Saturday, May 30, 2009

Touching pitch

A Canadian MP, Pierre Poilievre, said in the House of Commons:
“On that side of the House, they have the man who fathered the carbon tax, put it up for adoption to his predecessor and now wants a paternity test to prove the tar baby was never his in the first place,” he said. He repeated the line again later.
Naturally, this has raised a furor and charges of "racism".
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary describes a tar baby as a situation “from which it is nearly impossible to extricate oneself,” but the term has been used pejoratively to describe black children.
The careful use of the passive voice should be your first tipoff that this is a bogus charge. Where does it come from, this claim that "tar baby" is a racist slur? I want proof. I have found a total of two quotes online to support it: first an interview of the novelist Toni Morrison, who used the term as the title of a novel, and said,
Tar Baby is also a name [...] that white people call black children, black girls, as I recall.
At one time, a tar pit was a holy place, at least an important place, because tar was used to build things.
It held together things like Moses' little boat and the pyramids.
For me, the tar baby came to mean the black woman who can hold things together.
The other one is also from a novelist, John Updike:
In his book Coup, John Updike says of a white woman who prefers the company of black men, "some questing chromosome within holds her sexually fast to the tar baby."
Apart from this, there is the Urban Dictionary, claiming that there is a more explicit line "from a children's story", but no reference, and I've found no trace of such a story online. Unlike the more well-known racial slurs like "n*gger" and "coon", which are documented in hundreds of books, letters, songs, quotes and every other kind of verbal format, the existence of "tar baby" as a slur, as far as I can see, rests upon anecdotal evidence alone. And anecdotes that come from professional fabulators.

There are a few similar cases of this same ruckus being raised in the past few years:

John McCain said it in reference to a divorce issue. "The phrase is considered by some to be a racial epithet."

Mitt Romney used it as a metaphor for the Big Dig.

Tony Snow used it to refer to a problematic program.

Virginia Foxx of North Carolina used it last month to refer to the government bailout program.

Every one of the politicians who used the term used it correctly, as a reference to the Uncle Remus story describing a sticky situation from which extrication is impossible. Every one of them used it to describe a thing, not a person (and I don't think that inanimate objects have race). Only the article on Romney went to the trouble of finding a possible reference for the term as racial slur, and could still only come up with Updike's quote, which sounds to me like a novelist coining a clever double meaning, not tapping into a genuine Americanism. So we have a lot of assurances that some people, somewhere, think that this is a racial epithet, but next to no evidence that it has ever really been said or meant in this way. Just a few vague reminiscences that it's supposed to have happened, down in the south somewhere.

Frankly, I don't believe that this has ever been a racial epithet. I think people have vague memories of the expression "a lick of the tar brush" to describe a person of mixed-race ancestry, and have extrapolated from that a confused suspicion that "tar" must always be some kind of code for anti-black prejudice.

Since all that's required to start an outrage campaign is the assertion that a phrase "is considered by some" to be racist, I'm starting my own right now.

I hereby announce that the term "blackberry" is racist. "It has been used" to refer to black people. On November 5, 2008, someone said to someone else, "I can't believe anyone would vote for that blackberry." As they say in 'Plan 9 From Outer Space', can you prove it DIDN'T happen? And I think a black girl in the movie "Fame" says something about blackberries being sweeter, so that pretty much settles it.

I will now file a Canadian Human Rights complaint against the BlackBerry phone company, demanding that they change their name to BlueBerry. I also want $10 million in damages for myself, for the proliferation of their outrageous racist products in Canada. No, I'm not black, but actual injury is not a requirement, as we have discovered from the Richard Warman cases.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Brotherly love

Yesterday, the boys were fighting about the usual thing - who gets to control the computer. Finally, I persuaded Thomas to go downstairs and use the Dell in the basement in order to avoid James. Thinking I'd at last obtained peace, I turned to James, who was following me like a determined thundercloud, and said, "There! Thomas all gone!" He responded immediately with "Thomas all gone GARBAGE!" Uh, wait a minute... "Thomas all gone FIRE!!" No, no...

I had to break the news to James that we were not throwing Thomas in the garbage, no matter HOW mad he got at him. He stomped back to the computer, muttering darkly, "Thomas garbage."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tape it! Tape it!!!

The Wrong Box isn't out on dvd yet (at least, not in a truly usable format - there's a Spanish release out, but it's not available in widescreen), but here's the next best thing: Turner Classic Movies is airing it late night Friday/early Saturday morning. I think the schedule of movies is the same all across North America, though the times may differ. So I'm not sure if the 1:15 AM time (ugh) here in the East is the same on the West Coast, or if you will have it listed at 10:15 PM Friday night instead. Whatever the time, look up your Friday/Saturday TV schedule and make sure you don't miss it!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Fighting off the invasion

Yesterday morning, I took Yin out at about 5:45 for her usual start-the-day-off-right pee, and walked half asleep down the steps from the deck to the garden, to suddenly find myself face to face with a rabbit. You may remember we had a struggle with a destructive rabbit a few years ago - it ended with me borrowing a trap, catching the rabbit, and then letting it go in a field on the other side of the river.

The rabbits have been back since, but none of them has done the damage of that original one, so I've been pretty laid-back about their incursions. They'd come by every 5 days or so (they seem to have a kind of circuit worked out, and must hit other yards in the neighbourhood in turn), eat some grass, then leave. Once we gave up growing carrots, there wasn't much that they were interested in that I could notice, so I didn't mind them; in fact, I rather enjoyed seeing rabbits in the yard from time to time.

The last time we saw this rabbit (last week), Yin had been completely flummoxed by it, and didn't really know what to do. She trotted a few steps toward it, but the rabbit was having nothing of her investigations, and immediately left via the big gap at the bottom of the gate. This time, Yin was ready and gave chase. It wasn't much of a contest, and the rabbit immediately departed in the usual way. We then went down into the garden to look over the plants, and I figured that that was it for the morning's adventures.

But not so! When we headed back to the house, there was the rabbit again!. Yin chased it away in the same fashion, and we went inside. I thought that was a bit odd; these rabbits usually don't come back after they've been shown the door, at least not for a few hours, until they're sure the coast is clear. Then half an hour later, I looked out the window and couldn't believe - the rabbit had come back a THIRD time! This time I watched it. First it seemed to be digging a bit in a place where I have a few perennials and bulbs struggling against the crabgrass. I figured it was trying to unearth a bulb to eat it. A few minutes later, I saw it had crossed to another spot, and was pulling up some creeping thyme groundcover - no surprise that it would like to eat that, I thought. But wasn't eating it. It was carrying it! Right over to that...hole.

Uh oh. I know from 'Watership Down' that rabbits don't carry food with them to eat somewhere else. I took a closer look and saw that the rabbit was making several trips with mouthfuls of thyme, and it was stuffing them down the hole. I know what this means when birds do it, so I went to the computer and did a quick search and found that it was as I suspected: this rabbit wasn't a HE, he was a SHE, and she was building a nest! I was going to have a litter of baby rabbits right in my back garden!

What to do? My first impulse was soft-hearted; I mean, come on - rabbits are CUTE!

The reports said that these are temporary burrows, and the rabbits actually live elsewhere in big warrens. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad - the babies would be born, grow quickly and then leave. But then I read that rabbits can have 7 litters a year! What if she decides that this is a great place for birthin' babies, and keeps coming back? How many rabbits would I have running around? Not to mention, that they mature quickly, and the litters would soon be able to have their own babies!

I finally went out to take a close look at what she was doing. I wasn't worried that there would be babies there already; the websites said that the mother rabbits do this nest-building a few days before they're due. So I chased her off (she didn't go far, though - she sat nearby watching me, and nonchalently washing her face!) and examined the burrow. I pulled out many clumps of thyme, then discovered something that made my mind up in a hurry: in the course of her burrowing, she'd dug right under one of my nice mature poppy plants, and completely severed its roots! The leaves just pulled off in my hand!

At this point I made up my mind: the rabbit had to go. I know she'd been back 3 times, so she must have thought that our yard was absolutely THE place, but this was too much. She was a fast digger; I figured if I tossed her out now, she'd still have plenty of time to dig a burrow somewhere else. So I chased her under the gate, and then barricaded the gap underneath with boards and bricks! I'll have to remove them every time I open it, but I can go a long time without having to open the gate, and this was too important. So far she hasn't been back, so I'm hoping she gave up on our place. I even threw the thyme over the fence into the wilderness to enourage her to make a burrow over there.