It’s Not Too Late Jon Stewart

July 22, 2015 at 1:23 am (Uncategorized)

If I were Jon Stewart,  I might seriously be reconsidering my decision to leave The Daily Show faced with the prospect of an extended Trump campaign. As Stewart put it after the McCain blow-up, it’s a projectile vomit of dickishness.

There can be few people who think Trump could ever be the Republican candidate let alone win the presidency, but surely the Democrats must be thinking about how they can encourage Trump to hang in. After all, even those of us who hate both parties can’t help but derive a certain pleasure in watching one of capital’s twins tear itself apart in such an unseemly manner.

Still, it’s worth noting that Trump’s earlier racist comments about Mexicans passed the Republicans virtually without comment. And at the conference where he made the comments about McCain, attendees’ main complaint about Trump was that he occasionally used salty language, and he didn’t seem to be a born-again Christian.

Really Jon, you’re still going to quit?

PS As I was writing this, I heard Trump had given out Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number at a rally. It’s the gift that never stops giving. Why, it takes me back to those golden years when Rob Ford was the mayor of Toronto. When was that again?

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Bread and Circuses; Mostly Circus

July 16, 2015 at 9:52 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s the end of the first week of the Pan-Am games in Toronto, and it’s the third week of HOV madness on some of the roads in the city.

I have to say that the games themselves have made little direct impact on my consciousness. I have a vague sense of Canada winning this or that, but it’s really not a source of interest for me.

Or too many others it seems. When Toronto wanted to bid on the Olympics a few years back, there was a vigorous opposition mounted (“Bread not Circuses”). For Pan Am, opposition is muted.

But I digress. There is one thing. Right now I work around Broadview and Danforth, and since I live in Don Mills, the quickest way to get to work is the Don Valley Parkway. Except that now, the DVP’s three lanes are restricted to two lanes with the third reserved for high occupancy vehicles (3+), motorcycles, buses, taxis and those with passes for the games. Oh, and a lot of pickup trucks, vans of any size, those willing to risk a $500 fine and three points on their licenses (like the former Mayor Rob Ford who admits to driving in those lanes because HOV “is a pain in the ass”) and a lot, and I mean a lot of police vehicles. It’s a crawl.

The funny thing is that the city seems to have decided that now is a good time to do construction on all of those other routes that people avoiding the Don Valley Parking lot might try.

None dare call it conspiracy? OK, I think it’s more likely the people making the decisions pay no attention to the broader picture.

But, here’s what it might look like: Underfund public transportation so that driving a car becomes more attractive. Then block off lanes, so that like water finding its level, people spill into the HOV lanes only to be ticketed by the vastly increased police presence.

It’s a circus alright, but one that seems to consist only of clowns. Can I have some bread now please?

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July 10 ____

July 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm (Uncategorized)

A friend of mine once told me that birthdays are good for you; the more you have, the longer you live.

So I plan to have a lot. Actually I plan to live forever (So far, it’s going really well)

So…

Nikola Tesla, John Simms, Jessica Simpson, Alice Nutter, John Calvin, Camille Pissarro, Marcel Proust, Blind Boy Fuller, Joe Shuster, David Brinkley, Jake Lamotta, Fred Gwyn, Alice Munro, Ron Glass, Arlo Guthrie, Virginia Wade, Ronnie James Dio, Kim Mitchell, Rick Emmett, Neil Tennant, Cindy Sheehan, Bela Flek, Adrian Grenier, and me.

Happy Birthday

 

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The Age of Selfishness: The Continuing Appeal of Ayn Rand

July 10, 2015 at 1:52 am (Uncategorized) ()

“When I was a kid, I read Captain Marvel and Superman comics. I didn’t read them because I was a big, strong guy like Cap or Supe;  I read them because I was a skinny kid. I loved reading about Superman because I didn’t resemble him at all.

“That, I think, helps explain Ayn Rand’s lasting appeal. Rand’s fans are rarely the sort of intrepid, self-reliant go-it-along entrepreneurial heroes she writes about. Rather, they’ve typically spent their lives in the comfortable embrace of large institutions, going from school to university to corporation, or from think tank to government and back again. If Paul Ryan – a government bureaucrat if ever there was one – loves reading about John Galt or Hank Reardon, it’s  because he doesn’t resemble them at all.

“Not that we should dismiss Rand. It’s easy to call her writing ‘badly executed on every level of language, plot and characterization,’ as Thomas Mallon wrote in the New Yorker in 2009, or to mock her ideas as ‘stuff that seems very deep when you’re nineteen years old,” as Bill Maher put it in 2013. But judging her books as literature or as serious social science misses the point. Her books, like Superman comics are fantasies. And fantasies are powerful.

“The fact that Rand’s novles, despite their numbing length, are fundamentally simplistic- even, well, cartoonish – makes the fantasy more compelling, not less.”

Michael Goodwin, Introduction to The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality, and the Financial Crisis by Darryl Cunningham.

I confess I never read Ayn Rand’s work in high school or university;  I was a Lord of the Rings man. Sure, I read some of her ‘shorter’ pieces, but the general flavour of it seemed to be a pseudo-intellectual justification for petty selfishness written in such a turgid, didactic style as to be virtually unreadable.  But apparently, it is readable.  So many conservatives cite her work as inspirational, could I have missed something? And her work still sells. In vast quantities. Surely there must be something there?

Well, I suspect that many who cite her influence didn’t make it through the cannon, but rather relied on the Cliff Notes account (is there such a thing) or the Wikipedia entry. It’s just a way of  appearing deep and scholarly while acting out of simple greed.

Rand herself though presents a massive range of contradictions and inconsistencies, and oddly enough supported a whole range of positions that would make many a neo-con wince, not to mention those who didn’t think unfettered capitalism was a panacea for all the ills of society:

  • She hated feminism, but believed abortion was a right.
  • She despised Christianity and was an unrepentant atheist.
  • She disliked Reagan
  • She thought homosexuals were disgusting, but she disapproved of laws against homosexuality.
  • She believed that native peoples’ were savages and felt that their displacement from land was OK because they hadn’t developed it.
  • She also believed that tobacco had nothing to do with lung cancer even after she developed lung cancer (She was a heavy smoker all her life)
  • At the end of her life took medicare payments and social security, arguing that this was not hypocritical, but rather she was just taking back what was owed her, it having been stolen earlier in the forms of taxes. Erm, Ayn, everyone does that. (Does this make you a Welfare Queen?)
  • And she paid lip service to intellectual independence only to surround herself with sycophants, casting into the darkness those who disagreed with her.

There’s a new graphic novel biography of her called The Age of Selfishness. The first chapter dealing with Rand’s life and her  numerous blind spots about her own ideas and behaviour are dealt with in a very readable way. The second chapter which deals with the recent financial crisis is less interesting as it holds the standard interpretation that the crash was caused by greedy bankers looting the store rather than a problem endemic to capitalism. My own views are better explained in Internationalist Perspective. The third section delves into the psychology of selfishness and human nature and is the least interesting in my opinion.

Still, if you’re hungering for more people mocking the libertarian  loon, check out John Oliver’s bit How is She still a thing?

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Fall is Coming; Get Out Your Wallet

July 2, 2015 at 11:19 pm (Uncategorized)

If you live in Canada, you’ve no doubt heard the joke that there are two seasons in Canada: Winter and July.

Not quite true, but the shortness of summer is keenly felt. More so by the fact that the back-to-school ads, reminding us that the cold weather is just around the corner, seem to get earlier and earlier. “It’s only a matter of time,” I said to a friend, “before they’re running back to school ads before school has finished.”

Jul 1st, I was watching TV when an ad came on for a Buffalo car dealership and its Labour Day sale. Not quite, but close enough.

I smile when I hear people complain that the holidays (especially Christmas) have become so commercial. You’re kidding, right? Capitalism is an economic system where everything becomes a commodity, something for sale.

You don’t want everything in life to be reduced to a sales pitch, let’s make a system where the basis of life isn’t the value-form.

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Not Quite Another Normal Day

July 1, 2015 at 2:13 pm (Uncategorized)

Canada Day. Ooh, Google picture. And that’s about it for me. But my daughter decided she wanted to photograph the Scarborough Bluffs at sunrise.

So, we got up at 3:45 and drove to the beach with her, my wife, sister-in-law and niece.

It was dark when we got there. Dark and foggy. It stayed foggy until well after sunrise.

Still, it was cool to be there. I felt like starting my Gothic romance set in the 18th century in the wilds of Scotland Canada. I don’t have any desire to live in a rural environment, but sometimes it’s nice to get away from the city (even better when you can do this and not leave the city)

I still don’t care about Canada Day, but it was a good way to begin.

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Music Notes June 2015

June 30, 2015 at 9:56 pm (Uncategorized)

Ready for summer?

1. Prodigy – The Day is my Enemy

Well, I don’t know if the Prodigy will ever make another record as good as The Fat of the Land (recently re-released in a deluxe format), but The Day is My Enemy is a pretty good attempt. I’ve seen a few reviews that suggest this is just a re-tread, but listen to  the title track, “Nasty” and the Sleaford Mods collaboration “Ibiza” and see if that matters.

2. The  Psychedelic Furs – The Psychedelic Furs

I bought this album a year or so after it came out, and then the CD version twenty years after that. If Roxy Music were punks and did a lot of other drugs then maybe. From the sad otherworldly “Sister Europe” to the irony-laced “We Love You,” it’s an amazing record. Still not crazy about the two minutes of barely audible noise at the beginning of the record, but no one’s perfect.

3. The Strypes – Now She’s Gone.

New album Little Victories coming soon.

 

4. The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

The Rolling Stones have produced some of the greatest records of the last century, although my general feeling is that as a band they have been crap longer than they were great. Still, Sticky Fingers is a great record, and likely fans will shell out for the admittedly quite excellent remastering and the bonus disc of alternative versions and live cuts. Still, don’t you feel a little bit cheated? Especially since if you want to get the bootleg Get Your Leeds Lungs Out, you have to pick up the super deluxe version of whatever it’s called. Mick, I know Keith doesn’t care, so do you really need the money this badly?

5. Richard Thompson – Still

Richard Thompson. Jeff Tweedy. Nuff said? Available in regular and deluxe formats.

6. Various Artists – Sherwood at the Controls volume 1: 1979-83

A compilation of early Adrian Sherwood productions including stuff by the Fall, Shriekback, Mark Stewart and an ultra-rare Slits song. Very cool.

7. Marie Osmond – “Karawane”

Sure, sure, I always had a soft spot for “Paper Roses,” but this is off the chart. Marie Osmond performing Hugo Ball’s Dada sound poem “Karawane.” Nothing I can say does it justice.

 

8. Rachel Kushner – Flamethrowers

Last month’s Music Notes piece was given over to books. This one didn’t make the list and it’s not even about music, but Kushner’s novel has that rock and roll energy, resistance, the joy of being young and so forth. Quite stunning.

9. Led Zeppelin – “Sugar Mama”

So this is the buzz. An unreleased outtake from 1968 will appear on the Coda reissue coming next month. Yeah, it’s a pretty good blues jam, but it’s not the Holy Grail either. There’s usually a reason why such tracks are never released. Good, not great, but still worth a listen.

10. Various artists – Wanna Buy a Bridge?

Released in the early 1980s as a Rough Trade sampler, it may be the best post-punk compilation ever. The Pop Group, the Slits, the Raincoats, Cabaret Voltaire, Swell Maps, Delta 5, Still Little Fingers and more. Not a miss in the box.

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Burn Baby Burn

June 29, 2015 at 11:51 am (Uncategorized)

Or not…

In the days before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling about gay marriage, right-wing anti-gay Rick Scarborough made the following statement:

“We are not going to bow, we are not going to bend, and if necessary we will burn.”

Scarborough’s comments were immediately interpreted to mean if the court OK-ed gay marriage, he would set himself on fire. Wow! You’re so committed to this course of hatred and bigotry, you’d set yourself ablaze to make a point. That beats that Australian couple who threatened to divorce if gay marriage was legalized there.

But the court ruled and…

Scarborough’s publicist clarified that Scarborough was referring to a spiritual “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,” and he  meant they would resist.

Ah, Rick, you mean you made an old semi-obscure reference placed in a different context which was misinterpreted by people in an overly literal sense. Sort of like how many read the Bible to justify their beliefs.

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Notes on Charleston

June 25, 2015 at 4:38 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s difficult to write commentary on the mass shootings in the U.S. that happen with disturbing frequency (a study I read in the Times on the weekend suggested they average one every three weeks), mostly because there are so many of them, but also because the narrative changes so quickly.

So, here are a few memorable troupes.

1. It’s the War on Christians (again)

The attempt by Fox and Friends among others to paint this as an attack on religion, and using a failed black republican candidate pastor E.W. Jackson, who has called gays a plague and was OK with the three-fifths compromise, to do it.  To be fair to Fox and Friends, this was before the Dylann Roof was arrested,  and even after that  Mike Huckerbee, Rick Santorum and a number of Republican presidential candidates said the same thing. However, the very idea that the victims were targeted because they were Christians is, as one wag put it, like saying 911 was an act of architectural critique.

2. Barack Obama on auto-pilot.

How many times has Obama given this speech? 12, 13 times? You would have thought someone could have hired a software designer to write a program for him that just spit out the relevant details whenever this happens.The notion of gun control was floated, but if the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook couldn’t produce change, you have to wonder what will.

3. The False Flag Brigade

Almost as soon as the news event happened, the conspiracy industry began geering up. On the right, it was those who saw this as the Obama administrations attempt to take away guns. (why worry – if Obama’s agenda has been to take away guns, he’s not very good at it) And on the “left,” there have been suspicious mumbling about how the security apparatus could have missed someone like Roof. The only possible conclusion? They created him like Lee Harvey Oswald. Actually you only have to read the comment section in pretty much any on line forum to read these opinions.

4. The Rick Perry Misspeak

A day after the shootings, Rick Perry was on TV giving his opinions. During the segment, Perry referred to the shootings as an accident. Twice. A spokesperson later insisted that Perry merely misspoke. He meant to say “incident. ” Odder though, was the attempt by Perry to link it to prescription medication given to vets (Perry’s pet issue)

5. The Von Clownstick Bluster

In his speech announcing his candidacy for president, Von Clownstick made a number of ugly slanders  and argued that most Mexican who came to the US were murders, rapists or criminals (along with a few good people, he conceded – huh). After the killings, Hillary Clinton argued rhetoric like Von Clownstick’s contributed to such events. The response on Instagram:

“Wow! It’s pretty pathetic that Hillary Clinton just blamed me for the horrendous attack that took place in South Carolina. This is why politicians are just no good. Our country’s in trouble.”

And again, I note, these are the best and the brightest America has to offer?

6. The NRA: Blame the Victim

NRA Board member Charles Cotton hands down wins the tone-deaf comment award

“He [Rev. Pinckney] voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”

Cotton, you may remember, wrote in January that spanking a child may prevent people like Cotton having to shoot them when they get older. Uh huh. Because the reason for the rise of violent criminals is not enough spanking, right?

The NRA though distanced itself noting that individual board members do not speak for the organizations, in other words a weasel excuse.

8. Oh, you mean the Confederate Flag is a symbol of Racism?

I will say, the collapse of support for the Battle Flag of the Confederacy surprised me. You’d be hard pressed to find someone in favour of keeping the flag. Of course, a few whined that Republicans were being unfairly tarred with being flag defenders when it was the Dixiecrats in 1948 who were responsible for its rebirth – true enough, but given that Nixon’s “Southern strategy” was win that racist demographic for the Republicans, the criticism does seem a little thin).  But since everyone’s an anti-racist now…

And that’s it.

Under this entire discussion, racism and gun violence, are discussed as simply individual acts, as bad decisions that bad people make. The notion that these things are built into the structure of society is outside of the bounds of polite conversation; the territory of the crazy. And yet, by viewing the fraying social fabric of U.S. society and beyond as simply the result of bad choices rather than a fundamental problem with social organization, the problem will only continue and worsen.

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Sir Christopher Lee R.I.P.

June 14, 2015 at 5:38 pm (Uncategorized)

I must have been in my early teens, so it must have been in the late 1970s. I was looking for something to watch on TV (we had three channels, so it didn’t take long to run thorough the options). I stopped at a movie. Obviously a horror film. Four travellers stop at a mysterious castle. One is lured in to a crypt and murdered; his body is hoisted above a tomb, and as his blood drips down, smoke pours out and a hand emerges. Dracula reborn. The film was Dracula: Prince of Darkness starring Christopher Lee.

I quickly discovered that the station, might have been BBC 1, but it might have been ITV, was showing the old Hammer horror films on Friday night. I saw the Gorgon, Plague of the Zombies, the Reptile, and pretty much all of the Dracula films starring Lee.  And of course it was Lee’s Dracula that drew. There was just something about him. In Prince of Darkness he has no lines I remember. But like Lugosi before him. Lee commanded by his very presence.

Lee appeared in many other classics: The assassin Scaramanga in the Man with the Golden Gun, the treacherous Saruman in Lord of the Rings, and the equally treacherous Count Dooku in Star Wars, but the film you really need to see is The Wicker Man in which Lee plays the leader of a pagan community on a remote Scottish island, Lord Summerisle.

His death last week at the age of 93 marks the end of an era of British acting, and for me a link with a part of my youth.

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