Selena Gomez in Hamilton: Review and Reflection

October 31, 2011 at 4:02 am (Uncategorized)

I almost titled this post after the “Being a Dad” series. Instead, I went with a title that might get me some traffic.

Yup, I took my daughter to her first real concert (I’m not counting the Wiggles). We went to see Disney pop-idol Selena Gomez and the Scene at Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum.

Earlier this year, my 11-year old daughter mentioned that Selena Gomez of Wizards of Waverly Place was playing a show in Toronto and did I think she could go. Like any good parent, I checked, but since the concert was the following week, tickets were, well, impossible to get. Never mind, I promised that should Ms. Gomez return, I would get tickets. Hardly were the words out of my mouth, when the Hamilton date was announced.

And so here we were in Steeltown for the show. Plenty of mums and dads here too. And plenty of Selena fans. And they were young. My daughter, in fact, was in the upper age bracket. So, this was going to be interesting.

Opening act was 17-year-old Christina Grimmie who took the stage at the stroke of 7:00.  Grimmie played an energetic 20 minute set  of covers and a couple of her own songs, but the problem was that it was just her on stage. No band, only a small keyboard, and taped music to sing along to. A strong voice, but in a venue that size, at times it came across as upscale karaoke. A slow build to Selena.

After a short pause, Shawn Desman took the stage. Like Grimmie, there was no band to speak of, and even the backing vocals were pre-recorded, but Desman put on more of a show. He strode across the stage, sometimes accompanied by dancers, and tried to engage the audience. Like Grimmie, it wasn’t my thing, but hey, the audience seemed to like it.

My kid however, like much of the audience, was there for Selena. Selena Gomez, like her friend Demi Lovato, got her start on Barney, but as far as I know, it was as teen-wizard Alex Russo on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place that she got her big break. Yeah, I’ve watched it, and it’s not the worst show on Disney. But to be a star on Disney now, it seems as if you must be able to act (a bit), but also to sing and to dance. That way the House of Mouse can extend your career. Whether or not Selena Gomez will have an acting career reamins to be seen, but muscially, she might have a bit more luck. She’s got her audience.

Gomez  took the stage to mass hysteria at 8:25. She played for a little over an hour, and breezed through the hits and four costume changes. And damn, if it wasn’t a competent performance. No, no, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a convert, but when you look at your kid and she’s wearing this smile that pushes her ears back, it’s hard not to share in that moment

Here’s some grimy video (not shot by me), but you can search You Tube for more.

Sure, sure, some of it was a bit sappy and contrived, and the Britney Spears tribute struck me as odd (I ‘m so old I didn’t recognize the Nicki Minaj song), but I have to say I though “We Own the Night” was a great song.It builds beautifully and Gomez’s delivery was on-target. An interesting experience to say the least.

Set list (courtesy of Wikipedia)

“A Year Without Rain””
“Hit the Lights”
“Summer’s Not Hot”
“Round & Round”
“The Way I Loved You”
“We Own the Night”
“Love You Like a Love Song”
“Bang Bang Bang”
“When the Sun Goes Down”
“Falling Down”
“Super Bass”
“6 Foot 7 Foot” (Instrumental Interlude)
“Rock God”
“Middle of Nowhere”
“My Dilemma”
“Off the Chain”
Medley: (contains elements of the “Chris Cox Megamix”)

..Baby One More Time”
“(You Drive Me) Crazy”
“I’m A Slave 4 U”
“Oops!… I Did It Again”
“Hold It Against Me”

“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”


“Who Says”

Oh, and here’s that song I like:

There, and I didn’t even mention Selena’s Canadian beau.

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Not Much Bread, but a Lot of Circus

October 30, 2011 at 3:20 pm (Uncategorized)

Just a quick follow-up to the Rob Ford-This-Hour-Has-22-Minutes debacle this week.

Within days, the incident devolved into a he-said/she-said situation. Ford admitted to using the F-word, but denied the other stuff. (And in this, he was backed up by the Police Chief Bill Blair). The call to “play the 911 tapes” became louder.

Meanwhile, council voted to privatize garbage collection in parts of the city.

Guess which received more coverage?

Even the story about banning shark fin soup received more prominence.

The point is not to suggest police collusion and media conspiracy (oops!), but rather to look at a broader way that order can be maintained. The capitalist system is quite adept at defusing moments of social crisis into “popular” stories – isn’t there another royal wedding due soon?

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Rob Ford vs…

October 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm (Uncategorized)

Now as a left-communist blogger, I don’t usually get into relating stories about individual bourgeois politicians – I wasn’t particularly interested in the numerous opportunities to “bash Bush” …and support the Democrats? No thanks. In the grand scheme of things, the sexual peccadillo of Berlusconi, the syntax of Sarah Palin, the lunacy of Michelle Bachman, or many of the myriad humdrum examples of bourgoeis politicians being less than perfect.

It’s bread and circuses. A pleasant distraction from larger issues. Still, this story was too good not to comment upon.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, whose best days are in my opinion behind it, has for years satirized Canadian and world politics. One of the most popular characters was Mary Walsh’s Marg Delahunty, whose speciality has been to dress up in a faux Xena Warrior Queen outfit and “ambush” (to use the current parlance) politicians with outlandish commentary and questions. Most play along, happy, more of less, to be seen as a regular guy who can be part of the joke.

Rob Ford, the current mayor of Toronto, has portrayed himself as the little guy throughout his term in office. However, when Walsh came to his house this week in full costume, Ford wasn’t quite so pleased, and looked decidedly uncomfortable.

Here’s the clip.

As is clear, Ford goes back into the house and called 911. He later claimed it was dark (it doesn’t appear to be) and his daughter, who was with him, was scared (she’s not in the video, so either she’s already in the car, and he left her there, or she was still in the house).

But what’s interesting is the story which emerged today. After Ford called 911, he waited a few minutes and then called 911 again.

On the second time he loosed a tirade of abuse upon the dispatchers, calling  them bitches and , in a moment that will dog him forever, ” Don’t you fucking know? I’m Rob fucking Ford, the mayor of this city!” (Great re-election slogan though)

I’d like to thank all the little people. And now back to today’s non-news.

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Happy Birthday iPod

October 24, 2011 at 3:42 am (Uncategorized)

OK, I own an iPod. I never owned a walkman or a discman, but I ponied up for this little device that allows me to carry my entire music library in my pocket. Why? Couldn’t say really. It’s not the sound quality, as MP3s tend to sound tinny and have no bass. Yes, yes, people will tell you it’s really no worse that listening to the radio, and if you have a tube amp, they sound so much more lovely (unless you listen to vinyl or even a CD trough the same amp then compare). But, still it’s hard to argue with the ubiquitiousness of the thing. So happy birthday, iPod. Wonder what’s next?

This article appeared in Sunday’s New York Times.


Happy Birthday iPod!


Daniel J. Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill University, is the author of “This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.”

Oct. 23 is the 10th anniversary of the iPod. Daniel Levitin reflects on the little gizmo and the many ways it has changed our lives — and the way we listen.

Has the iPod brought more music — more rhythm — into our lives?

Yes. The average 12-year-old can hold in her hand more songs than my great-grandfather would have heard in his entire lifetime. Also, digital music is a great democratizing force for musicians. They no longer have to go through the narrow turnstile of record companies.

Does listening to music through headphones — rather than loudspeakers — affect what we hear?

Headphones potentially offer greater clarity, but at the loss of power and low bass response. Another difference with headphones — a team of researchers in Britain just reported that using headphones reduces your sense of personal space on subways: you’re willing to let someone stand closer to you if you’ve got your tunes playing.

Does listening to an iPod affect your hearing?

Adolescents routinely listen to their iPods at levels exceeding 95 to 100 decibels. That’s about the same loudness you’d hear standing near the tarmac as a 747 takes off. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health allows only eight hours a day of 85 decibels in the workplace; more than that, you’re going to damage your hearing. The hair cells in the ear are very delicate. Once damaged, they usually don’t recover.

Is iPod sound quality better or worse than a basic home stereo system?

Worse. The MP3 standard ruined high fidelity. It’s possible to upload CD-quality onto the iPod. But most people opt for the default, lousy quality of MP3 and M4A compression. An entire generation has grown up never knowing high fidelity, never hearing what the artists heard in the studio when they were recording. This is a real shame.

In your book “This Is Your Brain on Music,” you say music works like a drug. Say more.

Listening to music with others causes the release of oxytocin, a chemical associated with feelings of trust and bonding. That’s partly why music listeners become so connected to the artists they like. Plus, the nucleus accumbens — the brain’s well-known pleasure center — modulates levels of dopamine, the so-called feel-good hormone. (This same brain structure is active when people have sex, or when cocaine addicts take cocaine.)

Can music have mood-altering effects?

Lots of people use music for emotional regulation. It’s similar to the way people use drugs such as caffeine and alcohol: they play a certain kind of music to help get them going in the morning, another kind to unwind after work. Brain surgeons perform their most concentration-intensive procedures while music plays in the background.

iPods change the way we “share” music. For one thing, we don’t listen together. So?

Music listening used to be an activity that we did with great ceremony. We’d invite friends over and sit down, pass the album cover around, study the artwork. And when the record started, we’d listen intently together and do nothing else. In short: music listening was deeply social. The iPod has turned music listening into a mostly solitary experience.

iPod Shuffle lets us listen to music in more or less random order. Does this make any difference in how we listen?

Shuffle has given us a new way of listening: mashes, or songs that we might not otherwise put together. When it works, it’s fabulous — we hear Billie Holiday followed by Jimi Hendrix and we can hear the connection between them. But when it doesn’t work it’s disorienting, pulling us out of the hypnotic reverie that good music programming induces.

iPod owners tend to download singles instead of albums. What is the effect of that?

An obvious loss: the album. For decades, artists assembled and sequenced songs to make a larger musical statement, the height of which resulted in concept albums, from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” to Green Day’s “American Idiot.” Breaking an album up into singles disrupts the artists’ original intention for the work. Also, we tend to lose the opportunity to discover songs that don’t jump out at first.

Any science on why certain songs get stuck in our heads?

Scientists call them earworms. We don’t really know anything about the why of them, but we know something about the what. Usually they’re songs that are melodically and rhythmically simple — most people don’t have the “Ring” cycle stuck up there — and it’s usually just a short loop.

How do we get rid of those songs?

The tried-and-true way is to think of another song and hope that pushes out the first one. Here: think of “It’s a Small World After All.”



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Construction Deaths

October 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm (Uncategorized)

The letter below appeared in the October 14, 2011 edition of the Globe and Mail. I made a similar observation in January of this year, but this makes the point succinctly.


Construction deaths

The death of a worker at a subway construction site at Toronto’s York University this week (Trouble In Transit – Oct. 12) should remind us all of the dangerous, extremely valuable work Canadians in construction and the trades perform.

Many workers die in construction accidents across Canada every year, yet they do so in relative obscurity: no huge funerals, mass media coverage or Highways of Heroes for these people. Yet, heroic is exactly what they are. The work that they risk – and all too often lose – their lives to complete enables the rest of society to benefit from the most complex infrastructure in the world.

Andrew van Velzen, Toronto

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Occupy Toronto – A Brief Report on Today

October 15, 2011 at 9:24 pm (Uncategorized)

I’d been following the build-up to the Occupy Toronto events for the past week or so. Given the events of the G-20 summit in June of 2010, it was interesting to see how all sides were positioning themselves.

While Stephen Harper sagely warned protesters that Canada was not the United States (perhaps not quite echoing Harold MacMillan’s you’ve-never-had-it-so-good), others warned that this would not be a repeat of the Black Bloc adventure. (Vancouver police, after their own PR fiasco following the Canucks Stanley Cup loss, asked protestors not to wear masks)

The protest started at 10:00 at King and Bay Street in the heart of Toronto to be followed by a march to an as-then-undisclosed location. It turned out to be St. James’ Park a few blocks east of the starting point.

My daughter and I arrived at the action to distribute the Internationalist Perspective statement “They Don’t Get It”  (a slightly revised version of the one I posted here last week and wich was also distributed today in the U.S. and Europe).

I handed out several hundred leaflets in what seemed like no time (and could easily have done more). What struck me was how interested the crowd was. Very few people refused to take a leaflet, and many went out of their way to take one. At one point, I was in a conversation with a friend from the Common Cause group when I became aware that a woman was waiting patiently for a copy of the leaflet.  Actually, while a lot of people were handing out fliers, not many had statements. And unlike many demonstrations I’ve attended people were looking for analysis not just action.

During the time I was there, the crowd seemed to be about 1,500 people. Of course the actual number of participants was much higher as there was a constant stream of people coming and going.  The crowd was a mixture of old timers (like myself) , unions and leftists, but the overwhelming majority seemed to be new people drawn into this seemingly global movement.  

People came, at base. because they saw a problem with the way that capitalism has made the world. The two disagreements come over what the new world will look like and how to get there. As a result the messages offered differed considerable. A populist “Tax the rich” rhetoric predominated, but it many cases it was accompanied by a Canadian nationalism.

Throughout the day,  a sort of carnival atmosphere prevailed. Some gathered to chant, dance and drum; others to soapbox. Tents occupied the fringes of the park. Unlike many other leftist demonstrations where the organizers try to keep a close lid on events, hurrying participants through the course decided upon in advance and subjecting them to a tightly scripted set of speakers, there seemed to be a conscious effort not to impose an order on the events and to let them develop naturally.

How long will the occupation go on? Some people talked of days, others weeks; some even spoke of as long as it takes. As we wrote in our statement:

Something has changed. True, the Occupy Wall Street movement will not last forever. At some point, it will end, without any clear victory. But it’s just the beginning. This dynamic will continue and will gather strength. Be a part of it!


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They Don’t Get It – Leaflet on Occupy Wall Street

October 8, 2011 at 12:47 pm (Uncategorized)

This leaflet has been distributed at the Occupt Wall Street events, as well as in several cities across North America


When the media talk about Occupy Wall Street, they often do so with disdain: a movement that has no leaders, no set of demands, can’t be taken seriously. In a typical article, the New York Times quoted an ‘expert’ saying, “if the movement is to have lasting impact, it will have to develop leaders and clear demands”, and another one which stated that the passions have to be “channeled into institutions”. (NYT, 10/4) Their message to you is clear: ‘Go back to ‘politics as usual’, follow leaders, work within institutions, become foot-soldiers for the Democratic party and the unions in elections and other campaigns that change nothing at all, that don’t question the power structures that prop up this insane money-system. They don’t get it that the absence of leaders in this movement is not a weakness but a strength, testifying to our collective determination, to our refusal to remain followers.

They don’t get it that the absence of a narrow set of demands that can be recuperated by this or that institution, results from our understanding that the problem lies much deeper. That there are no quick fixes for a system that produces growing inequality, mass unemployment and misery, wars and ecological disasters.

If these problems could be solved by electing wiser politicians, adopting better laws etc, ‘politics as usual’ might be the way to go. But they can’t be solved that way. Politicians everywhere are bound by higher laws, the laws of capital. That’s why governments everywhere, regardless of their political color, are imposing austerity, forcing the working population to sacrifice so that more can be paid to the owners of capital. In fact the harshest cuts in wages, pensions and jobs are implemented by a ‘socialist’ government (in Greece). Politicians on the left may clamor for massive public spending , but that would only mean that we would be made poorer in a different way, through inflation.

There are no quick fixes because the system itself is obsolete. Pain and suffering are sometimes unavoidable but capitalism creates ever more pain that is easily avoidable, that only exists because in this society, profit trumps human needs. Almost two billion people on this planet are unemployed because capitalism has no need for them. Hundreds of millions live in slums, because building decent houses for them is not profitable. Many die of hunger each day because it’s not profitable to feed them. Everyone knows our planet is in danger and yet capitalism is continuing to destroy it in its desperate hunt for profit. Productivity never was higher, yet poverty increases. The know-how and resources are there for every inhabitant of this planet to live a decent life but that would not be profitable. Abundance has become possible but capitalism can’t handle abundance. It needs scarcity. Abundance in capitalism means overproduction, crisis, misery. This is insane. It must stop.


Capitalism is not “the end of history” but just a transient phase. It has changed the world but now no longer fits into it. We have to accept the fact that capitalism offers no perspective, no future. We have to prepare for a post-capitalist world, in which human relations are no longer commercial transactions, in which goods no longer represent a quantity of money but a concrete means to satisfy real human needs. A world in which competing corporations and warring nations are replaced by a human community that uses the resources of all for the benefit of all. We call that communism but it has nothing in common with the state-capitalist regimes that exist or existed in Russia, China and Cuba. Nothing is changed fundamentally if capitalists are replaced with bureaucrats with supposedly better intentions. Those regimes were not only thoroughly undemocratic, they also perpetuate wage-labor, exploitation and oppression of the vast majority of the population. The change must go deeper and must emancipate the oppressed, make them part of a real democracy instead of the sham that exists today.

In 2011, ten years after the attacks on New York that launched a decade of fear and demoralization, a breach has been opened. From Tunis to Cairo to Athens to Madrid to Santiago to New York, a fever is spreading. After taking it on the chin for so long, the working class, employed or unemployed, is beginning to rise up. We’re not gonna take it anymore! Something has changed. True, the Occupy Wall Street movement will not last forever. At some point, it will end, without any clear victory. But it’s just the beginning. This dynamic will continue and will gather strength. Be a part of it!


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The Skinny on the Ontario Election

October 6, 2011 at 12:53 pm (Uncategorized)

In some ways, platform reviews of Ontario’s three main parties vying for your vote in this week’s election are almost superfluous. After all, none of them will be able to keep their promises. The Liberal, Progressive Conservative and NDP platforms are all based on economic growth assumptions that are no longer realistic as economists continue to downgrade their expectations for this year and next. —

The National Post , October 3, 2011

The National Post is arguably the most conservative of the Canadian dailies; however, it’s hard to disagree with the above analysis. 

So what’s left?

Attacks on working people regardless of who is elected today.

Be ready. Be prepared.


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A View of the Crisis

October 3, 2011 at 6:21 pm (Uncategorized)

In June I recommended Paul Mattick jr.’s book on the economic crisis Business as Usual , while disagreeing with aspects of his analysis.

Here’s a short interview he did recently with the Socialist Standard entitled a View of the Crisis

Thanks to Big Chief Tablets for drawing this to my attention.

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