Raw Fish, Suicides in Florida and humiliating Margaret MacMillan
Last Wednesday’s Toronto Star provided some convincing evidence that a dose of the idiocy drug the mass media is mainlining these days went into the general pipeline.
The first datum was a front page story announcing that the Ontario government is about to force the freezing of all fish products prior to raw consumption in restaurants. The Star’s story wasn’t very clear whether this meant sushi restaurants only, or if they were going to force all restaurants and fish stores to do the same. After all, there’s no way to tell if an ordinary-looking fish purchaser might be turning Japanese.
Is there a reason for protecting us from fish that isn’t soggy and riddled with ice crystals? Not really. The provincial government admitted that “the regulations were not prompted by any immediate health threat,” just that they were trying “to bring Ontario up to National and U.S. health codes.” These admissions came from the mouth of Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Karim Kurji, and is code for “bureaucrats covering their asses.”
No such regulations exist anywhere else in North America, although the food Nazis at Health Canada didn’t seem displeased at Kurji’s zealotry. Nor has there been a single documented case of anyone getting seriously ill from eating sushi in Toronto. Kurji, who evidently doesn’t eat sushi himself, related some ridiculous anecdotes about 50 million sick Japanese, people “rolling around with pain, with nausea, vomiting, etc.” and went on to describe unsuccessful attempts to remove worms from victims’ nether parts—presumably with plyers, jackhammers and flamethrowers.
As a former West Coaster, the ban doesn’t strike me as threatening quite the culinary tragedy it would in Vancouver. Most of Toronto’s Japanese restaurants appear to freeze their fish nightly anyway, though I’ve run across several I’m pretty sure just leave it out on the counters overnight. I will miss the one competent Japanese restaurant I’ve found here, John Chow’s Omi on Church Street, which would do just fine in Vancouver.
If you want the general skinny on what food Nazis are doing to our taste buds, go to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of Gina Malette’s Last Chance To Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World (M&S, 2004, about $35) . She’ll fill you in on why this new regulation has little to do with public safety, and everything to do with directing you to Red Robin and Red Lobster, where you’ll be lining the pockets of an American corporation while you give yourself a much better shot at poisoning yourself.
Another datum appears on page three of the same paper, same edition. This time it was offering evidence that the mass media has traded in facts for a focus on how people ought to feel about the facts, and that contemporary media really is turning into one long marketing poll. The standard evidence track for this is the current U.S. Presidential election, which is no longer about whether Americans know that George W. Bush is a lying moron and a puppet for Haliburton hell-bent on bankrupting the American economy with tax breaks for the ultra-rich—despite virtually indisputable evidence that he is all of those things. No, it has become an election about “presentation”, and about whether—damn the facts—Bush makes Americans feel more warm and fuzzy than John Kerry. Bush’s single virtue—that his sincerity creates an aura of emotional credibility that the more nuanced and complicated Kerry can’t instantly slather across a pixel matrix—is likely to get him re-elected, even though re-electing him could result in the overthrow of the U.S. Constitution before 2008, and will make the United States a bankrupt rogue state. Never mind that, how do you feel?
The revealing datum in the Star’s story (it was actually an Associated Press pickup written by someone named Jill Barton) was about the succession of hurricanes in Florida, and the emotional impact they’ve had on Floridians. They’re feeling insecure, apparently, and some are feeling suicidal. Normally (according to the story) earthquakes make people 65% more likely to kill themselves—or at least, make them want to call a mental health centre to discuss their feelings of hopelessness to a hotline operator. Hurricanes normally rate a 31 % increase, while floods incur barely 12%. But according to someone named Christine Caulfield, who’s the chief executive of Coastal Behavioral Healthcare in southwest Florida, the impact of successive hurricanes increases the rate of sucidal feelings “exponentially,” thus making Floridians 16 times as suicidal right now as they were after the first hurricane swept through.
So let’s do the math on this, because the Star story didn’t. The suicide rate in Florida right now should be 496% higher than normal. If there’s another hurricane, the rate will be 7,936 times what it normally is, and there’ll be as many bodies with bullets in their ears littering the landscape as overturned house trailers. You don’t want to know what’ll happen if a 6th hurricane hits. Suffice it to say that Jeb Bush won’t have to rig the upcoming vote in the state, because everyone will either be dead, trying to kill themselves or too busy phoning suicide hotlines to bother voting. Don’t ya just love social science?
CBC Radio was the third source of Wednesday’s idiocies. For their regular Wednesday afternoon book club program on the “Ontario Phone-In,” they had Margaret MacMillan’s wonderfully magisterial 1919 under scrutiny, and MacMillan herself as the guest. The Phone-In’s host, Alan Neal, is a bit of an airhead at the best of times, and is much more comfortable with the 19th century quilting bee fiction that the Corporation believes defines our national sensibility. On this occasion he began by haranging MacMillan for making the book so long, and then went on to make disingenuous sighing sounds about her research that would have made a forklift driver sound dumber than George W. Bush. MacMillan took all this bullyragging with gracious patience, probably knowing full well that Neal was reading his questions from a briefing sheet constructed by a researcher who hadn’t read the whole book either.
Unfortunately, their setup nonsense set the tone for the call-in, which quickly produced several old ladies who complained about how long the book was, along with a 20-something nitwit who opined that there wasn’t anything important in the book that he hadn’t already learned in his grade nine history class. The entire session maintained a sort of “why would you bother doing all this work just to write a book” tone that had me grinding my teeth on MacMillan’s behalf. She herself betrayed no irritation, likely because she’s had this done to her any number of times already.
I used to really admire CBC television and radio, which took its mandate to be that of raising the level of public knowledge above that of the morning Uninformed Bigots club meetings at Tim Hortons. But since the dumbing down that began a few years ago when someone decided that the Corporation ought to aim itself at a younger, more multicultural demographic and that its long-devoted over-50 listeners could go away and be obsessed with their digestive tracts somewhere else, it can rarely last more than a few minutes without humiliating the few public intellectuals it still bothers to bring in to show it really is different than CanWest Global.
Mostly, it isn’t.
Toronto, October 5, 2004, 1238 words