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Archive for June, 2011

For the last four years, I’ve patronized a café across the street from the courthouse in my hometown.

‘Patronized’ doesn’t fully do justice to the relationship I had with this establishment. It was my island of calm. It was my office. It was my home away from home. The staff became my family – the customers my friends. Whenever my old high school and college classmates wanted to have a get-together or just sit down and shmooze, it was always at the café.

Every December 23, I would hold a Festivus lunch at ‘my table’, complete with metal pole and the “Airing of Grievances”.

A month or so ago, the owner (who was also my high school prom date) broke the news to me that the café was up for sale. My heart sank. ‘If someone doesn’t buy the place, I’m going to be homeless!’ was my only thought.

Virtually every one of my essays in this bl*g and started as a tiny scribble on the back of a business card or on a napkin while I was enjoying a pot of green tea or a Diet Coke at the café. Many of my days would begin and end there. There was no other place like it in the area. Coffee and doughnut shops didn’t come close. Restaurants just didn’t stack up. None of them have the quiet ambiance and sense of comfort I had when I was at the café.

The chair with its back against the wall was ‘my chair’. The glass top table was ‘my desk’.

This afternoon, Thursday June 30, 2011, I was the last customer served, the last customer to leave. At 4:00 pm, the café closed its doors for the last time.

A large part of me faded away today with the loss of that little place.

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There is something about sumi-e artwork that really speaks to me.

Black ink brushed or dragged across paper. A smudge here. A stroke there. A bit more water. A bit less. And in the end a piece of art that captures my imagination and holds my heart.

A lot of it has to do with simplicity. When you think about it, there’s not a lot there. The basic strokes aren’t complicated, although they can take years to master.

I’ve watched sumi-e artists work the ink from a small brick to a powder until it achieves exactly the right consistency. Adding just the right amount of water. Choosing exactly the right brush. Swirling the fibres into the ink, removing excess moisture. All to achieve… perfection.

I can look at a good piece of sumi-e art for a very long time, following with my eyes and mind the ink, how the brush must have worked its way across the paper. The tip. The edge. Light strokes. Heavy strokes.

When done right, the sumi-e art lifts my spirits and calms my heart. I find peace within it.

There are so many things about Japan, the Japanese and Japanese art, history and culture that I admire. Sumi-e is near the top of that list.

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“Hi, it’s me…

“What a pseudo-intellectual gasbag! I mean, did you believe what was going on last night? I don’t know about you but if he said another word about gay marriage, I was going to stick a fork in his neck! And that flotilla rant. If he’s so brave, let him start up a gay pride parade in Gaza. See what they think of his ‘open-mindedness’ there, the schmuck. Thank goodness you were there. It would have resulted in violence. He’s the one who would have needed a boatload of ‘medical supplies’, I can tell you that right now! Where does he get the chutzpah? Acting all righteous and indignant. He’s a basket case. An ethical train-wreck. Can’t he see what a sad joke he is? Does he think we have no memory of anything past a month? Does he think the world started this spring? We know! You and I both. We were there, the slimy dirtball!

“And what about that tchotchke at his side? Does he hang around college campuses, chatting up the freshmen girls? Yeah, yeah… I know what you’re gonna say. ‘She was very sweet.’ That’s what you always say. “Hey, I hear you met Countess Elizabeth Báthory last night? What did you think? ‘She was very sweet’!” And it’s not even her age that drove me insane. It was the way she was hanging on his every word. I wanted to slap her and shake her and scream, “Wake up! You’re admiring a morally bankrupt social degenerate human toad!” Why do I go to these things? Why do you let me take you to these things. Why don’t you slap me and shake me and scream, “Wake up!”?

“Anyway, the coffee was good and the chocolate cake was beyond sinful. Did she make it herself because if she did, she is a goddess from on high! How she puts up with that putz of hers is a mystery but hey, what do I know? Speaking of putz, why did you let me drink more than one glass of wine? You know that no good can come of it. I can’t shut up as it is! I need encouragement from a bottle? Honestly, if you weren’t so good at keeping me out of trouble, you’d be no use to me whatsoever. Just kidding!

“Oh, that reminds me, what are you doing tomorrow… or later today, I guess it would be? There’s this reception I got invited to tonight… some independent filmmaker is presenting some independent film on something independently film-worthy. I’m sure its dreadful, but still. Sounds like fun. Take me. I need you to be with me while I scarf down all the free food! For some reason, it’s not nearly as embarrassing when I have you with me.

“I know. I know. I’m reprehensible. It’s my strongest character trait. I have to go with it! Pick me up at eight?

“See you tonight. And wear something besides black. On second thought, black suits you. Don’t change a hair, you’re perfect. I’ll wear red. Blood stains don’t show up on it as much. Just kidding! I promise not to try to kill anyone. Unless they’re annoying. Or pseudo-intellectual gasbags with Catholic high school girls as dates.

“I love you! Sleep well. I can hear you snoring from my apartment!”

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A recent headline caught my eye and broke my heart.

Modern Fish Communities Live Fast and Die Young

Yes, we’ve all seen the headlines. We’ve all watched, shocked to the point of being desensitized, night after night as the senseless violence is played out on the evening news and even in our own aquariums.

The complete disregard for societal norms. The culture of drugs and violence. The public spawning.

Now, I can already hear the Liberal Talking Heads carping from their perch on high. “Modern fish communities are not victims of reckless living, but of overfishing!”

Piffle!

Yes, I said ‘piffle’ and by gum I meant it!

These little sprats learn the game early. Skipping school and hanging out with the ‘flip-floppers’ and ‘reefers’. Going with the flow. Catching ‘a bit of sushi’ from the sad pathetic young females on the street corners. Next thing, its joining up with the Sharks or Barracudas. And all this happens long before they even hear the first sound of a Japanese or Norwegian trawler.

How many more bodies have to wash up on our doorsteps before we wake up and smell the mahi.

It’s sick. And it’s got to stop. [1]

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[1] Let the puns begin!

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Take a moment to consider the following…

Take a Lie and add 1% Truth. The result? A Lie. Take the Truth and add 1% Lie. The result? A Lie.

  • Lies Are Stronger Than The Truth

Lies can be tailor-made to fit any set of circumstances in order to be credible. The Truth is often awkward, clumsy and, at times, highly improbable.

  • Lies Are More Adaptable and User-Friendly Than The Truth

Liars have a superficial confidence. Accomplished Liars are calm, collected and speak in a straightforward manner. People who tell the Truth are often nervous, mumble, slur their words and stumble over themselves trying to make sure they are believed.

  • Liars Are Believable. Innocent People Look and Sound Like They’re Lying

The Truth is found everywhere. Any dolt can tell the Truth. In fact, sometimes people will pay a lot of money to get rid of the Truth. Really good Lies, on the other hand, are valuable works of art which are in great demand (Can you say ‘Spin Doctors’?). When was the last time you heard about someone being paid to tell the Truth? 

  • Lies Are More Valuable Than The Truth

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The above passage is from my recollection of a book I read ages ago [1], during the summer between high school and college.

I was thinking of these little gems when I was faced with a serious ethical quandary last week in my work as a criminal defence lawyer.

<insert smart remarks here re criminal lawyers and ethics>

The problem ate me up. I wrestled with it all night. It was driving me nuts and I couldn’t see a good way out of it… just ways that were less bad than the others. I came back to court the next day exhausted from the ordeal that night.

I am sometimes asked by ‘normal people’ (ie non-lawyers), “How do you sleep at night representing all those guilty rapists and child molesters??” [2]  The truth is that criminal lawyers have very high standards of ethics. No, really. We do. I’m serious.

Remember that scene in the movie Liar Liar where the Jim Carey character (a lawyer who is incapable of telling a lie [long story]) is preparing the gigolo/boyfriend to lie at trial and then realizes, to his horror, “Oh no! I can’t ask a question if I know the answer is a lie!”

That’s actually true. Lawyers at trial cannot ask a question of their own witness if they know that witness is going to lie in response to the question. If, in the course of examining one of our witnesses, he or she starts lying, we are obligated to change the subject immediately. We cannot participate in perpetrating a fraud upon the court. If it turns out that our client insists on continuing to lie under oath, we are obligated to remove ourselves as his or her lawyer. Our duty as officers of the court trumps our duty to our own clients.

So… back to the ethical dilemma. After consulting with several colleagues that I respect and trust, I was able to resolve the problem and get myself free of the quandary with my ethics intact, not only technically but morally. *phew*

Representing rapists, child molesters, wife-beaters, prostitutes, pornographers and drug dealers? Piece of cake. I sleep like a baby. [3]

But… had I listened to my baser instincts,…had I listened to my evil inclination instead of my good inclination (the Jewish equivalent of the little angel and devil sitting on your shoulders)… and not done the right thing with respect to the ethical dilemma?

Now THAT is something with which I would have had trouble sleeping.

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[1] I try not to give my stock response, “On a sack of money!” (Anyone who knows how little public defenders get paid would get the sarcasm of that remark).

[2] The Rape of the A.P.E. (American Puritan Ethic: The Official History of the Sex Revolution, 1945-1973: The Obscening of America, an R.S.V.P) by Allen Sherman.

[3] This subject will most likely be the topic of a future bl*g, since I get questions like this all the time.

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The dream of many a teenager… My high school burns down!

Saturday June 18, 2011, the building that was my high school became engulfed in flames.

I have mixed feelings about this event. I did not particularly love or hate high school. It was OK and there were a couple of bright moments and a few dark spots… but on the whole, I am ambivalent about the four years I spent there. I am neither the kind of person who looks back on high school as a golden time nor am I the kind who views high school as a kind of Kafkaesque nightmare.

It was OK.

The old pile of bricks that was my school lay empty and abandoned for about 10 years, I believe, before the fire. I personally considered it an eyesore. Broken windows, overgrown grass… it looked ugly with no hints of whatever good times (or bad) I remembered.

When I heard the news, my first thoughts were “Thank goodness. It’s about time!”  Apparently, there had been some discussion about town as to what was going to become of the old building and the riverside property. Maybe knock it down and build condos. Maybe a retirement home. Those who held on to the (hopeless) belief that the building could be salvaged have been vetoed by fate.

I suppose I should feel sentimental about the old joint. I don’t. I have no strong feelings for the place one way or the other. Neither love nor hate. I’ve long forgotten most of the things that happened when I was in high school. Until a couple of years ago, I had virtually no friends from that period. Recently, I’ve reconnected with a few but by and large that part of my life stopped being a part of me long before the fire trucks showed up yesterday.

I just don’t care.

I suppose the old saying is true. The opposite of love is not hate.

The opposite of love is apathy.

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When a group of well-meaning, I’m sure, if somewhat overly zealous citizens attempts to ban [1], or heaven forbid, burn books, I almost invariably find that the objects of their righteous indignation and moral outrage constitute what I would consider a veritable ‘Required Reading List’ for any high school English course I was charged with overseeing, should I ever wind up on the curriculum committee of our local Board of Education.

Let me take you on a stroll down a list of some famous books which people or groups have attempted to remove, with varying degrees of success, from school reading lists or have pulled from their local public libraries.

Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Polk
Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
Twilight (series), by Stephanie Meyer
Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
1984, by George Orwell
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron
Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare

The concerned parents, citizens, church groups, etc, usually cite as one their reasons for demanding the ban the fact that society, especially young underage children, need to be protected from these books.

It’s bad enough when concerned albeit misguided parents and groups try to pull this stunt. How much worse is it when they convince politicians to change the law to effect the same results! Lawmakers, too, often echo the ‘protecting our children’ mantra. At the local “Stop our library exposing kids to Captain Underpants!” level, it is merely silly and overprotective. At the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government, it’s scary and dangerous.

I’m sure there are ways to protect society and children from obscene materials. Reducing the entire adult population of Canada to reading only what is fit for children is, I would suggest, not the best option. [2]

Or as Mark Twain once put it, “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak because a baby can’t chew it.”

Luckily, we have courts and judges to rein in this kind of schtick. In Canada, at any rate, judges are appointed and therefore don’t have to pander to people’s fears, prejudices, mob mentality and knee-jerk reactions to get and keep their jobs. Their positions are not dependent on the whim of the masses.

As a newbie bl*gger (as opposed to a REAL writer, as was recently pointed out to me by a near and dear 19-year-old ‘real writer’ friend of mine) [3], as a former artist and as someone who has more than a passing interest in defending constitutional rights, especially freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion, it chills me to the bone when a person or group tries to prevent others from reading things of which they disapprove. You want to keep Captain Underpants from damaging your own kids? Great! If you think the Harry Potter or Twilight series is so soul-endangering that you as an adult don’t want to read it, let alone your young teenage daughter? Mazel tov! But to try to get a library, school or government (at any level) to prevent others from seeing otherwise legal books? I don’t think so.

Keep Freedom Alive. Read Banned Books! [4]

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[1] I am not discussing attempts by the government to ban books. What I am talking about in this piece is attempts by groups and, in some cases, individual citizens to get schools and libraries to “ban” certain books. In the case of schools, they want to stop some books being taught in school and, in some cases, even prevent having the students read passages aloud from the books. In the case of libraries, they want the books removed from the shelves altogether or at least have the books available only upon request and only to adults.

[2] As United States Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote, “The State insists that, by thus quarantining the general reading public against books not too rugged for grown men and women, in order to shield juvenile innocence, it is exercising its power to promote the general welfare. Surely, this is to burn the house to roast the pig . . . We have before us legislation not reasonably restricted to the evil with which it is said to deal. The incidence of this enactment is to reduce the adult population of Michigan to reading only what is fit for children. It thereby arbitrarily curtails one of those liberties of the individual, now enshrined in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, that history has attested as the indispensable conditions for the maintenance and progress of a free society.”

[3] More on this in a future blog!

[4] Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read (September 24−October 1, 2011).

For more information, check out the Banned & Challenged Books section on the American Library Association’s site.

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