unfair dumping of textile products.
On PoetryPublished: A Golden Morning, British Columbia: Poetry Institute of Canada, 2005
In the middle
of the white
a strange thing;
Rhyme and Reason and Metre and Form
She Was Asking For ItMovie review, www.socialife.ca, July, 2007
Matthew Saliba’s “She Was Asking For It,” showing July 12th as part of the Fantasia Film Festival, is a self-titled sado-erotic giallo. For those of you who don’t know (and I didn’t either) a giallo is sort of like a novel-noir -- a mystery/crime/violence/pulp novel that comes from Italy of the 20’s. Gialli, so called for the yellow of their original covers, grew to include movies with extended murder scenes and excessive bloodletting but with stylish camera work and music.
Saliba’s third film pretty much fits the giallo bill; twelve minutes of stylish, well-composed stills set to at times whimsical, at times disturbing tracks. “She Was Asking For It” tells the story of one man’s revenge on two women who seduced, beat and raped him. Of course he hunts them down and kills them in excruciating and savage ways seeking a kind of twisted poetic justice by raping the first with a dildo and nailing the other to a wall with the same dildo.
But what threw me off was the tonal difference between the rape of the man and the murder of the women. Perhaps it was the challenge of the gender-reversal or the choice to keep the beginning rape scene pristine, devoid of body fluids or blood, divorcing it from the realities of such a situation but the kidnapping and rape felt more like a fantasy sequence or an extended masturbation scenario in which the man, although passive and abused, was none the less a willing participant to these two dominatrix.
The murder of the women, full of blood, spit and even vomit, had an intensity and a sincerity that seemed to come from a far deeper and darker place than the wounds of a victim of rape.
Both scenes are quite successful but watch for the difference when you go and see its world premier when it opens for another Canadian premiere, “Silent Screams” at this the 11th edition of Fantasia, North America’s Premiere Genre Film Festival.
Other films that sound like fun at the Fest: “Wonder Woman, Balance of Power” part of the Square Jaw Theatre; “Escalator to Heaven” and “2 minutes” two Korean films part of the Beyond Genres of Korean Short Films. I’m also going to check out “Caress” by Mendel Hardeman from the Netherlands. And to make sure your Karma is well aligned, you should check out some of the 80 short films from Quebec artists.
Fantasia runs from July 5th to 23rd, has over 100 feature films from 25 countries and last year attracted more than 77 000 guests.
www.fantasiafestival.com for more info.
“She Was Asking For It” July 12th, 9:40pm at the DB Clarke Theatre.
Woman ironingPublished: litbits.ca 2005
As I watched, she carefully folded the white cotton, ironing the pleats. Experienced hands flicking the fabric in that special way. The iron disappeared. She handed the shirt over the blue and yellow flower-print ironing board to his waiting hands. She walked around the curved end of the board. A blue and white checked shirt appears in the doorway. My window into their kitchen. The building just down the cliff.
First the collar. The flick. The shoulder spread tight over the end. Wet fabric hanging in wrinkles. Steam. The other shoulder. He comes back. The blue and white disappears. The white shirt, now unfolded, returns to the board.
Flick. Steam. Folding. Flick The shirt is offered again.
She walks heavily to the balcony, her old stocky body borne upright and firm. Her the yellow flowers of her brown blouse with pleated shirt hang limp from her frame. She removes the blue plastic clip. A toss and amber hair spreads over her shoulders.
Her chest heaves. Breathing. The moon over Vesuvius.
Her hair is returned to the knot and fastened with the blue plastic clip. The blue and white returns to the board.
PeterThe Craft and Art of Non-Fiction, Quebec Writers' Federation, 2007
“It’s complicated,” he begins, trying to answer my question. It usually is with Peter. His answers are never simple and there’s usually a back story which is sort of like a long magic carpet ride that branches and branches and branches in seemingly endless connections of people and places. It’s sort of a swirling collage of everything and everyone all at the same time and Peter is trying to filter, pick and choose what needs to be said, what needs to be conveyed for me to understand. Here A doesn’t lead to B; A leads to B, C, D and E which then have their own back stories which need to be explained. B goes to L, M and N. And I follow trying to carry all the pieces and pick up more as we skit from point to point on the erratic map. And just when I think I’m completely lost and the story is never going to get to the point and actually answer my question, he curves, gracefully and purposefully, as if that was the intention all along, and the story folds back on itself.
“And that’s why Johnny was mad a Frank. Not because of what Frank did per se but because of what Johnny did at Rachel’s house when Frank was out of town and didn’t want Frank to know about. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, it does,” I say. “More coffee?”
I go to the kitchen with our two empty mugs. The cold fall air is coming through the slightly open darkened kitchen window. Across the alley I can see my neighbour watching TV. It’s late but gossiping the hours away on this Tuesday night in my downtown apartment is just about all I feel like doing.
As I return to the living room with fresh cups of steaming coffee, milk and two sugars for both of us, Peter tosses his cellphone back on the coffee table.
“Anything interesting?” I ask.
“Text from Butterfly. She wants to have a meeting about Mouth.”
“Oh, that’s right. Next Sunday. So what’s the problem?”
And as I sit on my sofa to drink my coffee and listen to this handsome, strong-jawed, bright-eyed man with gentle confident motion taking his mug and settling back, I begin to understand. Although he’s talking about problems with spoken word performers, troubles with venues for his monthly night, its perceived importance to Montreal’s black community, his responsibility to that community, and all the complicated details, he’s not really talking about them. And when he was talking about Johnny and Frank deep in the heart of club land, he wasn’t really talking about them either. The real story is his own: his own secret identity.
I’ve known Peter for nearly ten years. We met like most people in club land and the one truth I have discovered is that secretly he wants to be a superhero. Not for the flying or the gadgets or the super strength, but for the secret identity. His secret wish is to have a singular person that is untouched by the world around him and its demands on him. To be a member of the Black community, an openly gay man, an ER coordinator, a writer, a TV host, scenester, man about town, movie producer, and for there to be a different Peter, a different super-suite, for each of those groups of people. When he takes me on those carpet rides and tells me all about how B connects to M, he’s trying to understand how people might understand him. Is it inappropriate for an ER coordinator to party as much as he does? Is it unacceptable for a Black Community leader to be gay? And is it equally a contradiction for a scenester to read comic books and want to be Wonder Woman? If he could have a super power I bet it would be for the ability to guarantee that no one from one group would know people from the others. If he could achieve that, his life would be a lot simpler.
And sometimes he pulls it off. He plays the mirror, projecting back at you the super-you, the you you’d be if only you had a little more courage, the you who makes great paintings, the you who becomes a DJ, the you who takes dance classes, performs your poetry, launches your first CD, writes your first book. His desire to help you is very sincere but at the same time it is a mask, the lycra suite and cape that fools everyone into understanding him only in so much as they need to, leaving the rest of himself safe.
“But so you see. I can’t move Mouth to Luba because Jonathan and Sabyl are mad at me.” The explanation as to why Butterfly, Mouth’s stage manager, wants to have a meeting has just curved back to its beginning.
“So, can’t you just stay where you are for this month and plan to move for next?”
“That’s what Butterfly wants to have the meeting about.”
Of all things I know he does, for me he is writer. He tells stories of buddies and friends set against a backdrop of mothers and fathers, expectations, fears, goals hopes and dreams. He works on twisting what is to ask why not? Why can’t there be gay roommates who really are just roommates? Why can’t there be strong proud women who don’t get abused and taken advantage of? Why can’t there be a greater sense of justice? And why can’t there be a gay black super hero?
Mr. HubertPublished: Stationary Zine, Issue #6, September 2005
“After fourteen years of silence, I spat on an old woman in the metro. Only her toes touched the ground. Her melted, liver-spotted hands held her beige handbag defensively on her lap. She had a scarf and a hat of matching sky blue. Her face was unremarkable. As kind as any grandmother-type although she did not have the power of my grandmother, a silently powerful woman who ruled through grace, subterfuge and coercion. No, this woman had the repugnance of anyone over 65. Grey, wrinkles, saggy, smelly. When I spat on her, most of it landed on her right cheek just to the left of her cheek bone. Some spread up the side of her nose – dribbling just a little. More landed on her drooping eyelid and on that terribly soft patch in the corner of the eye just on the bone. There might even have been some on her bottom lip. Just one or two drops. Very small. I’m not sure. Some guy pushed me out of the metro car. After fourteen years of silence I had spoken. My first word.
My second word was ‘The’, audibly capitalized and then I paused. I had more in mind but was too shocked to say more. The sound of my own voice surprised me. I repeated ‘The’ and added ‘man.’ Now you must understand that for fourteen years I had chosen not to speak. I moved from the city to the country twice. I slept, worked, paid bills. I just didn’t talk. You might ask why but I can’t give you a good reason. None that would satisfy such abhorrent behaviour anyway.
A strange thing happened when I gave up speaking. People stopped speaking to me. When my speechlessness was new, the few intimates I had asked me but I never satisfied them. Nothing I wrote down in explanation was good enough. I tried. Well maybe not, but I thought I did. I wanted them to just say okay but they kept pushing. I had nothing else to say. So they stopped asking. Soon it just became an accepted fact. I didn’t talk. Needless to say that after fourteen years there weren’t many people left in my life. No one you would call close. And I know there are thousands of mute and deaf people who are fully functioning members of our society, have jobs and homes and lives. But I really—it wasn’t the act of speaking that I rejected, it was conversation. It was the banter, the back and forth, the endless pattern of expression, misunderstanding and trying to explain yourself to another who couldn’t possibly understand. How could they, they weren’t me?
In the beginning I wrote a lot. I went to the dollar store and bought a bunch of lined, spiralled note books. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I don’t know, I guess I was working stuff out. Figuring this out. Trying to shuffle everything, all the pieces into one picture. To link the dots. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I was 27 when I gave up talking so I had a lot to say or not say... to work out. Whatever. I don’t know. In the end I gave up. I realized that I never had any intention of sharing these writing with anyone so what was the point. I mean, what’s the point of writing anything down if no one’s ever going to read it? Everyone writes to be heard. Everyone wants to be a star, don’t they? On the other hand maybe I was just finished. Maybe. With no more input maybe I had finished. Maybe the drawing was finished. Maybe all the lines had been drawn, all the connections made. All the dots were connected and now all I was doing was drawing more and more of them, filling in the space with infinite number of black lines. I hope not. I had it the other way. I mean, I really thought I stopped writing in rebellion. In revulsion. Hmm. Anyway.
When I gave up writing my journals, an even stranger thing than the disappearance of people happened. I stopped having reactions to things. Without the writing there were no more witnesses, not even myself. So oddly enough the story stopped. Don’t get me wrong. As I said, I lived. I aged. I changed clothes when it was necessary. My emotions stopped. The causative links between the events of my life and my emotional reactions stopped. So the chronological accumulation of these links that were how I understood myself and my place, stopped. Time didn’t stop. I stopped. It was as if when I stopped writing I stopped telling myself my own story. When I did that, I gave up the last reader. The story stopped.
In 1995, I moved to the country. I edited books for a publishing house. Not a huge one but big enough. I read, edited and submitted the corrected texts without ever saying a word. I had a few freelance projects but they didn’t go well. People hiring freelancers weren’t satisfied with my blunt written judgments of their work. It was impossible to indulge in the literary debacle that most of those people enjoy.
My company had signed an author to write a series of five short, adolescent novels over three years and I was her editor. She would send me chunks of her work. Sometimes ten pages, sometimes fifty and I would make sure she was adhering to the word count and lexical limitations of her contract.
I set myself up in a two bedroom bungalow in St-Xavier de la Montagne. It’s a little village down in the Townships. Nothing special. Nothing going on. Just country people doing country stuff. You know. Hanging out at the bar. Going to weddings and funerals. The high school play. Smoking joints in parked cars. Not really that much different form the city, I guess. Just darker out there. I’m not really a good judge though. I didn’t really try to get involved. I’m sure they were good people. Just far from the epicenter, you know.
The locals thought I was mute and just adapted accordingly. People simply waved or nodded greetings. That awful, meaningless question: ‘How are you?’ I had a teacher once who said that ‘how are you?’ is just a way people have to say ‘I see you.’ No one actually wants to know the answer. Maybe. Even the cashiers at the grocery store came to know me and stopped being offended when I didn’t answer and chat. Some of the peppier ones still asked and usually engaged in a funny one-way conversation. All I needed to do was nod or smile. That was all the answer they needed to discuss weather or politics or her mother in a really clever stream of rhetorical questions. I mean, don’t you think she should let me go? I mean, why wouldn’t I be allowed to go? It’s not like I’m going to crash the car again? Conny’s driving. You know? I would nod or smile. That’s 27.34, Mr. Hubert. And that was the way it went. My quiet country life. Small communities adapt quite readily so long as you meet them in the middle. The only thing they ask is that any change happen slowly and if possible with due warning. The community will accept a newcomer but introduce yourself and your mould has been cast. It’s not the people. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s just a side effect of living with so few people. You know them all. You feel protective of them and yet you mistrust them all. You know they’re judging you the way you’re judging them. It sounds binding but I guess some people are just more comfortable with known quantities. Anyway. Whatever. What am I talking about? Don’t listen to me. I’m the crazy one who didn’t talk for years, right? What do I know? These people could all be the divine lambs of god and the city people the raving idiots. Who knows? Anyway.”
Suddenly, Mr. Hubert looked tired. The audience that had gathered to listen to him talk about his experiences was glad of the break. They relaxed. They had just gone through one of those awful moments when the speaker goes off track and there’s no way to bring him back. They had listened closely to everything he had had to say but when he started talking about life in the country he seemed to wander off course into a rambling diatribe without a purpose. He got lost and his audience of first year university students was lost with him. And they were all too polite to show disinterest so they faked it and tried to follow. They were happy to have a break, to speak to their neighbours, to leave the room. Others, the keeners at the front, went over their notes getting ready for the question period at the end.
Leaning up against the wall outside, Mr. Jacques Hubert lit a cigarette. He looked at the McGill campus. And the grey, fall city behind it. It was good to get outside. Get some fresh air.
“’Scuse me. Do you have a light?”
Mr. Hubert grunted and handed his lighter to the young man who had walked up. The man lit his cigarette and handed it back. “Thanks, Mr. Hubert” It was a test, a question just trying to make sure it was the right man.
The two stood together for a while. The old man wondering why the boy was standing there, knowing that something was about to pop out of that beautiful young mouth. The young man smoking, thinking of a good way to begin.
“You have a very interesting story, Mr. Hubert. Thank you for coming today.”
Mr. Hubert smiled. Gratitude was always a good saviour. Well, not always, but today it worked. “I’m glad you think so. I’m not sure. But it’s good for book sales.”
The two laughed nervously, unsure whether they were close enough yet for such ironic candour.
“Can I ask you something?”
Ah, so finally the courage has been screwed tight enough. “Yeah.”
“There’s something I don’t understand about your story.”
“Well, you said that after you stopped writing, you stopped reacting, feeling, changing. But when you moved to the country, didn’t you change there? I mean, you were exposed to new people and places. Didn’t they affect you at all?”
Too easy boy. You’re not listening closely enough. Stop thinking about who you’re going to screw tonight and pay attention. “It must have changed me. I’m here, aren’t I?”
The boy looked embarrassed. He smiled and hung his head a little. Thank god for the cigarettes. They’ll always give you something to focus on when you need it. Just pay attention to smoking. Somehow you’re invisible for a little while.
Mr. Hubert spoke first. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t a good answer. I was expecting
something…something that you were perhaps embarrassed to ask in the auditorium. Nothing quite so pedantic.” Mr. Hubert smoked his cigarette.
What you don’t realize is how alien speaking was to him at this point. It just wasn’t part of his life. He’d adapted to a new system, a new way of doing things and by that point talking to another human was as foreign as breathing under water or as difficult as learning to ride a bike at 40. But then again maybe that was just a lie he told himself to keep safely cloistered behind the mute distance between you and me. In fact, it must have been. All that stuff about the story stopping. Bullshit. He had the desire to move to the country. He had the desire to go to the saunas and the club, didn’t he? History, his history obviously continued. What a crock. This man’s no visionary. No ascetic. He’s just a coward who refused to participate because he couldn’t cut it. Found it all too much.
“Anyway. I should go back in. They’re probably all waiting for me. The exciting conclusion.”
“I’m gonna stay and finish this. Maybe I’ll come and find you after. I’d like to talk to you some more. Maybe take you out for a beer?”
A dangerous game, young man. “If you like.”
And with that, Mr. Hubert walked back inside to finish his speech. To deliver the rather
disappointing answer to the inevitable question of why he spat on the old woman. Truth was he hadn’t really figured it out yet. What he told the students. What he had told all the students waiting for the conclusion, the inevitable return to the beginning. All the rage, all the frustration that seethed and boiled under his skin. That same rage that had silenced him fourteen years before exploded. The woman, for whatever reasons, had become, for that moment, the repository of all the ignorance and stupidity in the world, all the lack of understanding and problems of communication. For that moment, she was the poster-girl of everyone’s inability to adapt, to understand the new, the tendency of people to filter everything, to hear only what they wanted to hear, to flail madly at the message, destroying and discarding it before they had even tried to decode it. The arrogance that comes from the certainty that you know the world and it is the way you understand it to be. Most students like this idea, this explanation. It fits nicely into their models of the transference of novelty and innovation from generation to generation. That what is passed is passed. It was useful to build on but really no longer applied and trying to explain something to the older generation was a waste of time. They simply had a different framework and different set of values that made it impossible for them to understand. For some, he was sure, it might even fit into their personal experience of having a parent or grandparent who just refused their logic. The obstinate moral righteousness of responsibility. Yes, most of the kids liked his explanation. The point-explosion of all the rebellion and frustration. They even liked the rather wry joke that he used to end his speech. His second words, as he liked to call them: “The” and “man”
Oh, I said those to the guy who helped me up from the platform. He wanted to know why I had fallen out of the metro car.