Memories of Entrism Past

August 20, 2016 at 7:37 pm (Uncategorized)

Leon Trotsky was assassinated 76 years ago today, but the Prophet’s children are apparently still making trouble.

A couple of days ago, I read in the Guardian story about the UK based Trotskyist group the Alliance for Workers Liberty   (the organization  led  by veteran Trotskyist Sean Matgamna most famously known as Socialist Organizer) and its dastardly plan to infiltrate the Labour Party (a policy known as “entrism”), it brought back a few memories.

The first political group I joined was the Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) when I was 18 or 19. At that time, there was no youth section in the party because the leadership of the party feared it would become dominated by Trotskyists. (This was actually the position of one of the youth chairs!) Oddly enough though, during election time the party establishment loved the Trotskyists hidden in the party as they worked the hardest, and their poll counts were always accurate, so if they occasionally sold a subscription to Socialist Voice, so be it.

It wasn’t long after I joined the NDP before I came across Trotskyist in the ONDP’s Left Caucus. The Left Caucus  was founded after the expulsion of the Waffle, and initially it was a broadly left organization. By the time I began to attend it’s meeting, it was, if not dominated by, then strongly influenced by an entrist group called Forward.  The leaders of Forward including veteran Trotskyist Ross Dowson had been  a part of the Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International’s official Canadian section the League for Socialist Action (LSA), but had left arguing that the LSA’s position on the NDP was ultra-left and that Canadian nationalist was progressive. Initially, the group was called the Socialist League, but over time they adopted the name of their newspaper Forward, becoming the Forward Readers Group and becoming more and more secretive about their Trotskyism in the process. . In fact when the Left Caucus helped to launch the Campaign for An Activist Party and ran Judy Rebick (herself a former member of the Revolutionary Workers League, the successor to the LSA) for party president, CAP organizer Michael Shapcock was apparently shocked to discover that many of the grassroots activists there were members of a secret Trotskyist faction. He need not have worried, but more on that later. I attended Left Caucus meeting , and did begin to consider myself a Trotskyist within the NDP, but the overlap between being a member of a Trotskyist group and being part of social democracy was brief. I was bound for more, sectarian waters🙂

The strategy of entering larger ostensibly working class organizations was conceived as a short-term tactic by the Trotsky and his tiny scattered supporters in the thirties. in 1919, Trotsky had denounced social-democracy as an appendage of the bourgeois state, but a dozen or so years later, his fortunes had changed somewhat. As social-democracy moved left in the thirties, Trotsky argued that while the party must always be independent, his supporters were not yet parties, so it was OK to enter Rosa Luxemburg had once described as a rotting corpse. Uh huh.

The tactic became known as the “French Turn” as it was practiced on a large scale in the French Section of the Second International (SFIO), but I’ve heard members of he Militant group (now the socialist Party) grumble that it ought to be called the “British Turn” because it was practiced first in Britain in both the Labour Party and the Independent Labour Party.(I think I still have a copy of the pamphlet “Problems of Entrism” somewhere) In a number of countries including the U.S., Trotskyists entered , sought recruits and split with the aim of replacing that organization. This was probably most effective in the US and allowed Trotskyists there to launch the Socialist workers Party in 1938.  In France the tactic was less successful, as the Trotskyist group in France had split and both factions entered the SFIO, squabbling during their time (This is documented in Trotsky’s book The Crisis of the French Section )

In Britain though, the relationship between being a Trotskyist who was working in the Labour Party and a Trotskyist who was working for the Labour Party became a little blurred. Like the French, the British had split into two groups, the Revolutionary Socialist League and the Workers International League. Both groups working the Labour Party, but the WIL was able to grow, by largely abandoning the party to work in industry. The RSL became moribund and eventually fused with the WIL to become the Revolutionary Communist Party, an open organization. Within a few years of the end of the war, the RCP had shrunken to virtually nothing and its members had returned to the bosom of the Labour Party under the dictatorial leadership of Gerry Healy.

Healy ‘s group published a barely social-democratic newspaper called Socialist Outlook, and after its suppression, sold Tribune. In 1959, the Club became the Socialist Labour League,. and while members still remained within the Labour Party, the SLL operated as an independent organization which ludicrously postured as a revolutionary party (of course, the SLL’s successor, the Workers Revolutionary Party made the SLL look modest and sane, but that’s another story) . After the departure of the SLL, Ted Grant’s Militant tendency became the dominant Trotskyist group in the party, but Grant’s supporters ran the line that social-democracy could be won to socialism by adopting their policies. Privately, they were still orthodox Trots, but the mask quickly became the face.

And it’s that latter current that has prevailed. No longer split and wreck, but build the party, build the left wing, capitulate to the left wing oops! In 1973, members of the Young Socialists, the LSA’s youth group in New Brunswick operated in the Waffle group, and were able to win the New Brunswick NDP to a series of radical positions,. The national leadership of the LSA were apoplectic, arguing that this would lead to a split in the party, and weaken the opportunity to advance Trotskyism. The YS were suspended and withdrew from the party. The LSA had won the NDP to socialism, but Ross Dowson made them give it back! As social-democracy moves rightward, the Trots in the party are the only ones demanding that the party return to its honest roots. So, the Labour Party really not need fear the AWL’s advances because, underneath, they will be honest and true Labour Party members.

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Harry Cleaver: Master of Kung Fu

August 19, 2016 at 7:38 pm (Uncategorized)

I was a little too young to get into the kung-fu craze of the 70s. I was 9 when Enter the Dragon (1973) appeared, and although I watched a few episodes of  TV’s Kung Fu  (1972-1975), both were over my head. I did watch Hong Kong Phooey (1974) on TV, but let’s say no more. about that. I also remember Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” when it was on the charts the same year, but I’m digressing.

The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu was Marvel’s cash-in attempt beginning publication in 1973 . The premise was that the titular character Shang-Chi was the son of arch-villain Fu Manchu, and who had rebelled against his evil father. Marvel, which had tried and failed to get the rights to the TV series, instead acquired the rights to characters such Fu and his arch-enemy Sir Denis Nayland Smith, and developed a supporting cast of allies  along with new characters “Black” Jack Tarr, and Bond-esque spy Clive Reston.

The early issues of book were standard Marvel fare, but when series creators Steve Eagleheart and Jim Starlin are replaced by Doug Moench and Paul Galacy, the book took on an almost cinematic quality – if you can find the issues where Shang-Chi battles Carlton Velcro and his assassin Razorfist, you’ll see what I mean (particularly Gulacy’s art). I didn’t see the original issues of the book, but read them as reprints. In the mid-70s Marvel sought to expand into Britain by publishing weekly black and white reprints  of their US four colour books. The Avengers weekly contained 10 pages each of the Avengers, Dr. Strange, and Master of Kung Fu. I didn’t read the Avengers regularly, but I do remember this copy had Shang-Chi battling the Man-Thing. Later on, I picked up the original issues (but by no means all of them) second-hand.

Last week, I was at my parents’ place and was going through some old boxes of comics in their basement and came across some of the old issues. Issue 18, in which Fu Manchu’s attempts to import a powerful drug into the US contains a letter by… Marxism theorist Harry Cleaver when he was a professor at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. In the letter, Cleaver warns about the pervasive racism of Fu Manchu creator Sax Rohmer, as well as noting the social significance of the book (an Asian hero), and hoping for authenticity in the fight scenes. Small world, huh?

Cleaver’s quite right about the racism of the novels. If you’ve never read the original novels by Sax Rohmer, they are worth a look. but be warned. First published in 1912, the Fu Manchu novels are fantastic pulp fiction-like novels, yet unfortunately, they carry the mark of their times, and along with Edgar Rice Burroughs equally fantastic Tarzan, they are dripping with offensive racial and sexual stereotypes

Harry Cleaver’s Rupturing the Dialect: The Struggle Against Workwill be published next year by AK Press.

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Burkini Madness

August 19, 2016 at 7:37 pm (Uncategorized)

A few years back in Canada, the ruling Conservative Party pulled out all of the stops to prevent some Muslim women taking the Oath of Canadian Citizenship while wearing a veil (this represented a staggeringly small percentage of those taking the Oath, so you can see the urgency, right?) . Apparently, this was an affront to “Canadian values” or some such horseshit to cover the Tories’ pandering to their base. In any event, the Conservatives lost the court battle, then the election, and it was settled.

France however continues. Years ago, they banned the hijab in schools (a policy which is applied, and is not applied depending on where you are), but the new thing is the banning of the burkini on several beaches on the French Rivera. Burkini, you know, those swim-suits that look a little like the old Victorian ones. The latest ban stems from a fight on a beach which began when a man objected to another taking pictures of his wife. The husband apparently threw a rock abut the photographer which is not cool, but it’s usually a good idea to ask before taking pictures of other people. Anyway, one argument advanced for the banning is because…”Beachwear that ostentatiously displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order.” Er, OK. I’d say the speedo is a bigger threat to public order, but that’s just me. Probably another reason not to go to the beach.

I’m pretty sure though, the terrorists of ISIS, Al-Qada and anyone the French are worried about else here aren’t cool with burkinis either. And if we’re still keeping in Canada, the Christian secularists in Quebec (i.e., we’re for secularism when it comes to other people’s religion) should be drawing up similar legislation soon, although with the length of the Canadian summer, it’s hardly worth it.

Here’s a funny column from the Guardian which is worth a look, and not just for the line, “Does my bomb look big in this?”

Honestly, don’t people have better things to do?

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The Kills: 2016

August 10, 2016 at 3:42 pm (Uncategorized)

The Kills, Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince, the Kills, are probably my favourite band at the moment. Still, every band has a sell-by date, and this new record is their fifth and it comes after a gap of several years.

In terms of favourite albums, I go back and forth between the debut Keep on Your Mean Side and Midnight Boom. Just the rawness of the debut and the punky pop (not punk-pop) of the latter do it for me. Sure, sure, No Wow has its moments, though curiously the band only play the title song live, and Blood Pressures  broadens the pallet a little, sacrificing some of the intensity in the process.

The band’s new record Ash and Ice was released on June 6, two weeks after their Toronto date (see below), but the first single and video “Doing it to Death” were making the rounds in May. And, I’ll be honest,  my initial response involved notions of shark jumping. Sure, the video looked fun, (crazy funeral, back flips on cars etc.), but the song just didn’t grab me. The guitar was too low in the mix, and it lacked the passion, I associate with the Kills. The second single “Heart of a Dog” was better, but it still didn’t hold my attention, the way previous records had.

The problem for the Kills, like every band really, is to change and yet retain the fans. If a band simply turns out new versions of the same songs, it becomes a caricature. I love the Ramones, but after a while, they were really writing the same song (I know there’s an argument, that the Ramones only wrote one song, but it was such a great song, they were able to build a career around it, but I digress). Yet, if they change, they risk loosing that original fan base. Not every band can make that transition. We’re so hard to please!

So, Ash and Ice. First impression was disappointment. It didn’t sound like the Kills.  Guitar too low and a focus on percussion, not enough fast songs etc. But , you know, after a few listens, it grew on me. Songs like “Whirling Eye” and “Siberian Nights” pull you in.

But having said all of that, if you haven’t seen the Kills live, you really haven’t heard the band at all. This was my fifth time, and the second time I’d seen them at the Danforth Music Hall. If you haven’t been there, it’s a great big hall holding upwards of a thousand people. The sound is great, and you can usually find a spot to see the band (and without too much trouble you can usually worm your way to the front) . The opening band was LA Witch, a three-piece garage punk band from LA. set the tone. Plenty of feedback, and a scruffy sound which promised great things.

Yet, within a song, the Kills made me forget them altogether.  Alison Mosshart owns the stage. She’s never still, striding back and forth, and she is captivating. A magnetic stage presence. Jamie Hince is simply content to stand to one side, and let his band-mate command. And here’s the other weird thing, the new songs which I’d  heard before, sounded great. The songs new to me sounded great as well (which probably accounted for my initial disappointment when I heard the songs at home). And the old songs, well, they were also great.

So, shark jumping? No. But a transition. And one that I will follow to see where it leads.

 

Setlist: Danforth Music Hall May 21, 2016

  1. No Wow
  2. U.R.A. Fever
  3. Heart is a Beating Drum
  4. Kissy Kissy
  5. Hard Habit to Break
  6. Heart of a Dog
  7. Impossible Tracks
  8. Black Balloon
  9. Doing it to Death
  10. Baby Says
  11. Whirling Eye
  12. Pots and Pans
  13. Monkey 23

Encore

  1. Tape Song
  2. Siberian Nights
  3. Sour Cherry

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Endnotes

August 10, 2016 at 3:10 pm (Uncategorized)

The fourth issue of Endnotes came out earlier this year, but I didn’t get a physical copy until this year’s Toronto Anarchist Bookfair a few weeks back (the good people at the Tower carry it.) Endnotes came out of a split (although they might not use that word) in the British journal Aufheben a few years back, and to date the new journal has produced four fascinating, if dense issues of communist theory. Well worth tracking down.

I should also mention another book from the Tower, Blessed is the Flame, an introduction to concentration camp resistance and anarcho-nihilism. Haven’t gotten to this yet (I’m reading something on the Cincinnati creationist museum at the moment), but it looks interesting. It’s available from Little Black Cart

 

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Music Notes July 2016

July 30, 2016 at 6:33 pm (Uncategorized)

Ah, July. Only a month of good summer listens left.

1 Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels

No, no, no. I don’t get it. Dylan’s early work is untouchable. Some of the greatest American music of the twentieth century. And now, I keep reading reviews of Dylan’s stuff about how brilliant he continues to be, but I don’t get it. At all. He can’t sing any more, and his maudlin renditions of schmaltzy  standards are just embarrassing. Disagree if you like, but at this point I wonder if Dylan did die in that motorcycle crash.

2 Julie Ruin – Run Fast

Haven’t heard the new record yet, but the Julie Ruin’s first Run Fast is engaging. Punky, but not hardcore, Kathleen Hanna’s wail emerging above the noise. Instantly enjoyable.

3. Alan Vega

Several decades ago, I was in Records on Wheels on St. Paul Street in St. Catharines. I’d gone to buy the Lords of the New Church album, but while I was there, the cover of Suicide’s first record caught my eye. Even if the band weren’t called Suicide, the blood smeared cover is hard to ignore. It’s not an easy listen (“Frankie Teardrop” is harrowing), but the minimalist electronics of “Ghost Rider” and “Rocket USA” are intense. And then there’s something like “Cheree,” which is just beautiful. The second Suicide LP is different, and so were all of Vega’s solo records. His passing last week marks the end of an era, and of a true innovator.

4. Bauhaus – Swing the Heartache- The BBC Sessions

Never a big Bauhaus fan. They were a band I heard on the radio, rather than one I put down my money for. Still, this is a pretty good collection of the BBC stuff. Most of the hits are here (except “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”), and there are some nice covers (“Night Time,” “Telegram Sam,” “Third Uncle” and a stun volume version of “Ziggy Stardust’). All sound a little different to the originals. Probably not the best place to start your Bauhaus collection, but not the worst either.

5  Bonnie Prince Billy –Wolfroy Goes to Town

Hillbilly folk, sadness and religion, and Angel Olsen too. It’s not fundamentally different to many other Will Oldham records, but that’s a good thing isn’t it?

6 Adam and the Ants – Dirk Wears White Sox

Adam and the Ants were the last punk band. Everyone else signed, and sold out. Not Adam. He inspired a cult following of “Ant People.” So after the disappointment of “Young Parisians” people were hoping for something special. And the results are…mixed. Some great moments to be sure (the original “Car Trouble,” “Catholic Day” and “Cleopatra”), but the production is flat and overall the songs sound like works-in-progress. The CD adds a half-dozen tracks which are frankly superior to the rest of the album,  so that’s worth something. And then a year later, Adam lost his band, jettisoned the S & M fetishes and decided he wanted to be a pirate pop star. The rest is history.

7 Tubeway Army –Replicas

Oh, I bought a copy of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” when it was released, but I wouldn’t say I was a fan of Tubeway Army. Like many, I thought that Gary Numan was a not as talented copy of John Foxx’s Ultravox. Numan bitterly denied this, arguing why not claim he was ripping off Bowie (to which he confessed, but then so was Foxx).  So, it’s a bit of a surprise listening to the second Tubeway Army record three decades later, and seeing how good it is. Sure Numan can’t really sing, but the split between punk and electronica is pretty interesting. Still like “Down in the Park.”

8 Husker Du – Warehouse Songs and Stories

I think I saw the band on this tour. What was it they were called “the Beatles of hardcore.” I don’t really like those early records (nor hardcore really), but this blend of that sensibility along with a pop undercurrent is supremely listenable.

9 Palma Violets – “Best Friend”

Sometimes a band should just break-up after that one song. I love the rest of the first album 180, but he first single is just so special; I went to see them based on hearing it. I don’t think the band will ever top it.

10 Michael Bradley- Teenage Kicks: My Life as an Undertone

I have not read this book yet, but I can’t help but plug it. A memoir from the bass player for one of Northern Ireland’s greatest pop-punk bands is good enough for me.

One month of summer left.

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I Wish I Had a Speechwriter

July 29, 2016 at 4:22 pm (Uncategorized)

You know when you come out with a line, and then you have to hang about waiting to use it?

Last year, when Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked why he had so many women in his cabinet, he answered without missing a beat: “Because it’s 2015.” Now, I don’t know whether he had that line in his head or it came to him on the spot, but it was very effective. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone writing lines for you?

Now Trump clearly doesn’t, which is he just says whatever drivel is peculating in his head, and why he makes for great copy. But pandering to racists isn’t what I’m suggesting here.

The person who thought up “All lies matter” as a response to the All Lives Matter crowd was also very sharp. But my current favourite is from another Canadian politician, Kathleen Wynn. Wynn is Ontario’s first women premier and Ontario’s first gay premier, and has pretty well defied all political expectations – everyone expected her government to be drowned by the tsunami of scandals the previous Liberal leader left her with, but she increased Liberal support and won a majority.  Anyway, this is starting to sound like a plug for Canada’s Liberals – it’s isn’t but I do know a good line when I hear it.  Wynn was asked why she hadn’t gotten on board with the All Lives Matter rhetoric. She replied to say that was like saying we need a parade for straight people.

It’s a good line.

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A.N.O.K. IN T.O. 2016

July 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm (Uncategorized)

And if you’re hearing about this now, you just missed the Toronto Anarchist Bookfair for 2016. It was last weekend.

This was the seventh annual summer bookfair, and often it seems like a wonder if there will be another one. I’ve tabled at a number of bookfairs in Toronto over the years, and the collectives always seem different. The current one though has been in existence for a few years, and it seems to be a little more solid than those in the past. In any event. this year’s bookfair came off with nary a hitch (OK, a couple of small ones…)

Talking to people, it seemed that everyone’s sales were down and fewer people came out. My sales were down from last year, even though I tabled both days.  Oddly enough my sales are usually better in Montreal even though I don’t speak French and rarely have French materials. Go figure.

I gave a talk on geography, a subject I’ve become interested in over the last year. Last year, I gave a talk last year about literature, which was sparsely attended but this year 25 people came out to hear me. I talked a little about the importance of geography and then we chatted about cities for ninety minutes (there was a small digression into social media at the end, but no biggie).

Overall, a good weekend.

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Are you Ready for the Country?

July 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm (Uncategorized)

Ah, back after a week in the country.

I grew up in a smallish town, but I’ve lived in cities ever since I moved to Canada in 1981 (apart from a year in Nova Scotia in the mid-nineties when I was in school) . I’m an urban creature, and that line in the Communist Manifesto about the “idiocy of rural life” always spoke to me. So, it was with some trepidation that we rented a cottage for a week in Prince Edward County (population: 25,258).

As we walked around the place we had rented, my son muttered that it would be a “really nice place if it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere.”  And to be fair, Cherry Valley, where we were located, is a bit small. On the main drive, there’s a store called The Store in Cherry Valley. The use of the definite article isn’t much of an exaggeration.  A little farther down the road is a sign for a store called “Fixaco,” but on the store itself is reads Texaco. Maybe you should fixaco that.  But subtle delighted awaited.

We hit a couple of farmer’s markets on the weekend. First Wellington, which, if truth be told, was really an artists market. Sure, sure, there were people selling fresh fruit and veg, but most of the stuff was designer crafts or bottled or baked food stuffs. Bought some cupcakes and some amazing hot sauce. The next day we went to a second market in Picton. Picton is approximately three times the size of Wellington, so you might reasonably expect its market to be larger as well. You’d be wrong. It was tiny, and probably half of the sellers, we had seen the previous day in Wellington. Still, the town itself was nice, small town Ontario:  A limited number of stop lights, confusing right-of-ways, one-of-a-kind stores and a general sense of calm. Even the boy began to relent: “People are friendlier here than in Toronto.”

Monday was the busiest day. We had breakfast at the Drake Devonshire (a branch of the Toronto hotel) in Wellington overlooking Lake Ontario, then headed off to wine country. We stopped at Norman Hardie near Hillier, then went over to Broken Stone Wineries which is owned by the family of a friend of my daughter’s.  As we mentioned the connection between their daughter and ours, I realized we were buying a bottle.  The wine was really good though. A quick look at an alpaca ranch and a lavender farm (filled with aging white people and home.

Tuesday, I made a serious miscalculation. I’ve known I have horse allergies for a few years. A while back, a friend of mine was competing in some kind of horsey thing and we went to support her. After about ten minutes of sitting in the gallery, I realized I could barely breathe. The next time was at an open air event in Ottawa, and I made sure not to touch any of the horses. No problems this time. Ah ha, I thought, I’ve cracked it. So when the family decided to go horseback riding, I assuming as long as I didn’t overly touch the horses, I’d be fine.  Inside the stables, the air was fetid and I had a stab of panic, but when we stepped outside, everything seemed fine. I was pretty pleased when I was easily able to get on the horse with some grace, and I felt like Gary Cooper. But you can’t help patting he horse, can you? Shortly after we left, my skin began to blotch, then itch, and then swell. Within an hour, my arms, legs and neck were swollen, and I could hardly see out of my right eye. Horses are magnificent creatures; however, they seem to want to kill me.

The final days were spent at Sandbanks Provincial Park, which is a beautiful park with some magnificent beaches at the west end of Prince Edward County. We walked some nature trails, although the warning about lyme ticks made us all overly worried about mosquitoes – at one point on our walk, I noticed blood running down my leg, and there was a moment of panic, but it was probably a scratch from a branch. The final day was at the beach. I’m not really a beach person – the sun and I don’t really get along, but smothered in sun block, I’m good for a couple of hours.

But that was really only half our trip. The rest was well, doing nothing. Sitting by East Lake, reading. Just reading. Fiction, essays, philosophy. Just relaxing. I’ve never really understood the appeal of cottage country (and my family doesn’t own a cottage), but I think I get it now. I’ve been back in Toronto for a week, and at times it’s an assault. The cars, the people, the noise.

Of course that’s what makes the city exciting too. A medieval proverb had it, the city air makes you free. Free to reinvent, free to reimagine, and probalby free from the informal tyranny of the countryside where everybody knew everybody and everybody’s business.

The countryside can be crushingly monolithic. In culture, in attitudes, in what was acceptable. When I lived in Antigonish, Nova Scotia in the nineties, those who lived in the town itself were dismissively labelled “townies,” and if your family had arrived less than a few generations back, you were still an outsider. But that’s going to change in PEC. The multi-million dollar homes are already there, and every town we drove through had some kind of middle income development in progress. Capitalism is coming. OK, it’s already there, but you know what I mean. Within a decade then…

 

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Vacation. Stop.

July 15, 2016 at 12:19 pm (Uncategorized)

I realize one of the many reasons why I’m not a journalist is that I’m not very good with deadlines. I have a Kills piece I’m half-finished, along with something on the Tragically Hip and scalpers. This week I had planned to write something about Black Lives Matter and the events in Dallas. Then the Sanders campaign came to an end, andIi thought I should have a go at that. Then yesterday, the atrocity in nice.

And now I’m going on vacation for a week, which means little to nothing will get done.  It’s probably just as well I’ll miss the Julie Ruin and Mitski while I’m away – two more pieces I won’t complete.

But hey, I will have time to work on a talk about geography I’m giving at this year’s Toronto anarchist bookfair – my talk is on the Sunday afternoon. And I’ll be tabling both days. More details here 

Phew.

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