There is a scene in the Kevin Smith film Clerks 2 in which a character (a very white character) decides he wants to “take back” the term ‘porch-monkey’ so that it can shed its racist connotation and act as a slur against lazy people of all tints and hues. The joke, of course, is that he is far too pink to spearhead any reappropriation effort. That sort of collective shift in perspective has to take place within the group who had been thwacked and battered by the word to begin with.
This is why I get physically jolted by a mighty douche-chill whenever I hear two white guys refer to one another as “nigga”. That not only betrays the linguistic rules, it comes across as patronizing and – as much as the intent may not be there – at least mildly racist. Oh, and put your damn hat on straight. The brim has a functional purpose, squank-bag.
The unholy n-word is probably the most famous case of a word being reclaimed by its one-time victims and re-introduced into their lexicon – albeit only into theirs. But all across the cultural spectrum there are reappropriation missions underway, consciously or unconsciously shaping the way our language will taste and smell for the next few decades.
Sorry, white people. Even if we’re quoting Chris Rock bits, it’s still not cool.
For a minority to capture a word that had once been used as a pejorative slur against them, to tame it, then to re-release it into the wild as a neutral or even a positive thing, that’s an act of true empowerment. A perfect example is the word ‘gay’ – once fired as a derisive snip toward homosexuals, the word was forcefully taken back with the advent of the Gay Pride parade in 1970. So much so that the word is now commonplace among gays and non-gays alike. Unlike the n-word, those outside the box are allowed to use it. Read more…
Earlier today, someone suggested to me that I pen an article about surströmming, which is a northern Swedish delicacy. As with any food that is considered a delicacy of a very specific region, yet has not made the official menu of well-known cliché ethnic foods from its nation (in Sweden’s case that would be meatballs, lingonberry sauce and whatever that whacky Muppet is cooking up), I knew it would sound gross. And it does. Surströmming is a fermented Baltic sea herring whose odor is allegedly so horrendous it has been banned from two major airlines and the Stockholm airport.
It’s an “acquired taste”, I’ve been told. This is a puzzling psychological concept to me, and would make for a more interesting kilograph than some terrorist cousin of the anchovy family.* There are foods I have tried and loved from the first bite – Kobe steak tartar, key lime pie, crème brulé, among others. But it’s true that sometimes a particular gustatory journey requires baby steps before the palette can truly hit its stride. Why is that?
Even beer. When my beloved aunt and uncle gave me my first can of O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock (my father passed on this rite of traditional bonding; he was more a drinker of wine and A&W Cream Soda), I hated it. Maybe that was because it was crappy beer, but I really think my tongue just needed some training wheels before it could appreciate what hops and malt could become. It’s a curious thing.
* Actually, the airlines claim they feared the tins might explode, it had nothing to do with the smell. Right.
Babies are born with a predilection for sweet foods and a natural disdain for bitter or sour stuff. We don’t generally lean toward salty eats until about four months, but once we leap off the boob into a heaping bowl of solid foods we become suddenly very adventurous. This might explain why those little two-nub pieces of Lego can so easily find their way into a toddler’s gullet (though I suspect Freud would say that has more to do with a penis obsession, the sick bastard). Not long afterward, neophobia sets in. Read more…
What’s in a name? That which we call a prairie
By any other name would smell as grainy;
So Saskatchewan would, were it not Saskatchewan call’d,
Retain that weird insect surplus which it owes
Without that title.
So begins an unimpressively cutesy introduction to today’s discussion about the hallowed names that reach across my nation’s map. I’m aware, of course, that my American readers far outnumber my Canadian loyal, but in all fairness, covering the name origins to fifty states, a district, a country, and untold outlying territories would occupy much more real estate than my thousand words could afford.
And so I patriotically shmush my fingerprints against my keys and delve into the origin stories of my own origin story: Canada. Not her history itself – again, a thousand words only stretches so far across the table – but merely the names of the ten provinces and two territories I had to learn as a kid. There are three territories now, but I’ll happily include my Nunavutian brethren and sistren in today’s little missive.
That said, adhering to the proper essay format I spent the last eight years of my schooling attempting to shatter, we’ll open up big-picture-style: Why the fuck are we called Canada?
We have been known as ‘Canada’ since right around when the first European boot-heels clomped into the east coast mud in the 16th century and began to establish communities. It originates from Kanata, the Saint-Lawrence Iroquois’ word for ‘village’. Or possibly ‘settlement’. Or maybe it was ‘land’. I’m guessing some Iroquois folks made a sweeping gesture as they said the word and the settlers made their own call regarding the translation. That’s the official legend – however there are other theories out there. Read more…
Depending on what actually happened – and the sad truth is that we will probably never know – the D.B. Cooper story is either one of the greatest robberies of all time or a brilliant example of how a poor exit strategy can trip up any criminal. You’ve probably heard about the story (or perhaps you’ve seen it come to life on Newsradio or Prison Break), how a quiet and polite hijacker stepped off an airborne plane and into the night with a bag full of stolen loot. But the resonance of this 43-year-old mystery is truly worthy of our collective awe.
It was November 24, 1971, the day before Thanksgiving, yet somehow the 2:50pm Northwest Orient flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle – Flight 305 – was only about a third full. A man who had purchased a ticket under the name ‘Dan Cooper’, took his seat near the rear of the Boeing 727, lit up a smoke and ordered a bourbon.
When the man slipped a note to Florence Schaffner, the flight attendant, she tossed it in her purse unopened, believing it to be the phone number of yet another smarmy businessman believing all stewardesses to be little more than travelling whores. “Miss,” the man whispered to her, “you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.”
“Or am I just happy to see you?”
The man showed Florence the contents of his briefcase, which looked enough like a bomb for her to believe him. She relayed his instructions to the cockpit: he wanted $200,000, four parachutes (two primary, two reserves), and a fuel truck to gas up the plane upon arrival in Seattle. The man wasn’t nervous, he wasn’t agitated, and all reports state that he was rather polite. He even tipped Florence when she brought him another bourbon. Read more…
To my knowledge, there has never been a commercial airline disaster on a flight that has departed from or been on its way to Edmonton, the city where my fingers do most of their keyboard-thumping. One could take that as optimistic reassurance or as a terrifying taunt to the Odds Gods, depending on one’s personal perspective. But I recently learned that my city’s perfect streak of flight safety was very nearly foiled in 1983.
It was Flight 143, a routine flight from Montreal that was run every day. The aircraft was a top-end Boeing 767, a model which hadn’t yet seen two years in the air. The plane wasn’t shiny-new, but it was new enough that mechanical trouble should not have been a concern. In this case it was, though the technical flaws on the plane were minor compared to the very human glitch of not pouring enough fuel into the tank.
Flight 143’s tale is terrifying, but it’s a triumph of pilot awesomeness that prevents it from being a tragedy. Canadian aero-lore calls this the story of the Gimli Glider. I call it the near-miss bullet that almost pierced my city’s pristine record of commercial air safety.
The fuel tanks of a 767 are regulated by the Fuel Quantity Indicator System (the FQIS). There are two channels which cross-check with one another, though the plane could be flown with either of them failing. If the FQIS fizzles entirely, the fuel gauges in the cockpit don’t work. I’m no pilot, but I suspect this would be kind of a big deal. On this particular aircraft, the FQIS was half-functional, but due to a sequence of botched last-minute maintenance (which made it non-functional) and faulty communication between ground crew and air crew, the flight was allowed to proceed. Read more…
June 6, 1944 was the day the Allied forces heaved their collective mass up against the first mighty domino that would eventually lead to the collapse of the Third Reich and an absolute victory in Europe. Over 160,000 American, British, Canadian, Greek… hell, you know who the good guys were… anyway, over 160,000 troops made a beach party along the coast of Normandy and set about the job of liberating France from German control.
D-Day was the result of months of planning, preparation and practice. Yes, practice. The Allied forces didn’t want to float a city’s worth of fresh-faced yokels straight out of basic training into the most important battle of World War II. They needed a dry run, a simulation that could prep these guys for the real thing.
That pre-season battle was known as Exercise Tiger. It was successful, if you judge it by the fact that the Normandy invasion was a victory when it happened for real. But the practice run killed roughly 20% as many Allied soldiers as would die on D-Day, and it very nearly snuffed out the mission a month and a half before it was to happen.
Tucked along England’s underbelly, in the picturesque county of Devon is a place called Slapton Sands. This was to be the training ground for the team that was going to target Utah Beach in June – the terrain was very similar: a gravel beach, followed by a strip of land with a lake tucked behind it. The British government evacuated all 3000 local residents, including some rather sedentary folks who hadn’t ever left their village. Read more…
There are souls who live lives of absolute anonymity, only to achieve the briefest flicker of fame through their final moments on the planet. For all the millions who have succumbed to heart disease, auto accidents and auto-erotic asphyxiation, somewhere there’s a story of a drunken teenager who died playing chicken in a Big Wheels trike against his buddy’s pickup truck. As readers of these tales we exert a tiny flex of our “Huh. Interesting” muscle – the same one that endures a passive workout as we blindly flip through a piece of Buzzfeed ‘journalism’. But we usually stop short of worrying about the same wonky demise happening to us.
In this sense, the modern case of the unusual death serves less as a cautionary tale and more as a temporal distraction akin to a cat video, or a six-second vine of a 13-year-old boy getting caught twerking against a cardboard stand-up Frankie Muniz in his bedroom. But while I wholly condone chuckling away at the ancient tales of strange offings, like how Draco the ancient Greek lawmaker was smothered to death by a showering of cloaks and hats as gifts by a grateful stadium of citizens (mostly because I don’t believe that really happened), I advise mustering up at least a smidgen of empathy for the more substantiated tales.
After all, it could be you next, you never know. One minute you might be walking home from the store, three packs of powdered mini-donuts and a week-old Hustler tucked under your arm, when suddenly your skull is cracked open by an airborne tortoise.
Our first is about a guy whose skull was totally cracked open by an airborne tortoise. His name was Aeschylus, and along with Sophocles and Euripides he is one of the three great tragedy-writers of Ancient Greece whose works are still performed today. His trademark was the trilogy, but his most famous works had a huge impact on theatre. His influence resonated over millennia, affecting dramatic expression, literature, and even music. Read more…
As much as I try to avoid writing about politics (mostly because I’m far more informed about other topics, like bacon and juggling), I am nevertheless somewhat boggled, baffled and befuddled at the fact that Rob Ford could very possibly win his bid for re-election this fall as Toronto’s mayor. Look, I can understand the appeal of a crack-smoking drunk – we all know the bad-boys got all the chicks in high school. I myself once wore a mullet and owned a ratty old jean jacket.
But I think there has to be a line of responsibility drawn here. Someone like Rob Ford should not be tasked with running Canada’s largest city. There needs to be a cap on how high a slovenly misogynist with a penchant for substance abuse can climb in society – I’m thinking an assistant manager at a Denny’s. Anything more important than that and we’re just asking for trouble.
Mayor Ford is hardly the world’s only example of a poorly-chosen leader, and I’m not even including the numerous corrupt dictators and store-bought US Congressmen. We North American types have been mostly oblivious to the antics of Godfrey Bloom, an independent Member of the European Parliament for the Yorkshire And The Humber section of England. This guy is classic Rob Ford material, minus the crack use.
Also, he sort of looks like the star of stage and screen, John Houseman.
Godfrey Bloom was elected to the European Parliament in 2004 as a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party, a right-wing libertarian group that supports the monarchy and frowns on same-sex marriage and climate change. Godfrey served as the party whip until September of last year when he (and the party) decided their fundamental differences in opinion were a little too wide for that relationship to continue. Read more…