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).

Cheers.

 

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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

Ghostbusters

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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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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