Music Notes February 2015

February 28, 2015 at 7:24 pm (Uncategorized)

Here’s some thing you might like…

1. Viet Cong – S/t

The debut album by the Calgary collective. A lot of post-punk sounding influences on this one. It’s not quite finished, but on cuts like “March of Progress” and “Continental Shelf” you can heard the great record they will one day make.

2. Yo La Tengo – Extra Painful

My favourite comment about YLT is that they channel all four Velvets albums in their work (not an easy thing to do). This 2-CD expanded edition of Painful really shows how that’s possible. There’s the original album, a CD of demos and unreleased and then a download of another 17 tracks. Casual listener or hard core fan, you must get this.

3.  The Rolling Stones – “She’s a Rainbow”

I was at a school production of Alice in Wonderland a few nights back and this song was a part of the soundtrack. It’s an strange song. Odd lyrics, dodgy backing vocals, strings and a weird sense of pacing. It sounded incredible.

4. Pussy Riot – “I can’t Breathe”

Just watch it, OK? . The male voice at the end is Richard Hell.


5.  Richard and Linda Thompson – Shoot Out the Lights

The break-up album. Made more remarkable by the fact that Richard Thompson wrote both parts. I could go on and on, but if you’re a fan of the Richard or Linda Thompson, you already have this, if you don’t there’s not much I can say to add to the sound. Shiveringly good.

6 Sparks – Kimono My House

I remember seeing them on Top of the Pops when I was a kid and thinking “What!” John Lennon’s reaction to the broadcast was “Hitler’s on Telly.” If you like early Roxy, this will appeal to you. Can you believe this record is 40 years old?

7. Twerps – Range Anxiety

Ohh, if the Young Marble Giants played guitars. If Galaxie 500 played faster… OK, enough with lazy comparisons because this album is good enough to appreciate on its own merits. Slightly dream-poppy, it’s a great listen.

8. Kitty, Daisy and Lewis – No Action

I miss Sallie Ford’s old band, but these cats are fun too. R’n’R revivalists, but so much more. Check their sounds and see them at Lee’s in April.

9 Kim Gordon – Girl in the Band

Haven’t read this one yet, but if you’re a fan of Sonic Youth, I don’t see how you can not get this one.

10. v/a – Bob Dylan’s Greenwich Village

A 2-CD folk musci greatest hits circa 1961. It’s not a Dylan comp, but features a staggering number of his influences and those influenced by him: John Lee Hooker, Woody Guthrie, Allan Ginsberg, Lenny Bruce, Pete Seeger, Simon and Garfunkel, Joan Baez, and many more. 50 tracks of 2 CDs. Nice selection.

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Unintentional Irony -Part 2

February 28, 2015 at 6:36 pm (Uncategorized)

Today is the last day of Freedom to Read Week in Canada. Organizations such as PEN Canada and the Freedom to Read Week committee promote the freedom to read and distribute anti-censorship material. During the week, I went to a talk by a Mexican journalist who was part of PEN’s Writers in Exile programme. He had fled Mexico in 2009 after being told the drug cartels were coming to kill him and his family. Whether or not you buy into the essentially liberal agenda of organizations like PEN, the stories told by journalists, and of other journalists, is a powerful narrative. And in the world today, it’s less novelists like Rushdie who are the victims of censorship and death, that print journalists.

But where would we be, if someone didn’t mark this week with an act of unconscious irony? Avijit Roy, an American blogger living in Dakha was hacked (yes, hacked) to death as he returned from a book fair in the city. He was an atheist and had received death threats for his writing.

Jump over to Iraq where ISIS  spent part of the week destroying ancient artifacts (OK, not books, but give them some time) in Mosul. Couldn’t help but notice in the video posted by ISIS , some of the vandals were wearing cargo pants. Is that even allowed?

And so it goes.

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New (sort of ) Dauve Book

February 27, 2015 at 5:53 pm (Uncategorized)

The Montreal anarchist bookfair is a little distance away, and I’m looking at new books coming out. The good people at PM Press  have re-issued Gilles Dauve’s book The Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist movement. When I was first around these circles, this book was hard to get hold of. Antagonism Press re-issued in the late nineties (or possibly later), but since that disappeared it’s been OOP. (I still get asked, but only have my personal copy).  Apparently the new edition is mostly new material as appendices etc.

I will have copies in Montreal and Toronto bookfairs.

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The Thick of It

February 20, 2015 at 7:51 pm (Uncategorized)

Many, many years ago, when I was in a little Trotskyist groupsicle, we spent a lot of time engaged in contact work. I.e., trying to convince other to join our little band of brothers so they in turn could drink endless cups of coffee trying to convince others of the same. It was a bit like a Ponzi scheme where no one won any money.

But I digress. Once we had a contact. Young guy still in school. While making conversation, we casually asked him  what he was going to do after he finished college. He replied he wanted to be a politician. We all shuddered.

Years later, The Thick of It. Remember  Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, the award-winning BBC production starring Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne?  In the Thick is a similar style in exposing the unpleasantness of “public” servants, but Yes Minister was a charming look at the bureaucracy of British politics (one episode about the best run hospital in Britain had bureaucrats glossing over the fact that despite this it actually had no patients. Whimsical and often hilarious, it didn’t exactly have teeth.

Now imagine Yes Minister with a lot more swearing. A lot more back-stabbing and positioning, and you likely have something that’s a bit closer to the real experience of the inner workings of government.

In the Thick features the enormous talents of Peter Capaldi (who is now internationally famous as the eleventh doctor in Dr. Who), as the fearsome government spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, known behind his back as the Gorbals Goebbels  or my favourite, Iago with a Blackberry.

Tucker is terrifyingly awful in his role, spitting creative profanities at anyone who gets in his way, although it should be noted that it is actually his assistant Jamie, also Scottish, who seems genuinely likely to inflict violence. Malcolm is the master of Machiavellian intrigue and utterly ruthless in achieving his objectives

Here’s one of my favourite bits as Malcolm chastises a new minister who he has just discovered has a fear of elevators:

Not only have you got a fucking bent husband and a fucking daughter that gets taken to school in a fucking sedan chair, you’re also fucking mental. Jesus Christ, see you, you’re a fucking omnishambles, that’s what you are. You’re like that coffee machine, you know: from bean to cup, you fuck up.
—Malcolm Tucker to Nicola Murray, “Series 3, Episode
Omnishambles is now a word.
The movie version In the Loop, which features many of the same actors now always playing the same roles was less successful, and the American loose adaptation Veep, I didn’t really like.
Well worth watching the original show.

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Lesley Gore

February 16, 2015 at 11:33 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Ah, I know, weeks go by without a post then three in one day.

While I was getting the address for the New York Times article on twitter shaming, I read that the great Lesley Gore had died aged 68 from lung cancer.

Gore’s biggest hit was the teen-angst anthem, “It’s My Party” (and it’s follow-up “Judy’s Turn to Cry” where the singer got her man back).  Such were the days when Gore was performing. Still, her greatest song, for my money was “You Don’t Own Me” (and there was that smashing cover by Joan Jett too).

You go girl!

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Social Media Run Wild

February 16, 2015 at 11:22 pm (Uncategorized)

A couple of days ago, someone at work told me, “I could totally instagram you. OOTD.”  “Please don’t,” I replied. As it turned out, it was a compliment, and if this sounds like bragging, when you hit my age, you’ll realize compliments are few and far between, so grab what you can. And for those of you who aren’t hipsters, OOTD means Outfit Of The Day (for the record I was wearing a Dalek shirt, which I think is rather cool – no? OK).

I’m not much of a social media person. I’m not on Twitter or Instagram. I do have a fairly inactive  Linked In account, but I’m not on Facebook. I did set up an account, but I never used it, and deleted it recently. I don’t even have a smart phone. I’ll confess too that the selfie stick is new to me. Scarcely had I heard the term when I read in the paper yesterday that many museums and art galleries were banning the devices (no surprise.)

Still, the thing which prompted this post was an article in the New York Times magazine yesterday about internet shaming. We all remember Justine Sacco, the PR executive who tweeted jokes, and inappropriate comments about people on her flight only to arrive at her destination in the middle of a shit-storm that saw her publicly maligned and eventually saw her lose her job.  (Ironically, the person who pushed her tweets to prominence was later caught by a remark he made – those who live by the tweet…)  What’s remarkable about that story is not just the offensive cluelessness with which people make these comments, but the gleeful viciousness in the takedown.

The oddest story was about a guy who whispered a sexist joke to his friend at a conference. A woman in the row ahead of his overheard, took his picture, then posted it to twitter with a comment. In the fury that followed, he was removed from the conference, and subsequently lost his job. Then, the internet turned on the woman who had taken the picture, and she received death threats. I understand the power of a joke, but hold on people.

Oddly enough, the stories about concentration camp selfies were absent in the article.

My only real foray into social media is this blog. For the most part, no one comments on it. A few of my friends, family and comrades occasionally leave messages, but in general, it’s quiet. The only hostile posts have been about music reviews I’ve written, one about Wilco, another Steve Ignorant.  Both were seemingly written in rage-fueled haste and laden with childish profanities and insults. Disagree with me sure, but really, can’t you express yourself better? For what it’s worth, I chose not to sink and both comments are still there, but I had decided if my “accusers” had responded with words similar to their first, I wouldn’t have allowed the post.

Is it the anonymity of the medium that causes people to react with such venom to their perceived targets? Surely the comments made would never be said in person. But people seem to have no compunctions about typing and hitting send.

And the whirlwind of destruction quickly passes on to new targets.

Here’s the Times article:

How One Stupid Tweet Blew up Justine Sacco’s Life

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The Mystery of Family Day

February 16, 2015 at 1:10 pm (Uncategorized) ()

It’s Family Day here in Ontario and across most of Canada. Now, as much as I like (unpaid in my case) time off of work, Family Day is a bit of a mystery to me.

When I lived in Alberta in the mid-nineties, Family Day was already celebrated there, having been proclaimed in 1990. Next was Saskatchewan in 1997, then most of the other provinces established the holiday in the mid-2000s. Right now, only families in Quebec, New Brunswick, the territories and federal employees have to go to work today.

When Alberta introduced the holiday, it was in the name of spending time with families and family values, and was accompanied by howls of criticism from business groups about having to pay workers for a day off. (“I suppose you’ll be wanting to take Christmas Day off Mr. Cratchitt?”). Nevertheless, it spread.

In Toronto, the Friday before Family Day was traditionally a PA day in the school board, so the addition of Family Day made for a four day weekend for kids, and many parents choose to take that extra day as well. Friends of mine took their kids on a trip to Ottawa this weekend. I suppose huddling together to fight the bitter cold (and Ottawa is even colder than the -30 temperatures here in Toronto) is one way to bring family members together, but I digress.

What surprises me is that no one seems to have been able to find a way to market this day as a way to spend money like Thanksgiving in the U.S. (much more of a family affair than in Canada). Perhaps it’s just too close to the bloated chocolate affair that is Valentine’s Day, but I’m sure it’s coming. If Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can transform from Hallmark Holidays into the spectacle they are today, Family Day can’t be far behind. C’mon capital, show us what you’ve got!

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Spy vs. Spy

February 11, 2015 at 7:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I’ve already sung the praises of Ed Brubaker in this blog, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t do it again. Brubaker is writing a couple of books I’m reading right now: The Fade Out, a noir tale set in 50s Hollywood, and Velvet a spy story which starts from the premise imagine Miss Moneypenny was James Bond (oh, and looked a bit like Susan Sontag). Great story.

like Brubaker’s other books, Velvet has a related essay on sources in the back. A few issues ago, Jesse Nevins, the author of said essays wrote about the evolution of spy fiction. While most people associate spy fiction with Fleming’s James Bond stories, Irvins directed readers to  the work of Len Deighton and John Le Carre.

Deighton’s Harry Palmer, Nevins argued was essentially mystery fiction moved to a level of international intrigue. nothing wrong with that, but he also suggested Le Carre’s universe of George Smiley was fairly close to the mark. A little research and I checked The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

It’s really quite a fantastic book, and the level of cynicism is amazing. In the work, which revolves around a plot to kill a high-ranking security officer in East Germany, the communists are ruthless, cold-blooded killer, but the “heroes” are no better. Happy to cast aside those who could be sacrificed for those, however nasty, who could be useful.  I raced through the book, then read The Looking Glass War, and am now on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, the first of the Karla novels.

Grubby, compelling stuff.

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A Day Without Wage Slavery

February 9, 2015 at 11:44 pm (Uncategorized)

I don’t have a very onerous job. Sure, it can be busy, and at times the word load can be heavy, but overall, it’s a good gig. Of course, a day off is a great thing.

I took a day today because I had to take my dog to the vet. The vet is near where I live, but I don’t work near where I live, and since i had to pick up the dog around noon, it just made sense.

Got up a little later. Walked the dog, then took him to the vet. Went for breakfast. Hung out with friends and ran a few errands.

Picked up the dog and came home. Watched John Oliver and the truly wonderful Better Call Saul, did a little work related stuff. Checked my email, then picked up my daughter from school.

Made dinner for the kids and will watch Gotham with my son later. All-in-all a pretty civilized day.

But a thought struck me late in the afternoon. Shit! How am I going to have time for all the “me” stuff tomorrow when I have to go back to work and catch up?

Remember that passage in The German Ideology:

For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now

Now I don’t have much desire to go hunting or fishing, but it would  make for a much better life for everyone if we could make those kinds of choices. Back to the treadmill then.

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On the Paris Massacre and the Government’s Campaigns

February 9, 2015 at 12:01 am (Uncategorized)

The following piece was written by a comrade in France

The demonstrations in reply to the deadly massacre against the editors of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher hypermarket have gathered almost four million people on January 11, one and a half million of which showed up in Paris. Together they constitute one of the largest gatherings in French history. Four days earlier, on the evening of the Charlie Hebdo killings, the mobilization had started spon­taneously. It has expanded, particularly through social networks via Internet, outside of any State control.

First and foremost this dash has translated the will to come together, to not remain in one’s own corner, powerless in face of this horror. The stakes consisted in expressing a real solidarity with the victims, politically impertinent cartoonists, who embodied what is left of the liberty of expression. It claimed to a stand for the drawing pencil against the Kalashnikov, for humor and free criticism against religious obscurantism, for civilization against barbarism.

The empathy expressed by the slogan “I am Charlie” was often extended to “I am Jewish, cop, Muslim”, as if one wanted to give credit, for a brief moment, to a human community in which all fraternize, united by the rejection of barbarity. Even the ‘forces of order’, who less than three months earlier had been taunted for having provoked the death of a young ecologist protesting against the construction of a barrage, [1] appeared as heroes who risk their lives in order to save the community from ‘terrorism’.

In reply, the government has rapidly taken the initiative for a gigantic national mobilization that would canalize every propensity to act within the limits of a ‘sacred union’ behind the representat­ives of the established ‘democratic’ order. The French president Hollande himself announced that he would take part in a large demonstration, affirming the unity of the nation in defense of the “val­ues of the Republic”, of “democracy against terrorism and barbarity”. About forty representatives of other governments were invited and took part.

On January 11, one witnessed the absurd and sad spectacle of a demonstration of revolt against barbaric acts, but one that had been organized and directed by the political managers themselves re­sponsible for the social system that engenders this barbarity on a daily basis.

The savagery that has manifested itself in the murderous attacks against Charlie Hebdo in the name of a radical Islamism is part of the savagery sewn by the great powers and the local ones that confront each other in Syria, in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in Africa, in Ukraine… It is the great powers, among which France, that produce, sell and provide the weapons serving to saw ter­ror within the civil populations and by which soldiers kill each other mutually on all sides of the fronts. They are the same who foment and utilize local antagonisms in order to enlarge or preserve their respective zones of influence. Radical Islamism was encouraged and utilized by the USA since the end of the 1970s in the war in Afghanistan, to counter the country’s invasion by the USSR. Ever since, it has been an instrument of recruitment utilized, in an incalculable number of ways, by the local governments and by the great powers. In Syria, for instance, where a horrible war of self-de­struction has already provoked 200,000 deaths and the displacement of whole populations in terrible conditions, France has supported radical Jihadist groups against the regime of Bashir El Assad.

With a likewise cynicism they pretend to be the guarantors of ‘democratic liberties’ and ‘human rights’. It was a very democratic French government that, in 1970, banned the ancestor of the afore­mentioned Charlie Hebdo, Hara-Kiri Hebdo, for having ridiculed the death of Charles De Gaulle. Charlie Hebdo had, in the first place, been a reply to this denial of liberty. The very democratic Spanish government, whose leader Mariano Rajoy paraded together with François Hollande at the Paris rally, has just adopted an ensemble of laws that criminalize and punish virtually every concrete attempt to manifest one’s opposition to the established order, to a degree unprecedented since general Franco. The dominant classes only support ‘democratic liberties’ as long as they permit them to rule by encapsulating social life with more or less flexibility in the straightjacket of their system. But as soon as they feel threatened themselves, or simply have fear, as has surely been the case for certain sectors in Spain since the uncontrollable mobilizations of the Indignados, they do not hesitate to suppress or go around them, and take recourse to violence and brutal repression.

The French government has skilfully succeeded in transforming what should have been a mobil­ization against the social system that engenders the wars and misery – of which the Paris massacre has only been one product, just like the massacres against the population in Nigeria that occurred at the same time – in a demonstration of a ‘Sacred Union’ behind the State that manages and protects this system.

By doing so, the government primarily pursues two objectives. The first is the preparation of ‘public opinion’ for an intensification of the military interventions of France. Three days after the demonstrations of January 11, François Hollande had himself filmed on the aircraft carrier ‘Charles De Gaulle’, on its way to the Middle East to take part in the combat against the ‘Islamic State’, as­sisting at the taking off of a series of military aircraft, chanting the Marseillaise with the navy sol­diers and announcing the suspension of the reduction of military expenses previously envisaged. In French parliament the deputies have also broken into the national anthem as an expression of their ‘Sacred Union’, a term first used by the very same assembly at the outset of the First world butchery in August 1914.

The government’s second objective is to reinforce the State’s police control over the population. Already for quite a long time the French State exercises a surveillance of and a control over the Ji­hadist networks that is reputedly efficient. Many observers remain intrigued by the fact that Ji­hadists so well known to the French secret services could have committed this deadly assault. But, bey­ond this aspect and under the pretext thereof, the government puts in place an important reinforce­ment of means of surveillance and control of the whole population. Certain deputies even speak about the necessity of a ‘Patriot Act’ in French style, referring to the “anti-terrorist” law signed by George W. Bush in the wake of the attacks against the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in 2001. Among others this law permits the American State to detain every person suspected of a terrorist project without limitation and without indictment, in the name of defending “democracy”, or to have access to all digital data of the citizens without prior authorization and without informing them.

When it comes to governing a country in which unemployment has become massive and keeps growing, particularly amongst the youth, in which the employment and working conditions are de­grading for decades, without any real perspective of amelioration, in which a new train of economic measures is shortly to be put in place [2] in order to enhance the profitability and the exploitation of labor – in short, in a country in which the reasons for revolt do not cease to multiply, it is quite nat­ural that those responsible for the State equip themselves with the juridical, technical [3] and poli­cing means to discourage and repress every real attempt of putting the dominant social order into question.

For thousands of years the dominant classes have always known to utilize the feeling of insecur­ity of the populations, if not to stimulate it, in order to justify and strengthen the State power that defends and guarantees the ruling order to their advantage. Insecurity and fear often have the tend­ency to throw the population into the arms of what may secure it, the ‘forces of peace’ ; the ‘forces of order’ ; the State that is supposed to represent the community. Today “terrorism”, by a magisterial and omnipresent operation of propaganda, offers an appropriate (and habitual) terrain for this kind of manipulations and totalitarian control of a supposedly democratic society. The extension of the concept of ‘terrorism’ to every form of opposition against that system that surpasses the framework of strict “republican legality” will soon serve as an instrument for the justification of repression.

Moreover the French State benefits from a reality that it has sown and cultivated for a very long time : the division between migrant workers, or workers ‘originating from immigration’, on the one side and French workers on the other. This is not a new policy. In all countries importing work force, the capitalist class has meticulously practiced the old principle of ‘divide and rule’ since the beginning of capitalism. Like in the England of the XIX. Century, in which the Irish workers were over-exploited and detested by the English workers who saw them as disloyal competitors.

Today this “communitarian” division is exacerbated by the economic crisis and unemployment that sharpen competition between the workers for ever rarer jobs. For reasons related to its co­lonial past, a part of the immigrant workers, or of the workers originating from immigration in France, is of Islamic religion. Religion, this “lament of the beset creature”, this “temper of a heartless world”, and this “spirit of spiritless conditions”, as Marx had said, has served and is still serving as a refuge for many workers who are regularly being treated as “dirty Arab”, and who know how diffi­cult it is to obtain a housing or a job when you are called Mustapha or Mohammed. Against this background of misery, that French capitalist society reproduces on a daily basis, semi-suicidal tend­encies towards ‘Jihadism’ can develop, in particular amongst the youth.

The recent killings committed at the outcry of “Allah Akbar” have revived anti-Muslim senti­ments with a part of the population. The number of attacks against Muslim persons and mosques has largely increased since. The ‘communitarian’ divisions are a deadly poison for the workers and pen­nies from heaven for the governments, who find a powerful means to bar the unification of the sole force capable of putting their power into question : the union of all exploited, of the immense major­ity of the population beyond ethnic and national divisions.

It is not by chanting the national anthem, as was done during the demonstrations of January 11, with the managers responsible for this mortifying and freedom killing society, that one puts an end to ‘terrorism’ neither to the barbarity it is part and parcel of. Contrary to the numerous illusions that traversed these demonstrations, it will be necessary to unite in order to achieve the unification of a veritable human community – not with the dominant classes and their politicians, but against them and against their inhuman logic. This is more difficult. But it is the only way.

Raoul Victor, January 29, 2015.

Translated by : Jac. Johanson, February 6, 2015.

[1] In the course of a demonstration at the project site at Sivens, in the south-west of France, the 21 years old Rémi Fraisse was killed by a grenade, during a confrontation between anti-riot police and a group of demonstrators.

[2] The Macron law.

[3] In particular by a stricter surveillance of the Internet.

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