No one is Waiting For My Posts…

August 25, 2014 at 5:03 pm (Uncategorized)

Or are they? I really don’t know.

When I published Red & Black Notes, I had a pretty good idea of who read the thing. I posted copies, and I sold copies directly. Sure, I sold a few in bookstores, but I’d venture that I met or mailed to 90% of those who ever read the thing.

A blog is different. Unless someone subscribes to the blog or posts a comment, I have no idea who reads the thing. It’s quite unnerving at times.

I find too, the pace is very different. With R&BN, although the publication schedule changed over the years, it was fairly regular. The blog tends to go in fits and starts: some months, I publish 3-4 pieces a week, but it’s been two weeks since the last post, and I could offer all sorts of reasons. But I won’t.

Instead, I go on.

Yesterday’s New York Times provided a good insight into the fucked-up world we live in.  no, on, I’m not referring to coverage about the seemingly endless assault on American-Americans by US cops (Ferguson and Staten Island most recently) or even the decapitation beheading fetish some self-styled Islamic radicals are displaying.

No, no. If you pick up the style magazine from yesterday, you’ll see a product comparison with  Jenna Lyons of J Crew and Courtney Love. Among the objects they discuss are a Four and Sons a canine themed literary magazine (at a modest $20 an issue), $1,500 Dior shoes, and a Kara Walker jug with an Aunt Jemimah-ish caricature, and in Courtney’s words: “It’s beautifully rendered, but I think for white people to own it would be kind of tacky.” Uh, huh.

Skip over to the book section and you can see what Malala Yousafzai is reading. Among her favourites, “The Alchemist,” “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” “The Kite Runner,” “A Brief History of Time,” and “The Breadwinner.”

She makes no mention of those white Beats $600 headphones with plaster pillow Jenna and Courtney looked at though.

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Secrets of the Style Section

August 11, 2014 at 12:07 am (Uncategorized)

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll mention I own the same tie as Kevin Sussums on the front page of the New York Times style section No tattoos though.

After posting this morning’s comment about the magazine, I glanced through the style section: OK, I like the advice column: It’s fun to see what people think they can get away with, and the marriages section: “Oh look, we love each other so much our heads are stuck together.”  I always find it odd that people usually look a lot like their partner. But I digress.

For some reason today I was reminded of a piece that appeared in the Gawker about the style section  profiled the people behind the New Inquiry. Here';s the salient part:


See, the secret of the Style section is that it’s intended for two audiences. The first audience is its “official,” explicit audience: people who see nothing problematic with being told by The New York Times what’s cool, and think of the Style section is a straight-ahead, unironic record of hip trends and cool people. This is the audience that most people imagine when they okay a Style section profile.

But there is the second audience. A secret audience. This audience, of which you are a member, is both mesmerized and repelled by the Style section. This audience reads the Style section, week after week, and thinks “what the fuck is wrong with rich people?” This audience regards the Style section as a collection of dispatches from a different universe; a universe where some of the most horrible and insufferable people on the planet are treated as visionaries and geniuses. A rich universe.

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Major Threat?

August 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm (Uncategorized)

I’m sure some will be outraged by the cover of this week’s New York Times magazine which borrows its inspiration from DC’s 80’s hardcore scene and in particular Minor Threat for the story on Rand Paul and libertarianism.

It’s not 2005 Nike rip; rather it uses a clever pun along with the look of those D.I.Y. fliers which were so abundant then (even the circle “A” is a nice touch).

And the article is interesting too, to see the efforts to reconcile libertarian ideas of freedom while allowing for the state to regulate and enforce those same libertarian views.

It’s a funny thing how the question of the state looms in different political philosophies. The “right” is considered the party of small government, while the “left” is the party of big government. Yet, rightist parties seem to love the state in thier own ways (It’s significant that right-wing politicians who decry government subsidies are the largest recipients). Similarly, I did not become a socialist, a communist, or whatever label you choose to promote the growth of government control over lives. Socialism if it is anything is exerting control over life.

In the article, libertarian activist Nick Gillispie, brings a variety of different flavoured pop tart boxes to a meeting to prove perhaps – tongue in cheek  that “individualism was flourishing and choice was abundant. ”  Is freedom only the opportunity to choose between twenty version of the same type of toothpaste at the drug store? What was it Dauve said, that for those who think the concentration camps were hell, heaven is the supermarket?

When I was in the first year of university, I read, for a course, Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. In the introduction, Friedman recounts a debate in the sixties where his opponent painted him as a reactionary. Friedman pointed out that as a libertarian, he opposed the draft in peacetime as an example of unjustified government activity. It won him the debate.  It seems striking though that Friedman’s introduction was written in 1982 several years after his followers in the Chicago school had braintrusted several extremely authoritarian regimes in South America who engaged in quite a few “unjustified government” activities.

And that’s it, isn’t it? It seems for some, the line is “The state has no business in society except to enforce my views on social issues, and of course to maintain my profit margins” . Have a read of the article to see a libertarian defence of traditional marriage.

And then go and listen to Minor Threat.

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Bryan Lee O’ Malley: Seconds

August 1, 2014 at 4:35 pm (Uncategorized)

Bryan Lee O’Malley is the creator of the six-volume Scott Pilgrim series. If you haven’t read it, well, it’s a pretty amazing manga-like graphic novel about the titular hero who must defeat Ramona Flowers legion (OK, not exactly an entire legion) of evil Exes in order to date her. Oh, and it’s set in Toronto

But that ended in 2010, the same year that a really enjoyable film version was released. Sooo….what do you do next?

The answer is Seconds. It’s the story of Katie, the chef at a successful  restaurant, but who dreams of owning her own restaurant. In the course of the beautifully drawn and wonderfully funny story, Katie comes across several spirits, magic mushrooms (no, no…), time travel and learns to deal with her own success and failure. It’s a great story.

A couple of a nights ago, the Beguiling sponsored a book launch with O’Malley at the Bloor Cinema. There was a reading, an on-stage discussion and a Q and A session, followed by a signing. (Yeah, yeah, got my book signed). I always like those kind of creator centred events because the discussion tends to be quite free-ranging and you pick up little bits of trivia along the way (O’Malley got the idea for Seconds after the publication of the first Scott Pilgrim book while he was working at College street restaurant Kalendar (No, Seconds is not based on it)

Go read now.






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Music Notes July 2014

July 31, 2014 at 12:22 pm (Uncategorized)

Here it is, your music notes for the month…

1. Harry Dean Stanton -Partly Fiction

I am prepared to watch pretty much anything with Harry Dean Stanton in it. Nuff said? This album of favourites, recorded in his living room, is a treat. Stanton could never be called a great singer, but there’s a rawness, an authenticity, a growth over the course of the record which is marvellous. On the records, which includes songs like “Promised Land” or “He’ll Have to Go” there’s a magic.

2. Oasis – Definitely Maybe (remastered)

Liam Gallagher took to social media to denounce this release arguing it was already perfect. It won’t deter fans though. We all want to see behind the curtain, to see the demos and the outtakes that led to this, arguable the best Oasis album. And, yeah, while the original album is pretty close to perfect, this provides the context, and it seems better for it.

3. Kim Gordon - Is This My Body?

Bought this on my recent New York trip. A collection of essays and texts by Kim Gordon. Stuff from her art school days and a very nice Sonic Youth tour diary.

4. Spacemen 3 – Dreamweapon

The main track on this is a 45-minute live recording entitled “An Evening of Contemporary Sitar Music.” Droning guitar, audience chatter, words softly spoken. Not something to listen to every day, but there’s an intensity to it.

5. Lana Del Ray – Ultraviolence

Last year at a recital, my daughter sang the Lana Del Ray song “Young and Beautiful.” OK, let’s look at her work. So, I’ve listened to this a couple of times and have come up with a few conclusions. I like the idea of LDL better than the overall effect. The David Lynchian noir feel to her music, the black and white idealization of classic American culture has a great, well, feel to it.  Second, I’m not sure she has any songs, but rather a sound. Oddly enough, the neo-Marxist The New Inquiry has just published a collection of essays about Ms. Del Ray echoing some of the above.

6. Sharon Van Ettan – Are We There?

I can’t say much about this. You just need to listen to it. It’s a record which grows stronger with every listen.

7. Jack White – Lazeretto

Poor Jack White. No matter what he does, there’s a certain percentage of his audience that would like nothing more than another White Stripes album (and if I’m honest…). White’s second solo album continues the trend from Blunderbuss. No anthems, but some very cool songs along the way.

8. The Forgotten Rebels – In Love With the System

Can you go home? I wrote earlier about going to see the Forgotten Rebels this year. I probably saw that local band more than any other when I was in university, but I was disappointed because it seemed like faded glory. so, why should I own their debut. Probably for the same reason. Lots to shock, lots to enjoy. And, whether or not this is satire, I once loved these songs.

9. The Boomtown Rats – The Boomtown Rats

Deeply, deeply unfashionable. The Rats second album, A Tonic for the Troops was the second real album I bought, but this one is the one I’ve come to prefer over time. It’s not punk. Too steeped in rockist influences, but it has osme lovely punky moments (“Mary of the Fourth Form”) along with the Springsteenish “Joey’s on the Street Again.” This edition adds demos and some live tracks.

10. Tommy Ramone

And lastly, Tommy Ramone. The final surviving original Ramone who passed away earlier this month. Without Tommy, there might not have a been a band. He was the manager who switched to drums when it became clear Joey couldn’t keep a beat. RIP.

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Toronto Anarchist Bookfair 2014

July 31, 2014 at 11:41 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve been tabling at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair since its inception in 2000. The bookfair quickly outgrew its original space, then outgrew its second home. Currently, it’s a squeeze in the two building site. Maybe it’s the culture in Montreal. Lots of Anarchists (and lots of Maoists).

Toronto however has always been dominated by Trotskyists. All the varieties, but they don’t seem to be able to play in the same sandbox long enough to organize a bookfair together.

It’s been a struggle to establish anarchist bookfairs in Toronto. There were a series in the early 2000s, then they faded away, but the last four years or so, events have taken place (I might be wrong about last year), usually at the Steelworkers’ Hall downtown.

I tabled at this years event, but almost from the start, it was clear  it was going to be small. It was a bit of a mystery why, but for much of bookfair the venders outweighed the public. The workshops were interesting and a good selection of tables, but the masses didn’t show.

Now there were demonstrations that day, but that ought to have fed into the event rather than drawing from it. Perhaps because a regular schedule has not been established. (The Montreal event is the same time every year and I start getting notices for the following year’s event almost as soon as the dust has settled on the current year).

There was one telling thing though. After I set up my table, I walked to the nearest Tim Horton’s (About ten minutes). I saw several crackpot posters for municipal candidate Jim McMillan, but not a single notice for the bookfair. Odd?

Well, there’s always next year.







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Random Dog Picture #6

July 29, 2014 at 7:15 pm (Uncategorized)

Ugh. Hard to believe it’s been almost three weeks since I posted something. I took a month long contract position to earn a little extra money, but it turned out to be nightmarishly run and much more work than I anticipated. C’est la vie.

Anyway, to ease back in, here’s a somewhat staged shot of the dog. Maybe I should run a contest for people to write clever captions.

Here’s mine: Marxist Dogma

No? OK, you do better.



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Half a Century High

July 11, 2014 at 4:07 pm (Uncategorized)

I turned 50 yesterday. I was going to write this post then, but I was too busy partying to get to it. Er,… no actually. first of all, I hate using the word party as anything other than a noun, and second, I had to work today.

A visit to the physiotherapist for a problem with my shoulder, a roti and some birthday cake, a few calls from family and friends, and capped the evening by watching a truly unfunny shit-com called Welcome to Sweden.

So, yeah, the title of this post refers to a Phil Ochs song I like rather than my prodigious drug habit –  caffeine is my favourite drug, closely followed by Advil for migraines which have followed me throughout my life.

What’s the line, if you’re not a communist by the time you’re twenty you have no heart, but if you’re still a communist by the time you’re thirty you have no brains? What does that say about a fifty year old? A friend asked me yesterday if I felt I had mellowed. Hmm. I’m certainly less active. Time for family, for work and the problem of less energy all feed into that. But mellow? Nah.

Aging is the most unexpected thing which happens to a person. I did think I would be more mature by now though.

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Toronto Anarchist Bookfair 2014

July 9, 2014 at 2:42 am (Uncategorized)

Ah ha, this year’s Toronto Anarchist Bookfair is taking place in two weeks (July 19 and 20) at the Steelworkers Hall on Cecil Street. Workshops and tablers (including my humble self). Come by, say hi.

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A Quick New York Trip

July 6, 2014 at 10:17 pm (Uncategorized) ()

I started a new job last week which has caused all sorts of stress and is one of the principal reasons, I’ve been silent of the post-front of late. But, before the job started, I managed to work in a quick trip to New York.

I’ve lived in Toronto off and on for almost three decades now, and I’m very fond of the place, but whenever I travel to New York, I am forcibly made aware of just how tiny Toronto is. New York is…well, an assault on the senses. I mean that in a positive way, but in the short space of a city block you can experience the scent of the best pizza you’ve every smelt, human sweat, perfume, ice-cream and urine. Yeah, yeah, I know you can experience than in many cities, but it just seems so New York.

I like to fly Porter Airlines out of Toronto not because it’s cheaper or more convenient, but because I feel more like a person than cattle. Oh, and while they now charge $25 for checked luggage, snacks and alcohol are still complimentary (alas, the days of the vegetarian sandwich are over). Porter though flies into Newark which usually means a 25 minute train ride to Penn Station. Except…the train lines are down and so I found myself on a bus which crawled through New Jersey traffic to New Jersey’s Penn Station. A quick stop to find my place, and I was on a train into Manhattan.

Problem number two appeared when I arrived at my hotel near the Empire State Building. It turned out I had made my reservation for the following month. Huh? I starred and the confirmation sheet I had printed, and sure enough it was for July 27. Luckily, there was room and I ended up with a room cheaper than he rate I had earlier been quoted.

So then it was off to explore Manhattan. Whenever I go to New York, I always feel I’m just scratching the surface, so I made planned to spend time in other areas, but very quickly I found myself at the Strand bookstore picking up used books , including a set of essays by Kim Gordon Is This My Body? Old habits die hard. At the end of the first day, I found myself exhausted with a splitting headache. Not an auspicious start.

Day 2 was better, and began with a trip to the Guggenheim. The exhibition I was interesting in seeing was on Italian Futurism. Futurism , like its leftist cousins in surrealism and Dada, rejected bourgeois society talking in revolutionary terms. Futurism however seemed to glorify destruction and build in a backward looking nationalism. It’s no accident that the blurb for the exhibition spoke of Futurism’s “complicated” relationship with Italian fascism. Complicated seems to be a little mild. The Futurists clearly aspired to be the official art movement of Fascism, but the fascists weren’t that interested as Il Duce’s tastes were a little more traditional. Always the bridesmaid. Still, if you can tear yourself away from that, (and it’s hard when you saw dinner plates inscribed with Fascism and Futurism), some of the art was tremendous. Heavily influenced by impressionism, and cubism as well as new techniques in sculpture and photography, the exhibition was astonishing.

At the end of the day, I took the ferry over to Staten Island to attend the Lumin Festival. The festival, now in its fifth year, is an installation by local artists working in a variety of forms (TV, video, sculpture, puppetry, etc) all in a vaguely post-apocalyptic venue down by the water. The festival stretched about half a mile along the water’s edge, and I very quickly noticed that we were a part of the show just as much as the installations (OK< maybe not quite as much). It was interesting to hear a babble of languages as people walked back and forth under the night sky (fireworks from Brooklyn were also visible which made for a nice co-incidence). It was very different from the dry atmosphere of the Guggenheim, but no less interesting.

My thirds day was spent on Staten Island with friends (likely the subject of another post), but I did wander around the streets for an hour or so)
Monday was my last day in the city, and I headed back into Manhattan for see a couple of sites. I wandered past the Weathermen house (I was surprised not to see a plaque), past the Chelsea Hotel and past a house where Kerouac lived. The most interesting thing for me though was the High Line. A former industrial train track now reclaimed an above ground city park stretching from the meatpacking district up to 32nd street or so. It offers some very interesting views of the city, and serves as another oasis from people. I trudged up to Port Authority and took the bus to Newark. And then it was back to Toronto.

New York has become my go-to getaway city, but each trip never turns out the way I imagine it will. And that’s probably a good thing.

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