Pluralistic: 25 Sep 2020

Today's links

A New American Manifesto (permalink)

In case you'd forgotten just how subversive and angry the Declaration of Independence actually is, in case the words have turned into hollow platitudes due to repetition and archaic language, feast your senses upon "A New American Manifesto."

Absurdist Words has updated the Declaration into contemporary, informal language, updating the references for eerie correspondences to our current political fights:

Here are the Receipts:

  1. He is lawless. He has no respect whatsoever for the rules of this country

  2. He has interfered with state Governors’ abilities to take care of their states in times of crisis, constantly breaking promises and being unreliable, just to wear them down so that they will do whatever he wants and then neglects them even when they do it

  3. He has abused the powers of the Presidency, leveraging people’s rights for business purposes.

  4. He turns public events into personal campaign stunts, wearing all the rational people down with his antics and erratic behavior…

…We tried to be empathetic to those who support Trump and his nationalism. We tried to give them the heads up that they had made a terrible choice. We tried to remind them that many of them were immigrants and that they should think twice about how we deny others entry. We tried to appeal to their sense of honor. To their sense of civics. To their sense of duty. We tried to appeal to the fact that we’re all in this together and that we are all one nation. We tried to explain that backing authoritarianism would be terrible for everyone.But they wouldn’t listen. We tried. We wanted to fight Trump together. But they mock justice and shun the idea of unity. So nothing personal, but they picked a side.

Adventures of a Dwergish Girl (permalink)

Few authors have had as much influence on my progress as a human being – to say nothing of my writing – as Daniel Pinkwater. The course of my life was profoundly altered by reading Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars in middle school, and I have read dozens of his books since.

I find that many distinctive authors circle themes and plots, like a cannoneer rangefinding with artillery, trying to bullseye some impossible-to-define perfect target. I county myself in that group, and I definitely count Pinkwater there.

I can't tell you exactly what it is he's trying to hit, but every book seems to come closer to some irreducible Pinkwaterian ideal, and his latest, Adventures of a Dwergish Girl, is the closest he's come yet.

First, let me attempt* to summarize the plot. Dwergs are basically a magical race inhabiting the Hudson Valley. They're something like Tolkien's dwarves, but not. Male dwergs are pretty odd-looking and rarely venture into the world.

*"Attempt" is doing a lot of work here.

But female Dwergs, like protagonist Molly O'Malley, can pass for short-ish humans, albeit with very large feet and the ability to move with uncanny speed through the woods near Kingston, NY.

Molly can't abide the sameness and dullness of life in the unchanging, eternal Dwergish village of her birth, so she moves to Kingston, NY, where she befriends Arnold Babatunji, a Naples-obsessed restaurateur who runs the Hudson Valley's greatest pizzeria, who hires Molly.

For a time, life is good. Molly learns about pizza, pals around with a former boy-genius who runs the village radio station, and sleeps in a forest dwelling of her own devising, supplementing her income with the cash from the lumpy Dwergish gold coin she's pawned.

But the pawn-broker is tied up with gangsters – some of them ghosts, some living – and then Molly befriends Leni, an indigenous girl whose people have lived in the Catskills since time immemorial.

Leni tempts Molly to ride the Greyhound to NYC, where she rides the subway, and, more importantly, samples the indescribable wonderments of papaya juice and all-beef franks, which change her life.

And of course, while in New York, Molly encounters Carlos Chatterjee, a Revolutionary War reenactor who runs a spectacular junk shoppe on the mezzanine of an uptown MTA station.

Carlos turns out to be crucial to the resolution of Molly's main challenge, which is the transdimensional meat-robots in British redcoat uniforms who seem to be bent on reenacting the 1777 burning of Kingston (spoilers!).

Averting this disaster is a big project for Molly, who enlists the Catskills Witch (who has moved to Manhattan) and the semi-mythical King of the Dwergs, who uses bee-style waggle-dancing to advise them.

This is a book with:




My all-time favorite place to eat in NYC is Shopsins. Pinkwater novels are like expanded Shopsins menus. Motto: "nothing exceeds like excess." But this isn't mere kitchen-sinkery: it's skilled wunderkammering, a carefully curated study in contrasts.

Pinkwater insists that his books aren't "weird" and even bristles at the suggestion:

I take him to mean that he's describing the world as he perceives it, not adding any weirdness. We live in a weird place. 2020 certainly proves that hypothesis.

I think there's something to this – the thing that makes Pinkwater's work so great is his ability to describe the everyday absurdity in terms that make it clear how weird normalcy is (and vice-versa).

That's definitely Dwergish Girl's charm. I read this to my 12 year old, who is way too cool to be getting bedtime stories of her old, irrelevant father's favorite weird writers.

Every night, she insisted that she didn't want me to read from it. Every night, she begged for another chapter when I was done (and interrupted repeatedly to ask incisive questions about the Revolutionary war, papaya juice, ghosts, radio announcers, etc).

Pinkwater's got The Magic (whatever that is) and he keeps getting better at it.

Trudeau promises massive covid stimulus (permalink)

Canadian Prime Ministers have a fun gambit: when things start to go really badly for them, they "prorogue" (suspend) Parliament, which dissolves all committees, inquiries, etc, until such time as they are ready to reconvene, with a tabula rasa.

Most egregiously, the far-right asshole and climate criminal Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament in the middle of the 2008 Great Financial Crisis in order to avoid a no-confidence vote that would have triggered new elections.

While this DID save Harper's bacon, it also left Canada without a legislature during a global crisis that threatened the nation's entire future. It was a crazed, reckless thing to do.

Canada has a safeguard to prevent this kind of gambit: as a constitutional monarchy, Canadian parliamentary manoeuvres have to receive the Crown's blessing, in the form of assent from the Governor General, the Queen's rep to Canada.

This is the sober, apolitical adult supervision that fans of constitutional monarchies are always banging on about, and then-Governor General Michaëlle Jean completely failed to do her fucking job, leaving Canada without a Parliament during the GFC. She literally had one job.

Proroguing Parliament didn't just save Harper from a no-confidence vote: it also dissolved all the Parliamentary inquiries underway at the time, including the "Afghan detainee transfer" affair, which was investigating Canadian forces' complicity in the torture-murder of POWs.

In many ways, Trudeau is the anti-Harper: a charismatic Liberal who tells refugees they're welcome in Canada, marches with Greta Thunberg, and appoints the first-ever First Nations person to serve as Attorney General .

Truly, there is no policy so progressive that Trudeau won't endorse it…provided he doesn't actually have to make it into policy. Because many of his policies are indistinguishable from Harperism, albeit with a better haircut.

This started before he won the election, when Trudeau (whose father once declared martial law!) whipped his MPs to vote for a human-rights-denying mass surveillance bill, C-51.

Trudeau did so while insisting that the bill was a massive overreach and totally unacceptable, but claiming that the "loyal opposition" should still back it so as not to be accused of being soft on terrorism in the coming election. He promised to repeal it after.

Of course, he didn't.

Trudeau is often compared to Obama, a young and charismatic fellow who makes compromises, sure, but comes through in the clutch.

Tell that to pipeline protesters.

After the Obama administration killed the Transmountain Pipeline – the continent-spanning tube that would make filthy, planet-destroying tar sands profitable enough to bring to market – Trudeau bailed it out, spending billions of federal dollars to keep it alive.

Then, Trudeau – who campaigned on nation-to-nation truth and reconciliation with First Nations – announced that he would shove this toxic tar-sand tube through unceded treaty lands across the breadth of the nation.

And then he had the audacity to march with Greta Thunberg at the head of a climate march, demanding a change to policies that would see billions dead in the coming century.

His own policies.

I mean, Trudeau's boosters have a point – Harper never could have pulled that off.

The Harper years were a Trumpian orgy of blatant self-dealing and cronyism.

The Trudeau years, on the other hand…

One of Trudeau's major donors is SNC Lavalin, a crime syndicate masquerading as a global engineering firm (think Halliburton with less morals).

SNC Lavalin had done so much crime that it was on its final notice with the Canadian legal sysem, a probation that it must not violate on penalty of real, big boy federal criminal prosecutions.

Then it did more crimes.

Remember Trudeau's historic appointment of a First Nations woman to the Attorney General's seat? Now was AG Jody Wilson-Raybould's moment to shine.

As Wilson-Raybould began aggressively pursuing these corporate criminals, she started getting calls from Trudeau's office.

For avoidance of doubt, these were not calls of support. They were demands to drop the case and let the SNC Lavalin crime syndicate get off scot-free. Eventually the PM himself called her and demanded that she give his cronies a pass on their repeated criminal actions.

Wilson-Raybould went public, decrying political meddling in the justice system. Trudeau denied everything and began to smear her (Harper had tons of scandals like this, BTW, only the counterpart was usually a rich old white guy, not a First Nations woman).

But Wilson-Raybould had recorded the conversations, and she released the recordings, and proved that Trudeau had lied about the whole thing. Trudeau fired her and kicked her out of the party.

But at least he's not Trump, right? He's the anti-Trump! (Well, except for the pipeline and that time he announced "No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there").

Remember the Muslim Ban? As Trump was tormenting refugees at the US border, Trudeau tweeted "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada."

Yes, that was awesome. There is no policy so progressive that Trudeau won't endorse it…provided that he never has to do anything to make it happen.

Canada and the US have a "Safe Third Country Agreement" that says that asylum-seekers turned away from the US border can't try again in Canada. To make #WelcomeToCanada more than a hashtag, Trudeau's government would have to suspend that agreement.

Instead, Trudeau's government insisted that under Trump, "the conditions of the Safe Third Country Agreement continued to be met" and thus they would not suspend the agreement and give hearings to those turned away by Trump's border guards.

But at least Trudeau handled the pandemic better than Harper handled the Great Financial Crisis.

No, really, he did!


I mean, unless you were in a nursing home or on a First Nations reservation.

But still, Trudeau's government did a much better job than the Trump government, or Boris Johnson's Tories. Neither Liberals nor Conservatives will really fight cronyism, climate change or authoritarianism, but there are still substantive differences between them.

But in some ways, they are depressingly similar.

Take corruption.

Long before the plague struck, Canadaland was publishing damning reports on We Charity, a massive, beloved Canadian charitable institution nominally devoted to ending child slavery.

Canadaland's initial reporting on the charity focused on its partnerships with companies that were using child slaves to make their products, but the investigations mushroomed after the charity sent dire legal threats to the news organisation over its coverage.

And then Canadaland founder Jesse Brown found himself smeared by a US dirty-tricks organization that got its start working for GOP politicians, who got a contract to plant editorials criticizing Canadaland's We coverage in small-town US newspapers.

Private eyes started following Brown around, even keeping tabs on his small children. Rather than being intimidated, Brown kept up the pressure on We, which prompted whistleblowers to leak him even more details about the charity's activities.

These included massive, mysterious real-estate holdings, hard-to-excuse criminal investigations of its Kenyan activities, and (here's where I've been going with this all along) giant cash payments to Trudeau's family, as well as valuable gifts to his Finance Minister.

And, as with the Wilson-Reybould affair, Trudeau's initial response to this was to simply deny it, calling his accusers liars. But then the scandal kept unspooling, his Finance Minister quit in disgrace, the charity (sort of) folded up and shut down, and Trudeau…

Well, Trudeau prorogued Parliament, shutting down Canada's government in the midst of a crisis that was – unimaginably – even worse than the 2008 crisis that Harper had left the nation rudderless through to avoid his own scandal.

(Again, for constitutional monarchy fans, that's two entirely political proroguings in the midsts of global crises, signed off on by the Queen's supposedly apolitical and sober check on reckless activity)

Shutting down Parliament seems to have rescued Trudeau's government from snap elections, which may well have been won by the Tories, who have resolved their longstanding racist and plutocratic tensions with a new ghoulish nightmare leader:

And, as Trudeau has reconvened Parliament, he's promised something genuinely amazing: a massive, national stimulus package meant to keep families, workers and small businesses afloat through the looming second pandemic wave.

This is something Canada – and the US, for that matter – desperately needs. Canada is monetarily sovereign: it issues its own currency and its debt is in the same currency, meaning it can never run out of money (no more than Apple could ever run out of Itunes gift cards).

The Canadian government does face constraints on its spending, but they're just not monetary constraints – they're resource constraints. If the Canadian government creates money to buy the same things the private sector is shopping for, there'll be a bidding war, AKA inflation.

But as a new wave of lockdowns and mass illness looms over the country, there's going to be a hell of a lot of things the private sector isn't trying to buy – notably, the labour of the Canadian workforce, millions of whom will be locked indoors through the winter.

An analyst warns that Trudeau's proposal is likely to add CAD30B to the deficit, which is a completely irrelevant fact unless that new money is going to be chasing the same goods that Canadian business and citizens are seeking to buy.

Trudeau has promised to create a national prescription drug plan (a longstanding hole in Canada's national health care system), as well as universal childcare, and he's denounced austerity as a response to the crisis.

There's a part of me that is very glad to see this. My family and friends are in Canada, after all, and if Trudeau lives up to his promise, he will shield them from the collapse we're seeing in the USA.

But that is a big if. Trudeau isn't Harper. He's more charismatic, he's got better hair, and he says much, much better things than Harper.

However, when the chips are down, Trudeau out-Harpers Harper.

Mass surveillance legislation. Corruption scandals. Lying about corruption scandals. Bailing out the pipeline. "No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there." Abandoning asylum-seekers to Trump's lawless regime.

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action." It would be pretty naive to assume that merely because Trudeau has promised to do the right thing, that he will do the right thing.

Indeed, if history is any indicator, the best way to predict what Trudeau will do is to assume that it will be the opposite of whatever he promises.

I won't lie. I felt a spark of hope when I read Trudeau's words.

But hope is all I've got – and it's a far cry from confidence.

Or relief.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Kate Wilhelm’s must-read writerly advice/history of Clarion

#10yrsago FTC clobbers Roca Labs, the terrible weight-loss company that banned negative reviews

#10yrsago Not just emissions: manufacturers’ dirty tricks fake everything about cars

#5yrsago KARMA POLICE: GCHQ’s plan to track every Web user in the world

#5yrsago Appeals court rules Batmobile is a “character” and is copyrighted by DC

#5yrsago The other ad-blocking ecosystem: blame-ducking

#1yrago Thomas Cook travel collapsed and stranded 150,000 passengers, but still had millions for the execs who tanked it

#1yrago Lynda Barry is a Macarthur “genius”

#1yrago Stargazing: Jen Wang’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel for young readers is a complex tale of identity, talent, and loyalty

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: JWZ (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 560 words (65436 total).

Currently reading: Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla