Goodbye 2011

December 31, 2011 at 8:00 pm (Uncategorized)

And as the last few hours of 2011 slip away, it’s time to look back and see some of the things that made life a little better this year  (as opposed to, say, the Sheepdogs)

1. Lester the Dog

Regular readers will remember I got a dog in June. A friend of mine told me it’s like having a toddler for 15 years. Not entirely wrong, but it’s going to be a good 15 years. Like having children, not everyone should have a dog, but if you can make it work… Lester has brightened things. Never a dull moment, and you know what, I actually enjoy the walks.

2. Zeppele

Mmm, creamy Italian dessert produced around Easter time. Say no more.

3. Justified

Ironically, I heard about this US series in a British magazine. In a nutshell, US Marshall Raylen Givens (Timothy Olyphant) kills a gangster in Florida under fairly dubious circumstances and is exiled to his hometown in Lexington, Kentucky. Sounds unremarkable, but Olyphant is irresistible and the stories crackle with excitement.  (Walton Goggins, formerly of The Shield is marvellous as a former white supremacist turned Christian fundamentalist). Do I need to say it’s based on an Elmore Leonard story? Season 2 is out on DVD next week. (Sorry, have to add this – apparently Leonard was on a panel discussion, ands after a young man came up to sell hello. According to Leonard the man’s name was Raylen something. Leonard snapped, how would you like to be in my next novel. The name was too good not to use)

4. Romeo and Juliet

I had to do a study of this play recently. It was never my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays (and still isn’t), but I do have a greater appreciation for it now, and the brilliance of the Bard.  (OK, now I understand the Prince of Cats line). It’s a testimony to the power of Shakespeare’s art that we still root for Romeo and Juliet even though they are doomed.

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9

Like many people, I was thrilled with the announcement of the continuation of Buffy in comic form after the ending of the TV series. Like many people, I was also disappointed with season 8. It got off to a good start, but the Twilight saga, Buffy with super-powers etc lost me. In the final two books however, a gleam. The death of Giles, as painful as it was, was brilliant. And the final book had that Whedon feel to it. Season 9 is much better. To begin with, it’s about vampires again, and the dialogue and story feels much more like the series.  Worth that trip down to the comic shop.  

6. Anna Calvi

Yeah yeah, critical buzz, but ignore that; she really is that good. I saw her twice this year, at the El Mocambo and at Lee’s Palace. She basically played the same set, but it was sooooo good, I didn’t care. I don’t remember the last time I was this excited about an artist (maybe I should read over my blog). New album next year? Let’s hope.  

7. Island Foods

OK, it’s a small franchise with three stores in Toronto, but the roti there is fabulous. We live near the one in Don Mills, and eat there probably twice a month. Get the spinach and chick-pea roti with hot sauce. To die for.

8. Banana Republic Topcoat

Ok, let’s be superficial for a moment here. I bought a brown moleskin coat at Banana Republic this year. I know I’m long past the age where I might be considered cool, but I love this coat.

9. True Blood

Haven’t seen season 4 yet, but I did watch the first three seasons this year. . When I watched the Sopranos, I found it easy to root for Tony and his friends. But just as you did, they would commit some horrific act of violence, and I would remember these were amoral monsters. True Blood has that same effect, only with more sex and blood and rock and roll.

10. Downton Abbey

I’m not a monarchist by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m a sucker for these British period pieces. Downton Abbey is the story of a titled family whose male heirs die on the Titanic. Because of the curious inheritance laws in the UK an estate with three daughters presents a problem. Like Upstairs Downstairs, Downton Abbey tells three stories: the wealthy, the servants and the interaction between the two. For a show where people just talk, its essential drama.  

11. Arkham Asylum – The Game

OK, I know Arkham City is out now, but I’m a little behind. I’m not much of a gamer, but I do enjoy the Bat as he battles the Joker, Harley Quinn, Bane, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy (met her yesterday) and more. I’m reduced to playing the “easy” version, but it’s kinda cool. Check with me in three years when I’m playing the next version (The Assassins Creed series looks interesting too!)

12. French

I took French as a kid, and I wasn’t very good. I tried again in university, and the results weren’t much better. In September, I registered for French classes with the city. Oh, it was hard, but I signed up for part 2 starting in a few weeks. Notwithstanding the numerous typos that litter this blog, I think my sense of grammar is quite good, but my French is quite poor. It’s an interesting puzzle to try to understand and become comfortable in another language. My accent will never be confused for a native French speaker, but who knows, maybe my writing will be…one day. (Thanks to Sander for pushing me!)

13. Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan – The Strain

My favourite pop novel this year. A very-readable vampire series with all the familiar clichés, but in an original way. Watch out for that stinger! Dark Horse are publishing an 11-issue adaptation.  And you can be sure there’s a plan for a movie somewhere along the road.

14. Canada’s Worst Driver

As a rule, I don’t watch reality TV, but last year on New Year’s Day, my daughter and I happened across a CWD marathon. Now it’s our show. I’m not a great driver, but I think generally I’m a safe driver, so a part of the thrill of watching the show is, “hey I could do that” or “Oh my god, stop doing that” On the season finale, you could see the rising fear in host Andrew Young-Husband as he rode in a car where the driver was on the wrong side of the road approaching a blind hill. like parents or pet owners, some people shouldn’t drive.      

15. Bowling

In the words of Homer Simpson, “if horse racing is the sport of kings, then surely bowling is a …very good sport as well. ” Indeed. I started a new job in November, and a few weeks in, people went bowling. What the hell I thought. In for a penny… And a lot of fun it was (it didn’t hurt, I ended up bowling better than most of the people there). Next time, ten pin!

16. New York

I’m really surprised how many people I know in Toronto who tell me, Oh I’ve never been to New York. But it’s so close, and it’s so cool. I rarely seem to get out of Manhattan, but I feel as if I barely scratch the surface there.  Still, Toronto always seems so small whenever I go there. Always something to see; always something to do. Last year was exploration, this year, it was shopping (including a visit to the American Girl store). The watch I got from MOMA always gets compliments.

17. Soundscapes  

Like New York, Soundscapes always seems to end up on this list. It’s a record shop for people who love music. No, not like HMV which is for something else, Soundscapes has that record you want, and the one you didn’t know you needed. Along with books, magazines, DVDs and tickets. Rarely do I leave empty-handed, and quite often with more than I planned to get. Whenever I read MP3ers prophecies about the death of the CD/vinyl etc, I’m glad stores like Soundscapes are still around. Rock on!

18. Matt Smith as Dr. Who

Now David Tennant was very good as the Doctor. Many people even placed him ahead of Tom Baker. Matt Smith, whom I’d only seen in the Sally Lockhart Mysteries (with ex-Dr Who alum Billie Piper), had big shoes to fill. And he’s great. There’s a moment in an episode this season where Smith dons an astronaut’s helmet and exclaims “Look how cool this stuff is!” Nerds everywhere rejoice.  (Oh and he wears a bow tie – see last year’s list, point 19)

19. Fan Expo

This past summer, I went to Fan Expo down at the Convention Centre. Fan Expo isn’t the biggest sci-fi/comic/fantasy/horror convention in North America, but with over 80,000 people attending this year, it’s pretty big. I went on a whim. A whim that turned out to ber overwhelming. After queuing to get in, I was startled by the size of the thing. But after I adjusted to the scale, it was pretty interesting – I wish I’d done my homework a little and actually prepared some things I wanted to do (I did fist-bump Larry Hagman – not on my to-do list). Sad puppy that I am, I’ve already bought next year’s ticket.

20. Hope for the Future: Class Struggle

Who would have thought it? At the end of 2010, we saw the fall of Tunisia, then the struggle moved to Egypt, and beyond in a movement which came to be called the Arab Spring. What the outcome will be is still uncertain, but a little over a year ago, they would have been deemed impossible. Then the Occupy Movement. Thousands upon thousands moved into opposition. words like socialism and communism were still dirty words to some, but they could be heard every day. In a leaflet published by Internationalist Perspective, the organization to which I belong, we wrote:

 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 a clear victory. But it’s just the beginning. This dynamic will continue and gather strength. Be a part of it!

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Shroud of Turin…Still Fake

December 29, 2011 at 8:30 pm (Uncategorized)

A heartwarming Christmas story from Skeptic Magazine.

Shroud of Turin: Redux by Daniel Loxton

Skeptics sometimes express impatience with discussion of seemingly quaint paranormal claims. (“What, Bigfoot—again?”) But the great lesson of paranormal history is that it is a wheel: no matter how passé or fringe a claim may sound, it is almost guaranteed to come ‘round again, in the same form or in some novel mutation.

In the last few days, global headlines have resurrected a nostalgic case from my childhood, just in time for Christmas: “The Shroud of Turin Wasn’t Faked, Italian Experts Say.” The cutting edge of yesterday—today! Even in my youth, this mystery was centuries old.

The Shroud of Turin is a 14-foot length of linen cloth that bears a stylized picture of a bearded man. Legend holds the Shroud to be a burial cloth wrapped around the Biblical Jesus following his execution. This linen was allegedly flash-imprinted with an image of Jesus during his miraculous resurrection, presumably by an intense burst of energy released under such circumstances.

The case for fraud has been strong since the 14th century, but enthusiasts insist on rolling that wheel ‘round again’. According to news reports this week, Italian scientists used an infrared CO2 laser to scorch images onto cloth and ”conducted dozens of hours of tests with X-rays and ultraviolet lights” in an effort to prove that the image could be created by a burst of electromagnetic energy. (Here’s a PDF of their Italian-language report.) What is the wavelength of a resurrection miracle? If there is one, the scientists were unable to discover what it might be. They learned (in ABC News’s paraphrase) that “no laser existed to date that could replicate the singular nature of markings on the shroud.”

Full-length photograph of the Shroud of Turin which is said to have been the cloth placed on Jesus at the time of his burial. All this business with lasers is neither here nor there. I’m reminded of magician James Randi’s line from Flim-Flam! about the pseudoscience technique of the Provocative Fact.

The same technique was used by the Gellerites when they assured us that at no time did Uri Geller use laser beams, magnets, or chemicals to bend spoons. This was quite true. It is also quite true that he had no eggbeaters, asbestos insulation, or powdered aspirin in his pockets either. So what?1

Turns out it’s hard to make a Shroud copy using lasers. That’s hardly surprising, but neither is it relevant.

There was never a good reason to think the Shroud was created by anything but the tools and artistry of a painter. Failed attempts to replicate the Shroud image using lasers only underline the argument skeptics have made for decades: the object is a medieval fake.

 The bottom line on the Shroud remains the same: the Shroud continues to fail several key practical tests, as discussed by skeptical investigator Joe Nickell in his classic work on the subject, Looking for a Miracle:2

Provenance: there is no sign that this object existed before the 14th century;

Art history: the Shroud fits into art history as part of a genre of artistic depictions and recreations of burial cloths of Christ;

Style: the image upon the shroud looks like a manufactured illustration consistent with 14th century religious iconography, not like a real human being;

Circumstance: a 14th century Catholic bishop determined that the Shroud was a “cunningly painted” fraud—and discovered the artist who confessed to creating it;

Chemistry: the Shroud contains red ochre and other paint pigments;

Radiometric dating: carbon-14 dating tests showed in 1988 that the Shroud was likely created between 1260 and 1390 CE. In 2008, the hypothesis that this date was distorted by carbon monoxide contamination was tested—and results of the original tests confirmed.

Overturning the robustly supported conclusion that the Shroud was manufactured by a medieval artist would take extraordinary levels of evidence in favor of some alternate explanation. The current media hype carries no such breakthrough news. The opposite is true, in fact: the Italian researchers concede (as quoted by Vatican Insider) that their “inability to repeat (and therefore falsify) the image on the Shroud makes it impossible to formulate a reliable hypothesis on how the impression was made.”

After decades of controversy, the real shame is not merely the miasma of pseudoscience surrounding the relic (that’s a fog skeptics are happy enough to cut through) but the blurring of the lines between science and metaphysics—or if you like, between science and faith. The Shroud’s popularity seems to stem from the hope that it could deliver tangible evidence for the divine, but that hope is misplaced. Even if Shroud researchers were to prove their (exceptionally unlikely) speculation that the Shroud image was imprinted by “a short and intense burst of VUV directional radiation,” this would in no way confirm the existence of God, only of a unique printing process—a process enthusiasts have thus far been unable to demonstrate. The truth is that the tools and methods of empirical science would remain powerless to confirm the existence of a transcendent metaphysical God even in the event that such a being existed. It’s just not the sort of question science can answer.

Pressing science into the service of metaphysics may do harm to religion—I’ll leave it to the religious to say if that is so—but it cuts out the heart of the scientific enterprise. And that is a Christmas present that none of us should want.


Randi, James. Flim-Flam! (Prometheus Books: Amherst, New York, 1982.) p. 129

Nickell, Joe. Looking for a Miracle. (Prometheus Books: Amherst, New York, 1998.) pp. 22–29

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Music Notes December 2011

December 28, 2011 at 7:27 pm (Uncategorized)

Snow’s on the ground. Sun is shining. It must be time for the December Music notes. Maybe some of these found their way into your stocking. If not, that’s what sales are for.

1. She and Him – A Very She and Him Christmas

Christmas records, like tributes,  are often difficult to get right: Sometimes too faithful, sometimes not faithful enough. At times, this one seems a little too gentle. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of the duo, this 12-track record of Christmas covers will nestle nicely in your collection for eleven months of the year, only to be brought out each December. not essential, but a nice addition.

2. The Rolling Stones – Some Girls

Ok, some people will make a case for Emotional Rescue, fewer for Tattoo You, but for me this is the last great Stones record. It’s a sprawling mass of sounds from the disco thump of “Miss You” to the hick country of “Far Away Eyes” and even the Chuck Berry punk of “Respectable” (I have a 7 inch of that one somewhere). On this, the Stones react to the forces of punk and disco and try to prove they not the cultural dinosaurs everyone assumed they were. Leaving that aside, the remastered album is worth a look for the dozen unreleased tracks which come on a second disc.  The songs have a bluesier more traditionally Stones sound than Some Girls. The songs have a jam session feel, as if they got together just to play for the fun of it. It’s a rare treat especially since the Stones are now just a business. This is a better time.     

3. Oxford American – 

Every year Oxford magazine devotes an issue to music, and includes a CD. this year, the focus is on Mississippi, nad in my opinion, one of their better issues. (Which is praise indeed, since they are always worth having). In most collections, some parts are unlistenable, some are so-so and some are magic,  but Oxford always seems to find something that makes me go wow. A great CD and a great read.

4. Don Pyle – Trouble in the Camera Club

Don Pyle used to be the drummer in Shadowy Men, but before that he was an amateur photographer. His photos document the punk revolution in Toronto and are perfect for any music fan. This book collects dozens of Don’s amazing photos. You owe it to yourself to own this collection. Have a look at some of them here

5. Ren Harvieu 

I read about this new artist on the Mojo blog, a couple of months back then lost the link. Fortunately, her name came up again. Ooh, she;s going to be big. A voice that is frighteningly good. You didn’t hear it here first, but you did hear it. Say it again: Ren Harveau

6. Galaxie 500 – Don’t Let Our Youth go to Waste

I was late to catch Galaxie 500, but when I fell, I fell hard. This two DVD set includes all of their videos, plus live stuff, TV appearances and bootlegs. Not all of it is pristine quality, but when you consider just how little of this stuff there is, it’s a gold mine. 

7.  Hearless Bastards – “Parted Ways”

I think I first heard the Heartless Bastards on Carl Wilson’s Zoilus Blog (no longer updated it seems). Saw them supporting the Decemberists.  And I’ve waited long for the follow-up to The Mountain, but there’s a new HB record out in February, and a tour (they play Toronto too). Here’s a lovely taster for the record. Yours for the price of your email.

8.  Dorian Lynskey – 33 Revolutions per Minute

Music and…poliitcs, OK, I’m interested. Lynskey’s marvellously entertaining book hits all the right notes, spanning decades and genres. Very impressive, very readable. Have a look at the blog.

9.  Black Keys – El Camino

My favourite record of late. It’s in non-stop rotation. It’s short. A little under 40 minutes, but from the opening drumbeat to the dying riff, it’s a thrill. Play loud the label instructs. Disobey at your peril.

10. Lykke Li – The Lost Sessions Volume 1.

It’s Lykke Li and it’s free. What more do you want? Get it at her site


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And Lo, there came a Glow over Mount Paektu

December 23, 2011 at 3:26 am (Uncategorized)

Well, well. Nothing really surprises about those murderously loopy North Korean Stalinists. Wait for something equally loopy in Workers Vampire.


PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea says a fierce snowstorm paused and the sky began glowing red above sacred Mount Paektu just minutes before leader Kim Jong Il’s death.

State media say the ice on volcanic Lake Chon at the mountain in the far north cracked with a load roar.

And in the city of Hamhung, a Manchurian crane circled a statue of Kim’s father, late President Kim Il Sung, before alighting on a tree, its head drooping before it took off toward Pyongyang.

State media say Kim died Saturday morning at age 69. His death was announced two days later.

Similar myths and legends also surround Kim Jong Il’s birth on Mount Paektu. Official biographies say he was born on Paektu and that a double rainbow filled the skies when he was born.


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8 Korean comrades lose appeal of their conviction under the National Security Law

December 19, 2011 at 1:34 pm (Uncategorized)

I reported on this earlier, but here is the final appeal.


Dear comrades

We inform you that the result of “Socialist Workers’ League of Korea” (SWLK) trial.

SWLK 8 militants received the verdict of guilty by the court of appeal on December 16. The court of appeal enhanced sentence.

Oh Sei-chul, Yang Hyo-sik, Yang Jun-seok, and Choi Young-ik was sentenced to 2 years in jail with a stay of execution for three years and fined 500,000 won.

Nam goong won, Park Jun-seon, Jeong Won-hyung, and Oh Min-gyu was sentenced to 1 year 6 month in jail with a stay of execution for three years and fined 500,000 won.

The notorious National Security Law, enacted in 1948, has long been used to repress socialist, communist and labor struggles in South Korea.

As the SWLK case attracted a lot of socialist attention, the South Korean socialist gathered together to support the defendants.

We appreciate your interest in organizing the support of SWLK militants.

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Anna Calvi: Back in Toronto (A Review)

December 17, 2011 at 10:55 pm (Uncategorized)

Usually when I’m going to a concert there’s a part of me that wishes I could skip it: I have to work, it’s cold, I’m tired etc. Inertia rules. But I didn’t experience any of that going to see Anna Calvi last Thursday at Lee’s Palace. In fact, I was positively buzzing at the thought of seeing her again.  Calvi is likely my favourite new artist.  

I went to Calvi’s debut Canadian show in the spring without having heard a single song of hers partly as a result of the hype about her – hey, Brian Eno and Nick Cave are fans, that’s worth something. Usually hype is one of those things you can take or leave, but I was completely stunned by the intensity of this slight woman wielding a big guitar and her two person back-up band. I bought the album the next day and was similarly knocked out by it.

At 9:15, opening band the Gift took the stage. The Gift are a four piece band from Portugal playing a kind of funky dance-pop. And dance they did. For forty minutes the band bounced around the Lee’s stage as the audience warmed up.  

Several of the songs in their set build to a very satisfying conclusion  but unfortunately, I didn’t catch the name of  any of the songs they played. Surely a number appear on the band’s newly released fifth album Explode.

Anna Calvi took the stage at 10:35. Dressed in a familiar red shirt, but with her hair down, Calvi began with the Morricone-esque instrumental and then worked her way through the album adding only a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Surrender.”

Throughout the show, Calvi maintain an aura of exquisite cool, hardly speaking to the audience (her first words were half way through the set), but preferring to let her art speak for her. At the risk of repeating myself, intense is the word to use.

Calvi is backed by multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpez and drummer Daniel Maiden-Wood who create the rhythmic back beat to Calvi’s work, but it is her voice and guitar which are centre stage at all times. There’s a passion in her  music which is sensual. Rock and roll is supposed to be about sex, but I don’t want to fall into such clichés because Calvi is a woman (indeed one meathead in the audience called out a crude comment and was justly shouted down). So while the album has genuinely fresh and exciting, it’s the live show that necessary to experience the range of her talent.  

As usual my complaint was that of the patron who leaves wanting more, but this time there was also the fear that the next time I see her, she will have justly moved to a much bigger venue.


To the Sea
No more Words
I’ll be your Man
First We Kiss
Suzanne and I
Wolf Like Me
Morning Light
Love Won’t be Leaving



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The 1% of the 99%

December 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm (Uncategorized)

A leaflet and a meeting


A Call to an Open Meeting: Sunday, January 8, 2012 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

The Commons
388 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn (three blocks from the Atlantic Avenue Subway Stop)

We write on the day before Occupy protesters will be acting up and down the Pacific Coast to blockade the ports. We pledge our solidarity with them and look forward to hearing of their success. The strategy of a port shutdown hints at the recognition that the future of the Occupy movement requires the development of a clear and powerful anti-capitalist current. We believe that the time has come to place the development of an organizational expression of such a current on the agenda of New York activists. We therefore are inviting all those interested to an initial meeting on January 8th at the location above. There will be several brief presentations but plenty of time for discussion. What follows is a preliminary exploration of a number of the issues that we see as pressing. We look forward to hearing your reactions and your ideas.


The 1% of the 99%

In the current economic and social crisis, the ability for workers to effectively make gains through the structures of our unions is almost non-existent. In fact, for the past two months of the occupation movement here in the United States, union leaders have either scrambled to play catch-up with the social needs of the working class, undermined the movement’s grassroots efforts at contesting these attacks by moving to the right of them, or acted its own policing force against not only its official members, but political activity in general.

But if we look historically, these union strategies are consistent with their historical role within capitalist society as the mediation between management and workers. The primary activity of the trade union—through the means of a group of people in leadership positions, or the bureaucracy– is to negotiate a contract for the benefits, wages, and (sometimes) specific working conditions of labor in their exploitative relation with their employers. In order to accomplish this, they operate as an organization over and above rank and file workers in order to maintain an exclusive and specialized relationship with management, thereby perpetuating a relationship of dominance over their members despite occasionally, and partially, allowing them to express their dissent. In fact, this dissent can help negotiations as well: “If you don’t promise X, Y, or Z, we cannot be held responsible for what these crazy workers might do! However, if you do promise [which doesn’t mean carry out] we can most likely keep them working productively for you.” Additionally, and within the context of the current crisis, trade unions are able to achieve less and less, and as a result, the rank and file are left without any means to struggle through the union. And because the results of negotiations which, for example, bargained away the “right” to strike, are carried forward into a time when it is structurally impossible for capitalism to make concessions, struggles beyond bureaucracy are more and more of a necessity. To hope that the union bureaucracy will respond to the needs of the working class is to circumscribe hope as the leash of submission.

This position does not come from the individual politics of trade union bureaucrats themselves, from their personalities, or even from a particular caucus that has leadership. It is instead the historical role of unions as the mediators between labor, that is, the workers who produce the profit, goods, education, etc. for society as a whole, and capital. The union bureaucracy cannot imagine a world without capitalism, because their existence is predicated upon negotiations within its mechanisms and enforcements.

If we look at the activities of the unions in New York over the last month alone, for example, we can see this clearly. For many of those involved in the occupation movement, who have remarked that Occupy Wall Street itself has shifted the unions towards a more left position, there is a surprise when the first signs militancy within the protests brings with it derailment as the union leaders transform the anger of the working class into platforms for the Democratic Party. Let us take a closer look at some recent events.

November 17th: Upwards of 50,000 people protested in the streets of New York. There were marches and mobilizations all over the city, at least one of which avoided police intervention all the way from Union Square to Foley Square, as well as an occupation of a university space to provide free anti-capitalist education for both students and non-students alike. Later in the evening, at least 32,000 people attempted to take the Brooklyn Bridge in an effort at direct action. People were bewildered and dismayed when they tried to go onto the street itself to block traffic, they instead witnessed a number of trade union leaders funneling people onto the walkways.

When the march got to Brooklyn, it was again confounded when a series of political leaders andbureaucrats were arrested peacefully in a clearly pre-negotiated “planned civil disobedience”, which was much more of a performance than anything that stopped the movement of capital.

November 21st and 28th: Several hundred protested at a CUNY Board of Trustees public hearing at Baruch College. The college has high levels of security and turnstiles. When students attempted to hold a forum in the lobby, which is open to the public, a combination of police and campus security officers beat and arrested several students. The following week, another protest was held. This time, a coalition of the PSC (an AFT local that represents faculty and staff at CUNY), city council-members including Charles Barron, and other union and non-profit groups held a barricaded protest and with the assistance of members of various “left” political parties, as well as progressive students, directed protestors into the barricades. Protesters were visibly dispirited to move from a boisterous protest in the streets of midtown Manhattan, into a police corral and subjected to speeches on the importance of voting. A week later, the PSC held a teach-in where they valorized the arrests of the 21st; this was exploitative and hypocritical.

MTA Contract Negotiations: Regarding the ongoing contract negotiations of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), due to expire early next year, the Local 100 leadership has demonstrated explicitly that it has no plans for combating the MTA’s proposed cutbacks in jobs, wages, benefits, services, as well as a 3-year wage freeze for transit workers. It is assumed that any grassroots efforts at striking will be met with the same union response in 2005: openly bringing in scabs as well arguing in court for the illegality of any walk-out.

Those are just a few examples of the practical activity of trade unions, and their structural inability to do what’s necessary: to actually confront and overthrow capitalism itself.

What we need right now is for autonomous political organizing in both unionized and non-unionized workplaces, schools, and in the streets. These are the efforts that made the November 2nd Port Shutdown on the west coast possible. It was not the arbitration of the bureaucracy through its attempts at domesticating class struggle, but instead the participation of multiple fractions of the proletariat, both unionized, non-unionized, and the unemployed, which took the initiative to construct the blockades. On December 12th, again there are plans to shut down shipping ports all along the west coast, including that of Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver and Anchorage, without official union authorization. As is to be expected, the ILWU leadership stands opposed to such an action that practically calls into question the circulation of capital and commodities. Despite this however, both longshoremen and other unionized, non-unionized, and unemployed workers will participate on December 12th, and in doing so, will demonstrate the increasing antiquated forms of the hierarchical union bureaucracies for expressing the needs and desires of the proletariat itself.

These events have certainly shown that union bureaucrats are not ignoring struggles beyond their shops. However, their responses to the crisis remain profoundly uncritical in confronting the severity of developing conditions. There can be no illusions that in the external management of the class as a whole, this representation (that is, the unions) radically opposes itself to the working class itself. A bureaucracy which directs the workers and pacifies an inherently antagonistic relationship between capital and labor cannot help but be the enforcers of class domination. However, when we discover the unions collaborate in the constant reinforcement of class domination, not only in the form of its labor as commodity to be bought and sold, but also in the form of unions and parties, we also discover that we are as opposed to the parties and union bureaucrats as the bosses themselves. We contain a revolution that will not leave anything outside ourselves!

Issued by: a group of anti-capitalist activists on December 12, 2011
For more information on some of those involved, write to:
Against Profit NYC

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A Trip to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see the Chagall Exhibit

December 11, 2011 at 10:40 pm (Uncategorized)

About three years ago on a trip to Ottawa, we took the kids to the National Gallery. They were bored within three minutes.

Hard to say why, aren’t kids fascinated by paintings?

On Saturday, we went to see the Chagall exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s really quite astonishing. Actually, the title of the exhibit is Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde; Chagall only has place of prominence. The material in the exhibit is from approximately 1910 to 1950, and covers the range of the avant-garde. From the impressionist influenced style to a sort of neo-Cubism (I hasten to add here, I’m not an art student, and if I’ve made horrific errors in the last few sentences, I am more than willing to be corrected). Still, it’s something which ought to be experienced first hand.

I also had a look at a little gallery hidden at the back with an exhibit of revolutionary art in Russia. I’m not a big fan of the later socialist realism, but Futurism and the early Soviet propaganda has a certain appeal. Nothing essential there but it was worth going just to see a poster commanding: “Peasant Woman, read your paper.” The poster featured a peasant woman reading her paper. It’s name? Peasant Woman.

And the kids? Well, they were initially bored. The mistake that people often make with “high” culture is showing it to people and saying “See? Isn’t it wonderful?” Kids in particular don’t approach art that way. They look. If they like, they keep looking. But having someone tell you, “What, you don’t like Shakespeare? You mist be an idiot” doesn’t really work. No surprise there.

Instead, I talked to the kids about the art. I asked them what they liked. When they asked questions, I tried to answer.  

Interestingly enough, while they liked some of the art, they both liked the General Idea exhibition. Perhaps because GI featured fantastic sculptures and images, it caught their fancy. Not sure how much of the political and sexual identity they understood, but it was interesting.

Like travel, culture broadens the mind.

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I Believe in Dog

December 6, 2011 at 11:15 pm (Uncategorized)


Ah, OK, so I swore blind I would never get a dog, but here I am, a proud dog
owner. My daughter waged a four-year campaign, and eventually we gave in.  

I thought I had an air-tight excuse in terms of allergies, but unfortunately, a friend of mine offered me a bike for the girl. There was a dog, a  coton du toulear and the girl fell in love. Next thing we were investigating hypoallergenic dogs, and a Bichon Frise it was.

Here then are a few observations.

1. I understand the appeal of a dog. It will never let you down. People disappoint you. Love a dog, and it will love you back.

2. All dog breeds have personality traits. Bichons are companion dogs are pretty much all they want is to hang around you. When I’m working on the computer, the dog sleeps near me. If I should get up to get a book, go downstairs or the kitchen, the dog follows. It’s hard not to feel special. When I get home from work, the family doesn’t jump up to see me – the dog does.

3.  There’s something relaxing about a dog.  I’ve come home stressed, and spent half an hour petting the dog, and everything seems to be better.

4.  Choosing a name is very important. As with a child, it has to be something you don’t mind yelling across the park. My son suggested Lester, and we all went, “Lester? No, no. ” Lester it was. And it suits him.  

5. There is a price of course for unconditional love: picking up feces. If I thought children was a humbling experience, it’s nothing compared to a dog. Oh I laughed at that Seinfeld bit, but now I appreciate it.

6. Having a dog is like joining a secret club. Suddenly I know every dog owner in the neighbourhood. We stop, we chat, our dogs sniff each others’ bottoms. And then we’re off. Instant friends.

7. But it also applies to many non-dog owners. There’s a woman who works next to the building where I drop off and pick-up my kids before and after school. I never spoke to her nor she to me. Not even eye contact. One day, I turned up with the dog to pick the kids. She started a conversation.

8. But regarding point 7, it only applies when you have the dog. I’ve had dog owners to whom I’ve spoken, ignore me when the dog wasn’t there. Membership revoked!

9. But maybe that’s not always a bad thing, because dog owners, like parents are somewhat crazy. When the dog runs up to me off-leash, the owner unfailingly calls out, “don’t worry, he’s friendly.” The fact that everyone says it doesn’t thrill me: after all, who would yell out, “Don’t move or he’ll rip you apart” ? At the pet shop where I buy supplies, I see dogs with vinyl booties, ridiculous bows and unflattering sweater vests (sometimes on the same dog). It seems to rob a dog of its dignity, and this is done by loving owners who all imagine their pet can speak English.

10. And with all that, I have to say, that as with my children, I was completed stunned by how quickly Lester stole my heart.

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Miley Cyrus on the Occupy Movements

December 4, 2011 at 7:47 pm (Uncategorized)

Why it seems like only yesterday that I was watching Hannah Montana with my daughter (OK, it was a few years ago).

Can’t say I was ever a fan of Ms. Cyrus’ work, but it would be sectarian not to note It’s a Liberty Walk


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