Monday 28 May 2012

For Sale: Reagan’s blood, God’s mercy, Mother Teresa’s love, and much, much more.

Someone just paid 30,000 Dollars for a vial of presidential blood. God’s mercy is a bargain by comparison. It goes for about $ 5.00, judging by what I see on Sunday collection plates, but there may be fat cheques hidden in those little envelopes parishioners use, cheques in an amount that guarantees you a lottery win and saves your marriage. But I wouldn’t go there myself. If you ask me, God’s lack of transparency is deplorable. You don’t know how much bang you get for your buck. In the Middle Ages, when people bought an indulgence for, say 10 gulden, they knew exactly how many years off purgatory they got for their money. Today the Church is no longer the trusted business partner it once was. You heard about Vatileaks? They had to fire the director of their bank – oh, it’s not called a bank? I see. It’s The Institute for Works of Religion.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Conrad Black and the DON’T BLAME ME syndrome

Conrad Black is unrepentant and unbowed. After all, the mess that landed him in prison wasn’t his fault. “I was shafted,” he told the CBC. (

Terry Jones was likewise unrepentant and unbowed. The Koran-burning pastor was saddened by the violent protests his actions sparked in Afghanistan last year, but he was not to blame. Someone had to “stir the pot,” he said. ( )

Ditto Idi Amin. He couldn’t help himself. He had too many enemies. I just “ate them before they ate me,” he explained. (

Pinochet almost forgot himself and apologized for his actions, but pulled back at the last moment: “[God] will pardon me if I committed excesses, but I didn’t think I did.” – Whew that was close! (

The DON’T BLAME ME syndrome isn’t new, but in the sixties people blamed their mothers. That was the default mode then, the preferred way people (or their psychologists) accounted for crimes, misdemeanors, and shortcomings. Okay, maybe it wasn’t entirely the fault of my mother, they said. Maybe the rest of my family was guilty too, not to forget my teachers. One thing is for sure: it’s not my fault that I turned out the way I did. My brain was warped by the environment and Mrs. Crammer who crushed my soul in Grade One.

The net of culprits has widened considerably in the last decade or so. Consider the case of the patient whose shrink started snoring while she was on the couch, baring her soul, and it wasn’t the first time he nodded off. She wrote to an advice column ( Should she confront her shrink? He was billing her for those naps after all. No, no! Do not wake him, tape him, confront or blame him. Work it through. “He will want to explore how this has affected [your] relationship… he will need to seek strategies to stay awake and may enlist you to tell him when he nods off.” My question is: can the patient bill the shrink for her therapeutic work? The advice column didn’t say.

DON’T BLAME ME has become a cultural meme. If you are overweight, would eating less help? No,no!  What’s needed is “a change of the environment”, sidewalks, for example, to make the overweight more comfortable. No, I’m not making it up. Check it out ("Weight Stigma Hard to Oversome," The Globe & Mail, 14 May). But perhaps there are medical reasons for a person’s obesity, which require medical treatment? No, we need to change the “messaging”: fewer ads for calorie-dense foods, a ban on sugary drinks in schools. It’s the fault of our surroundings that we aren’t perfect. Society gives us too many choices.

Poor Bristol Palin! She knows what’s the right choice. She’s all in favour of the nuclear family. “Kids do better growing up in a mother/father home,” she says in her blog ( Is it her fault that she couldn’t provide that blissful setting for her child? No, no. Blame alcohol and Levi Johnston. Bristol wasn’t the victim of date drug rape. She just got royally pissed and blacked out, and Levi took advantage of the situation. So it wasn’t her fault. Was Levi drunk, too, by any chance? Oh, then it wasn’t his fault either. I would call it immaculate conception if the theologians weren’t hogging that term.

What’s your favourite “Don’t blame me” story?

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Tuesday 22 May 2012

Plagiarism, or Borrowing Harper’s face without his permission

Plagiarism (from Latin plagiarius, man-stealer): the appropriation of an author’s language, thoughts, ideas, and expressions.

By that definition, Margaret Sutherland’s portrait of Stephen Harper in the nude is plagiarism. She has stolen Harper`s facial expression, his Cheshire-cat grin. I for one am willing to forgive her, but why not go all the way and borrow faces for the headless entourage surrounding Harper in the painting?

One plagiarist who has my outright admiration is Quentin Rowan, author of Assassin of Secrets. He ripped off and reassembled dozens of passages from famous crime writers (complete list on Ed`s rants: That takes dedication. If Rowan is so knowledgeable about crime writing, perhaps he should go for a PhD in literature. No, wait. Academics can be really picky about copying other people’s work. Hungarian president Pal Smitt was divested of her 1992 PhD because of plagiarism and had to resign from office.

Thursday 17 May 2012

The Magic of (politically correct) Words II

So there were gaps in Magic Word Power (my post of May 9). I apologize. How could I omit "mentally challenged"? It’s an area in which we have made enormous progress. There are no more poor students, have you noticed? And the solution was so easy. All we had to do was lower our standards. Everybody has a right to an A after all. I’m surprised they didn’t enshrine that in the Canadian Charter of Rights.

But maybe they should get the anthem right first: Oh Canada, our home and native land, true patriot love in all thy sons command! SONS? Are they allowed to say that? What about the daughters? And NATIVE – isn’t that supposed to be First Nations now? Oh, they don’t mean that kind of native. They mean BORN IN CANADA. But then what about the new Canadians, if that’s still a permissible term, because in my opinion it drives a wedge between people. It’s like saying “them and us”, right? I suggest we use the term BIRTHPLACE-CHALLENGED. The word may not fit into any lyrics, but it satisfies all three prerequisites for being politically correct: ugly, unnatural, and 2 inches (5 centimetres) long.

But I see I'm a latecomer to the question of politically charged language. George Orwell said it all in his 1946 essay, Politics and English Language. These euphemisms were "designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable."

More recently, Noah Richler wrote about the euphemisms of war in What We Talk About When We talk About War. Torture is now enhanced interrogation, and killing has become neutralizing. Some neutralizing is done by “friendly fire”. That’s so comforting. Can you imagine the horror of being neutralized by unkind fire?

And here’s (part of) a poem Linda Hutsell-Manning wrote, musing about global warming and the meaning of pansies.

Freefalling into Spring albeit with a Slight Diversion.

...Oxford concise says
one   a viola family plant 
two   informal   effeminate
or homosexual man but
why   here the defining point
pansy from pensée the
feminine noun use of
verb to think so there
it is French grammar
culprit of this dictionary
misanthropic phrase
but wait a minute
since pansies are resilient
tough why not demand
when powers that be
in word-filled rooms
assess which words in next editions be deleted
render this homophobic
obscure completely incorrect
colloquially cursed definition
obsolete  ps and fix the weather. 

Monday 14 May 2012

Canadian Art Spoofs (and the British Monarchy)

Some people want to cut Canada’s ties to the British monarchy ( Others love the royals, especially when they do something tabloid-worthy like Prince Charles expressing the wish to become a Tampax ( Or the Queen riding a moose. Okay, so that only happens in Charles Pachter’s paintings (

Is Pachter’s art a spoof or a political commentary?  Are Jeff Koons’ balloon dogs, Damien Hirst’s pickled sheep, and Claes Oldenburg’s giant hamburger spoofs or social commentary?

When the Art Gallery of Ontario displayed Oldenburg’s hamburger in 1967, James Meechan and his students responded by leaving a giant Ketchup bottle on the steps of the museum ( Was it art, or were these guys clairvoyants and doing an ad for

I don’t know about Oldenburg, but I’m pretty sure about the mini coffin displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum in 2002 ( That was a spoof, right? The ROM gave itself some wiggle room in their description. They said, the box might contain the bones of James, the brother of Jesus, and thus – here comes the biggy -- potentially prove the existence of Jesus.

More than 45,000 visitors lined up to see the little stone box, and a parade of scientists testified for and against its owner, Oded Golan, in 2005, when he faced charges of forgery. This year Golan was acquitted in spite of some rather damning evidence, such as a fake patina applied with glue. (

And now for the ultimate spoof/political commentary: the 2007 addition to the Royal Ontario Museum, which required tearing down the 1984 Queen Elizabeth II Terrace. How is that for severing ties to the British monarchy? (

The architect, Daniel Libeskind, originally envisaged something largely consisting of transparent, translucent glass. ( As it turned out, the concept was structurally not feasible. Hey, don’t they teach that sort of thing in Architecture 101? So, what the ROM got for their 270 Million CAD, is a crystal covered with aluminum bandaids, which has been declared by the Washington Post the “ugliest building of the decade” (

Don’t they have their own art spoofs in Washington? Do they have to hit on Toronto? All you Americans/Europeans out there, tell me about your favourite art spoof, so I can make my blog more international.

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Wednesday 9 May 2012

Magic Word Power


Do you believe in the magic of words, or does that come under the heading of truthiness?

In the 1970s, The Society For Crippled Civilians was renamed Goodwill. Why? Because there were no more crippled civilians? No, because we don’t WANT any crippled civilians, and the best way of eradicating the condition is to outlaw the term, right? We’ll call them handicapped from now on. No? Didn’t work? OK: we’ll call them disadvantaged. No luck. Their condition hasn’t improved. Ditto with discrimination against negroes. Maybe if we called them blacks? Or Afro-Americans? Or people of colour? Nope, nope, and nope again. Discrimination is still around.

Maybe we have to ban larger amounts of words, like the whole of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, or the whole of To Kill a Mocking Bird. You don’t think so? What about elision points, lots of elision points, or bleeps? It does seem to work for swear words. No? You can still hear them, right through the bleeps?

People are so sensitive. A New Hampshire community had qualms about a local fishing hole called Jew Pond. They renamed it Carleton Pond ( Don’t make me nervous. Is it no longer okay to use the word “Jew”? What’s the up-to-date version, anybody? Is it still okay to say “Latinos”? It’s a good thing we have a PEW report on that ( Apparently 51% of those polled were ambivalent when asked if they wanted to be called Latino or Hispanic. I hope they’ll sort it out soon. I mean, if I have to resort to elision points every time I think I might give offense, my next blog post might read:......

While we are on the topic of ethnic groups, let me tell you that Canada has no more Indians or even natives. I mean, they are still there, but they are now First Nations. Purge your history books! I mean, even porn sites are becoming cagey about terminology. Are you looking to join an orgy? No, you can’t. Not unless you use the right terminology. According to Caitlin Roberts who runs sex-positive workshops (am I phrasing this right?: It’s not an orgy, it’s a mixer. (

Help me keep my terminology up to date and tell me of any new word developments, spells, I mean, that make things go away.  

Saturday 5 May 2012

Fact or Fiction?

The dividing line is thin. Consider Mike Daisy’s 2010 exposé of harsh working conditions in a Chinese factory.  Daisy’s monologue was aired on This American Life. Unfortunately some details – armed guards at the factory, work injuries, under-age workers – turned out to be wrong or not based on personal encounters, as Daisy had claimed. In a retraction, also aired on This American Life (, Daisy made excuses for his dubious practice. The simple truth just didn’t have enough punch to provoke action, he said.

Yes, folks, that’s the problem with truth. Not enough mojo! Gay activists have long been aware of that. In civil rights cases, the plain truth makes for a lame argument. It isn’t enough for plaintiffs to be truthful. They need to be photogenic and have a great love-and-dignity story. Activists don’t want people like John Geddes Lawrence and his one-night stand, Tyron Garner, two men who were arrested in Texas in 1998 on charges of sodomy. Lawrence had a conviction for murder and Garner was a young black man with no fixed address – not exactly poster boys for the gay community. (  The fact that tolerance for gays has significantly increased among Americans in the last decade is often credited to Will &Grace, a TV show featuring likeable gay characters. Apparently, what counts in raising tolerance levels is personal acquaintance with gays – real or fictional.

The difference between real and fictional matters only to book publishers. They have a decided preference for real stories over invented ones. That’s why aspiring novelist James Frey was unable to find a buyer for his novel until he called it an autobiography.  At least that’s what he told Oprah in a tearful on-screen confession, but he stopped short of a complete apology. He made mistakes, yes, but hey, what’s the big deal? There was some sort of truth in his book (

It was only a matter of time until someone came up with a term to describe that sort-of-truth, the one we want to exist: TRUTHINESS! (

This blog, Rummel’s Incredible Stories, celebrates all things truthy:  scams, impersonations, story-telling, UFO sightings, palm readings, exorcism, lies, and damned lies.

Comments? Anecdotes? Let’s hear your favourite experience of truthiness!