Satire — November 15, 2018, 11:36 am

The View from Bay Street

Profit rolls into Canada’s capital, but at what cost?

I lock my car doors now. I never used to—Toronto was one of the safest cities in the world. Now, after the legalization of marijuana, my United Nations driver insists I keep a safety routine. I quickly see why. Even now—early in the morning—the children show up. At first, it was a few timid youths looking for a handout. Within a few days of legalization, this changed. There is a modest horde of them now, slapping the windows and chanting.

This is not normal.

I was born in Toronto. We never had problems with drugs in Canada back in the day. It wasn’t until 1998 that police seized the first cannabis shipment at the border. As kids, we fooled around with cocaine, but never hard drugs. Weed was something you saw in movies. Sometimes, when our parents bought us cigarettes, they would joke that they were giving us marijuana. That’s all it was—a harmless joke.

Times have changed. As Canada’s economy collapsed, people turned to the mindless escape of pot. It became normal to see friends sitting in a city park smoking a joint. If you called the police, they wouldn’t do anything—they must have been too afraid to take them on. This cowardice simply emboldened the smokers, who built a powerful lobby with the laundered money of their crime operations. Whispers began that these crime families would “go legit” and promote legalization to protect their new fortunes. It only took a few years for the marijuana magnates to build an unstoppable political machine.

I fled to New York City. The inflated rents of Toronto’s weed bubble had long priced me out of the city, even on a journalist’s salary. Coming back now is bittersweet. The city is in the grips of marijuana fever. I recognize the landmarks but not the people. Strangers look at me with their weed eyes, as if vacant. I wonder if the world really cares about what I see, if it will do anything to help Canada get itself out of its trap.

As I close in on Bay Street—Toronto’s financial hub—the horde of lost children gives way to guards with long beards and assault rifles. The kids know to slink away. Still, there is a lone girl who seems unaffected by the guards’ presence. I roll down my window to chat.

“My name is Sarah,” she says. Sarah is a girl’s name that means princess. In a world without cannabis, maybe she would have been a great leader. I ask her where her parents are. “Weed addicts.” I don’t doubt her. Like most of the children here, her parents are probably on a couch in some darkened condo, smoking marijuana and listening to old records. I hand Sarah a bottle of water. My driver looks nervous. It’s time to go.

The steel and glass of Bay Street is a powerful reminder that not everyone here is poor. A rich few have made fortunes off the marijuana market. Many predict these stocks will go up forever. The profits are cause for celebration. That’s why I’m here—to report on the breaking of some new sales record for one of the shady weed conglomerates. I don’t consider journalism an extension of corporate public-relations, so I’m looking around for something bigger. Maybe the bigger story is outside.

I ask the CEO a question about the children of marijuana. “There are adjustment costs in the transition period,” she says. It’s an answer she has probably given hundreds of times. Is little Sarah an adjustment cost? Here in Toronto, far from world-class cities like New York and Shanghai, the local elites are not interested in a debate. I was naïve to believe there was any news here, so I take my leave. I climb back into the white SUV and try to ignore the tiny handprints covering its windows.

As we drive to the airport, I see an old church in the distance. The ubiquitous guards have fenced it off to prevent crowds from getting in. It’s an ugly sight. Only the richest of Toronto’s marijuana nouveau-riche are allowed inside. The whole thing seems upside-down. I wonder what they’re praying for. More of the same? It feels like blasphemy. Who will pray for the marijuana addicts? Who will pray for the weed orphans of Toronto?

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October 2019


Constitution in Crisis·

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America’s Constitution was once celebrated as a radical and successful blueprint for democratic governance, a model for fledgling republics across the world. But decades of political gridlock, electoral corruption, and dysfunction in our system of government have forced scholars, activists, and citizens to question the document’s ability to address the thorniest issues of modern ­political life.

Does the path out of our current era of stalemate, minority rule, and executive abuse require amending the Constitution? Do we need a new constitutional convention to rewrite the document and update it for the twenty-­first century? Should we abolish it entirely?

This spring, Harper’s Magazine invited five lawmakers and scholars to New York University’s law school to consider the constitutional crisis of the twenty-­first century. The event was moderated by Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown and the author of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon.

Good Bad Bad Good·

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About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Power of Attorney·

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In a Walmart parking lot in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2015, a white police officer named Stephen Rankin shot and killed an unarmed, eighteen-­year-­old black man named William Chapman. “This is my second one,” he told a bystander seconds after firing the fatal shots, seemingly in reference to an incident four years earlier, when he had shot and killed another unarmed man, an immigrant from Kazakhstan. Rankin, a Navy veteran, had been arresting Chapman for shoplifting when, he claimed, Chapman charged him in a manner so threatening that he feared for his life, leaving him no option but to shoot to kill—­the standard and almost invariably successful defense for officers when called to account for shooting civilians. Rankin had faced no charges for his earlier killing, but this time, something unexpected happened: Rankin was indicted on a charge of first-­degree murder by Portsmouth’s newly elected chief prosecutor, thirty-­one-year-­old Stephanie Morales. Furthermore, she announced that she would try the case herself, the first time she had ever prosecuted a homicide. “No one could remember us having an actual prosecution for the killing of an unarmed person by the police,” Morales told me. “I got a lot of feedback, a lot of people saying, ‘You shouldn’t try this case. If you don’t win, it may affect your reelection. Let someone else do it.’ ”

Carlitos in Charge·

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I was in Midtown, sitting by a dry fountain, making a list of all the men I’d slept with since my last checkup—doctor’s orders. Afterward, I would head downtown and wait for Quimby at the bar, where there were only alcoholics and the graveyard shift this early. I’d just left the United Nations after a Friday morning session—likely my last. The agenda had included resolutions about a worldwide ban on plastic bags, condemnation of a Slobodan Miloševic statue, sanctions on Israel, and a truth and reconciliation commission in El Salvador. Except for the proclamation opposing the war criminal’s marble replica, everything was thwarted by the United States and a small contingent of its allies. None of this should have surprised me. Some version of these outcomes had been repeating weekly since World War II.

Life after Life·

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For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

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A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A group of researchers studying the Loch Ness Monster did not rule out the possibility of its existence, but speculated that it is possibly a giant eel.

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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