Archive for January, 2016

Kristi Coulter


Back in 1997 I founded Ellavon: An Ezine of Basic Culture in large measure so that I could work with artists and writers I admired. I got to know Kristi Coulter by reading and responding to her posts on the old Usenet newsgroups, in particular and Her prose was surpassingly graceful and witty. Indeed, Kristi was and remains one of the best pure writers I have ever read. I was thrilled when she agreed to write for Ellavon.

While I can say that I published her, I cannot say that I edited her; I never found a word – honestly, not a single one – I would change. (Such an experience is as unnerving as it is happy for an editor. It has happened to me only one other time, with Paul Edwards, editor of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy and author of the magisterial refutation of reincarnation that you can find in Not Necessarily the New Age.)

Kristi has finally launched her own website,, which has links to her Ellavon work and to more recent writing, including her blog, “Off-Dry: Sober Girl, Loopy World,” her two recent “Open Letters to People I Have Strong Feelings About” (“Dear Santa” is pure and poignant genius), and to her various “Enthusiasms.”

“Are you sure you didn’t upset him in some way?”

This morning I came upon an article quoting a right-wing American radio host who questioned whether a hate-crime against a gay person has ever in fact happened, even once. (I’m not providing the link.) When will this crap go away?

An apropos basil.CA re-post (with minor edits):

20 July 04:  I’ve been physically beaten up twice as an adult. Each time my attacker believed I was gay.  In Mountain View, California a number of years ago I was at a club with a female companion who looked particularly boyish that day in an old gray sweatshirt. A muscled guy told us to leave; I asked him why, and he became incensed:  He threw me across the room – I landed on a table, which broke to pieces. Then he leapt on top of me, and started punching. (My shoulder was dislocated.) The bouncer pulled the man off, then ordered my friend and I out of the club:  The entire place jeered us on our way out. 

It was bewildering, or it was until my friend said, “They think I’m a man.”

Late last Saturday night I was walking home to the West End from a friend’s place downtown when a car skidded to a stop right behind me.  A man leapt out of the backseat and kicked me in the face. On the ground I curled up into a ball and covered my head, which he continued to kick until a group of women came around the corner a few moments later. “Why are you doing this to me?” I asked him.  “You’re a faggot,” he said.

Generally I very much like Vancouver cops, but I must say that I was disappointed by the officer who showed up after one of the women called 911.  “Are you sure you didn’t upset him in some way?  Did you cross against the light, or give him the finger?”

1 August 04:  Thanks for your emails. I’m fine – the bruises are pretty much all gone.  At any rate, it was not too terrible of an event, more depressing than scary.  (I found out that I am not afraid of physical violence – sweet to learn that from the episode.) The attack wasn’t even the most important thing that happened to me that day, or that hour, in fact.  I was coming home from visiting my friend Violet – the Princess of Pigeon Park. She had scolded me for talking to somebody I wasn’t supposed to (much of our  conversation typically concerns how to behave properly in her neighborhood). I told her, “I am so, so stupid.”

“No, you are not.”

She had a bouquet of flowers — this is a woman who buys herself flowers – and she gave me one.

“I love you, Bob.” She had never told me that before. I was elated.

“I love you, Violet.”

It occurred to me only after I got home that (a) walking back to my neighborhood holding a long-stemmed flower might have made me a good target, and (b) after all the bloody commotion, I had forgotten to find my precious flower and bring it home (damn).  Violet looks as tough and beautiful as ever, but her voice is only a whisper these days. You can be sure I would not have been attacked had Violet been with me.

Since these posts were published, I’ve been assaulted twice. The motive was money, not hate.

It has been a few years since I’ve seen Violet. I don’t know where she is. I pray she is okay.

It never occurred to me, by the way, to protest to the crowd in the bar or to the second attacker that I was not gay. Which makes these memories happy, in a weird way. I know, though, that I was lucky not to have been badly injured or killed.

Elder blogger

In a few days basil.CA enters its fifteenth year. I’m very pleased. Here’s a post from its first year:

I’m pushing middle age, and only this morning did it dawn on me that the words “perturb” and “turbulence” must share an etymological root. Yet somehow I am allowed to send emails to friends and colleagues and even my clients unsupervised. (For those few who haven’t been clued in yet: Both words derive from the Latin turba, meaning confusion and such.)  I am looking for a way to redeem myself and think that nothing less than coining and popularizing a new word will do.  This is our new word:  PERTURBULENT, as in, “Your mother needs to switch to ginger ale, because she’s becoming pretty … perturbulent.”  The word turns into a nifty noun, too: “Perturbulence is your mother’s middle name.” – 19 May ’02

The neologism never caught on, alas, though basil.CA has, among an esteemed elite. Thank you, dear readers.

Radio Head

While putting together “Not Necessarily the New Age,” back in the late 1980s, I was able to indulge my long-time interest in American “fringe” micro-cultures and corresponded with zealous believers of all types, political and religious and scientific (pseudo- and otherwise). I also listened to a lot of out-there radio programs that you don’t get up here in Canada. I liked listening to them even if I didn’t sometimes like what I was hearing. They made for “interesting company.” I was even a fan of Rush Limbaugh early on, when his stirring stemwinders could pick me up no matter what they were about. (His rhetorical skills coarsened once Bill Clinton got elected, and I find Limbaugh unlistenable today.)

My favourite conspiracy theorist was Dave Emory, whose radio program “One Step Beyond” would mesmerize and baffle me to equal degrees as it wove together the Third Reich, Watergate, JFK’s assassination, bin Laden’s alleged connection with the Bush family, and the double-murder trial of OJ Simpson into a single tapestry of  … what, I am not sure … that went on and on. Although I travel in different circles these days, in terms of whom I read and what I listen to on the radio, to me it feels strangely great that a fellow like Emory, who regaled me back in the day, is still around.

Feeling totally great …


… listening to the Paul Westerberg / Juliana collaboration released today: “Wild Stab.” They call themselves the “I Don’t Cares,” oh but they do.

Westerberg sounds great and Hatfield does, too; their ragged harmonies are sweet and living – reminding me a bit of Julie and Buddy Miller‘s – their voices belong together. What beautiful music. *sighs*

Vanyaland, “the Boston-based online music magazine, alternative radio station, and lifestyle brand,” posted an interview with Westerberg conducted by Peter Wolf. Westerberg describes the genesis of the record and what working with Hatfield was like. There are also a number of extended riffs on many other topics, of course.


The Queen City

Screen shot 2016-01-18 at 11.34.58 AM

Katie Couric, now Global Anchor at Yahoo! News, posted a beautiful story and video called “Buffalo’s big comeback” last Friday. The video I found especially moving. Every scene stirred me: Here was my first soul-home.

I adore this city. I met best friends here. My son was born here. I learned my craft here. I had one or two beers here, and some tequila shots. I fell in love here. I worked at Mighty Taco here. I wrote here. My soul will always be in Buffalo.

It is the only place I could possibly go if I ever left the Terminal City.

More from AHA

This is a cool little video.

I have learned so much about social and mobile media from AHA‘s April Smith and her colleagues, exceptional citizen journalists.

BTW, April’s twitter-handle is @April – ha! – so you know she figured out Twitter earlier than most.

Pender St. facade


Beautiful. I love Vancouver with my whole heart.

Big Art


What gets installed in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” My friend photographer Marilyn Suriani is preparing a huge installation there – the largest piece is 54-feet wide. It’s beautiful, a continuation of this remarkable phase in her career, which sees Suriani creating nature- and waterscapes in shimmering, rhapsodic colours. This work feels both abstract and earthly.

A downtown eastside addendum: AHA Media


My friends at AHA Media have been documenting and fostering positive spirits in this beautiful, fraught, unbelievable Vancouver neighbourhood for many years now. I admire their work.

Thursday morning coming in


Davie Street, Vancouver.

The downtown eastside

Vancouver’s saddest neighborhood has been declining over the past few years – hard to believe this could be possible – despite the amount of money being spent on social and medical services there. There are more drugs and crimes and disease than ever.

And yet: It is worse than I thought. In a Vancouver Sun piece called The High Cost of Misery in the downtown eastside Pete McMartin writes:

It is not news that treatment of the addicted and mentally ill in the Downtown Eastside is expensive.

In a series of stories in 2014, Sun reporter Lori Culbert and I calculated that the 260 (!) social service agencies and social housing sites located within the borders of the DTES received and spent $360 million in 2013, or just under $1 million a day. Almost $265 million of that came from the three levels of government.

But for the first time — and this is new — a Simon Fraser University research team calculated, down to the tax dollar, the average costs incurred by individual offenders in the DTES.

The figures are demoralizing.

The research team, headed up by health science researcher Dr. Julian Somers, tracked just over 300 high-frequency offenders in the DTES during a five-year period. There were two subsets of these offenders: those sentenced to community supervision and those who had been put into custody. Across both groups, 99 per cent had been diagnosed with at least one mental disorder, while more than 80 per cent were dual-diagnosis patients dealing with substance abuse issues and at least one other mental disorder.

Those under community supervision incurred an average cost of $168,389 in health, social welfare and justice services over the five years, while those in the custody group incurred an average cost of $246,899.

All told, the cost of services provided to the two subset groups totalled $26.5 million. That’s just for 300 people. And just in cost to the provincial government.

Yet those numbers, Somers said, still did not reflect the entirety of the true cost of those individuals to the public. That true cost, which would be much, much greater than those figures cited above, did not include other justice costs such as police, crown counsel, defence or court services, nor did they include health services provided while in custody. Ambulance and hospital admittance services and subsidized shelter costs were also excluded.