From today's Sunday Times excerpt of Tom Bower's upcoming book Conrad and Lady Black:
Simon Heffer, a columnist on Black's Telegraph, observed: "Barbara has turned Conrad from an homme sérieux into a society petal. He's besotted with her, like a spaniel."From A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene I, Helena:
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,This is a propos of nothing.
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love,--
And yet a place of high respect with me,--
Than to be used as you use your dog?
Okay, it's a propos of a few things. First, I'm pleased -- or do I mean displeased? -- to find out that Brits are as fascinated with the trials and entrails of Conrad Black as Canadians are. The above excerpt was trumpeted on the front page of the Times today. (It's an interesting read, though I prefered the excerpt that dealt with Amiel, which names many familiar Canadian journos as her ex-lovers and has a story about George Jonas -- denied by him -- confronting her first husband Geroge Bloomfield at gunpoint.)
Second: if we aren't allowed to insult our ex-girlfriends, who are we allowed to insult? I'm refering of course to Mr. Mackay's alleged not-so-snappy QP comeback that alluded to his ex Ms. Stronach (or Belinda, as everyone insists on calling her) as his dog. (Not "a dog," but "his dog," which suggests that he has yet to relinquish all feeling for her.)
I do think that Mackay should keep such lame witticisms out of the House of Commons and in the pub after your third pint where they belong. (Likewise perhaps, Liberal MP Mark Holland, who first asked Mackay about "your dog," could refrain from making veiled references to the Mackay-Stronach breakup like a high school bully.) I do think Mackay would've been wise to apologize quickly.
I also, however, think this is Not A Big Deal. And I think Jack Layton looks ridiculous calling upon Mackay to resign over this "sexist" remark.
Ah, scare quotes. They're there because when you call Black a "spaniel," I don't think anyone calls it sexist. Likewise when you say "You dog!" to a guy. Even the expression "his/her bitch" has become unisex. (Ie. Mackay is really the media's bitch right now.)
So yes, Mackay's alleged (he says, though he's heard the Liberal recording) remark was insulting and unparliamentary... but I don't think it was sexist. If Belinda Stronach was Ben Stronach, Mackay's male ex-lover, I suspect Mackay would have the same broken heart and adolescent disdain. Hating your ex is not the same as hating a whole gender. And dog is a gender-neutral insult.
My third and final point is: We have a weird relationship with dogs, one that extends back to Shakespeare's time at least. I don't think I want to explore that any further.