Music Notes June 2011

June 30, 2011 at 5:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Hey hey, it’s June’s list of good things to hear…

1. Stornaway – Beachcomber’s Windowsill

Yeah, yeah, read my review of the show. Probably my favourite album this year from last year. Irresistably catchy pop-folk. Do yourself a favour.

2. Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers – LAMF (the Lost 77 mixes)

LAMF’s legend looms larger than the record. Recorded in 1977 with a notoriously muddy sound mix which led Jerry Nolan to quit the band, it contained pretty much all of the Heartbreakers’ songs (except for Too Much Junkie Business – never properly recorded) . In the mid 1980s, the album was remixed and rereleased, revealing it to be, as everyone already knew, a really great rock album (It’s worth picking up the Jungle edition CD which pairs it with Live at the Speakeasy). Finally, a third remix which pushes the guitars up and maybe, maybe, this the definitive version.  

3. The Ramones – subterranean Jungle

Ah, the difficult seventh album. After the commercial failures of End of the Century and Pleasant Dreams, subterranean Jungle sounds a bit like a last-ditch attempt at a pop record. While it’s still the Ramones, and so not without its charms, it all sounds a bit too polished. The vocals too clear, the guitars mixed back, etc. It was their last record with Marky too. Still there are the usual fine covers (Little Bit of Soul, Time has Comes today etc) and Psycho Therapy is classic Ramones. And never fear, the next record. Too Tough to Die was a triumphant return to form.

4 Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi

Now if you’ve got Nick Cave and Brian Eno in your corner, who’s gonna argue? But the truth is, even without such celebrity endorsements, Anna Calvi would still be brilliant. Twangy Duane Eddy guitar, a touch of Edith Piaf and something unique to Calvi make for this astonishing good debut.

Watch this video for Blackout  and not be convinced; I dare you. 

5. Mark Stewart – Edit

Once upon a time there was a group called the Pop Group who were anything but. Punk+Beefheart+Nietzsche and you’re getting close. Their record For How Much Longer Can we Tolerate Mass Murder? was the first place I heard the Last Poets. Then came the split. Pigbag, Rip Rig and Panic and…Mark Stewart. Stewart hocked up with On-U Sound genius Adrian Sherwood and created brilliant claustrophobic records like Learning to Cope with Cowardice. The new one Edit is a bit looser, but still has some tremendous beats and the politics of paranoia. Apparently there’s a film about him too.

6.  Sloan – Smeared

I admit I’m not a big fan of Sloan. Ah, but time was… twenty years ago, my wife was in film school and made a couple of short films with Fiona Highet who was the girlfriend of Andrew Scott, Sloan’s drummer. And around the same time, this magnificent record came out. Perfect summer pop.

7. Anika – Anika

Hmm, if Nico sang for Portishead? Well, no, but Geoff Barrow is involved with this project of German singer-journalist. A little off-putting at first but it grows with repeated listens. And if you think you’ve heard every version of Dylan’s Masters if War, think again.

8. Bob Dylan – Bringing it All Back Home

This was the first record I listened to after finishing work for the summer. On the electric side, the music’s not much, and Dylan never could sing, but somehow his wordplay makes it all work (it doesn’t hurt that She Belongs to Me and Love Minus Zero/No Limits are among the prettiest songs Dylan ever wrote.) The acoustic side speaks for itself, but ending with It’s All Over Now Baby Blue is such a sad moment. worth listening to over and over again.

9. Neko Case & Nick Cave – She’s Not There

Recorded for the new season of True Blood, the thing sounds as if it was recorded in a box. The sound is muffled, sweaty, creepy. Rather like the show. Get a copy here. Phew.

10. Ultravox – Systems of Romance

Call me a snob or a purist, but it’s the last Ultravox album to have. The stuff with Midge Ure is a different band. Only the name remains. Systems is filled with gloomy gothic splendor. A lovely introduction to John Foxx’s solo work.

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Russell Smith on Literary Luddism

June 26, 2011 at 4:11 pm (Uncategorized)

This column appeared in Thursday’s Globe and Mail .

I’ve been in Chapters and picked up their e-book readers. Then I put them down again. I just can’t quite get my head around the idea. I love the book. The physical book. I understand if the hard copy weighs 8 pounds that an e-book might be appealing. Yet the pitch is carry your library around with you. I own an Ipod, so the library argument is superficially appealing, but I usually select a book I want to read on a trip to bring with me. Seldom am I so indecisive that I need to take 12 books with me (I don’t read that quickly either) .

Anyway, here’s Smith’s piece.


After hearing of the first self-published author to sell a million e-books on Kindle – the crime writer John Locke, who accomplished this feat last week – I knew I had to at least get an e-reader. I was already envious of my spouse’s e-reader: She had won a Sony Pocket Edition reader in a literary competition a few months earlier. It’s small and light and sleek, and I wanted it.

I watched her set it up. To read books on it, you need a computer, and then some software, and you don’t actually put all the books you buy on your device, you have them waiting for you on a Sony server and you access them with your computer and then put them on your reader through a unique USB cable.

Let me tell you about this USB cable: It is very rare. It is only available in-season and in certain specialty markets. If you lose it – which my spouse immediately did – you can no longer read. You may try, as she did, to go through all your boxes and drawerfuls of cables and plugs for all the other defunct devices in the house. You will find that all USB cables look eerily the same but are actually not. You may also, as she did, visit a series of electronic stores in a series of malls looking for this crucial piece of wire and buying substitutes that are promised to work and don’t, and you may well find this more enjoyable than reading. It is good exercise.

While she was going through this I was stuck into a crafty and hilarious and embarrassingly paper-based novel by Jessica Grant called Come, Thou Tortoise. I had bought this at a reading that the author gave. It took me a couple of weeks to get through, by which time my partner had obtained a brand-new MacBook Pro – another thing I was envious of. This combination of newest technologies – the superfast silver computer and the sleekest little silver reader – promised to be an exciting interaction.

But then she could download no books at all. The Sony e-reader is not compatible with the new Mac. She made a few long technical-support calls. The MacBook is too fast for the device, explained a technician, so you have to slow down your operating system. You change it from a 64-bit to a 32-bit kernel; no problem, you can change it back again when you need it to be fast.

It is of course useful for all of us to learn how to do such things with computers, and I should have paid attention, but I was on to another (embarrassingly paper) brilliant book: Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? It’s part novel, essay and memoir and, like Jessica Grant’s book, it made me laugh out loud on several occasions. It was unfortunately not available yet at the Sony e-book store. Maybe some day. Anyway, my partner got onto the online forums and started deciphering the jargon-y suggestions about how to make your e-reader work with a Mac. (There is important information on these forums about sync-ing issues as caused by the auto-sync feature.) You can download a free program called Calibre that will translate all your e-book files into readable formats. Actually there are a couple of third-party e-book programs that you can download; there is a bit of research to do about this.

She did change the kernel, or whatever you call it, to 32-bit, and the thing worked for a day or so, but then the Mac automatically updated its operating system and it reset itself. No e-books could be opened – although she had paid for them and they were sitting waiting for her somewhere. She found and bought the rare and expensive USB cable, which is now useless.

I am currently almost through a poppy Taschen book called Photo Icons: The Story Behind the Pictures, which is two volumes of short entries about famous photos. It is quite light in content but it does function well without a USB cable.

My partner finally solved the technical problem of the inaccessible books on the server: She went to a bookstore and bought them. Her technological education has now been interrupted by reading. We had better get back to our computer study soon, though; obviously the future of literature contains a great deal of electronics.

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NXNE 2011: Devo et al

June 26, 2011 at 1:27 am (Uncategorized)

The extent of my participation in the annual North by North East Music Festival is usually to attend the free shows at Dundas Square. Last year was Iggy. This year it was Devo.

At 7 PM though, I caught the New York buzz band Cults. Apparently they had played a pretty good set at Lee’s Palace the night before, but here they were for free in the day time.

The two piece band of  Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin were expanded to a five piece tour band, and the result was a somewhat rougher mix than the record.  

Musically the band follow in the footsteps of others, most notably the Raveonettes, who love a fifties style pop mixed with a bit of Phil Spector then covered it with feedback drenched guitars. Not an unpleasant mixture by any stretch.  Cults played a half hour or so set to an appreciative crowd

I skipped Men without Hats for obvious reasons. The Thai food I got up the street seemed a much more sensible bet.

When I returned at about 9:20 for Devo it was dark and there were a lot more people in the square.

The appeal of Devo is a bit of a mystery. Their bit hit was 1981’s Whip It, but appart from that,  they were a bit of a cult band. The first album Q: Are we Not Men? A: We Are Devo which birthed  the whole de-volution mythos scored a minor hit with a truly inspirational cover of the Stones Satisfaction, but otherwise didn’t make much of an impact in the broader milieu ( I do remember seeing the surreal Jocko Homo video on the Old Grey Whistle Test when I was a kid – see it here  )

Devo began in Ohio at the end of the sixties. In fact, several members were students at Kent State during the massacre and knew some of those that were murdered on the campus. Devo mixed art, rock, and a theory that mankind had ceased to evolve, but was now de-volving. (Today they point to the emergence of Sarah Palin as evidence)

Devo hit the stage at 9:30 with “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)” in front of  a video backdrop of constantly changing images. And one thing was immediately evident, Devo’s songs were astonishing catchy electronica. Other (non) hits followed, Peek-a-boo,. Girl U Want,  and finally just before the break Whip It.

After Whip It came a break with a video and voice over explaining some of Devo’s theory, and then the band triumphantly returned  to Satisfaction. If the first half of their set was about New Wave Dance Musci, then the second half was about the punkier side: Secret Agent Man, Uncontrollable Urge, Mongoloid, Jocko Homo and more. 

Devo raced through costume changes, and even threw Devo hats to the audience (Note to those like myself standing near the back – you can buy the hats and hazardous waste suits through the Devo Site ).

I went to the show with low expectations. I thought it might be fun, but if it got too corny, hell, I didn’t pay for it. Came away with a different point of view. Not bad for a bunch of old guys. 

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Natacha Atlas at the 2011 Luminato Festival (Toronto)

June 22, 2011 at 2:04 am (Uncategorized)

I don’t really believe in synchronicity, but a week back I picked up a copy of Now magazine and the programme for the Luminato festival fell out. I picked it up. Ten minutes later as I waited for the light to turn green, I happened to glance at the programme which was on the passenger seat. Flipping through I discovered that Ms. Atlas was not only playing a show in Toronto, but it was a free show. Down for that.

I got to the show around 1:50 to discover the park was pretty much empty (it didn’t help that the area in front of the stage had no cover for such an astonishingly hot day). People were hovering around the outskirts under the trees. 

Me? I flopped down in front of the stage and sat for a while in the heat listening to the opening band, then fearing my pale unsun- blocked skin might not survive I beat a hasty retreat to the Mill Street enclosure for a refreshing beer.

At 2:05 , Toronto’s Minor Empire took the stage. Minor Empire are a relatively new Toronto band who’ve just released their debut CD Second Nature. Fronted by singer Ozgu Ozman, the band blend traditional Turkish sounds with western psychedelia and electronica. It’s probably not to everyone’s liking, but the music had a hypnotic sway in the sweltering heat. Slowly, slowly, the crowd warmed (sorry about that), and by the end of their forty minute set, many people had ventured from the trees to get a better look.

While the vocals and rhythm was very effective, the band occasionally moved into a more trippy sound, and for me, lost their way; however, those moments were not the centre part of their seductive set.

At 3:10, it was time for the main event. Natacha Atlas

First of all, I should thank Curtis Price of Collective Action Notes for turning me on to Natacha Atlas. Years ago he gave me a Trans-Global Underground CD, and I fell in love with the vocals. I don’t have all of Natacha’s albums, but I have most of them (picked up the new one Mounqaliba at the show)

I’m not going to be able to name the songs in the eighty  minute set, but in addition to the many Arabic songs, including two by Lebanese superstar Fairuz, she sang in French and English, ending the set with her version of screaming Jay Hawkins “I put a Spell on you.”   

It’s really hard to explain how this music affects me, but there;s just something which draws me to my feet.  I stood about twenty feet from Natacha loving every moment of the set. If you’ve never seen her, she has a magnetic stage presence: Graceful and enchanting. I don’t believe in God, but I’ve oftne thought that the voices of certain singers might make for a good argument. Do yourself a favour here.  

Found this video from the show

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Father’s Day 2011

June 19, 2011 at 1:10 pm (Uncategorized)

Sorry for the gushy tone of this one, but I’d say it’s OK once in a while.

A week or so back, a friend asked me if my kids thought I was cool. without a second’s hesitation I replied, “No. ” Later on, I asked my daughter the same question, and wanting to avoid further ridicule, I provided the context. The result was the same, although her denial took the form of a raised eyebrow and a wry smile.

So it was strange to read a piece in the Globe and Mail entitled Sorry, Dudes. Your dad is hipper than you.  Read for yourself and judge, but it’s partly the ide of blogger Brad Getty who compiles dads stylin’ on his blog Dads are the Original Hipsters .

And you can take the Globe quiz. Oddly, the quiz in the print version is longer, and includes the question for supposed proof of hip-ness ‘did your dad ever wear a fanny pack?’  Proof of coolness? Er, no.  

Can you appear cool to your kids? Probably not.

Still, when my son brought me a little Father’s Day thing he made in class, it didn’t really matter. It’s a great thing being a dad.

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Whatcha doin’ this weekend? (Free Music in Toronto)

June 17, 2011 at 1:17 am (Uncategorized)

It’s a busy weekend here. I’m not going to mention the Much Music Video Awards, but there are two significant music/culture festivals which wrap up here this weekend

First is the Luminato Festival which started last weekend and finishes Sunday. Basically a multi-disciplinary festival of music, dance, theatre, literature etc. Big show for me is a free Natasha Atlas concert 2PM Saturday at the Festival stage near Metro Hall. Ms Atlas is a Belgian singer who performs in Arabic, English and French. She is absolutely wonderful.

Second is the North By North East music festival. Saturday is the big free show at Dundas Square. Last year it was Iggy. This year it’s Devo at 9:30. Will check that out, and possibly the Cults as well.

See ya.

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The Physics of Atheism

June 16, 2011 at 1:04 pm (Uncategorized)



The Physics of Atheism

by Andrew Zak Williams

If there’s one thing that best-selling author and physicist Victor Stenger loves, it’s a good story. That was probably the first thing I noticed when we spoke in his home study on a crisp early summer morning in Lafayette, Colorado.

Stenger is one of the most prominent atheist science writers of the last decade, so I was curious to know where his antipathy toward religion came from. His answer has taken me on a 40-year journey from his student days at UCLA, to meeting his future wife while singing in a Methodist church choir, and on to being a physics professor at the University of Hawaii. After ten minutes, he hasn’t even reached the part where he became an atheist so I feel that I have to interrupt him: “You sang in a church choir?”

“Religion and atheism weren’t matters which I thought a lot about,” he explains. “It wasn’t until the eighties that that changed. That’s when it really started to annoy me how science, and in particular physics, was being abused by religious people. My concern was that they were misusing science to come to conclusions which they had reached only for religious reasons. That’s probably when I realized that I was an atheist.”

As he talks, Stenger takes in the impressive view from his study window, albeit one that narrowly misses the nearby mountain range. A pristine copy of his new book, The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning—released in April—sits on a shelf behind him. As with his previous works, it’s a physics-heavy debunking of theistic claims for the existence of God. And judging by the sales of his recent books, it will soon be adorning plenty more shelves.

The Fallacy of Fune-Tuning (book cover) 

It has been his stance against the purported science of Christian apologetics which has made Stenger’s name. His first foray into their territory came with the 2003 book Has Science Found God? “I felt that I made a contribution to the question of Intelligent Design,” he tells me. “I read William Dembski’s book Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science & Theology. He had something in there called the Law of Conservation of Information. He claimed that the amount of information output by a living system could never exceed the amount of information input without the involvement of an intelligent designer. As a physicist I knew that that wasn’t true because information is linked to entropy, and the entropy of a closed system can increase with time. And so I explained in my book how Dembski had got it wrong.”

Clearly Intelligent Design, and its requirement for a divine meddler in the laws of science, irks him. “There is nothing in the realm of human knowledge that requires anything supernatural, anything beyond matter, to describe our observations. I am almost one hundred percent certain that the God of Abraham worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims doesn’t exist. This God supposedly plays such an important role in the universe that there should be evidence that he exists. That was the theme of God: The Failed Hypothesis.”

That was the book which, in 2007, granted him best-seller status. According to Stenger, “My publisher was really surprised and wasn’t ready for it, never having had a bestseller before.” Suddenly, seven years after his supposed retirement, it was his book which arguably set the benchmark for atheistic science writing. It has been so successful that now, in his mid-seventies, he finds himself being frequently invited to address physics conferences where it is hoped that his name will add a certain pizzazz.

But there is a downside to his so-called retirement. “Since I left full-time work, I’ve spent time with many well-off elders who listen only to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, and get a distorted, religion-based view of political reality. They also are tremendously self-centred and lacking in compassion for the needy and lower classes in society.”

Perhaps that is why he is inclined to spend so much time locked in his study, penning a steady stream of physics texts all containing a straight-to-your-face atheistic slap. His latest book is dedicated to his friend, Christopher Hitchens. After all, “he is the only one of the ‘four horsemen’ who regularly credits my work. And his courage is an inspiration.”

God: The Failed Hypothesis (book cover)Order the book from Amazon

It was Hitchens who wrote the Forward to God: The Failed Hypothesis in which he drew attention to Stenger’s passage dealing with the fine-tuning argument. The theistic argument goes like this: if the laws of physics were even slightly different than how they are, none of us would exist; therefore there must be a God who made the laws that way. It is a topic on which Stenger has written numerous times. But why did he dedicate a whole book to it now? “I hear Christians raise the fine-tuning argument so often and I am sufficiently expert to address it,” he explained. “I have always been interested in these types of basic questions.”

It is an issue about which numerous physicists have reached very different conclusions. The most frequent answer that skeptics raise in response to the fine-tuning argument relies on M-Theory. This developing theory attempts an overarching union of the five versions of string theory. The ten dimensions of space that follow from the mathematics of M-Theory allow for the conclusion that an imponderable number of universes— a Multiverse—have been and are being spontaneously created, all with different laws of physics. And so it is no surprise that we find ourselves living in the one whose laws of physics allow us to exist. Stephen Hawking made headlines last year when his book The Grand Design, co-written with Leonard Mlodinow, lent his support to this theory.

Sir Roger Penrose, an atheist, rejects the fine-tuning argument, but for wholly different reasons. He argues that M-theory is unscientific. According to his theory of Conformic Cyclic Cosmology, the beginning of our universe (or as he prefers to call it, our “eon”) was also the end of a previous one. He does not rule out the possibility that his theory could be extended to provide for a process of constantly successive eons, each with different laws of physics. We happen to live in the one with bio-friendly laws.

On the other hand, best-selling science writer Paul Davies largely accepts the fine-tuning argument and believes that the universe must be the product of some kind of intelligence, albeit not a god in the conventional sense.

Yet for Stenger, fine-tuning is a fallacy and so there is no case for atheists to answer. They simply do not need to resort to Multiverses or to cyclical universes. His book discusses each of the usual examples of fine-tuning that Christian apologetics raise. He applies well-established physics, seeking to demonstrate that in each case, “the parameters of physics and cosmology are not particularly fine-tuned for life, especially human life.”

For example, Stenger agrees that the ratio of protons and electrons in the universe is sufficiently precise as to enable life to ultimately form. However that does not mean that there was the need for a divine being to intervene to ensure that the ratio was correct. He writes, “The number of electrons in the universe should exactly equal the number of protons because of charge conservation, on the reasonable assumption that the total electric charge of the universe is neutral—as it should be if the universe came from ‘nothing’ and charge is conserved.”

Similarly, it is true that the universe would have collapsed before it reached its present size if its expansion rate at one second after the Big Bang had been lower by as little as one part in many billions. However he explains that the expansion rate was automatically very close to the critical rate due to the energy density of the universe.

The Grand Design (book cover)Order the book from Amazon

But I wonder why most writers and academics don’t share Stenger’s opinion. He swats away the question, pointing out that he is the first person to systematically go through each of the specific theistic claims of fine-tuning. “Generally speaking, physicists shy away from attacking religious claims directly. They are not under direct attack the way that biologists are. But dealing with these kinds of claims is my niche. And I’m one of only one or two physicists who are confrontationists.”

Perhaps his confrontationist personality trait is in his genes. His book tells of the determination of his Lithuanian grandmother who risked catching a terminal disease when she nursed a sick neighbor who would later become her husband. After they married, her husband moved to the U.S. looking for work. When she hadn’t heard from him for two years, she took a nightmare journey to America with three children in tow. This was in 1908. Despite not speaking a word of English, somehow she managed to find him. The family then settled down nearby, where their son later met his future wife and had a child, Victor Stenger.

“The point of my little story,” he explains, “was to illustrate that simply finding a low probability for something happening doesn’t preclude it from happening. You have to compare alternative probabilities.” And for Stenger, it is far more probable that human life evolved in a universe without God twiddling the knobs to set the laws of science than it is that there is such a divine being in the first place.

The book doesn’t hold back in its criticisms of leading Christian apologetics such as Hugh Ross and William Lane Craig. Stenger even lists in bullet-form what he considers to be their mistakes. For instance, they “misunderstand and misuse probability theory.” They also fail to consider “that with the hundreds of billions of planets that likely exist in the visible universe, and the countless number beyond our horizon, a planet with the properties needed for life is likely to occur many times.”

That word “confrontationist” leaps to mind again. But what is it about religion that has him spoiling for a fight?

“Religion does not offer comfort,” he tells me. “In fact, the opposite is true. I knew several Catholic families, relatives and neighbors, who lost children in childhood. Despite their priests compassionately assuring them that it wasn’t their fault but God’s will, they never believed it. The rest of their lives they lived in misery, blaming themselves. They figured they must have committed some sin that God was punishing them for.”

There are more stories where that came from, and it is apparent that even a cerebral individual like Stenger cannot help but be influenced by what he sees around him. “I’m close to a family who are part of a Protestant cult,” he continues. “The wife was mistreated and died young of drug addiction and alcoholism. And even though the husband had a Ph.D., the daughters weren’t encouraged to go to college because the cult looked at females as inferior and there to serve men. Unsurprisingly the girls have gone on to have troubled lives.”

However, there is a sparkle in his eye. “I won’t live to see it,” he says, “but someday religion will disappear from the face of the Earth. It has to. It is too evil and too absurd.” The disappearance of religion from the face of the Earth? Now, that would be a story worth telling.

From the Skeptics Society  

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Memories of Imants Krumins

June 10, 2011 at 11:51 pm (Uncategorized)

It was with shock and much sadness that I read about the passing of Imants Krumins on June 9, 2011 . 

In 1983, I started at McMaster University in Hamilton. Pretty soon after, I began to volunteer at the student radio station CFMU, and before I knew it I had my own show. There were a number of ‘local legends” working at the station. The first I met was Bruce “Mole” Mowat. Bruce hosted an evening in the burrow, and you couldn’t help but be impressed by his encyclopedic knowledge of music. There was also another guy of interest.  

This guy did the Monday midnight slot, so he was rarely around the station in the day time. He liked punk and hardcore, and had a delivery that reminded me of John Peel.  But there were stories: He was in his thirties; he worked in a bank, he lived with his parents. (the first two were true; don’t know about the third).

Eventually I met Imants. He was a genuinely nice guy who really loved music. In the third year I worked at CFMU, I had the slot before Imants’ show, so we often talked about various bands and records. I remember a conversation about the Jesus and Mary Chain, which he thought were fantastic, while I shrugged (I stand corrected – they are fantastic).  Radio shows, live shows, the Gown and Gavel. I won’t say we were close, or even that we were friends, but he was part of a circle of people who cared about music, cool music, that I admired.

I moved away from Hamilton in 1987, and saw Imants rarely after that. The last time I saw him was three years ago at the Hamilton Anarchist bookfair. We talked for a while and that was that.

Imants Krumins was only 59. Far too young to go.

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Paul Mattick jr. “Business as Usual”

June 6, 2011 at 11:23 pm (Uncategorized)

Paul Mattick junior has a relatively short but very readable account of the crisis out called Business as Usual. The book is a collection of articles he wrote for the Brooklyn Rail, which appear in an edited form here.

While I have a different view of the roots of the crisis to Mattick (See Internationalist Perspective’s examination of the tendency of  rate of profit to fall here), the book is a useful summary of the crisis and the absurdity of capital’s attempt to control the system. (There’s a fairly positive review by the Socialist Party of Great Britain  here )

The final page is reprinted below:


In relation to such possible developments, there is a positive aspect to the disappearance of the Left historically; Left organizations, seeing their own existence and influence as central to the success of any revolutionary struggle, typically obstructed the exploration of new ideas and modes of action by activated masses of people. But, in any case, the main forms of organized Left activity – the parties, unions, and radical sects that had roles, sometimes important ones to play in the development of modern capitalism – have lost those roles. People will therefore have to develop new forms of organized activity, if they are to respond  to the ongoing collapse of capitalism by constructing a new social system. Nineteenth-century names like ‘socialism,’ ‘communism’ and ‘anarchism,’ tied to the now-defunct Left whose inspiring visions have been historically entwined with conceptual inadequacies and institutional monstrosities, may no longer be useful for naming this new system, the other world anti-globalist protesters call for, which is as necessary as it is possible. Whatever it is called, it will need to begin by abolishing the distinction between those who control and those who perform the work of production, by replacing a social mechanism based on monetary market exchange (including the buying and selling of the ability to work) with some mode of shared social decision-making adequate to a global economic system. Even if the economic difficulties inherent in capitalism would thus be obviated, the ecological problems capitalism has created would of course remain, requiring full application of the creative human energies a radical social transformation would unleash. But it is clear that the precondition for a desirable human future requires us to move beyond the increasingly dysfunctional system, subordinated to the imperative of private profit-making and capital accumulation, through whose most recent crisis we are now moving.

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Leaflet from Madrid “Que se vayan todos”

June 4, 2011 at 3:39 pm (Uncategorized)

Find below the English translation of a leaflet written and distributed by some people at the protest encampment in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol plaza. This ongoing encampment (“acampada”), with people actually living together for days and now for more than two weeks in these plazas, is part of a nation-wide movement involving at least 60, and perhaps as many as 80, cities across Spain, involving tens of thousands and perhaps over a hundred of thousand in all. The movement has called itself various names, including Real Democracy Now (“Democracia Real Ya”), Spanish Revolution (in English), and Take the Plaza (“Toma la Plaza”), and the participants refer to themselves as “los indignados”. While Real Democracy Now has been the most prominently used of these, it is clear from this leaflet that there is some difference of viewpoint on the question of Democracy. The people in the encampments have formed assemblies to discuss their shared situation and what they think should be done to change it. Protests in the plazas began on May 15 under the slogan “we are not commodities (merchandise) in the hands of bankers and politicians”, primarily by young people who are painfully aware of the bleak future facing them in this society. But the movement quickly developed into one encompassing all age groups. It has also spread to various other countries, including Greece (where there have also been many thousands involved), Italy, and France, and on a smaller scale to almost every European country




We were many over these last days, who have flowed into the streets to protest. All of us identify with the rejection of politicians, trade unions and bosses. Above all, we realize that we have reached the limit. We are tired of being the pariahs of this world and can no longer accept that a few people fill their pockets and live like kings, while all the others must tighten their belts ever more in order to maintain the health of the sacro-sanct economy. We know that to change all that we must struggle on our own, outside of parties, trade unions and other representatives who want to take charge of us.

Above all, this reality raises a fundamental question that affects the whole world: the contradiction between the interests of the economy and that of humanity. That is what our rebellious brothers in North Africa understood perfectly, that is what we understand here today: when the situation becomes unsustainable, we have to come out and fight. We have borne the unbearable; we have suffered the worst deterioration of our living conditions in decades. But finally we have said enough, and here we are, expressing our rejection of this entire infernal system that transforms our lives into commodities.

We definitely want to express our clear-cut refusal of the label of citizen. This label is tagged onto all people, from the politician to the unemployed, from the trade union boss to the student, from the richest capitalist to the most miserable worker. Completely antagonistic lifestyles are all mixed up. For us this is not a citizen’s struggle. It is a class struggle between exploiters and exploited, or between proletarians and bourgeois as some say. Unemployed, workers, pensioners, immigrants, students …we’re all part of the social class onto which fall all the sacrifices. The politicians, bankers, bosses… belong to the other class which profits, also to a greater or lesser degree, from our impoverishment. Those who do not want to see the reality of this class society, live in a dream world.

So, here we are, protesting in many public squares of many cities around the country, and it is time to reflect, it is time to concretize our positions and to clearly orient our practice. For sure, there is great heterogeneity. There is a confluence of comrades who have struggled for a long time against this system, others who are protesting for the first time, some for whom it’s clear that it is necessary to go “all the way:(“we want everything, now” says a banner at the Puerta del Sol). Some speak of reforming certain things, others still are disoriented, others just want to show that they have had enough … And we must not ignore that there are also those who are fishing in troubled waters, those who want to channel the discontent on order to neutralize its force, taking advantage of the indecision and the weaknesses that we manifest.

Something that we have discussed with many comrades is that our strength is in this rejection, in this movement of negation of everything that prevents us from living. That is what has forged our unity in the streets. We believe it is necessary to continue this way, to deepen and to better concretize our rejection. Because our strength comes from this negation, it is clear to us that we’re not going to solve our problems by demanding a better democracy, as some do, not even by demanding the best democracy we can imagine. Our strength consists in the rejection that we manifest of real democracy, the democracy “of flesh and bones,” that we suffer from day by day, and which is nothing other than the dictatorship of money. There is no other democracy. To strive for that ideal and wonderful democracy is a trap, the praises of which have been sung since our childhood.

In the same way, what’s at stake is not improving this or that aspect or life, because the essential condition will still be the dictatorship of the economy. It’s a matter of completely transforming the world, changing everything. Capitalism cannot reform itself; it must be destroyed. There is no intermediary way. It is necessary to go to the root of the matter; it is necessary to abolish capitalism.

We have occupied the streets a few days before the parliamentary circus [the regional elections in Spain], where whoever is elected will carry out the directives of the market. Good, this is a first step. But we cannot leave it at that. We have to continue the movement, to create and consolidate structures and organizations for the struggle, for the discussion between comrades, to confront the repression that has already struck us in Madrid and Granada. We have to realize that without social transformation, without social revolution, everything will continue as before.

We call for continuing to demonstrate our rejection of the spectacle of the electoral circus in all possible ways. We call to say everywhere: “Out with them all!” But we also call for continuing the struggle after Sunday, May 22. So that we can go much further than we already have. We cannot let the bonds of solidarity we are building perish.

We call for the formation of structures to carry on the struggle, we call for contact among us, to coordinate the battle, to struggle in the assemblies that are being created, in order to make them organs for fighting, for conspiring, for discussing the struggle, and not meetings of citizens. We are calling to organize ourselves throughout the whole country to fight against the tyranny of the commodity.




-BLOQUE “¡QUE SE VAYAN TODOS!” (The “Out with Them All”- Bloc)

May 19, 2011

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