Nothing to #declare

Question from a Canada Customs agent as I returned from the U.S.: “About the ebola virus, anything changed for you, Mr. Murray?”

Well, really, it depends on your definition of “change.” Change is constant, and in terms of ebola, it’s all a question of whether those changes elevate or reduce my risk of being a carrier.

Have I been to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone? I have not. Have I associated with anyone who’s been to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone? No, I haven’t. Could I locate Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone on a map? That’s not particularly relevant.

Yes, I have left the country. That’s why I’m here at this border crossing, returning from the United States of America, which, unlike Canada, has not barred visitors from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone (which are in West Africa somewhere, and that’s all I’m saying about that).

The World Health Organization pleaded with countries not to bar visitors because it would only compel them to find non-official routes into the country, unmonitored, and next thing you know we have body parts falling off in the streets and only Brad Pitt can save us. But Canada has turned away nearly 180 people so far and is not the compassionate country I grew up in, your polite approach to border security notwithstanding, Mr. Customs Officer.

Yes, I have left the country in the past three months, but I’ve only been as far as the Dollar Tree in Derby, Vermont, where they sell really cheap Mike & Ikes, which, to be honest, probably pose a greater risk to my health than ebola.

A big bag of germs

A big bag of germs

And that’s what it’s all about: risk. The other day, I shared a big bag of Humpty Dumpty Party Mix with a five-year-old and a three-year-old. At one point, I reached my hand in and the side of the foil bag was all wet. I had to weigh the risk-benefit of continuing to eat the snacks. Risk: contracting contaminating cooties that would leave me lurching lava-like. Benefit: the five-year-old was picking out all the gross pretzels for herself. So of course I kept eating the snacks, though I did take a hard look at my eating habits, not to mention my choice of friends.

I survived, obviously. Consider this, though: perhaps it was mere chance that I avoided the one chip loaded with cheesy goodness and e coli.

Consider this as well, officer: maybe I am that chip.

Think about it. Since I’ve been ebola-free for the past three months, don’t the odds increase daily that I’ll get ebola?

Imagine someone who drives a lot. Statistically, the more that person drives, the greater his chances of having a car accident. That’s why when I see companies with signs that read “447 Days Without An Accident,” I head the other way because I know they’re due – probably that guy who drives a lot smashing right into their loading dock.

So, sure, right now I’ve had no exposure to ebola, only exposure to too many Mike & Ikes and sticky children, but statistically the odds of exposure increase the longer I’m out in public, just like the odds of honking increase the longer I sit here holding up border traffic.

Not to mention that we’ve let our guard down, now that it appears that the ebola outbreak is confined to unimportant African countries where an unprecedented 8,000 people have so far died of the virus. (And something about Procol Harum? Sorry, forget it…)

Here in the west, most people have moved on to new outrages, like the barbaric attack on Charlie Hebdo. I mean, I don’t see anyone showing their solidarity with African countries by tweeting #JeSuisEbola, because, let’s face it: ewww!

Freedom of the press is the new ebola because they’re both simple: freedom of the press is good just like ebola is bad, although satirizing Muslims in a country that’s notoriously hostile towards the Muslim minority, maybe that’s not so good. It’s easy to defend freedom of satire when you’re not likely to be the subject of that satire. If terrorists had attacked the publishers of How to Kill White People and Puppies, that would be a tough rally to attend.

So, no, Officer, I’m not an ebola carrier but I am a satirist, and things have changed in that regard; since everyone’s all for press freedom right now, satirists can say the most outrageous things and get away with it. Except that I know that, like ebola panic, it won’t last.

Oh, and also, I bought gas.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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55 Responses to Nothing to #declare

  1. Cheap Mike and Ikes? Sign me up!
    Also, what’s the deal with Canada being less compassionate than our southern neighbours? When did this happen? (Don’t answer that, I already know.)

  2. Karen says:

    “since everyone’s all for press freedom right now, satirists can say the most outrageous things and get away with it. Except that I know that, like ebola panic, it won’t last.”

    I dunno. Some folks have been supporting freedom of press/speech for a bit now, and I suspect will continue to do so. Doesn’t mean there aren’t other folks who don’t think it’s a very good thing and I expect they will continue to think that way.

    Not to get serious on you (but I will): It will be interesting to see what happens in France. As you you note in your post, the French have not always been as tolerant of free expression as you might think from the recent rallies (e.g. banning religious symbols and clothing from being worn in state schools).

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Oh please, do get serious. One of my poorly expressed points here is that things are far more complicated than can simply be expressed via a hashtag. I live in Quebec, remember, where the same debate about symbols and clothing continues to take place in the name of “common secular values.”

      As for freedom of expression, everyone is for it in theory, as long as it’s the correct expression. Make a joke about feminism and see what happens…

  3. byebyebeer says:

    Ebola feels so 2014, right? They asked me about contact in December when I was at the hospital to have a test done and I suddenly realized my exposure risk probably tripled. I’m okay though. Definitely not infectious (in a comment anyway). And little kids are gross. I used to eat half-eaten chicken nuggets from my kids’ plates and now the thought makes me gaggy. The exception to this rule is when the child eats the less desirable item out of a party mix. I guess a party mix is a metaphor for a real party. There’s bound to be some duds and undesirables, so let someone else deal with them.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I never thought of chips as a metaphor. (Wait, yes I did, right in this very post.)
      I was with my 20-year-old nephews (triplets!) over the holidays. One of their girlfriends threw up (I mean literally threw up) after the dog farted one too many times. All I could think of, “If she has kids, she’s doomed…”

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Ebola does feel so 2014. There’s some kind of fatigue they refer to in the press and man, that story is…well…now just a story, it seems. I’m with you on the half-eaten chicken nuggets though, pretty hard to just throw them out and they’re so compact. Yet thinking about what goes in them is enough to stop you.

  4. Paul says:

    Just above the little box where I am typing it says “..don’t be shy.” I gotta tell you I was so very pleased to see your comment “… although satirizing Muslims in a country that’s notoriously hostile towards the Muslim minority, maybe that’s not so good.” I actually wrote a post about that over at Willowdot21 It did not go over well. This post was a continuation of a discussion started on another blog and I have to tell you I got lambasted for questioning why anyone would want to deliberately denigrate and mock the beliefs of another religion. The general agreement was that Freedom Of Speech was inalienable and worth dying for on principle, regardless of how many had to die and what the subject was, there was no bending. Yikes! I am feeling bloodied and beaten and got some solace from your comments today. I noticed that you were smarter and more blog-wise and just threw in one line that could be ignored if one chose. Myself, I made it a big mission – complete with titles – to question that which everyone seems to hold so dear and it didn’t go well. Sigh. Live and learn. It is best to have nothing to declare. 🙂

    • rossmurray1 says:

      That’s the beauty of satire. It can be a gentle sliding in of a knife rather than the sledgehammer.
      Freedom of expression of course has its limits. Hate speech is not tolerated. Incitement to violence is not tolerated. Verbal threats are not tolerated. In fact, these are criminal acts in many countries. But where you draw the line, that’s the tricky part.
      Many Canadian news outlets were lambasted for not publishing the offending cartoon. They were called cowards. But it was their choice not to publish an offensive cartoon, just as people chose to purchase (originally) Charlie Hebdo, knowing what they were getting into. As one publisher said, you do not need to see the cartoon to understand it. For them to publish the cartoon would violate the reader’s expectation of what he thought he was getting into. It might very well have been a satirical cartoon depicting a priest raping an altar boy. Imagine the outrage if the Globe and Mail had re-printed that…!
      In the end, debate is good, and you provoked it with your piece, so don’t be shy indeed.

      • Paul says:

        Thanks Ross – good info. It always irritates me when there are double standards. For instance harrassment and bullying are chargable offenses on an individual basis. Why should they be considered inviolable rights on a cutural basis? (Rhetorical)

  5. Nic says:

    Loved everything about this piece, especially the whole freedom thing, but I must confess that I am SO INTRIGUED about what this Humpty Dumpty snack mix is all about. It seems so familiar (Munchies, pub mix, chex mix) yet so foreign (the packaging!). What other snack time gems are being hidden from us in Canada??

  6. Liesa Malik says:

    I remember one birthday where my daughter accidentally spit all over the cake as she “blew out” the candles. For some reason, I had lots of left-over cake that year. Guess third graders are particular. You keep going on those Humpty-Dumpties, though. When we know the germ carrier personally, it seems different somehow.

    And as for freedom of speech? Cool, but I also seem to recall from the history books that pre-WWWII Germany had a lot of “satirists” making cartoons about Jews. Hmm. Every freedom comes with the price tag of responsibility. Negative humor is, to me, first and foremost negative. Hope I’m not being too much of a wet rag about this.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      No, you make a good point, and I’m happy to provoke some serious discussions here. Any time a majority mocks the minority (or any such hierarchy), it’s edgy territory indeed. Not to say that you can’t, but you better make sure it’s not hateful. It’s why sexist jokes aren’t funny anymore; it’s mockery coming from the position of power, and as a society, we’re starting to grow up. You can still joke about gender, relationships, women, men but it needs to be honest, not an attack or a belittlement. The thing is, humour often comes from pain and discomfort, so it’s not surprising that it can be hurtful. The question to ask, then, is: does the subject deserve the hurt?

  7. earlyowl says:

    Confession: I clicked on this because I recently traveled to Canada and tried Humpty Dumpty Party Mix for the first time 😉 But I loved the post too!

  8. Ned's Blog says:

    This post is so ironic; I am currently working on a satirical piece about Muslims eating Humpty Dumpty Party Mix. I’m prepared for the worst.

  9. Being a satirist and interacting with border guards, do you find yourself torn between a quick answer and quick entry into the country, and the answers you want to give and a four hour long interrogation?

  10. pinklightsabre says:

    I wish I got the Procol Harum reference but embarrassed to say I didn’t. I was however thinking about one-hit wonders this morning as I lay in bed, thinking non-sensical dream-type thoughts, about Modern English. And perhaps Procol Harum fits that bill too. I’m glad you like the Wheelchair Assassins, I thought you would. Good job getting over the border — literally, and figuratively, with this post.

  11. markbialczak says:

    Crossing our shared border I never felt was the time to be satirical, brash, flip, sardonic, wiseass … the thought of which all put together could make a Mark so anxious as to trigger either a U.S. or Canadian customs agent. But none of my tight-lipped straight-man honest answers nor random numbering has gotten my dear wife Karen and I stopped so far. Knock on wood, ebola be gone.

    I am enamored by your snack company by the name of Humpty Dumpty, Ross. Bold choice there, an egg that fell off the wall and had a great fall.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It’s been around forever, the poor cousin of Lays et al. But their Party Mix is my preferred mix.
      Stay safe at the border, friend, though it’s tougher getting out of here than in.

      • markbialczak says:

        The party mix sounds pretty good, gooey box side and all, Ross.

        My favorite getting-in border story was the day my dear wife Karen and I eloped to Niagara Falls. We wed in the New York side City Hall for ease of legality. But we honeymooned on the Canadian side because it’s so much nicer in all ways. So as well pull up to the crossing, Karen again advises me to just hand over our passports and quiet. And so when the agent asks me the reason for entry I immediately blurt out “Honeymoon! We just got married in City Hall!” He laughed at the grinning 50-year-old and waved us through.

  12. Prior to Ebola, I don’t actually think I COULD have located Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone on a map, but I can now! See that…a silver lining in every cloud.

    One time at work, I grabbed a door knob and there was a great glob of mucus on it. Someone had sneezed into their hand and opened the door. I almost wretched.

    David Brooks, a columnist for the NY Times, made a pretty good point when he said for all our posturing about freedom of expression, there are Universities who have shut-out speakers who have different opinions. Condolesa Rice was supposed to give a commencement address but everyone threw a big hissy fit so they un-invited her. Some freedom.

    P.S. Nick Hornby didn’t get a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nod. Fuck Hollywood, man! They don’t know anything!

  13. franhunne4u says:

    I am here to defend Charlie Hebdo. Were the Hebdo-cartoonists muslims? Nope? Then why should the law of that religion adhere to them? – They may draw Mohammad as often as they want to – they are non-believers! Freedom of religion can also mean to be from religion.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I agree that they are free to publish what they wish, no matter how offensive. But, as I mentioned in a comment above, humour walks a fine line when the majority mocks the minority. And even so, there are other ways to make fun of Islam without depicting Mohammed, just as there ways to mock Christianity without depicting Christ. The cartoonists’ lack of religion really has nothing to do with it. That’s like saying it’s okay for me to make jokes about child abuse because I wasn’t abused as a child.
      In the end, the causes of this and other Islamist attacks go deeper and are far more complex than a cartoon. I’m glad you and I are free to debate it. In fact, I cherish the privilege.

  14. One thing that I’ve noticed lately is many people’s tendency to say that the Muslim terrorists are a tiny minority – that most Muslims are peaceful – which is true, but then they also automatically assume that any discussion of Islam is “racist” and get upset. I’m starting to be concerned that a protectionist attitude is beginning to develop, and soon it will be very incorrect to discuss Islam at all, especially its drawbacks.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      The notion of taboo subjects does bother me. It’s very difficult to discuss Israel without falling into that trap as well. Every religion has its untouchables, of course, and every nation. Will the United States ever have a non-Christian president, for example, or (heaven forbid) and atheist?

      • Yes. I live in bible-belt Alberta, and while it’s beginning to loosen up, the idea that Christianity isn’t perfect used to be an almost hanging offense. The majority trying to (and often succeeding in) imposing its will. History is a catalogue of examples of how the majority has been wrong.

  15. Each time I cross into another country and they ask me if I have anything to declare I am tempted to say what Oscar Wilde did, “I have nothing to declare except my genius.” I haven’t done it, but it crosses my mind. I don’t need a cavity search.

    I think I would have stopped eating the snacks if there was goo on them, you are much braver than I am.

  16. Yahooey says:

    I’ll be testing the Canadian receptionists when I go home for a visit this April. I wonder what reception will be for those from Charlieland.

    Procol Harum’s influence is not all bad. It has reached Tanzania in a positive way.

  17. ksbeth says:

    what about the mounties?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Because of where I live, Quebec, the Mounties are pretty low-profile. It’s political, like everything in this province. But they’re around, specifically monitoring the border. Most of the time, though, they’re undercover.

  18. I think we should have arrested Paul Revere. After all, he incited the fine folk of Middlesex to the violence we know as the Boston Tea Party. Well, maybe that was okay, since they were just protesting taxes, and everyone hates taxes, right?

Go ahead, don't be shy.

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