(This series on PETA was a finalist for the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.)

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A celebrity is at her most vulnerable when naked. This is when she is least likely to make sensible decisions. Often she is chilly and nervous. Hence, it is while naked that a famous person — who genuinely loves animals — finds herself shilling for people who are genuinely committed to slaughtering them.

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(The second piece I ever published was a national scandal, causing Saturday Night, Canada’s oldest and most prestigious magazine, to be pulled from newsstands across the Rockies. It went on to win a National Magazine Award.)

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Peerless natural beauty? I’ve always found it annoying. If you’re staying at the Banff Springs Hotel or Chateau Lake Louise, there’s no getting away from it: everywhere you look they put a view in front of your nose.

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(A feature in Travel+Leisure Magazine that won the Lowell Thomas Gold Medal from the Society of American Travel Writers, and was republished by Pico Iyer in The Best American Travel Writing 2004.)

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I have made a career out of not enjoying Canada. It is one of the few things I do well. My radical malaise, Canada-wise, is associated mainly with Toronto the Good, and my hellish adolescence in that winter-benighted place.

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(From Reviews of Amnesia)

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NEW YORK TIMES (MICHIKO KAKUTANI)

Amnesia (is a) chilly, chilling first novel…. Its elliptical narrative style recalls works by D.M. Thomas, Paul Auster, Sam Shepard and Vladimir Nabokov…. One gradually comes to appreciate Mr. Cooper’s copious gifts: his ability to manufacture odd, cinematic images; his talent for creating a musically patterned narrative out of repeated symbols and motifs; his willingness to tackle ambitious intellectual themes.”

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MIGHT ISRAEL BE an evil nation? It is a question I admit to asking myself. Am I on the wrong side of history? Liberals tend to question themselves—they question their ideas and their allies. I have always considered Israel a friend. Might I be wrong?

Too many figures I admire have been wrong in this way before. Peter Handke, a writer whose early work changed my own, has somehow convinced himself that Slobodan Milosevic was falsely accused of war crimes in Bosnia.

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The NRA has done the nation a tremendous service by rating politicians. The most manly — which is to say, the most servile — earn a solid A. Those most resistant to lockstep loyalty earn an F. Guide yourselves accordingly. Refuse to vote for a candidate who has received anything better than a D from the National Rifle Association. Be generous: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may not run again, but if he makes good on his change of heart — if he trades his disgraceful B rating for a D or an F — then offer him your qualified support.

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How does a saint become a butcher?

I am convinced that Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of PETA (“People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals”) was once a good person. What happened?

The story of Newkirk’s moral awakening — outrage in response to betrayal — is genuinely affecting. In 1972, when she was a young stockbroker in Maryland, Newkirk rescued a group of abandoned kittens and brought them to an animal shelter.

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(Because I came clean regarding my fraudulence — a full disclosure, in their own magazine — Food & Wine decided they’d continue to let me write articles for them.)

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I have never cooked a meal in my apartment. Okay, let’s be frank: I have never cooked a meal in my life. I have fried the occasional egg, toasted the odd bagel, boiled random pots of water, but this is lilydipping relative to the great canoe trip that is true cuisine.

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(THIS REPRESENTS rank consumerism, but also haute geekery; I’ve always been proud of it. It was long lost, until a discerning blogger/pirate posted it, and I stole it back. I no longer have the photos, which I was also proud of:  it was my first photo shoot with a large-format rig. The prices, I’m afraid, are wildly out of date. As is some of the advice — but not all of it.)

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I admit to sneering when I first encountered the vast international community of flashlight addicts. Who are these losers, I generously wondered. These “flashaholics.” Perhaps the nerd equivalent of, say, those neurally healthy folk who have sex with plush toys? Only less interesting?

That was a month ago.

Since then, I have spent an absurd sum on exotic lights, complex chargers, volt-ohm meters, and — the seductive bit — batteries whose energy density rivals TNT.

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Fifty years ago, the Xoloitzcuintli — the Mexican Hairless dog — was on the edge of extinction. Now one sleeps in my bed. Whether this is an improvement in the creature’s circumstance can be debated. Other bald news, however, is unquestionably good: After centuries honing its attributes as the world’s weirdest (not ugliest) dog, the Mexican Hairless was officially welcomed this year at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

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I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER when I last experienced the beheading of a close friend. Everyone assumes it must be a weekly, or even a daily event: after all, I live in Mexico. The truth, however, is that you are as likely to have your head removed against your will in my town — Oaxaca — as you are to be murdered by roving, machete-crazed gangs in Martha’s Vineyard.

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IT IS PAINFUL to be called an anti-Semite by a deceased saint. Yet the dead speak, even when we wish they’d keep their thoughts to themselves. There is a tremendous effort to deny that Martin Luther King ever said these words: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.”

Unfortunately, he did.

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DEMOCRATS HAVE been disgracefully uncharitable to Rush Limbaugh. He has apologized for calling a perfectly decent woman a slut and a prostitute; he deserves generosity in return. The man’s fickle sponsors have been departing all weekend, like ships from a sinking rat, so I propose that Democrats demonstrate bipartisan moral support, by sponsoring Mr.

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The NRA’s famed slippery slope argument is entirely valid. Nobody seems to have noticed, however, that the slope is tilted in the opposite direction. Give the gun lobby a millimeter, and they’ll slide a mile. If they could dig a hole in the Second Amendment and stuff shoulder-launched missiles into it, they would never give up their cherished right to own them.

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The Maya never predicted that 2012 would be the Year of the Cigar Box Guitar. They missed the most important story. The end of the world, which ought to be in a couple of hours, is not this year’s crucial event.

Should the world end, it won’t be remembered as vividly as Paul McCartney’s appearance with the surviving members of Nirvana: an incident that produced indifferent music, but introduced the world to the Next Big Thing — an instrument that will change the face of rock and roll.

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(This story about Hurricane Mitch was initially published in Fathom.)
 
If you live somewhere, you don’t want me to visit. No, really. I’m approximately as safe to have around as the Grim Reaper. In fact, I seem to be his official advance scout. I can’t count the places that have experienced genuine disaster soon after welcoming me with warm, soon-to-be-severed arms.

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