Inexplicably, this is how suitable wives are ‘selected’ in parts of India as well

June 7, 2010

Off Runway, Brazilian Beauty Goes Beyond Blond

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RESTINGA SÊCA, Brazil — Before setting out in a pink S.U.V. to comb the schoolyards and shopping malls of southern Brazil, Alisson Chornak studies books, maps and Web sites to understand how the towns were colonized and how European their residents might look today. 

The goal, he and other model scouts say, is to find the right genetic cocktail of German and Italian ancestry, perhaps with some Russian or other Slavic blood thrown in. Such a mix, they say, helps produce the tall, thin girls with straight hair, fair skin and light eyes that Brazil exports to the runways of New York, Milan and Paris with stunning success. 

Yet Brazil is not the same country it was in 1994, when Gisele Bündchen, the world’s top earning model, was discovered in a tiny town not far from here. Darker-skinned women have become more prominent in Brazilian society, challenging the notions of Brazilian beauty and success that Ms. Bündchen has come to represent here and abroad. 

Taís Araújo just finished a run as the first black female lead in the coveted 8 p.m. soap opera slot. Marina Silva, a former government minister born in the Amazon, is running for president. And over the past decade, the income of black Brazilians rose by about 40 percent, more than double the rate of whites, as Brazil’s booming economy helped trim the inequality gap and create a more powerful black consumer class, said Marcelo Neri, an economist in Rio de Janeiro. 

Even prosecutors have waded into the debate over what Brazilian society looks like — and how it should be represented. São Paulo Fashion Week, the nation’s most important fashion event, has been forced by local prosecutors to ensure that at least 10 percent of its models are of African or indigenous descent. 

Despite those shifts, more than half of Brazil’s models continue to be found here among the tiny farms of Rio Grande do Sul, a state that has only one-twentieth of the nation’s population and was colonized predominantly by Germans and Italians. 

Indeed, scouts say that more than 70 percent of the country’s models come from three southern states that hardly reflect the multiethnic melting pot that is Brazil, where more than half the population is nonwhite

On the pages of its magazines, Brazil’s beauty spectrum is clearer. Nonwhite women, including celebrities of varying body types, are interspersed with white models. But on the runways, the proving ground for models hoping to go abroad, the diversity drops off precipitously. Prosecutors investigating discrimination complaints against São Paulo Fashion Week found that only 28 of the event’s 1,128 models were black in early 2008. 

The pattern creates a disconnect between what many Brazilians consider beautiful and the beauty they export overseas. While darker-skinned actresses like Juliana Paes and Camila Pitanga are considered among Brazil’s sexiest, it is Ms. Bündchen and her fellow southerners who win fame abroad. 

“I was always perplexed that Brazil was never able to export a Naomi Campbell, and it is definitely not because of a lack of pretty women,” said Erika Palomino, a fashion consultant in São Paulo. “It is embarrassing.” 

Some scouts have begun tepid forays to less-white parts of Brazil. One Brazilian designer, Walter Rodrigues, recently opened Rio Fashion Week with 25 models, all of them black. 

But here in the south scouts still spend most of their time hunting for the next Gisele, and offer few apologies for what they say sells. 

Clóvis Pessoa studies facial traits that are successful on international runways and looks for towns in the south that mirror those genes. 

“If a famous top model looks German with a Russian nose, I will do a scientific study and look for cities that were colonized by Germans and Russians in the south of Brazil in order to get a similar face down here,” Mr. Pessoa said. 

Dilson Stein, who discovered Ms. Bündchen when she was 13, called Rio Grande do Sul a treasure trove of model-worthy girls. A year before discovering Ms. Bündchen, whose parents are of German ancestry, he found 12-year-old Alessandra Ambrosio, now famous for her Victoria’s Secret shoots. 

Today, younger scouts like Mr. Chornak have taken up the mantle. With catlike quickness, he jumped from his chair and strode up behind a tall girl with a hooded sweatshirt. “Have you ever thought of being a model?” he asked a 13-year-old with light blue eyes and pimples. 

The girl smiled, her metal braces glimmering. 

Later, Mr. Chornak pulled up at a school where the director, Liliane Abrão Silva, showed off albums from school beauty contests. She allows scouts to visit during class breaks. 

“Since I got to this school, five have left for São Paulo to become models,” she said. “The girls who do not have money to go to university will have to stay here and work in the fields.” 

The next morning, Mr. Chornak studied the girls returning with red lollipops from recess. “There is nothing special here,” he declared. 

At another stop, Mr. Chornak staked out a school in Paraíso do Sul (population 8,000) with the tools of his trade: business cards, camera, measuring tape and a notebook. 

The bell rang and students streamed out. Mr. Chornak stopped a tall, skinny blond girl. Within seconds he was fluffing her hair and taking her measurements, directing her to pose against the wall. 

Mr. Chornak also drove to Venâncio Aires, where a billboard heralded “the land of the Fantastic Girl,” alluding to a television show that featured a local girl. 

At a small tobacco farm he visited Michele Meurer, a blue-eyed 16-year-old discovered while riding her bicycle to school. Timid and shy, she cried profusely the first time she went to São Paulo. The next time, she lasted six days before Mr. Chornak sent her home. 

Her mother, who grew up speaking German, had never left the town until the São Paulo trip. They live in a four-room house with chickens and dogs. Michele keeps the freezer in her room for lack of space. 

Mr. Chornak counsels Michele to use sunscreen while working in the fields and to watch her diet. Bursting with pride, her father enrolled her in English classes in case she went abroad. 

“I want to give them a better life,” Michele said tearfully of her parents. 

Recently, she went to São Paulo again, where Mr. Chornak put her in a three-bedroom apartment with 11 other girls. Two weeks before São Paulo Fashion Week, Michele packed up and left. 

“I am very disappointed that Michele gave up,” Mr. Chornak said. “I invested a lot in her.” 

Myrna Domit contributed reporting. 

Justice Served, in the Michael Bryant case

Michael Bryant should be judged on his merits 

National Post editorial board

May 25, 2010

The details of Darcy Allen Sheppard’s death have lost none of their shock value in the nine months since his fatal altercation with former Ontario Cabinet minister Michael Bryant on Bloor Street in midtown Toronto. A fairly standard cyclist-vs.-motorist road rage incident quickly degenerated to the point that Mr. Sheppard was reaching into Mr. Bryant’s convertible, then clutching onto it as it accelerated into an oncoming lane, eventually dislodging him on a fire hydrant.

At the time, militant cyclists took to the streets declaring Mr. Sheppard’s death a “hate crime”; less militant cyclists insisted the altercation proved the need for more and better bike lanes, as if urban planning can anticipate and prevent outbursts of primal madness; and class warriors sneeringly predicted the interests of an anonymous, hardworking 33-year-old bicycle courier would be no match for those of the dapper and well-connected Mr. Bryant. We’re sure the latter will feel vindicated by yesterday’s announcement that all charges against Mr. Bryant have been withdrawn.

They were withdrawn for a very good reason, however: There was no reasonable prospect of Mr. Bryant being convicted of criminal negligence causing death or dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. As became clear during the investigation, Mr. Sheppard instigated the altercation. He was extremely drunk, with a blood alcohol level of 0.183. And had the charges against Mr. Bryant proceeded, the court would have heard that Mr. Sheppard had exhibited “an escalating cycle of aggressiveness toward motorists.”

Yes, Mr. Bryant panicked. We’re sure he’d handle the situation very differently if only he had the chance. But for people to suggest that his reaction is worthy of serious criminal sanctions is to assume that they would behave differently in the same circumstances. Alas, nobody knows just how their fight-or-flight response is wired until it’s put to the test.

This newspaper has little in common with Mr. Bryant’s or his Liberal party’s oppressively nannyish brand of governance. It was particularly ironic to see a former attorney-general at the mercy of a justice system that he and Premier Dalton McGuinty had shamelessly abused for political gain — for example, with their nonsensical pit-bull ban and street-racing law. But no one’s career should be derailed forever by an incident such as this — there but for the grace of God go we all.

Mr. Bryant should be judged in future — politically or otherwise — according to his merits, or lack thereof.

National Post

The Star

DiManno: The 28 seconds that changed Michael Bryant’s life

‘What I will never forget is the unnecessary tragedy of that night,’ said the former attorney general

Wed May 26 2010

Live by rage, die from rage.

Darcy Allan Sheppard was a quixotic hothead consumed by demons from his awful past. But it was the devil inside him on the night of Aug. 31, 2009, that caused his death — and not the man who was once Ontario’s attorney general.

Michael Bryant was merely the hapless vehicle of fate unfolding on a hot summer’s night when all the stars aligned so tragically.

Deranged cyclist meets car. Car bumps infuriated cyclist. The cyclist was the provocateur. The driver was the terrified and disoriented wheelman.

While no conclusive videotape exists of what happened in that confrontation, the déjà vu of it, of Sheppard’s documented fury towards cars and motorists, was captured by an office worker with a camera in a nearby building during a previous and eerily similar altercation: Sheppard, enraged, assaulting a driver only three weeks earlier, spitting on the car, jumping onto the vehicle, and hanging onto the window.

“The photographs clearly show Mr. Sheppard angrily confronting the driver of the vehicle and at one point, hanging onto the car with his hands inside the driver’s window and his feet on the car’s running board,” special prosecutor Richard Peck, a Vancouver lawyer brought in to handle the case, told court Tuesday as he entered the photographs (see below) as exhibits in a packed courtroom at Old City Hall.

Sheppard, a 33-year-old bike courier, may have been a sweet guy, as described by friends, with a humorous disposition. Yet he was also a profoundly violent alcoholic with a criminal record that included two assaults and threatening to kill a cab driver while armed with imitation firearms. Most germane to this case, Sheppard had been involved in six earlier duplicate incidents — four occurring last August — including one in which an elderly woman described him as a “mad man” and another earlier that night.

A night that began with Sheppard in the back of a police cruiser which had responded to a domestic call; a night that ended, an hour later, with Bryant in the back of a police cruiser, about to be charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.

Both charges were formally withdrawn in court on Tuesday.

Just 28 seconds was the span of time that has forever linked Bryant and Sheppard, the former flung into a vortex of notoriety and the latter sprawled lifeless on the road.

“In 28 seconds, everything can change,” said Bryant.

What had never changed, regrettably, was the pattern of confrontations that Sheppard not only instigated but seemed hell-bent on ratcheting into crises — his “escalating cycle of aggressiveness toward motorists,” said Peck.

While such previous conduct, entered in court, was not meant to “demonize” Sheppard — nor would aggressive conduct on other occasions have justified committing a criminal offence against him — Peck insisted that a propensity for violence, substantiated by credible witnesses, was relevant in determining whether Bryant had been attacked, essentially making the victim the aggressor and Bryant legitimately entitled to self-defence.

This argument found little traction with Sheppard’s friends and defenders, with one declaring afterward that “it’s open season on cyclists.” But the prosecution’s methodical analysis of events found there was no reasonable prospect of conviction on either charge. Bryant might have conducted himself differently, changing the sad outcome, but under the stress and chaos of circumstances that Sheppard had orchestrated that night — his incendiary actions, his assault on the car, his apparent attempt to take control of the Saab convertible’s steering wheel — the alarmed driver’s response was understandable rather than criminal.

“Mr. Bryant was confronted by a man who, unfortunately, was in a rage,” Peck told reporters outside court. “In such circumstances, he was legally justified in trying to get away. The case could not be proved.”

That case was this:

Bryant and his wife, Susan Abramovitch, had been out for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant to celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary. They had not consumed any alcohol, unlike Sheppard who had fallen off the wagon after eight days of sobriety, his blood alcohol level measured after death at 0.183 — more than twice the legal limit for driving a car.

But he didn’t have a car, of course. He had a bicycle and Bryant first spotted him while driving homeward around 9.30 p.m., near the intersection of Bloor and Yonge Sts., noticing a cyclist impeding another motorist by doing figure 8s in front of the car. Other witnesses would later tell police that Sheppard had been throwing garbage onto the road and yelling at drivers.

For reasons of his own, Sheppard clearly did this a lot — menacing motorists and provoking altercations.

Bryant came to a red light between Bay St. and Avenue Rd., where traffic had narrowed to a single lane both ways because of construction. Sheppard, Bryant told investigators, cycled past his car on the driver’s side and then cut in front of the vehicle, stopping directly in front of the Saab.

Bryant hit the brakes and the car stalled. Attempts to get the car started again caused it to lurch forward. There appeared to be no contact between the car and Sheppard’s bike but the cyclist was livid and he was already yelling at Bryant.

He told police afterward he was in a state of panic when, restarting the vehicle, it accelerated unintentionally, shockingly, causing Sheppard to land on the hood. Bryant hit the brakes. Only 2.5 seconds elapsed from the time the vehicle started its forward motion and when it came to a halt, having travelled a total of about 30 feet. At this point, Sheppard was not seriously injured, said Peck.

As Bryant tried to reverse the car and go around the bicycle, Sheppard tossed a backpack that contained a heavy U-shaped lock at either the hood or windshield, and then jumped on the car as Bryant — fearing that he and his wife would be attacked — tried driving away. Sheppard hung on.

Defence lawyer Marie Henein described the scenario in court: “Darcy Allen would not let him go. . . . He ran at the car and jumped onto the driver’s side. Michael believed that he was trying to climb into the car. . . . Michael tried to stop the vehicle and push Darcy Sheppard off. Darcy Sheppard would not let go. Michael wasn’t strong enough to push the 6-foot-1 Darcy Sheppard off. During this attempt, Darcy Sheppard said, ‘You are not going to get away that easy.’

“Darcy Sheppard was deep into the vehicle with his entire upper torso leaning into the vehicle. At some point, Darcy Sheppard was laughing. Michael was desperately trying to control the steering wheel but was having difficulty doing so.”

In Peck’s words, Sheppard was “latched on” to the car.

Finally regaining some control of the steering wheel, Bryant drove into oncoming traffic to get away.

Henein: “Michael was in a complete state of panic and fear. Throughout this brief but frightening attack, Susan thought they were both going to die.”

While some witnesses claimed the car climbed the curb, forensic examination determined this had not happened. But with Sheppard still clinging to the vehicle, the Saab brushed within a foot of a sidewalk fire hydrant. That jostle caused Sheppard to be dislodged from his handhold, striking his head fatally on either the curb or a raised portion of the street.

Bryant drove on around the corner, stopped at the Hotel Hyatt and called 911, waiting for police to arrive.

Peck told court the point from where Sheppard jumped onto the Saab and the spot he fell off was about 100 metres. The fact Bryant drove away — though not far — did not support allegations of errors in judgment to establish criminal liability. The fear of an accused is relevant, Peck noted; Bryant and his wife were in a convertible, vulnerable, and fearful of Sheppard.

While police acted properly in laying the charges, Peck concluded, the couple’s explanation of events and evidence collected afterward demanded that those charges be withdrawn. There was never any special treatment for Bryant because the accused was a former attorney general, he added.

Sheppard — who’d knocked around some 30 foster homes in his childhood — may have had some justification for his chronic distemper. At least, that might help explain it. But his pitiable past was not relevant to what happened last Aug. 31, though the defence — and Bryant — was careful to reference the wretchedness of Sheppard’s difficult life.

“Twenty-eight seconds and you are in the criminal justice system,” said Henein. “Twenty-eight seconds and you’re in the back of a police car. Twenty-eight seconds and you don’t go home to your children.”

Twenty-eight seconds that Bryant wishes he could take back.

“I certainly have gone back and thought about events,” he said later. “Could I have done something differently? I never would have left the house that night. I might have lingered longer on the Danforth. I might have turned right on Bay. . . ”

There is plenty of . . . if only.

The man who once appointed judges said he has been humbled’ by a different and intimate experience of the justice system.

“I now have a unique perspective, from its highest pedestal as attorney general, to its pillory, as a defendant cuffed in the back of a squad car, accused of two very serious offences involving the tragic death of a man.”

The system, he emphasized, had bent over backward to avoid any hint of impropriety. “It can bend in no other direction. It cannot and did not.”

He has no axe to grind against police or the meticulous investigation. “What I will never forget is the unnecessary tragedy of that night. A young man is dead and for his family and friends that remains the searing memory. To them I express my sympathies and sincere condolences. I have grieved that loss and I always will.”

Bryant will return now to his job with a law firm.

“This has turned out to be a tale about addiction, mental health, an independent justice system, a tragic death and a couple out on their wedding anniversary with the top down. It is not a morality play about bikes versus cars, couriers versus drivers, or about class, privilege and politics.

“It’s just about how, in 28 seconds, everything can change. And thereafter time marches on. And so will I.”

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.


Darcy Allan Sheppard taunted other drivers before Michael Bryant: photos


Shannon Kari  May 25, 2010

Darcy Allan Sheppard, the bike courier who died after an encounter with Michael Bryant on Bloor Street, had a documented history of clashes with drivers.

On Aug. 11, 2009 — a few short weeks before his death — Mr. Sheppard had an altercation with the driver of a BMW. Photographs of the incident were taken by an onlooker in a nearby office.

Darcy Allan Sheppard


The man pictured, later identified as Darcy Sheppard, yells at him just because you drive a fancy car you think you can drive along the wrong side of the road.

The driver was in the oncoming lane to avoid parked delivery vehicles on a small street in Toronto’s financial district where couriers gather. At one point, Mr. Sheppard allegedly tried to reach in and grab the keys, hit the driver and grab his earpiece.

Darcy Allan Sheppard


The man shoved Sheppard out of the car. That led to Sheppard allegedly making threats, spitting on the car, banging on it and jumping up on to it, before the motorist was able to drive away.

Darcy Allan Sheppard


Dying to understand: How a collection of suicide notes is helping one psychologist unravel the mysteries behind suicide


“I see notes as a golden road to understanding suicide,” says Dr. Antoon Leenaars. He has a collection of more than 2,000 notes that he uses for his research.

Nick Brancaccio/Canwest News Service

“I see notes as a golden road to understanding suicide,” says Dr. Antoon Leenaars. He has a collection of more than 2,000 notes that he uses for his research.

Kathryn Blaze Carlson in Windsor,  National Post

Some are handwritten and erratic, some are typed and line-edited for grammar, and some are as banal as “Please return my library books.”

This collection of suicide notes, and there are more there than 2,000 originals and photocopies, are kept under lock in an undisclosed location somewhere in Windsor.

The precise whereabouts of the archive – the world’s largest collection of its kind – is known only to its custodian, a psychologist who has spent the past four decades studying the notes as if they were scientific clues to the suicidal mind.

“I see notes as a golden road to understanding suicide, a looking glass that reveals the worst kind of pain – the meta pain, an unbelievable pain, the pain of pain,” said Dr. Antoon Leenaars. “Suicide notes allow us to peer into the soul.”

Although Dr. Leenaars has safe-guarded and digitalized most of the collection, he has agreed to lug a six-inch thick pile of photocopied notes to his seventh-floor office on Ouellet Street, careful to avoid the day’s heavy rain.

His modest office overlooks a parking lot, and is lined with crammed bookshelves and framed prints by Vincent Van Gogh, the painter who famously died by suicide, and who, as it happens, was born near Dr. Leenaar’s hometown of Ulvenhout in the Netherlands.

On the floor near the bookshelf, in a bright blue tote, sits the stacked sample of notes. Dr. Leenaars, dressed in a navy suit and a turquoise Van Gogh tie, is seated in one of two pillowy sofa-chairs where his patients come to divulge their deepest thoughts.

Although much insight can be gleaned from these conversations, Dr. Leenaars said those who attempt are different from those who die by suicide – males, for example, kill themselves four times more often than females, but females attempt far more often than males.

And so, he said, the long-standing challenge in understanding suicide is the obvious one: The individual is no longer alive to explain their decision.

For Dr. Leenaars, the notes left behind are the next best avenue to predicting and preventing suicide, which he termed a “multidimensional malaise.”

In a fated combination of gutsy academic pursuit and personal intrigue, Dr. Leenaars was first introduced to the collection in the early 1970s by the man who would quickly become his mentor, the late Dr. Edwin Shneidman, who co-wrote the 1957 book Clues to Suicide and who is today regarded as the father of suicidology.

Some 70 years ago, Dr. Shneidman was investigating the suicides of two American soldiers and had visited the Los Angeles coroner’s office to obtain the relevant files. In one, he found a suicide note. In the other, he found no such document.

He mentioned this curious fact to the office secretary, who then proceeded to offer Dr. Shneidman her photocopied collection of 800 notes which she kept in a desk drawer out of what may have been somewhat of a natural compulsion, Dr. Leenaars explained.

“We’re all intrigued by life and death,” he said, adding that notes – some as brief as three poignant words or as verbose as 23 pages typed; some laden with coffee stains or evidence of tears – have since been collected from coroners offices and grieving families who want to assist his suicidology research. “Of course we want to know: Why did the person do it?”

That is precisely what Dr. Leenaars and his “academic father” sought to understand and, given that suicide is one of the leading causes of death among Canadian men and women from adolescence to middle age, any progress in that regard could prove life-saving.

“Suicide is not like copper or water, where all copper conducts electricity or all water freezes at zero degrees Celsius,” cautioned Dr. Leenaars, who, along with his psychologist daughter, recently returned from the American Association of Suicidology annual conference in, of all places, Walt Disney World.

Teenagers, Dr. Leenaars has learned, are not only less likely to leave notes in the first place – only eight in the sample of roughly 1,000 notes in the blue tote were written by teenagers – their minds are also more constricted. They tend to think in absolutes, often penning words such as “no one,” “everyone,” “only,” “always” and “never,” said Dr. Leenaars, a Brock University alumnus.

While suicide notes gathered from Canada and the United States are comparable, the epidemiology in these two countries is strikingly incomparable, especially when it comes to teenagers.

Continued on next page

“Canadians kill themselves more often than Americans, in fact teenaged males here kill themselves 50% more than their American counterparts,” said Dr. Leenaars, author of 13 books and dozens of articles on suicide.

Dr. Leenaars’ analysis also found that the elderly are far more decisive and clear-minded, at least in their writings. In fact, it was a note by an elderly woman that has resonated with Dr. Leenaars more than any other.

In search of the note, he carried the blue tote to an adjacent office and slipped the meticulously stacked pile onto his otherwise cluttered desk. Despite the chaotic array of file folders, papers, coffee mugs, stalled clocks, empty juice bottles and pictures of his three daughters, Dr. Leenaars was notably apprehensive to scatter the notes, instead collecting and then re-collecting the corners to straighten the edges.

He licked his index finger and parsed through the notes, stopping at the one written by the elderly woman: No. 58.

“Della, Im heartsick,” Dr. Leenaars read aloud, his Dutch accent slight but noticeable. “First grnma then Otto – then my home – my car – my eyesight – now my apartment. The last few days my sight is getting worse…. Alice & George: so long to two good friends. Mary.”

No. 58 was scored using the same methodology as the rest of the sample – not sentence-by-sentence, but rather concept-by-concept, Dr. Leenaars said.

There are a total of 35 concepts outlined in Dr. Leenaars’ Thematic Guide for Suicide Prediction which, since the late 1980s, has been used by upwards of 20 trained “judges” – psychologists and psychiatrists – who are working as researchers to advance the field of suicidology.

Among the numbered concepts in the Thematic Guide are No. 11, “S’s aggression has been turned inwards;” No. 7, “S reports a history of trauma;” and No. 6, “S is in a state of heightened disturbance (perturbation) and feels boxed in.”

Dr. Leenaars, who inherited and then expanded the global collection, tore a piece of lined paper and, with one finger tracing the list of concepts and the other bracing a black pen that struck monstrous commas, he scored Mary’s note: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 33.

Concept #15 – “S exhibits a serious disorder in adjustment” – is particularly encompassing, and is among the concepts Dr. Leenaars used to score the suicide notes of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain and Adolf Hitler.

The 15th concept has seven subsections denoting a different mental disorder, including schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression and manic-depression. The latter, Dr. Leenaars said, can reveal itself quite obviously in a note.

“Those with bipolar disorder actually tend to kill themselves when they’re in a state of mania,” he said. “Their notes are like a flowing stream of consciousness, their speech moves faster and faster and faster.”

Although mental illness is a prevalent factor in suicide, Dr. Leenaars said it is a “suicide myth” that all people who kill themselves are depressed.

“The cognitive constriction is the lethal aspect,” said Dr. Leenaars, the first past-president of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, and the only non-American to have served as president of the American Association of Suicidology. “It’s about the inability to cope with the unbearable pain.”

In fact, after a scientific “cluster” analysis based on the 35 concepts, Dr. Leenaars discovered that this “unbearable pain” is among the eight common traits that exist across suicide notes – no matter the gender, era or method used.

The other seven commonalities, in layman’s terms, are tunnel vision, ambiguities about life and death, psychological disorder, a weakened ego, a disturbance in a relationship or some other ideal like one’s health, rejection-aggression and a desire to escape.

“The study of the notes revealed that suicide has a complex history, ” said Dr. Leenaars, whose first experience with suicide came in Grade 11 when one of his classmates took his own life. “Oftentimes it’s a Romeo and Juliet issue where a person feels anguish over the loss of a loved one. A suicide can also be a murder in 180-degrees, a sort of ‘F— you.’ To write, ‘P.S.: Happy Father’s Day,’ or ‘Happy Birthday’ is certainly an act of aggression.”

Love, he went on, is among the most commonly used words.

His enumeration process might appear the work of a madman to all but him and his closest colleagues – of which there are only a handful in Canada – but his more recent work with suicide notes has revealed some important cross-cultural differences.

Dr. Leenaars and his co-researchers distinguish between “collective” and “individualistic” cultures, and have discovered that in collective countries, such as Turkey, there is more indirectness, hiding and lying in the suicide notes.

“In this culture, you are not allowed to be suicidal because it is an affront to Islam,” Dr. Leenaars said. “There are even greater taboos in collective cultures, so when we look at notes from these countries, there is much more ambivalence and secrecy.”

Analyses of notes from coroner’s offices in Russia or Lithuania reveal a tendency to direct anger at other people or the state, said Dr. Leenaars, who has collaborated with 150 colleagues in more than 35 countries.

Although his work has connected him with leading suicidologists around the world, his work in Canada can be quite lonely. Dr. Leenaars lamented that many Canadian stars in suicidology have left for countries such as the United States and Australia, or for other research fields altogether.

He said his research has never been funded by anyone in Canada, and pointed out that only 100 of the more than 2,000 notes come from Canadian coroner’s offices and families. Notes from the United States, meantime, account for upwards of half the collection.

“It’s a stigma even to study suicide,” Dr. Leenaars said. “It’s a sad statement, but it’s true. Suicidology in Canada is itself dying.”

National Post

Identity Mystery: Canada has no idea who this prisoner is

National Post

Adrian Humphreys

Friday, May 21, 2010
The man who says his name is Andrea Jerome Walker has been in custody since 2006.

The man who says his name is Andrea Jerome Walker has been in custody since 2006.

He sat placidly in his prison-issue jumpsuit, a sombre expression fixed on his face as the harsh detention centre lights reflected off his shiny, dark skin, highlighting an old, four-inch scar down the centre of his forehead.

He did not speak. Or even move. He was so still, in fact, the motion-sensitive video camera pointing at him in the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay repeatedly shut off as it failed to detect any movement. It suggested the patience of a man who has, so far, shown remarkable resilience in saying and doing little. He insists his name is Andrea Jerome Walker, born in Wilmington, Del., on Jan. 22, 1973. The governments of Canada and the United States are adamant he is not.

That places him in a bizarre state of limbo: Until officials know who he is, they cannot deport him; until they can deport him, they will not release him. Since Sept. 20, 2006, he has been in jail, so far serving the equivalent of a manslaughter sentence, although he is charged with no crime. And there is no end in sight. He is the unknown man.

“Subject has no family anywhere in the world. There is no one who knows him and no one would be able to vouch for him,” says an internal government report on his case. “He claims to be entirely alone in this world.”

Canadian officials have twice sent his fingerprints to Haiti seeking his identity. They have asked officials in Angola, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Guinea for help. A Nigerian diplomat visited him in jail, asking him trick questions. U.S. Homeland Security officials searched yearbooks, mug shots and government databases.

None of it has helped.

When given the chance to plead his case with an interested reporter visiting him in prison last week, he declined. Clearly he is no Hurricane Carter, anxious to get word of his ridiculous predicament to the outside world.

Instead, he seems content to sit in his cell, behind coils of razor wire, high fences and towering spotlights with no end in sight.

The stakes are high. Immigration officials fear letting him out will encourage others to adopt a similarly defiant stance. If he is released and not deported it will make a mockery of Canada’s immigration law.

From Mr. Walker’s perspective, his imprisonment is a travesty of justice, a Kafka-esque, indefinite incarceration without evidence of any crime; mixed with the outrage of being stripped of an identity and citizenship he insists is his.

Then there is another concern.

If he is not who he says he is, then what fate does he fear – should his true identity be revealed – that makes wasting away in a crowded jail such a palatable alternative? What awaits him if his identity is discovered?

What might he have done?

Mr. Walker – as the government continues to call him despite declaring he is not really Mr. Walker – arrived in Canada from New York as a visitor in April 2005. He carried a U.S. passport and was told at the border to leave within nine days.

Instead, he lived here quietly until, in September 2006, he was approached in downtown Toronto by two police officers on bicycles.

“They found two little pieces of cocaine in my pocket,” he told an immigration detention review hearing in 2006, back when he was more talkative. “My lawyer told me to plead guilty and then I would go back to the United States.”

The conviction did make him subject to deportation and when Canada Border Services Agency officials arrived to collect him at the police station it seemed a routine case.

But questions about his identity immediately arose. When CBSA officers arrived, Toronto police were already asking Mr. Walker why he looked older than his passport said he was. He said there was a typo and it should say 1963 not 1973, according to a CBSA summary of his case.

When asked why he spoke with a non-American accent, he said his mother was born in Cameroon. When a CBSA officer spoke to him in French, Mr. Walker seemed more fluent than in English, saying he learned French and Spanish during travels abroad.

The more Mr. Walker spoke, the less his story was believed.

A few weeks later, officials from the U.S. consulate in Toronto spent an hour with Mr. Walker in the Don Jail.

“We do not believe him to be a U.S. citizen,” they wrote in a U.S. Department of State memo. They said he spoke with a thick accent, either Caribbean or French sub-Saharan African.

“He claims his mother forced him into alcohol abuse at an early age and then gave him to some woman in New York City to raise. He could only offer the woman’s name being something like ‘Marie’,” the memo says.

He told the Americans he learned French during a visit to France and then, at another point, that he learned it from a Caribbean girlfriend in New York. Her name was also something like “Marie.”

U.S. officials found no record of Mr. Walker prior to 2001 and promptly revoked his passport.

About the only thing everyone agrees on is that he is not a Canadian, but without travel documents or a country of origin CBSA has nowhere to send him.

“They don’t believe that I’m a U.S. citizen,” Mr. Walker complained to the Immigration and Refugee Board, “because everyone says I have a French accent.”

At his first IRB detention review in October 2006, he tried to explain: He grew up “with a woman who was a friend of my mother, a Puerto Rican.

“Even when I was in New York I used to go to church. I study Bible school in Spanish, so that’s why I have a funny accent.” Yet, at another hearing, he said he learned French from his mother.

Such inconsistencies have not helped him. That IRB adjudicators have cited them as reasons for his detention may explain why he stopped talking.

In April 2007, a CBSA officer tried again.

“I offered Mr. Walker a piece of paper to write down his name and date of birth and any other information with which to assist us in returning him to his country of residence,” the officer says in a sworn affidavit.

“I found Mr. Walker to be completely unco-operative.”

At a 2007 IRB hearing, adjudicator Harry Adamidis ruled that Mr. Walker must remain behind bars, saying: “You have been detained a very, very long time, and also at this point there does not appear to be a solution to allow you to be released sometime in the foreseeable future.

“However, given the fact that you’ve been unco-operative with regards to your identity, I have to agree with the minister that you shouldn’t be rewarded by that with release.”

Before he ran afoul of Canada’s drug laws, little is known about Mr. Walker. He had a troubled early life in Delaware, he said, never knowing his father, and his mother giving him away.

“I went to the Bronx when I was a little boy,” he said at an IRB hearing in 2008. From the age of seven he lived on the streets of New York and never went to school, he said, explaining why he has no family or school records to support his story.

Mr. Walker said he spent several years in the U.S. merchant marine travelling the world, and yet there are no records of him earning an income, joining a union or even of having a passport at that time.

His first request for a U.S. passport in 2001 was denied for lack of documentation. He later returned with more ID cards and was issued a passport in 2002.

“None of these documents is convincing proof of identity and all of them could be obtained on the strength of a borrowed or stolen birth certificate,” a CBSA report says.

According to a records search by the National Post, the address on Mr. Walker’s temporary New York driver’s licence is that of the Door of Salvation Ministries, a Christian-run soup kitchen in the Bronx.

A spokesman at the mission said it was there long before 2001 when Mr. Walker’s ID was issued but could not confirm if anyone with that name ever stayed there.

“I can’t help you, man,” the spokesman said. “I don’t know that name.”

Once he had a passport, Mr. Walker travelled to Spain in 2004 but was returned to the United States under a deportation order after a drug conviction. Shortly after, he came to Canada.

His connection to Christian missions continued. Almost immediately after arriving, he joined the Follower’s Mission, a Christian outreach serving addicts and outcasts in Toronto’s Queen and Sherbourne area, the Post has learned.

He made little impact on staff and his name brings back no memories, said Young Wha Kang, the mission’s founder.

“That was five years ago,” she said, apologizing.

Mr. Walker’s arrest in 2006, that triggered his predicament, took place around the corner from the mission’s front door.

Despite declaring his life for Jesus Christ – “I’m a believer. I’m a Christian,” he told the IRB in 2008 – he has a long history with drugs.

When Canada sent his fingerprints to the United States, officials did find one hit in their system, but it was not for a Mr. Walker. They matched a man arrested for drug possession in New York City in 1993. The name of the man who served the sentence on Rikers Island was Michael Gee Hearns, born in Haiti on Sept. 14, 1966.

Mr. Walker admited he was that convict but said the name was just an alias, derived from “Mike Gee,” an American hip-hop artist.

“I love his music, that’s why I use his name,” Mr. Walker said.

“I never been in Haiti. I don’t even know where Haiti is.”

Even that clue has not helped. Haitian authorities have not been able to identify him, even with a photograph, fingerprints and the alternate name.

In the meantime, CBSA arranged for a specialist with the Nigerian High Commission in Ottawa to interview Mr. Walker. He spent half an hour with him, hoping he would reveal telling details through trick questions.

His assessment? Mr. Walker is definitely from Africa but not from Nigeria. Nor is he from the north or the south of the continent. That leaves a lot of troubled central African nations still in the mix.

Since then, CBSA has asked several African states for help but received no answers.

After three years and eight months of being locked up, Mr. Walker only grunted his acknowledgement to the IRB adjudicator who convened his 52nd detention review earlier this month.

With his 5-foot-7, 170-pound frame slumped in a chair, his only discernible movement over the video-link from jail during the hour-long hearing was the occasional scratch of his nose or rub of his scarred forehead.

The Refugee Law Office, a division of Legal Aid, has taken up his perplexing case, appealing his detention to the Federal Court of Canada.

“I accept the [government’s] submissions that [Mr. Walker] is not whom he claims to be and that he has been uncooperative in refusing to reveal his true identity,” Justice Richard G. Mosley ruled last month. However, he also ruled that the length of Mr. Walker’s detention was not adequately taken into account and so he ordered a fresh review.

At that fresh hearing, Karen Stewart, his public defender, argued for Mr. Walker’s release.

“This detention has become indefinite a long, long time ago. There is no prospect of CBSA resolving this,” she said. “Mr. Walker has been consistent over three years that he is a U.S. citizen.

“We are truly at an impasse here.”

IRB adjudicator Andrew Laut ruled Mr. Walker must remain behind bars.

“He is very strongly motivated… not to be removed to his country of origin as he has not yet revealed that country,” said Mr. Laut.

In a bid to break that impasse, CBSA is releasing his photograph and description, seeking help from the public in learning any information about him, including any family members, alternate names, addresses or “any organizations, military or educational institutions” he was associated with.

A CBSA phone line – 905-405-3887 – and email address – – has been established to receive tips.

In the meantime, the IRB will assess Mr. Walker’s detention every 30 days. His next hearing is set for June 2, when he will likely seek release yet again.

“Send me back to the States,” Mr. Walker pleaded at a past hearing.

“I’m not going to be in jail all my life.”

Perhaps not.

If you don’t know what Caveat Emptor means…

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Salesmen charged for selling $41,000 car for $66,000

Salesmen at Orangeville dealer proclaim innocence on charges of ‘making unconscionable representation’

May 06, 2010Tony Van Alphen 


The Mazda dealership in Orangeville may have given new meaning to the automaker’s slogan of “zoom, zoom, zoom” for motorist Madeline Leonard.

Madeline Leonard paid $66,000 for a 2010 Mazda6 that Ontario's auto regulator says was worth closer to $41,000.
Madeline Leonard paid $66,000 for a 2010 Mazda6 that Ontario’s auto regulator says was worth closer to $41,000.

Leonard walked into the dealership wanting to replace the tires on her 2004 car.

By the time she left she was on the hook for a spiffy, black 2010 Mazda6 sedan at the eye-popping price of almost $66,000, after taxes and the value of her trade-in vehicle.

That’s $25,000 more than she should have paid, according to Ontario’s auto regulator.

She says “Moe,” the salesman, talked fast. The numbers whizzed by and before she knew it she had bought the 2010 model.

“I was overwhelmed and confused and I soon felt like I had been mistreated,” the 56-year-old woman said in an interview from her small, subsidized apartment in the town 85 km northwest of Toronto.

The Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, which regulates new and used car dealers, took action after she complained. Its investigation found she should have paid about $41,000 for the vehicle — which wasn’t even new.

“In my eight years here, I haven’t seen a case like this,” said Carey Smith, the regulator’s director of investigations. “The deal was way over the top regarding pricing.”

Smith has charged Mazda of Orangeville and two senior employees with breaching Ontario legislation that protects consumers. The dealership could face a fine of up to $250,000 if found guilty.

Kien Trung, business manager at Mazda of Orangeville and one of the employees facing charges, said he did not treat Leonard improperly or make any big profits in the deal in late December.

“We didn’t do anything wrong in the case of this transaction,” said Trung. “We made a little bit of money on the deal. I guess she was not happy with it.”

In promotional messages, the dealership says it treats customers “with dignity and respect.”

But Smith said in Leonard’s case, the store and two employees used several tactics to unfairly jack up the price.

“They put a list price of a new vehicle on the model but it was a demonstrator that the dealer used with about 6,000 kilometres on it,” he noted.

Mazda Canada lists the base price of the new sedan at $39,969 on its national website, but the dealership allegedly posted a sticker of $45,846 on the car.

Smith said the salesmen also billed Leonard, who is intellectually disabled, about $4,500 for a “protection package” that included fabric guarding, rust and sound proofing and window etching. Other dealers charge about a third of that for the same items, he said.

Furthermore, Smith said Leonard, who is unemployed, should not have qualified for a loan from the dealer because her monthly income including a disability pension is less than $2,000.

But Smith added that didn’t stop the two employees from offering an eight-year loan that will result in about $16,000 in financing costs for her, including a final balloon payment of $7,000.

Mazda of Orangeville says in a promotional message for phone callers that owning “your dream vehicle might be easier than you think.” The message goes on: “If you are a great person with not-so-good credit, we have you in mind.”

Leonard said she originally came to the store to replace the tires on her 2004 Mazda3 and didn’t even want to buy a car.

“I wished I had never walked into the place,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of trouble keeping up with these payments. The stress has been terrible.”

Leonard described the salesman at the dealership as “slick” and the process mesmerized her. But after signing a contract and driving the vehicle away, she checked prices at other Mazda outlets.

“The differences were shocking,” she said. “I felt very disappointed how I was treated.”

The regulator charged the dealership; Trung, 38, of Vaughan; and sales manager Mohammed (Moe) Shaikh, 46, of Mississauga with “engaging in unfair practice by making an unconscionable representation,” contrary to the provincial Consumer Protection Act.

Trung said the defendants will plead not guilty when they appear in court this month.

Under the act, the employees could receive fines up to $100,000 each and/or two years less a day in jail if found guilty. The defendants could also be liable for damages to Leonard.

The regulator could also revoke the registrations of the dealerships and salesmen.

“Dealers tell me there is nothing wrong with making money but the law says there is something wrong if you take advantage of someone,” Smith said.

Mazda Canada said it would not decide on any action involving the dealership until a court rules on the charges.

“Obviously we expect our dealers and staff to operate professionally,” said spokesman Greg Young. “We’ll see what the (court) determination is.”

Mazda of Orangeville has also popped up on the radar screen of the Better Business Bureau of Mid-Western and Central Ontario.

Although the dealership is not a member, the bureau has received six complaints and issued a D+ rating on a scale from A+ to F since January 2008.“It speaks for itself,” said a bureau official.

Mohammed Shaikh, sales manager of the Orangeville Mazda dealership, who has been charged under Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act.


[VIDEO] BILL HICKS: The Tupac Shakur of Comedy

William Melvin “Bill” Hicks (December 16, 1961 – February 26, 1994) was an American stand-up comedian and satirist. His humor challenged mainstream beliefs, aiming to “enlighten people to think for themselves.”[1] Hicks used a ribald approach to express his material, describing himself as “Chomsky with dick jokes.”[1] His jokes included general discussions about society, religion, politics, philosophy and personal issues. Hicks’ material was often deliberately controversial and steeped in dark comedy. In both his stand-up performances, and during interviews, he often criticized consumerism, superficiality, mediocrity and banality within the media and popular culture, describing them as oppressive tools of the ruling class, meant to “keep people stupid and apathetic.”[2]

Hicks died of pancreatic cancer, which had spread to his liver, in 1994 at the age of 32. In the years after his death, his work and legacy achieved significant admiration and acclaim, of numerous comedians, writers, actors and musicians alike. He was listed as the 19th greatest stand-up comedian of all time by Comedy Central in 2004, and 6th greatest in 2007 and 4th greatest in 2010 by Channel 4.

Born in Valdosta, Georgia, Bill Hicks was the son of Jim and Mary (Reese) Hicks, and had two elder siblings, Steve and Lynn. The family lived in Florida, Alabama and New Jersey, before settling in Houston, Texas, when Hicks was seven. He was raised in the Southern Baptist faith, where he first began performing as a comedian to other children at Sunday School.[3]

He was drawn to comedy at an early age, emulating Woody Allen and Richard Pryor, and writing routines with his friend Dwight Slade. Worried about his behavior, his parents took him to a psychoanalyst at age 17 but, according to Hicks, after one session the psychoanalyst informed him that “…it’s them, not you.”[3]

In 1978, Hicks, along with friends Slade, Ben Dunn, John S. and Kevin Booth, began performing at the Comedy Workshop in Houston. At first, Hicks was unable to drive to venues independently and was so young that he needed a special work permit to perform. By the autumn of 1978 he had worked his way up to performing once every Tuesday night, while still attending Stratford High School. He was well-received and started developing his improvisational skills, although his act at the time was limited.

In 1986, Hicks found himself broke, but his career received another upturn as he appeared on Rodney Dangerfield’s Young Comedians Special, in 1987. The same year, he moved to New York City, and for the next five years he did about 300 performances a year. On the album Relentless, he jokes that he quit using drugs because “once you’ve been taken aboard a UFO, it’s kind of hard to top that”, although in his performances, he continued to extol the virtues of LSD, marijuana, and psychedelic mushrooms.[4] He fell back to chain-smoking,[5] a theme that would figure heavily in his performances from then on.

In 1988 Hicks signed on with his first professional business manager, Jack Mondrus. Throughout 1989, Mondrus worked to convince many clubs to book Hicks, promising that the wild drug- and alcohol-induced behavior was behind him. Among the club managers hiring the newly sober Hicks was Colleen McGarr, who would become his girlfriend and fiancée in later years.

In 1989 he released his first video, Sane Man.[6] It was reissued in 2006.

In 1990, Hicks released his first album, Dangerous, performed on the HBO special One Night Stand, and performed at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival.[7] He was also part of a group of American stand-up comedians performing in London’s West End in November (or December[8]). Hicks was a huge hit in the UK and Ireland and continued touring there throughout 1991. That year, he returned to the Just for Laughs festival and recorded his second album, Relentless.

Hicks made a brief detour into musical recording with the Marble Head Johnson album in 1992. In November (or December[8]), he toured the UK, where he recorded the Revelations video for Channel 4. He closed the show with “It’s Just a Ride”, one of his most famous and life-affirming philosophies. Also in that tour he recorded the stand-up performance released in its entirety on a double CD titled Salvation. Hicks was voted “Hot Standup Comic” by Rolling Stone magazine. He moved to Los Angeles in early 1993.

Censorship and aftermath

Hicks was constantly facing problems with censorship. In 1984, Hicks was invited to appear on Late Night with David Letterman for the first time. He had a joke that he used frequently in comedy clubs about how he accidentally caused a fellow class-mate to become wheelchair bound. NBC had a policy that no handicapped jokes could be aired on the show, making his stand-up routine difficult to perform without mentioning words such as “wheelchair”. Hicks was disappointed that the TV audience didn’t get to experience the uncensored Bill Hicks that people saw in clubs.[9]

On October 1, 1993, about five months before his death, Hicks was scheduled to appear on Late Show with David Letterman, his twelfth appearance on a Letterman late night show but his entire performance was removed from the broadcast — then the only occasion where a comedian’s entire routine was cut after taping. Hicks’ stand-up routine was removed from the show allegedly because Letterman and his producer were nervous about Hicks’ religious jokes. Hicks said he believed it was due to a pro-life commercial aired during a commercial break.[10] Both the show’s producers and CBS denied responsibility. Hicks expressed his feelings of betrayal in a letter to John Lahr of The New Yorker.[11][12] Although Letterman later expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled, Hicks did not appear on the show again. The full account of this incident was featured in a New Yorker profile by Lahr[11], which was later published as a chapter in Lahr’s book, Light Fantastic.[13]

Hicks’ mother, Mary, appeared on the January 30, 2009, episode of Late Show. Letterman played Hicks’ routine in its entirety. Letterman took full responsibility for the original censorship and apologized to Mrs. Hicks. Letterman also declared he did not know what he was thinking when he pulled the routine from the original show in 1993. Letterman said, “It says more about me as a guy than it says about Bill because there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.”

Cancer diagnosis and death

In April 1993, while touring in Australia, Hicks started complaining of pains in his side, and on June 16 of that year, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver.[16] He started receiving weekly chemotherapy, while still touring and also recording his album, Arizona Bay, with Kevin Booth. He was also working with comedian Fallon Woodland on a pilot episode of a new talk show, titled Counts of the Netherworld for Channel 4 at the time of his death. The budget and concept had been approved, and a pilot was filmed. The Counts of the Netherworld pilot was shown at the various Tenth Anniversary Tribute Night events around the world on February 26, 2004.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Hicks would often joke openly at performances exclaiming it would be his last. Hicks performed the actual final show of his career at Caroline’s in New York on January 6, 1994. He moved back to his parents’ house in Little Rock, Arkansas, shortly thereafter. He called his friends to say goodbye, before he stopped speaking on February 14[citation needed], and re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.[17] He spent time with his parents, playing them the music he loved and showing them documentaries about his interests. He died of cancer in the presence of his parents at 11:20 p.m. on February 26, 1994. He was 32 years old.[18] Hicks was buried in the family plot in Leakesville, Mississippi.

On February 7, 1994, after his diagnosis with cancer, Hicks authored a short statement on his perspective, wishes and thanks of his of life, to be released after his death as his “last word”,[16] ending with the words:

“I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”

Comic style

Hicks’s style was a play on his audience’s emotions. He expressed anger, disgust and apathy while addressing the audience in a casual and personal manner, which he likened to merely conversing with his friends, often making eye contact with individual audience members in smaller venues.

Hicks’s material was less focused on the everyday banalities of life and placed greater emphasis on philosophical themes of existence. He would invite his audiences to challenge authority and the existential nature of “accepted truth.” One such message, which he often used in his shows, was delivered in the style of a news report:

Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration — that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death; life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves… Here’s Tom with the weather! [19]

Another of Hicks’s most famous quotes was delivered during a gig in Chicago in 1989 (later released as the bootleg I’m Sorry, Folks). After a heckler repeatedly shouted “Free Bird”, Hicks screamed that “Hitler had the right idea, he was just an underachiever!” Hicks followed this remark with a misanthropic tirade calling for unbiased genocide against the whole of humanity.[20]

Much of Hicks’s routine involved direct attacks on mainstream society, religion, politics, and consumerism. Asked in a BBC interview why he cannot do a routine that appeals “to everyone”, he said that such an act was impossible. He responded by repeating a comment an audience member once made to him, “We don’t come to comedy to think!”, to which he replied, “Gee! Where do you go to think? I’ll meet you there!” In the same interview, he also said: “My way is half-way between: this is a night-club, and these are adults.” [21]

Hicks often discussed conspiracy theories in his performances, most notably the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He mocked the Warren Report and the official version of Lee Harvey Oswald as a “lone nut assassin.” He also questioned the guilt of David Koresh and the Branch Davidian compound during the Waco Siege.

Hicks would end some of his shows — and especially those being recorded in front of larger audiences as albums — with a mock “assassination” of himself on stage, making gunshot sound effects into the microphone and falling to the ground.


Arizona Bay and Rant in E-Minor were released posthumously in 1997 on the Voices imprint of the Rykodisc label. Dangerous and Relentless were also re-released by Rykodisc on the same date.

In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian’s Comedian, fellow comedians and comedy insiders voted Hicks #13 on their list of “The Top 20 Greatest Comedy Acts Ever”. Likewise, in “Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time” (2004), Hicks was ranked at #19. In March 2007, Channel 4 ran a poll, “The Top 100 Stand-Up Comedians of All Time,” in which Hicks was voted #6. Channel 4 renewed this list in April 2010, which saw Hicks move up 2 places to #4.[36]

Devotees of Hicks have incorporated his words, image, and attitude into their own creations. Because of audio sampling, fragments of Hicks’ rants, diatribes, social criticisms, and philosophies have found their way into many musical works, such as the live version of Super Furry Animals’ “Man Don’t Give A Fuck”. His influence on Tool is well documented; he “appears” on the Fila Brazillia album Maim That Tune (1996) and on SPA’s self titled album SPA (1997), which are both dedicated to Hicks; the British band Radiohead’s second album The Bends (1995) is also dedicated to his memory. Singer/songwriter Tom Waits listed Rant in E Minor as one of his 20 most cherished albums of all time.[37] The UK band Shack released an album in August 2003 quoting a Bill Hicks routine in the title: Here’s Tom With the Weather. The album also included other Bill Hicks quotes in the liner notes. English breakbeat artist Adam Freeland sampled Revelations for his track “We Want Your Soul.” Welsh punk rock band Mclusky reference a Hicks routine in the lyrics to their song “To Hell With Good Intentions”. Punk cabaret musician Amanda Palmer says, “I have my new Bill Hicks CD” in the song “Another Year” on her 2008 album Who Killed Amanda Palmer. The Swedish indie pop singer/songwriter Jens Lekman has written a song called “People who Hate People Come Together” after the same Hicks quote. The last track of The Kleptones album Yoshimi Battles the Hip-Hop Robots, Last Words (A Tribute), includes his “It’s just a ride” in its entirety.[citation needed]

Hamell on Trial’s 1999 album Choochtown includes the song “Bill Hicks,” featuring the lyric “I wish Billl Hicks was alive/I wish Bill Hicks had survived,” as well at the instrumental tribute “Bill Hicks (Ascension).”

Rappers Adil Omar and Vinnie Paz have also cited Hicks as an influence to their work; contemporary comedians David Cross and Russell Brand have stated that they were inspired by Hicks.[38][39] Irish Independent columnist Ian O’Doherty is also a great admirer of Hicks.

On their 2009 album There Is No Enemy, Built To Spill released the song “Planting Seeds” with the lyrics “I’ve heard that they’ll sell anything and I think they might…I think Bill Hicks was right…about what they should do.” referring to his stand up routine which asks marketers to kill themselves. The song title refers to a bit in the same routine when Bill explains, “Just planting seeds here, folks.”.

The British film Human Traffic referred to him as the “late prophet Bill Hicks,” and portrays the main character, Jip, watching Hicks’ stand-up before going out to “remind me not to take life too seriously”. Hicks even appears in the comic book Preacher, in which he is an important influence on the protagonist, Rev. Jesse Custer. His opening voice-over to the 1991 Revelations live show is also quoted in Preacher‘s last issue.[citation needed]

The British actor Chas Early portrayed Hicks in the one-man stage show Bill Hicks: Slight Return, which premiered in 2005.

On February 25, 2004, British MP Stephen Pound tabled an early day motion titled “Anniversary of the Death of Bill Hicks” (EDM 678 of the 2003-04 session), the text of which was as follows:

That this House notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on 26th February 1994, at the age of 32; recalls his assertion that his words would be a bullet in the heart of consumerism, capitalism and the American Dream; and mourns the passing of one of the few people who may be mentioned as being worth [sic] of inclusion with Lenny Bruce and George Carlin in any list of unflinching and painfully honest political philosophers.[40]

Film and documentary

A film about Hicks’ life and career, rumored to be directed by Ron Howard, is said to be in pre-production. Russell Crowe has been mentioned as one of the producers and may portray Hicks as well.[41]

A documentary entitled American: The Bill Hicks Story, based on interviews with his family and friends, premiered on March 12, 2010, at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.[42] The film has gone on to screen at multiple festivals including SxSW, London Film Festival and Sheffield Doc/Fest.