An Interview with Simon Brault

The Walrus Foundation presents a special podcast produced in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts

Published on October 21, 2014

Money for Nothing and Cheques for Free

Do we deserve a guaranteed basic income?

Published on August 13, 2014

The idea of a guaranteed basic income—that is, the government cutting a monthly, taxpayer-funded cheque to everyone in the country, to the tune of maybe $10,000 or $20,000 a year—seems to be having a moment. Earlier this summer, the Basic Income Canada Network convened a conference on the subject at McGill. Switzerland will soon hold a non-binding referendum on whether to give every citizen around $35,000 annually. And it’s a proposal that opinion writers and policy wonks love to wrestle with. Although basic income is typically associated with the social-democratic left, last week, for The Atlantic, Noah Gordon made “the conservative case for a guaranteed annual income”—namely, that it would be a more efficient way to fight poverty than a sprawling plethora of welfare programs. In any case, you know an idea is catching on when it’s being castigated before it’s even been implemented; recently, for The Week,Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry presented an ostensibly scientific case against it, although his arguments were quickly debunked by Dylan Matthews at Vox.

Basic income is a bit of a blunt tool. Most iterations would not, for example, consider regional differences in cost of living. Additionally, unlike the related idea of a negative income tax—in which everyone gets a cash grant that is then taxed progressively, according to income—basic income would not take into account differences in wealth; everyone would receive the same amount. (This means that it feels, counter-intuitively, almost like a reverse-flat tax, which perhaps explains why it’s earned the admiration of some conservatives.) The most common objection is that so-called “money for nothing” would act as a disincentive to work, but the findings on that are mixed. As Matthews wrote, “The worst case scenario is that we eliminate poverty but see a modest decline in employment. The best case scenario is we eliminate poverty at even lower cost and don’t see much of an effect on employment. That’s a gamble I’m willing to take.”

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Trouble in the Colonies

The troubling relationship between pesticide use and rising mortality rates of pollinators

Published on August 7, 2014
Photograph by Jo Naylor
Jo Naylor A monarch caterpillar.

As every schoolchild knows, pollinators are in decline around the world. This is how I ended up as caretaker for Munchie Mattawa, the black-and-gold striped monarch caterpillar my eleven year old recently scooped up next to the Big Joe Muffraw statue at the confluence of the Ottawa and Mattawa rivers. This was the second summer my daughter had spent looking for monarch eggs and caterpillars to raise, and the hunt had been surprisingly hard. I’d taken her to all the places I’d remembered finding milkweed as a kid, up at the cottage and down in the city, with no success. Which is why she was so excited to find Munchie, and insisted on bringing the tiny caterpillar on our journey home.

Monarchs are in trouble because milkweed is disappearing. To combat the problem, well-meaning gardeners like my mother are planting the stuff at home. The real problem, though, is that even at the start of this planting season, milkweed was still listed as a noxious weed under Ontario’s Weed Control Act, with helpful notes for farmers on how to control it with pesticides like glysophate.

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Foul Territory

A former major league pitcher confesses to witnessing rape in the minor leagues—and is lauded as hero, years after his complaints might have mattered

Published on July 30, 2014

“…woman is out there, representing ‘points’ to be scored—a trophy to be wooed, captured, seduced, suckered or even smacked over the head with a club. And men who play baseball come standard with a club.”—Dirk Hayhurst, “Minor League Manhood

The standard narrative when someone finally confesses to witnessing a years-old crime is one of remorse. We expect to see guilt, the regret of doing nothing, and then the subsequent begging for forgiveness that should come with having allowed something horrible—something criminal—to happen. Yesterday, when former major league baseball pitcher Dirk Hayhurst published “Minor League Manhood,” his horrifying account of repeated sexual misconduct, violation, and rape in the minor leagues, we didn’t get that. Instead we were asked to believe, in a flood of social media support, that Hayhurst is courageous for sharing the sordid details, eleven years later.

The piece, “a first-hand account of masculine sports culture run amok” published at Sports on Earth, is a compendium of egregious misogyny—and criminality—on the part of the 2003 Eugene Emeralds minor league team. Hayhurst candidly documents his time with them, focusing on the toxic stew of alpha masculinity that viewed “bagging girls” as the mark of manhood. Women lack identity and agency, becoming nameless, faceless points in a hierarchy system, with the most lays garnered in the most perverse ways earning a player the most respect from his teammates. A majority of Hayhurst’s telling consists of standard asshole behaviour—players sleeping with as many women as possible, grading said women’s performances, and then grotesquely bragging about the details. Women are referred to as “beef” and “tunnels,” when they’re not being called “Cleat Chasers,” “Slump Busters,” “White Buffalos,” “Yard Rats,” “Butter Faces,” and “Promotions.” But at a certain point in the narrative, things veer beyond heinous jock behaviour into something altogether more monstrous, with women being coerced, subjected to surprise group audiences during sex acts, and videotaped without their consent. (Not to mention a reference to one girl who is underage. Her father arrives to rescue her, wielding a two by four, from an unnamed teammate’s clutches.) Most disturbingly of all, women are “tricked” in the dark into sleeping with men other than the one they have agreed to. Rape is justified with the phrase “chicks love ballplayers.”

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The Lego Effect

Sailing the high seas with the toy that is as ubiquitous as water

Published on July 29, 2014

Thousands and thousands of Lego bricks and minifigures in near perfect condition have been washing up on the Cornish coast of England. They fell off the Tokio Express when a giant wave smashed into the Hamburg-based, Florida-bound cargo vessel and toppled a shipping container of mostly nautical-themed sets into the ocean. (To help visualize what happened, assemble the 1,518-piece Maersk Line Triple-E, float it in a bathtub or swimming pool, and unleash your inner Kraken.)

BBC News reported on the sea’s colourful acrylonitrile butadiene styrene bounty last week, and the story has since been picked up by newspapers, blogs, and public radio around the world. This isn’t exactly news: the Tokio Express lost its oversized toy box in 1997, and the 4.8 million pieces inside came from sets that have long since been discontinued. Nevertheless, as anyone who has ever read Robert Louis Stevenson or seen The Goonies can tell you, there is something endlessly fascinating about treasure hunting; local beach combers have been picking up vintage cutlasses, life jackets, and the occasional black octopus, to the envy of Lego fans everywhere. Couple that fascination with the enduring popularity of the brand, and you have a quirky story that screams viral. Still, the overboard bricks have been washing up on shore for seventeen years, so why have they suddenly become media darlings?

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The Way Forward

Will cultural changes come to Canada’s largest police service?

Published on July 28, 2014

Much of the media coverage of the release last week of Frank Iacobucci’s groundbreaking report on Toronto Police Service encounters with persons in crisis, focused on the hardware of law enforcement. The retired Supreme Court justice, hired a year ago by Toronto chief Bill Blair in the wake of the shocking shooting death of eighteen-year-old Sammy Yatim, had a recommendation that captured every news editor’s attention: Iacobucci suggested the TPS, which has been pushing (unsuccessfully) for expanded use of tasers, “consider” a closely supervised pilot project with these controversial devices, with the proviso that any officers equipped with the weapons receive additional mental health training, get fitted with lapel cameras, and be subjected to special scrutiny.

Yet the most significant, and somewhat under-reported, parts of Iacobucci’s impressive work involve institutional software: police culture, the effectiveness of expanded training on dealing with people in crisis, and subtle but hugely important shifts in the way police respond to calls involving such individuals.

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Things Rob Ford Has Quit

An incomplete list

Published on July 21, 2014
Illustration by Graham RoumieuGraham Roumieu

  1. Carleton University
  2. Talking to the Toronto Star (after the paper published this July 2010 article, about an alleged physical altercation between high school football coach Rob Ford and a student player)
  3. Rob and Doug Ford’s “Cut the Waist Challenge
  4. Driving under the influence of paperwork
  5. Drinking alcohol at the Air Canada Centre: “I have admitted to my mistakes, and I said it would not happen again, and it has never happened again at the Air Canada Centre,” Rob Ford, November 2013. This past spring, he appeared to be impaired while attending a Toronto Maple Leafs game—at the Air Canada Centre
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Visual Essay

In the Name of Love

Toronto street photographer Ethan Eisenberg documents personal moments of Pride

Published on June 26, 2014
Photograph by Ethan Eisenberg

In 1986, five years after Toronto police stormed the city’s bathhouses and arrested almost 300 men, street photographer Ethan Eisenberg attended his hometown’s Pride Parade for the first time. That year the marchers, led by a roller skater in cat’s-eye glasses and a prom dress, attracted modest crowds at Church and Wellesley, the epicentre of Toronto’s gay community. But by the time the parade reached Carlton, just four streets south, its audience had dwindled. Onlookers hurled insults at the demonstrators as they turned west.

Since then, mayors who initially declined to attend the parade have recanted. (Rob Ford, notably, has not.) The event, first officially proclaimed by Toronto’s city council in 1991, has grown from a small community gathering to this year’s massive, ten-day worldwide celebration. Hundreds of thousands attend, and corporate sponsors have come on board to help cover expenses.

Most years, Eisenberg is there: documenting exchanges between couples, lovers, children, and parents; the outlandish, normal, and naked dress; and the mix of personalities at the parties and protests.

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A Way of Happening

An interview with Amanda Jernigan, judge of the third annual Walrus Poetry Prize

Published on June 25, 2014
Photograph by John Haney
John Haney Amanda Jernigan.

Amanda Jernigan is the judge of this year’s Walrus Poetry Prize. The author of two collections of poems, Groundwork: poems (2011) and All the Daylight Hours (2013), Jernigan is one of the most gifted poets of her generation. I asked her about the poetry that’s moved her recently.

Michael Lista: What’s the last poem you read that really impressed you?

Amanda Jernigan: I recently finished reading Christian Wiman’s memoir/meditation My Bright Abyss, in which he collects a number of his own poems; some of these I found arresting. I’m thinking in particular of one that begins “Varieties / of quiet.” It’s a poem that tunnels towards what it’s after—you feel like the poet can’t see that ‘what’ any more than you, the reader, can, at poem’s beginning. And so there is a sort of magic to the poem’s unfolding: its revelation feels real, perennial—not staged.

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Shoot to Comply

More intelligent policing from Memphis, Tennessee

Published on June 25, 2014
Photograph by John Lorinc
John Lorinc An SL6 Launcher, photographed in the trunk of a Memphis Police cruiser.

In any discussion about the way the police deal with emotionally disturbed people, it’s difficult to ignore the underlying reality that our society has criminalized some forms of mental illness. And with that criminalization comes the clanking hardware of policing: handcuffs, restraints, batons, pepper spray, firearms.

And other weapons. Shortly after the 2012 shooting death of twenty-nine-year-old Michael Eligon, detailed here (“Stand Down,” The Walrus, July/August 2014), Toronto Police chief Bill Blair called for a public debate about allowing more officers to carry tasers. He later requested $386,000 to equip 184 additional front line cops with these devices, according to the Toronto Star. Peter Rosenthal, the lawyer who represented Eligon’s family at the coroner’s inquest into his death, strongly opposed the move, asserting that tasers are dangerous and discourage police officers from using more peaceful techniques to deal with disturbed persons.

The issue of how Toronto Police use force on people with mental illnesses is currently the subject of an internal inquiry by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci. Blair announced the appointment last August in the wake of the shooting of eighteen-year-old Sammy Yatim on a Toronto streetcar.

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