Trump Unbound!

October 16, 2016 at 9:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Or is it unhinged?

With Trump’s announcement last week following the release of his lewd schoolboy tape, a second disastrous debate and the spectre of the Republican Party ‘s disintegration,  that he was glad because he would no longer be shackled, and was free to be himself, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who though, fuck, do you mean he was holding himself back at this point?

In the week or so since then, Trump has reacted in characteristic ignoring polls he doesn’t like, lashing out on Twitter at his usual targets (which has been expand to included the Republican party itself), promoting the idea that he is winning and that the election is going to be stolen from a vast liberal-globalist conspiracy against him. It isn’t really helping that as Trump accuses the women who have come toward about his sexual harassment of being liars (gee, I wonder why they didn’t come forward earlier?) , he’s also argued they aren’t pretty enough for him to assault. Circle the wagons and shoot inward boys.

So as buffoonish, misogynist, racist, homophobic… (add the rest, the list is too long) as Trump is, you have to wonder then why he has remained in contention for so long. Now it might be true that the contest between Clinton and Trump is the only election either of them could win, but how is it that Trump draws such support from people from whom he has spent his life trying to create distance?  In other words, how much of a factor will Trumpism continue to be after Trump has likely gone down in flames on November 28th or whenever he thinks the election is?

My guess is that Trump himself will not stick around, and his “movement” (which on many levels is nothing more than a tribute to his own narcissism) will immediately splinter.I can’t wait to see  Trump lose (he really is a vile bully) because I really want to see the Twitter tirade of sour grapes that follows (hell, it’s already started).  but Hilary Clinton will be no alternative.

The following editorial from the online newsletter Insurgent Notes was written before the campaign started to implode, makes some interesting points.


President Trump?

It just might happen. What seemed, a year ago, like a laughingstock candidacy is now a plausible winner in the wildest political year (and there is still the forthcoming “October surprise”) since 1968. No matter what happens, the old US party system is broken. Donald Trump is like no major candidate in living memory. Just as one had to reach back to Eugene Debs to find a candidate as seemingly radical as Bernie Sanders, finding a serious precursor to Trump is even more difficult. The quiet eclipse of Sanders in August guaranteed that many of his ex-supporters will stay home or vote for the Green Party. Respectable official society, including a good swath of the Republican establishment and even the normally “apolitical” military, is either in withdrawal or openly supporting Clinton. Generals, diplomats, foreign policy wonks and the New York Times all agree that a Trump presidency will be a disaster. The Financial Times sheds tears over the possible demise of the “internationalist” (read: US-dominated) world order in place since 1945. Such declarations make no difference; if anything, they only add to Trump’s “anti-establishment” credentials and panache.

The situation shows important parallels to the Brexit vote in Britain in June; there, the entire political and academic establishment, “left” or “right,” came out to “remain” in the European Union, and something like a class vote (albeit mixed with other less savory elements) came back with a big middle finger. That is what is brewing in the United States. What is occurring is nothing less than a (very) skewed referendum on the past 45 years of American politics and society, and those who feel they got the short end of “free trade” and “globalization” think they have finally found a voice, even as Trump’s economic program, such as it is, is a chimera. Just as in France or in Britain, the new right-wing populism does not make its inroads in the wired yuppie metropolitan centers of Paris or London, but rather in the passed-over middle and small towns, including towns where gentrification has forced the former urban working class to relocate. So it is in the United States, where Trump does not play well in the San Francisco Bay Area or in New York City, but in the medium, small-town and rural preserves of the “unnecessariat.” We might also see the rise of Trump-style authoritarian populism in a disturbing global context, one that includes the ongoing advances of the far right in western Europe (France, Scandinavia, Austria and now Germany), in eastern Europe led by Hungary and Poland, along with Putin’s Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey and, most recently, Duterte in the Philippines.

It is perhaps remarkable that, in America’s supposedly “middle class” society, the white working class is being discussed and catered to as the ultimate arbiter of this election. So unprecedented are the politics of 2016 that mainstream ideology suddenly feels the need to talk openly about the working class it previously disappeared or took for granted. UAW bureaucrats and AFL-CIO blowhard president Richard Trumka scurry hither and thither to convince the union rank and file not to vote for Trump.

Trump, for his part, when able to stay “on message,” has made disarmingly lucid speeches about what has happened to workers in the decimated former heartland of mass industry, the key “swing states” of the Midwest. The hard-scrabble white working class of the former mass furniture industry in Virginia and North Carolina is also easy pickings for Trump, not to mention the West Virginia miners and ex-miners turned off by Clinton’s “green” agenda. And why should we be surprised, when the main surprising thing is that for the first time a candidate of a major party has bothered to talk directly to such workers about what has happened to them in the past decades, in contrast to the feel-good rhetoric of the Walter Mondales and Bill Clintons and now of Hillary Clinton? Saying “America never stopped being great,” as Hillary Clinton and the Democrats do, is already ideology run amok, and is even colder comfort to ex-industrial workers in the heartland, to a large swath of black people north and south, or to poor whites in Appalachia and elsewhere, currently subject to the highest death rates in the country by suicide, drugs and alcohol. We should not overlook, when identifying the class fractures at work, the role of identity politics, so rife in the metropolitan centers, in fueling the rise of Trump. Identity politics always had and has an explicit or implicit “suspicion” of workers qua workers, just as they have been supremely indifferent to the dismantling of the old industrial heartlands, which ravaged communities of white, black and brown workers alike. The rise of Trump is in part payback for the decades of condescension and barely concealed contempt for, or at best indifference to, the fate of ordinary working people rife in elite academia, the corporate media and the higher-end publishing world of the New York Times and posh journals of the chattering classes. Trump is a racist, you say? A misogynist? An immigrant and China basher? Yes, he is all those things, but these accusations from the garden-variety left and liberals do not get to the heart of his appeal as an “anti-establishment” figure. His apparent base does also have the highest per capita income of the major candidates and ex-candidates (Clinton and Sanders), indicating that he has forged a coalition of middle-and upper-class whites with some white workers and poor whites, itself rather unprecedented. All these groups have in common a conviction that the older America they knew is being replaced by an America with a blacker and browner working class, and multiple immigrant groups from East and South Asia, and from Latin America. Last but not least, Trump has indeed brought many elements of the far right, the David Dukes and gun-show crowd, into broad daylight, allowing them to emerge from the dark corners of the alt-right, and “freed their tongues,” as one of them put it, from the dominant “politically correct” atmosphere. Whether Trump wins or loses, such forces will not be going quietly back into their previous relative obscurity. To conclude, these advances of the far right and authoritarian populism around the world are the mirror of the failure of the moderate “left” which has collapsed into the happy family of center-right/center-left consensus of the past 45 years, led by the Tony Blairs, Francois Mitterands and Gerhard Schroeders in Europe and by the Jimmy Carters, Bill Clintons and Barack Obamas in the United States, and now joined by Hillary Clinton. Such forces are no stop-gap barrier, as many “lesser evil” theorists would have us believe, to the ascending right, but rather feed it, making it and not a serious left, of the type Insurgent Notes aims to help bring into existence, the apparent “anti-establishment” alternative to the status quo.


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Allah-Las: A Very brief Review

October 1, 2016 at 6:32 pm (Uncategorized)

The Allah-Las are from Los Angeles. And it’s a California sound, albeit filtered through the sensibilities of Nuggets and the third Velvet Underground album.

I arrived late at their Lee’s Palace show last week after a fairly nightmarish drive, just in time to catch the last song of the opening act. Lee’s was packed, and an already hot night was hotter still within the venue. The only respite was when people exited to smoke on the sidewalk.

The Allah-Las came on stage around 10:30. The band didn’t really present a lot of frills. No real stage moves, minimal conversation with the audience, just concentrating on the sound. And pretty good it was. It’s often a cliché to say all of a band’s songs sound the same, but for the Allah-Las, it’s kind of true. Some fast, some slow, but all with a slightly psychedelic garage flavour over-laden with a Velvets drone.  I quite forgot how hot it was.

Hot night; hot band; good show.

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Music Notes September 2016

September 30, 2016 at 10:35 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s that time again

1 Jack White – Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016

A two-CD set of acoustic favourites drawn from throughout White’s career; many you’ll know, some B sides, remixes and a few unreleased gems. Basically though, it’s worth hearing to note how White is able to take those old blues structures and do something new with them. There’s a bunch of interesting tunes including my current fave title “Honey, we can’t afford to look this cheap.”

2 The Mekons –Existentialism

OK, you get a live recording of the band in Red Hook, a 96 page book complete with essays, sketches and poems, and a link to a video. Now, the sound on this record is a little thin because of the nature of the recording (the band crowded around a single live mic), but there’s a warmth and a joy that goes with any Mekons record that more than makes up for it.

3 Tricky – Maximquaye

Tricky’s debut is his best. Hip-hop. blues, garage, soul and more on this one. There’s just a feeling that rolls over you. It’s also available as a deluxe edition with unreleased versions and remixes which are not essential, but worth a listen.

4 The La’s –  The La’s

Possibly by most popular album ever to be disowned by its main architect. I don’t care what Lee Mavers says, this is a brilliant record. I hadn’t listened to this in a while, and had forgotten just how perfect “Timeless Melody” is.

5 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

After a cataclysmic event, there’s a tendency to view everything through that lens. After Ian Curtis’ suicide Closer was dissected as an extended suicide note. After the death of Cave’s son last year, there is a tendency to view with album as being all about Arthur. There’s certainly a possibility, but the songs stand. The fist half focuses on Cave’s vocals, with the music almost an afterthought, but the second part of the album seems a return to a fuller songwriting. After listening, I wondered whether this might not have been more successful as a book of poems or as a spoken word album.

6 The Pixies –Head Carrier

After the relative disappointment of Indie Cindy, I worried about this album. No need. It’s not one of the original four, but how could it be? Decades have passed and a Firefly reunion is more likely. No, it’s a brilliant new record with crackling songs in that classic Pixies sound but is still fresh. Cool.

7 Billy Bragg and Joe Henry – Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad

There’s always been a romantic sensibility about the train. Travelling across the plains , the hobo hitchhiker etc. (This can quickly be cured by taking a 12 hour trip from Toronto to New York and you realize what train travel has become – the boy is still complaining  year later) But I digree. No longer the angry young man, Bragg is making quiet Americana-esque records that are a pleasure to listen to.

8 Iggy Pop – New Values

Maybe the Ig’s first  solo album without Bowie’s involvement. I remember buying the first single from this, “Five Foot One” as a picture disc (sure that must be worth a few bob). New Values
is a new wave album by your cool uncle.

9 Sultans of Ping FC- Teenage Drug

My wife is watching a show called Moone Boy. It’s a comedy with the brilliant Chris O’Dowd, but the closing credits are accompanied by the song, “Where’s me Jumper?” by Sultans of Ping FC. Now imagine that the Sweet came after not before punk and you can imagine what this might sound like: loads of songs about being teenage (even though the band gleefully concede they’re in their twenties), rock ‘n’ roll, drugs, hot Japanese girls etc. Even a Yoko Ono cover. Loads of fun.  (Oh, I should mention, the song from Moone Boy is on their first album. Teenage Drug is the second)

10 Prince Buster

Cecil Bustamente Campbell died September 8, 2016. It’s probably too much to say without him, there would have been no ska music, but his contribution was enormous. Like many the first I heard of his work was through 2-Tone: the Specials’ first single “Gangsters” was a reworking of Buster’s “Al Capone'” and Madness both took their name from one of his songs and covered “One Step Beyond for their second single. The best thing you can do if you want to assess the man’s contribution is to listen to his work.


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Looking for some Cool Art in Toronto?

September 21, 2016 at 3:13 pm (Uncategorized)

Here’s an idea.

It’s always great to know people who are more talented than you; you look better just by knowing them. I’m going to mention two artist friends.

Joylyn Chai currently has work on display at the Pape Library (a few steps south of Danforth). I really like how Joylyn takes simple ideas and makes them into something wonderful and unique.

Alanna Cavanagh is moving. If you’re an artist and you want to live in her lovely apartment, just her blog for details. If you’re a lover of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, you might know that Alanna has done the illustrations for the latest catalogue (her work can also be seen on TTC buses)

Work from both of these fantastically talented people currently grace my home, and it should be in yours as well.


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I HEART MEKONS – Live at the Horseshoe 2016, a Review

September 18, 2016 at 3:10 pm (Uncategorized)

It was a perfect English summer day: Light intermittent rain; warm enough not to bring a coat, but with occasional chilly gusts that made you wish you’d brought one.  That and watching the second season of Detectorists  put me in the perfect frame of mind to appreciate the Mekons, a still-standing class of 77 band now based in Chicago; a punk band who don’t quite play punk anymore, but are not a fraction less essential for that.

The Mekons were in town to play TURF – the Toronto Urban Roots Fest, a three-day show down at the Fork York Garrison Common whose name pretty much sums up the event. As in previous years though, in additional to the festival, acts appearing at TURF often play club shows , and for those fortunately attendees, this year, the Mekons played the Horseshoe. (And if you’re reading this before 8:30 PM on September 18, you still have a chance to catch the band  as they close out the Rebellion Stage at the festival.

It was a late show, so I decided to forgo opening act Simone Denny, and arrived around 11:30, half way through Skinny Lister’s set. Skinny Lister is a British folk-punk group who reminded me a lot of The Men They Couldn’t Hang, who play a similar style and are equally energetic. For me, it felt as if the band were trying a little too hard, but that was probably just me. The audience at the Horseshoe were certainly into them, and people sitting near me after the set, had come to see them and not the Mekons.

12:30. Mekons on stage. If Skinny Lister seemed a little forced, the Mekons were their polar opposites. The band were a DIY punk band, but in the mid-eighties began to incorporate other sounds, folk, blues, country, salsa, dub, into their sound and created something quite unique in the process.  If you haven’t seen in, check out the2013 documentary The Revenge of the Mekons to catch up and to hear a hilarious U2 story.

Live, the band is a seeming contradiction. A band which perpetually seemed on the verge of falling apart on stage, but somehow produced some of the tightest, most exciting rock and roll you’re likely to see anywhere. A band who seemed completely natural, just concerned with giving the audience a great time. The band opened with “Memphis Egypt” from The Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll, and then blasted through crowd favourites like “Millionaire,” ” Hard to be Human,” “Last Dance” and more through a 65-minute set. Aided and abetted by Dallas and Travis Goode of the Sadies. The band even found time for a couple of new songs from the new record/book Existentialism (recorded in Red Hook during the summer of 2015, the package consists of a live CD, a 96 page book of essays, poems and drawings along with a link to a video – it was great listening on the trip home)

After a lengthy set, two sets of encores concluding with the anthem-like first single “Where Were You?” the band said goodnight, and shortly after 2AM we stumbled into the night to go home. The Mekons played the Horseshoe last in 2006 (Yes, I was there). Don’t feel bad you missed last night’s show. You still have nine hours until tonight’s show. Else you’ll have to make the trip to Chicago to see them there (actually, not a bad idea).



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Fan Expo and Nerd Culture Round Up – Summer 2016

September 11, 2016 at 6:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Of course the other thing about Labour Day in Toronto is that it means that Fan Expo has just finished.

The four-day extravaganza of nerd culture featuring comic books, science fiction, games, horror  and everything associated with all of those genres. Celebrities, cosplayers, workshops, games, cool free stuff and more draw over 130,000 people down to the Toronto Convention Centre. My son and I have been going for years; this year was no exception. But before we do that, I thought it worth writing a few worlds about some of the stuff that’s gone on recently


I saw the original Ghostbusters the day it came out, and loved it. I still love it, although some of the effects are dated. The controversy over the new female reboot is, well, really a non-issue. Boo hoo, if casting women in your favourite movie has ruined your life/childhood/ whatever. It couldn’t have been much of a life to begin with, could it? Yeah, yeah, I love SF, but it’s a movie.  And even the greatest movie of all time (and Ghostbusters certainly isn’t) is just a movie. Now, I read reviews that suggested this was the funniest movie of the summer, and others that thought it was a piece of shit. It falls between, although closer to the former than the latter. The principles acquit themselves with honour, some clever cameos and nods to the original, and there are genuinely hilarious moments (although my favourite is still Andy Garcia’s reaction to being compared to the Mayor from Jaws. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Melissa McCarthy, but Kristen Weig is always worth watching, and Leslie Jones was very funny too (Haters STFU). But for me, the real genius was Kate McKinnon.

Suicide Squad

Another weird one. The opening buzz about the film was very good, but perhaps this was based on a stunning trailer revolving around Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” As the release date drew closer, little negative murmurings could be heard, and when Rotten Tomatoes published negative reviews, things went crazy. Again, the “fan” community overreacting to…a movie they hadn’t seen either. It’s a fun movie with some funny moments, but the pace does feel rushed, the use of music is clumsy, and overall the story doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Did I like it, yeah, but again, it’s just a movie.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

OK, I do have mixed feelings about re-unions. I know everyone wants a Firefly reunion, but it’s never going to happen and maybe that’s a good thing. No reunion means we get to keep our pristine show. It’s always better to leave people wanting more, not less (Simpsons, are you listening? It’s too late now anyway) So, with a new Harry Potter book, I wondered would it add, detract or merely be another chapter. Those who care about the book have already read it, and formed their own opinions, so mine doesn’t really matter, but for what it’s worth, I was quite happy with the story. We all wondered what would happen to the characters after Voldemort’s fall, and here’s a partial. The dialogue was good, and the themes consistent with Potter canon. However, at times the plot seemed to reply too heavily on earlier works, and the evolution of Draco Malfoy seems too speedy within the context of the story. OK, OK, I do want to see it when it invariably tours.

So, onto Fan Expo.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been buying Premium tickets which has the added virtue of allowing you to enter through a side door and avoiding some lines. OK, not the VIP which are $500, but still nice enough. There’s also a premium lounge where you can chill far from the madding, and they are that, crowd.

Thursday: It’s a walk around. We cruise the floor, get books signed (thank you Jason Loo, Fred Kennedy, and Klaus Jansen), and buy stuff. Fan Expo opens at 4PM, but if you buy a deluxe or higher pass, you get in at 2. It’s worth noting though, that if you haven’t picked up  you wristband before, you’ll still be waiting outside come  2 o’clock – a painful memory I can tell you. The Boy nad I picked up our stuff earlier in the week and so we got to walk onto the convention floor at 2. It’s really quite lovely. You have space to walk around, and you actually get to try somethings without having to wait too long. The Boy played a Lego Star Wars game, and we got our pictures taken by Canada Post for a Star Trek promo. Nice! There’s not much in the way of forums or celebrity stuff on the first day, so you’re pretty much free to wander without distraction. Bought an anti-matter t-shirt, and my dog is now the proud wearer of a Firefly collar 

Friday: I was unable to attend, and missed Jewel Staite from Firefly. Oh well.

Saturday: The busiest day of the con. We arrived around 11, and just wandered for a bit. Part of the Fan Expo experience means that depending on which line you were in for one thing  you might not be able to get into something else. The Boy and I had two plans. The first was a photo-op with Morena Baccarin (I know, I know). Photo-ops are a bit crazy, and depending on the celebrity and when you booked, it can be a bit of a meat grinder. We got to say hi, click, and we were out the door. I was pretty happy with the picture though, so what the hell? Now, the Boy had wanted to see Hayley Atwell from TV’s Agent Carter, but that wasn’t until 4PM, meaning we had a few hours to kill. So we headed down to the biggest hall in the building to see John Barrowman of Dr. Who, Torchwood and Arrow fame. Tip here, if you don’t care about sitting near the back, wait until the start of the forum to arrive. There’s always space.

John Barrowman had no host with him. He was the host, and for over an hour, he refused to stop talking. He ran about, he told very R-rated stories, and he entertained. The Boy, who didn’t understand  half of what he heard, said he enjoyed Barrowman the most of any he saw. We pulled the same show up late trick for Hayley Atwell, and she drew a smaller crowd. Atwell, who will be appearing in a new TV show Conviction with an American accent, was funny and charming, but not as animated as Barrowman.

Sunday: This was Stan Lee’s last appearance in Canada, and we decided not to go. Instead we wandered some, got our pictures taken on a Star Wars set, and then went to see Ben Mackenzie. Mackenzie is currently starring as a young Jim Gordon on Gotham, but it seemed a good number of attendees were there to hear about his days on The O.C. Our last panel was for Morena Baccarin (again) who has appeared in many beloved SF shows such as Serenity, Stargate, V (the remake), and is currently on Gotham. Oh, yeah, she was in a little movie called Deadpool too.

Why do people go to the Q and A’s? To ask questions, but mostly to see people whose characters they love in in the hope of learning a little more about the show. Some piece of trivia, some funny joke. To take home a little piece. Why do people dress up in costumes? Because it’s fun – for the record, I did not wear a costume, but Deadpool and Harley Quinn were the number one choices.

Comic-cons have been around for decades. Once upon a time (do you see what I did there?), they were small affairs. Now, hundreds of thousands of people and millions of dollars are involved. Will the market become saturated or tastes change? (I’ve tried to explain westerns to my son, but I don’t think he fully gets it) But for now…

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Labour Day 2016

September 5, 2016 at 11:01 pm (Uncategorized)

I attended the Labour Day parade in Toronto every year from 1987, the year I moved to Toronto, until 1995 (the last parade before I move to Calgary in 1996). I marched first as a member of the Alliance for Socialist Action (a predecessor organization of Socialist Action), and then as part of the Bolshevik Tendency. I quit the latter at the end of events on Labour Day 1995.  The following year, I was in Calgary where I lived for two years, and then attended sporadically in Toronto after that. Probably the last time I went was 2001, when I handed out an IWW leaflet.

In Canada, at least, the Labour Day tradition predates May Day as a workers ‘ holiday, and finds its origins in a strike in the 1870s for a 58-hour (!) work week. The first Monday as a public holiday took root in the 1880s and was officially proclaimed as such in 1894. The US holiday was also established in 1894 ostensibly as a reaction against violence against worersd  during the Pullma Stike, but more likely as a peaceful legal alternative to May Day and the spectre of Haymarket.

Labour Day in the 21st century has a strange duality. For the unions, it’s still a time to come out and to officially celebrate accomplishments and to speak in a militancy which is altogether absence from their practice (another post for another day), but more often than not, it’s also an opportunity to shill for whichever capitalist politician the unions perceive is “pro-labour.” (If you watch US news coverage, you’ll see a lot of pro-Hillary stuff today). And that will likely earn you a 15-second soundbite on the evening news.

But for most people in North America, it’s the end of summer. The last long weekend before school starts (my kids go back tomorrow, so right now they’re dragging their feet around the house, trying not to think about it).  The last picnic. Maybe some fireworks. Time to close up the cottage (although everyone hopes for one or two more great weekends), and the beginning of the long relentless trudge towards winter.

In Toronto, the parade is over now. Marchers used to be able to get into the last day of the Canadian National Exhibition for free. Hope you Enjoyed the day off.


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Music Notes: August 2016

August 31, 2016 at 9:03 pm (Uncategorized)

And here we go for the end of summer

1 Various artists – Sherwood at the Controls volume 2

Argh, you need to hear this. Volume 1 was dub and post-punk, and volume 2 is industrial dance music. Beatnigs, Mark Stewart, and a simply amazing track by The Unknown Cases called “Masimbable.” Own it.

2 The Jam – Setting Sons

Conventional wisdom is even numbered Jam albums are weaker than the odd numbered ones. Setting Sons is number 4, and while it has some very strong tracks (“Thick as Thieves,” “Saturday’s Kids,””Burning Sky”) it doesn’t quite hold together Like All Mod Cons or Sound Affects . Interestingly, if you can find  the compilation Extras, you’ll find demos from many of tracks from this album, which I think are actually stronger.

3 Husker Du – Zen Arcade

So after listening to Warehouse, I sought this one out The Beatles of hardcore? Nah, judge it on its own merit; Husker Du remain one of those bands who got stronger with every record.

4 Various artists – Jamaican Explosion

In celebration of its reggae/Marley cover, Mojo put together a comp of ska, backbeat and reggae stuff including Prince Buster and Jimmy Cliff and others, and it’s quite lovely. Mojo comps are pretty hit and miss; this is all hits.

5 The Ramones – Hey Ho Let’s Go

No, no, no. The Ramones were a great live band, but steer away from this thin-sounding neo-bootleg apparently from a radio broadcast. The splices between the songs are sloppy, there are frequent interruptions from a Spanish announcer, and the cover has Dee Dee Ramone playing bass even though he left the band a decade before this recording was made. Not even for collectors.

6 Neko Case, k. d. Lang, Laura Veirs –  Case/Lang/Veirs

Collaborations are a tricky thing, especially when one collaborator, Lang, is a much bigger star than the others. Still, this works well. Great country-pop with amazing harmonies.

7 Townes Van Zandt – Sunshine Boy: Unheard Studio Sessions and Demos

Two CD set of outtakes, alternative versions, covers and odds and ends. Poignant, funny, brilliant.

8 The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust

There’s a five year gap between this record and the previous one Mockingbird Time, but the album flows so effortlessly it’s hard to believe the five decade break. You pretty much know what you’ll get: Alt-country pop. Worth waiting for.

9 Nine Inch Nails – Head like a Hole

Ten tracks, four songs , lots of remixes. I’m not a huge NIN fan, not much of a fan at all really, but this is worth a listen. Driving industrial highlights from the Pretty Hate Machine album.

10 Scottie Moore

Shame on me. Scotty Moore, Elvis’ guitar player, died June 28. Go, listen to the guitar on “Trying to Get to You,” and see what an amazing player he was. (Then check out the rest of the Sun Sessions, if you’ve forgotten how brilliant Elvis was too)

Back to school then.

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Medicine and the Magic of the Market

August 28, 2016 at 3:10 pm (Uncategorized)

“I know I’m gonna use good judgement. I haven’t lost my temper in 40 years, but pilgrim you caused a lot of trouble this morning, might have got somebody killed… and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won’t, I won’t. The hell I won’t”

John Wayne as George W McLintock

And it probably won’t be me either, but I’ll tell you, the next time someone tells me about how the market is the best device for solving problems, I’ll feel those urges welling up.

Now, this particular rant was triggered by a piece I read earlier this week about the epi-pen. For those of you who don’t know, an epi-pen is a medical device designed to deliver a single shot of epinephrine (adrenaline) to someone suffering from anaphylatic shock or a heart attack. The makers of the epi-pen in the US, Mylan, have raised the price from about $100 for 2 in 2007, to about $600 for 2 in 2016.

There are a couple of things worth knowing here.

  1. Mylan has about an 85% share of the market in the US
  2. Mylan made over 1.5B in profit last year
  3. Mylan did not create this product but simply acquired it in 2007, and to the best of my knowledge, it’s selling the same product now as then.

So why did it raise the price so dramatically? Apparently, because it can.  . Now, a short while after the story broke, and various politicians and health advocates howled in protest, Mylan backed down (You know you’re on the wrong side when even even weasels like Martin Shkreli criticize you). The new cost is to be balanced but a complicated system of rebates and vouchers, but it’s interesting to see Mylan CEO Heather Bresch twist herself into pretzel shapes simultaneously trying to justify the rise and also explain how she’s against it. (It’s probably worth noting that Bresch sold $5m in shares the day Mylan’s earning report came out. Even if her MBA is fake, she can see the writing on the wall)

An epi-pen isn’t a vanity item. It’s not like making the choice between buying a $70 pair of Levis and a $1,500 Gucci pair (C’mon, it’s denim for fuck’s sake; how much better can it be?). It’s a potentially life-saving medicine. Or rather, it gives you time to get to hospital. A shot of epinephrine doesn’t nullify the allergic reaction, it merely reverses it temporarily. It gives you time to get to a hospital. That’s why, when people with severe allergies go camping, for example, they often carry two devices, because the effects only last for about 15 minutes.

Now, I’ll confess, there’s a personal angle here. My daughter is allergic to peanuts, sesame, cashews and pistachios. She has carried an epi-pen with her since she was a small child. There have been a couple of situations where she thought she had been exposed to an allergen, but she’s never had to use the epi-pen. I live in Canada, where it turns out, Mylan does not distribute epi-ens. It’s currently, it’s about $125 per pen. Like everyone in Ontario, I have government heath insurance, which…doesn’t cover epi-pens. But, I also have private insurance though my employer, which means the cost is pretty much nothing. Good deal. For me.

Well then, people might say, you’re OK. Except that my access is dependent on employment, which under capitalism is never secure. And many don’t have that access, even in “socialized” Canada. The market certainly provides incentives and is a way to distribute products, good and services alike. But it is the way we want to live? Is it the only way to live? Despite the choices we’re offered in life, I’m going to say “no.”

But, if you believe that medicine should be for those who can afford it. That only the wealthy or those with decent medical plans deserve good teeth, healthcare and access to life-saving drugs, you probably do deserve a belt in the mouth.

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The Power of Words

August 26, 2016 at 7:14 pm (Uncategorized)

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean– neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master-that’s all.”

                                                                                                                                                  — Through the Looking Glass

I’ve spent a fair bit of time studying syntax and semantics, so it’s fair to say that language is important to me. Still, when I see the narrative politicians in particular spin, when sacrifice is used to compare running a successful business to the loss of a child, and bigot to mean, well, I’ll admit I don’t quite know what Trump means. (and apparently neither did Anderson Cooper)

When apologies begin with “If I offended anyone…” (implying that if they didn’t offend anyone, no apology is necessary) , when every comment is supposedly “taken out of context”, when none of it makes sense.

Trump of course is the worst offender here, but then again, he does have “the best words.”

I refer readers to something I wrote in 2009 on Orwell and language, but reading Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language is also essential.

Oh and this song by the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy is worth looking at too.

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