Category Archives: Conceptual Analysis


Just who are these Semites anyway?


I found your February 2, 2015 Maclean’s article IN THE DAWG HOUSE perplexing. With his tweets, “Give a Jew an OVEN as a gift if you want to make them feel all warm all over” and #Freespeechworksbothways, the Gawdfather Jerry Reddick seems to be making a point that he found the Charlie Hebdo cartoons to be offensive. He’s a devout Muslim. Depictions of Muhammed are not acceptable to Muslims. And the Charlie Hebdo cartoons not only depict Muhammed but insult the prophet.


The Dawgfather Jerry Reddick (source: Facebook)

Your article makes Reddick out to be some enemy of the state who should have been thrown off Dalhousie campus, if only his hot dog stand had been located on campus.

This is how Reddick explained it to me,

Jeremy, I was giving a hard example of how much freedom of speech and expression can hurt if it has no limits. Who would accept people walking around with T-Shirts of black persons hanging from a tree? First Nations persons in handcuffs? Women being raped? Homosexuals being hung? Muslims with bombs on their head-dress? A Jewish person with a Swastika on their head? These kinds of depictions on the front of a T-Shirt or Magazine are completely unacceptable as they should be!! My four expressions on Twitter were only words with out any incitement.

My point was the Charlie Habdo cover insults people under the guise of free-speech. Yet they say they can’t do the same thing to the Jews.?!

The Shoah was an awful thing for Jews especially, but also for the Roma people and other groups. It was one of the worst historical human operations, right up there with the African slave trade and North American genocide. Most sane people understand holocausts are not something to be laughed about. But blaspheming one of the world’s most important religious symbols is nothing to giggle at either. As far as bad taste goes, the two slights are probably on the same level. When you laugh at the Nazi’s work, you joke with the devil. But when you demean the prophet, you laugh in God’s face.

Semitic people, first century AD. (source: Kathovo, Creative Commons)

Semitic people, first century AD. (source: Kathovo, Creative Commons)

You can’t classify one as hate speech and not the other. Furthermore anti-Muslim and anti-Jew are both anti-Semitic, given that so many of Islam’s followers are Semitic people. All are God’s children and people of the book. Emma, you’re an intelligent woman and certainly one of Maclean’s better writers. What gives? Does freedom of speech work for all or just some? DM

Swastika pool located west of Pomerode’s town centre

THIS EVENING AN anonymous Disruption Monitor reader posted a response to our story “The Swastika Rises Again?” The original story followed some reports of a Swastika-emblazoned pool found by officials in a police helicopter in Pomerode, Brazil. Despite our best attempt, Disruption Monitor could not locate the pool in either Google Earth or Apple Maps. We gave up too soon. The anonymous reader’s message was to the point: -26.742715, -49.236279.

After opening up our mapping applications once again, Disruption Monitor can confirm that based on our view, the location at the end of Rua Heinrich Kaines, and due west of the Pomerode town centre, is in fact the Swastika pool. DM

Despite two hours of searching Disruption Monitor could not locate the pool using either Google Earth or Apple Maps software applications

The swastika rises again?

AMONGST THE TILED roofs and tudor-like manors of Pomerode, Brazil there is a mystery of some consequence. Riding in a helicopter the town’s Policia Civil spotted a swastika motif at the bottom of one homeowner’s pool. The police say the swastika has been there for thirteen years.

Bonus points if you guess what interesting coincidence also happened roughly thirteen years ago?

The police are not charging the individual with a crime. The symbol is on private land. The police say the homeowner is not promoting Nazism.

Not promoting Nazism? That may have been the case before the pool image was public, but now that it is making its way across the Internet, the image is being reproduced, is in fact being promoted, widely. How else would a small-time blog like this one be able to make a story out of it? But is this swastika a Nazi swastika? Is the fascist ideology the reason the homeowner placed the swastika below his pool water?

Image adapted from Adbranch "Coca-Cola" swastika

Image adapted from Adbranch “Coca-Cola swastika”

The Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, where Pomerode resides hundreds of kilometres south of Sao Paulo, is home to large populations of Germans and Austrians; it is home to Italian and Dutch populations as well. In 1967 following the Second World War Franz Stangl, an Austrian SS commander stationed at Sobiór and Treblinka concentration camps, was arrested in Sao Paulo. Anthropologist, doctor and human experimenter “Uncle” Josef Megele died swimming at the Brazilian resort town of Bertioga in 1979. Most residents speak Pomeranian German in addition to Portugeuse. In 2010 Brazil’s Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) found that Pomerode’s population was 92 percent white.

Despite two hours of searching Disruption Monitor could not locate the pool using either Google Earth or Apple Maps software applications

Despite two hours of searching Disruption Monitor could not locate the pool using either Google Earth or Apple Maps software applications. Policia Civil.

There aren’t large populations of ethnically Ukranian people in Pomerode so we can be relatively sure that the backyard swastika is not representative of the ancient Vinča culture. The Vinča people around Mezine, Ukraine may have been the earliest adopters of the swastika twelve thousand years ago. The Ukraine is once again in the news regarding the Nazis and their ideology. Along with the United States of America and Canada, the Ukraine refused to support a United Nations motion condemning Nazism and Fascism.

In addition to the Vinča, other users of the swastika include Hinduism and Buddhism, the Indus Valley and Nile riverine civilizations of five thousand years ago. More recently the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, Britain’s Royal Air Force, the United States’ Army and Coca-Cola have all used the symbol for their own purposes.

In Vinh Long, Vietnam the swastika is a Buddhist symbol.

In Vinh Long, Vietnam the swastika is a Buddhist symbol.

The swastika may have developed alongside the sun cross symbol in the Neolithic age, say S.A. and R.S. Freed. (To me it looks like a windmill.) There is a Swastika, Ontario that was founded before the Nazis obtained power.

Despite its long use as a local symbol, the Navajo people of the Southwestern United States announced after the beginning of the second world war that going forward they would refrain from using it given its hurtful associations. This means that in 1939 there was an enlightened group of people who gave up their own cultural symbol because it may have been associated with Nazism but also that in 2014 the seemingly modern countries Canada and the United States are not ready to condemn the Nazism ideology itself. Also in 2014 a small Brazilian police force is protecting what is mostly likely either old Nazi holdouts or their loyal and neo- Nazi descendants.

Is it now Kosher for all of us to adorn our pools with swastikas? Are the Norteamericanos now voting with the fascists? Will the swastika rise again? DM

Olfactory Strategies

MY FAVOURITE DATING site OkCupid associates people using an algorithm centred on answers to personal questions. The questions get at who you are. Are you creative? Are you smart? Are you a good communicator? What form of spooning is most comfortable? Shall I spoon you or should you spoon me? Many of the questions are sexual. They’re fun to answer. Other users can only see your answers if they’ve answered the same question. There is exposure, but maybe it’s balanced exposure.

One of these questions–there are thousands of them–is the following

Which olfactory strategy would you prefer a partner take when on a date with you?

Your possible answers are “perfume / aftershave / cologne,” “antiperspirant or subtle deodorant only,” “clean and natural,” or  “sweatiness is godliness.” As always there is a place to explain your answer.

Did you ever think for a minute that you needed an olfactory strategy? I mean maybe you knew that you had to shower and smell good. Maybe you have a perfume that you prefer. But an olfactory strategy? Maybe you want to think about it if you haven’t. Many people have. Chemicals react with both the nasal epithelium and with an organ, the vomeronasal organ (VNO), that some scientists expect exists in a low percentage of the population. Not that they’ve ever seen the organ. Most other scientists disagree, say the VNO doesn’t exist. Either way, we humans are responding to smells from potential mates. Did you know that pubic hair is for wafting?

Look at that smile. What does Winnifred know that you don’t?

Some people are conscious of what’s going on. Girls are apparently better at this. Men are probably just as likely to catch a subtle breeze and let out a grunt or two without ever knowing why. I started paying more thought to the potential need for an olfactory strategy after a recent date. When we went out there were other mitigating circumstances. I had mostly lost my voice. It was just returning. There’s no golden voice here, but I’d don’t discount the importance of inflected enthusiasm.

There was interesting conversation for sure. But I don’t think it went well. She was less chatty the next day. From the debriefing came statements about a lack of chemistry. Maybe it was the pheromones, she said. Damn. If I’d known this cutie was one of those conscious pheromone sensors, I probably wouldn’t have showered just before the date and then driven my car from Toronto to Kitchener with the top down. I probably would have still worn deodorant but maybe I would have let the pubes, including those under my shoulders, waft their pheromones to a greater degree.

My physical anthropology professor, the osteologist Hermann Helmuth, once told our class that we perspire for at least three different reasons, and as a result, produce at least three different and distinct formulations. There is sweating for cooling. This is the least interesting. There is the ‘cold sweat’ or the fear sweat. I suspect that women are not fond of this. If you’re nervous before a date you might want to think about doing something to make you unnervous. This is not how you want her to smell you coming. But then there is sweating to communicate desirability, sweating the pheromones. When managers communicate they are going to use existing plant more efficiently, they may switch to manager-speak and say we are going to  “sweat the assets.” This is different but related.

When I was too young I fell hopelessly in love with a young woman who looked like she had been ripped out of a Calvin Klein advertisement. She was and is drop dead gorgeous. But it wasn’t just her looks that took me in. It was her olfactory non-strategy, which was always “clean and natural.” (Back then I switched between Polo and Chaps and Dakar Noir.) I inhaled her and it was good and pure. The smells were imprinted forevermore in my brain. She now lives on the other side of the world. Sniff sniff. But whenever I see her and I get a whiff, those troublesome little chemicals take me back to a place that is youthful, safe and optimistic. Puppy love on rewind. It’s intoxicating. And it makes me think there is something to this olfactory strategy business. DM


Miss Lonelyhearts and Trinity College Can Help

TRINITY COLLEGE’S ANNUAL book sale, typically held in October on location at Seeley Hall , 6 Hoskin Avenue, is a reason to love Toronto.  Every year you can go there and purchase books once purchased by University of Toronto faculty because they were important books to read. These reads were what the smart people thought important just a few years ago. That makes me think that maybe I should know something about these books as well. I need not even have attended U of T, but can give myself nuggets of a university education just by showing up and buying a few used books for a few dollars. The variety on sale is beyond the ability of Chapters-Indigo or Barnes and Noble, in their Walmart-like warehouses, to duplicate. There is no Google-bot suggesting to you what web page you should look at.

Two books I have snagged at the sale–I don’t remember which year–are Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity and Ashley Montagu’s The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity.

Image of books "The Elephant Man" and "Stigma"

Prizes from Trinity College

The Elephant Man is not the first study of Joseph Carey Merrick; that was written by Frederick Treves, Merrick’s English physician. Treves began treating Merrick in 1884 at the London Hospital. His publication, also The Elephant Man, exists in part as Montagu’s second chapter. But Montagu’s book is much more. As a third party, the author not only wrote about Merrick, his life and condition, but about Treves’ life, and the relationship that developed between the two men. By “condition,” I mean to say that Merrick suffered at least as much from a psycho-social condition caused by his physical appearance, as he did from physical disorder itself.

What physical disorder Mr. Merrick possessed, by the way, is still under debate more than 150 years after his birth. Even the nature of the condition, whether it should be considered first a genetic problem, a neurological condition, a bone malformity or some combination thereof, continues to be contested. Montagu’s book did get something wrong, Merrick’s name. In The Elephant Man he is John Merrick, a mistake that appears to have been originally made by Treves in his early papers and then never corrected in later publications by Treves or Montagu.

Despite naming him “John” instead of his birth-given and regularly signed “Joseph,” Montagu’s book and Treves’ approach got a lot right. Treves saw Mr. Montagu first and foremost as a human being. And a bright human being. “I found Merrick…remarkably intelligent. He had learned to read and had become a most voracious reader,” said Treves. But the way society and even Merrick’s own family had treated him by succumbing to their own primal fears about his condition added a great deal to the child and young man’s burden. (Joseph Merrick died at twenty-seven years of age.) To counteract the burden that left Merrick haunted by people and anxious about self Treves believed it was “necessary that he should make the acquaintance of men and women who would treat him as a normal and intelligent young man and not as a monster of deformity.”

Treves asked, at one point, a young pretty female friend of his, unaligned to the official duties of the nurses, to meet Merrick with a smile and a handshake. The result was unexpected. “As he let go her hand he bent his head on his knees and sobbed until I thought he would never cease.” The woman had been the first and only to shake hands or smile at him.

The other Trinity College find makes a fitting companion. Stigma was released in 1963 by Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman while working as a faculty member of UC Berkeley’s sociology department. This was four books after Goffman’s excellent and celebrated work The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life in 1959. Like the earlier work, Stigma concerns identity management. But with a twist. The Presentation of Self, for the most, explores how people can and do manage perceptions of self transmitted to the people they meet in the daily course of business. They do this with speech and clothes and grooming and nonverbal communication. Individuals shape how the world perceives them by association with cliques, clubs and professional associations, by marrying-in. The friends you keep.

One of Goffman examples in the 1959 book is that of the pharmacist profession. In wartime, armies have trained people to become pharmacists in a matter of weeks. They learn the basics of formulations, learn how to read doctors’ scripts. They learn about chemistry. They probably already knew how to count pills. But in peacetime students will go to school for years and pay tens thousands of dollars to learn pretty pretty much the same skill. The University of Toronto doesn’t make it easy to find out how much a 4-year pharmacy degree costs, but currently it’s $64,708 for domestic students and $89,404 for international students. And then you have to buy books. Once you’re finished your degree however the company you keep, namely the pharmacist association and its links to other professional association, does a pretty good job of keeping the freelance pill dispensers at bay. You get to put a Bpharm on your business card and white coat.

Goffman’s Stigma concerns identity’s that society gives you, usually without any participation by you. He talks about what it was to be a Jew when you really didn’t want to be a Jew, and to be blind. Goffman digs into what it must be like for a person to become stigmatized into a “disadvantaged situation even while they are learning and incorporating the standards against which they fall short.” In today’s lingo, we’re talking about mind fuck.

“Desperate’s” letter to Miss Lonelyhearts, scooped from Nathanael West’s 1933 Miss Lonelyhearts novel, is excerpted and appears before chapter 1.

Dear Miss Lonelyhearts —
I am sixteen years old now and I don’t know what to do and would appreciate it if you could tell me what to do. When I was a little girl it was not so bad because I got used to the kids on the block makeing fun of me, but now I would like to have boy friends like the other girls and go out on Saturday nites, but no boy will take me because I was born without a nose — although I am a good dancer and have a nice shape and my father buys me pretty clothes.

I sit and look at myself all day and cry. I have a big hole in the middle of my face that scares people even myself so I cant blame the boys for not wanting to take me out. My mother loves me, but she crys terrible when she looks at me.

What did I do to deserve such a terrible bad fate? Even if I did do some bad things I didn’t do any before I was a year old and I was born this way. I asked Papa and he says he doesnt know, but that maybe I did something in the other world before I was born or that maybe I was being punished for his sins. I dont believe that because he is a very nice man. Ought I commit suicide?

Sincerely yours, Desperate

Victoria College Book Sale 2014, October 24-27. The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu. Published by Outerbridge & Dienstfrey, New York in 1971. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity by Erving Goffman. Published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ in 1963. DM