Music Notes – July 2015

July 31, 2015 at 7:54 pm (Uncategorized)

Listen up!

1. Blur – Modern Life is Rubbish

I was never a big Blur fan, but a friend insisted I listen to this charming album.  Yeah, it’s good.

2. Sharon Van Etten – I Don’t Want to Let You Down

A five-song release of slow stuff, which seems to dig its claws in deeper with every listen.

3. Waxahatchee – Ivy Trip

Another of a seemingly endless run of amazing female artists who can produce heartbreaking emotional songs, then follow them up with solid rockers. This is Katie Crutchfield’s third.

4. Jamie XX – In Colour

Did I ever mention I was at a show with Jamie XX? I went to see 2:54 at the Horseshoe Tavern. There were thirty people there; Jamie and I were there. Unfortunately, my story is made less cool by the fact I didn’t speak to him or know he was there until after the show. Still. In Colour is a lot clubbier than his XX releases. Qualify that, funkier. Heavier beats over the more familiar XX sound.  And it sounded great in the car.

5. Jon Fine – Your band Sucks 

Jon Fine was the guitar player in Bitch Magnet. This is his story. Brimming with attitude and opinions, as well as humour, and marvellous stories. It’s the kind of musical autobiography that anyone who got into a music subculture, yeah I think it has to be that, will find cool. Saddest story though was chatting with another musician who discovered when he went to his high school reunion he still wasn’t cool. It was East Bay Ray from the Dead Kennedys. Ouch. Great book. I ran through it.

6. Jed Rasula –  Destruction was my Beatrice

Not a music book by any means, but if you dug Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces, you might find this history of Dada really interesting too. I did.

7. Pere Ubu – Terminal Tower

Sometimes it’s good to just walk over and put on something at random. I’ve never truly been a follower of Pere Ubu, but I’ve picked up a few things along the way. Terminal Tower dates to their early days collecting singles and B sides (remember those?) from the 1970s. “Final Solution” still sounds fresh three decades later.

8.  Wilco – Star Wars

Free at Wilco’s site. Till mid-August. Get it now

9. The Heartless Bastards – Restless Ones 

I’ve seen the Heartless Bastards a couple of times, and still have to pick up my ticket for their upcoming show, but this one sounds as if they’re having fun. A great band, and contrary to what someone wrote on their Wikipedia page, they sound nothing like the Black Keys.

10. 20,000 Days on Earth

If you are a Nick Cave fan, you’ve probably already watched this, but why not watch it again? A film about Cave’s twenty thousandth day on Earth (it’s actually a few years from now), takes in rehearsals, and conversations with Cave, his band mates and celebrity friends. It’s poignant, funny, and fascinating. A great film. It was made retrospectively sadder for me, as I watched it a few days before the tragic death of Cave’s son. Nothing can be said which even minimizes such a loss.

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At the Anarchist Bookfair – Toronto 2015

July 31, 2015 at 1:15 am (Uncategorized)

July was super-busy. Many things that should have been written weren’t. This is the start of the catch up.

A few weeks back, I was sitting with some friends at the conclusion of the Toronto anarchist bookfair. “How many anarchists do you think are in Toronto?” I was asked.

“Define anarchist,” I replied.

“That’s enough from you,” said another friend.

It’s a good question. What defines an anarchist, a communist, a radical? If one looks at the pro-party Leninist organizations, there’s a number. The cadre and the supporters (admittedly, the latter is looser and more fluid, but still, there’s a sense of numbers). Anarchism is a little different.

To begin with, there is not a generally consistent opinion of what anarchism means. Some will say, it’s a rejection of the state , and in classical terms, that’s right, but many of today’s anarchists support a Palestinian state or the state of other “oppressed peoples.” Maybe a better definition would be someone who loves freedom, whatever that might be.

At the bookfair this year, all sorts, from radical anti-poverty activists and prison abolitionists to anarchist-communists and everything affiliated with the idea were present. I’ve tabled a few events over the years, and like Montreal I know now a few of the players. After the disappointment of last year’s event , I was a little nervous about turnout, but as soon as the day began it was clear that this was going to be a lot bigger.

And it was. Some great conversations about anarchism, Marxism and radical politics, and I was persuaded into giving a workshop. I talked about libertarian and radical fiction, and will likely post a revised version of the handout in the near future. A friend suggested I help at the kids area next year making duct table wallets and crafts (a minor obsession). I was supposed to table both days, but work commitments made Sunday impossible.

Despite being dwarfed by the Montreal, this years’ bookfair was a step forward from last.

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It’s Not Too Late Jon Stewart

July 22, 2015 at 1:23 am (Uncategorized)

If I were Jon Stewart,  I might seriously be reconsidering my decision to leave The Daily Show faced with the prospect of an extended Trump campaign. As Stewart put it after the McCain blow-up, it’s a projectile vomit of dickishness.

There can be few people who think Trump could ever be the Republican candidate let alone win the presidency, but surely the Democrats must be thinking about how they can encourage Trump to hang in. After all, even those of us who hate both parties can’t help but derive a certain pleasure in watching one of capital’s twins tear itself apart in such an unseemly manner.

Still, it’s worth noting that Trump’s earlier racist comments about Mexicans passed the Republicans virtually without comment. And at the conference where he made the comments about McCain, attendees’ main complaint about Trump was that he occasionally used salty language, and he didn’t seem to be a born-again Christian.

Really Jon, you’re still going to quit?

PS As I was writing this, I heard Trump had given out Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number at a rally. It’s the gift that never stops giving. Why, it takes me back to those golden years when Rob Ford was the mayor of Toronto. When was that again?

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Bread and Circuses; Mostly Circus

July 16, 2015 at 9:52 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s the end of the first week of the Pan-Am games in Toronto, and it’s the third week of HOV madness on some of the roads in the city.

I have to say that the games themselves have made little direct impact on my consciousness. I have a vague sense of Canada winning this or that, but it’s really not a source of interest for me.

Or too many others it seems. When Toronto wanted to bid on the Olympics a few years back, there was a vigorous opposition mounted (“Bread not Circuses”). For Pan Am, opposition is muted.

But I digress. There is one thing. Right now I work around Broadview and Danforth, and since I live in Don Mills, the quickest way to get to work is the Don Valley Parkway. Except that now, the DVP’s three lanes are restricted to two lanes with the third reserved for high occupancy vehicles (3+), motorcycles, buses, taxis and those with passes for the games. Oh, and a lot of pickup trucks, vans of any size, those willing to risk a $500 fine and three points on their licenses (like the former Mayor Rob Ford who admits to driving in those lanes because HOV “is a pain in the ass”) and a lot, and I mean a lot of police vehicles. It’s a crawl.

The funny thing is that the city seems to have decided that now is a good time to do construction on all of those other routes that people avoiding the Don Valley Parking lot might try.

None dare call it conspiracy? OK, I think it’s more likely the people making the decisions pay no attention to the broader picture.

But, here’s what it might look like: Underfund public transportation so that driving a car becomes more attractive. Then block off lanes, so that like water finding its level, people spill into the HOV lanes only to be ticketed by the vastly increased police presence.

It’s a circus alright, but one that seems to consist only of clowns. Can I have some bread now please?

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July 10 ____

July 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm (Uncategorized)

A friend of mine once told me that birthdays are good for you; the more you have, the longer you live.

So I plan to have a lot. Actually I plan to live forever (So far, it’s going really well)


Nikola Tesla, John Simms, Jessica Simpson, Alice Nutter, John Calvin, Camille Pissarro, Marcel Proust, Blind Boy Fuller, Joe Shuster, David Brinkley, Jake Lamotta, Fred Gwyn, Alice Munro, Ron Glass, Arlo Guthrie, Virginia Wade, Ronnie James Dio, Kim Mitchell, Rick Emmett, Neil Tennant, Cindy Sheehan, Bela Flek, Adrian Grenier, and me.

Happy Birthday


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The Age of Selfishness: The Continuing Appeal of Ayn Rand

July 10, 2015 at 1:52 am (Uncategorized) ()

“When I was a kid, I read Captain Marvel and Superman comics. I didn’t read them because I was a big, strong guy like Cap or Supe;  I read them because I was a skinny kid. I loved reading about Superman because I didn’t resemble him at all.

“That, I think, helps explain Ayn Rand’s lasting appeal. Rand’s fans are rarely the sort of intrepid, self-reliant go-it-along entrepreneurial heroes she writes about. Rather, they’ve typically spent their lives in the comfortable embrace of large institutions, going from school to university to corporation, or from think tank to government and back again. If Paul Ryan – a government bureaucrat if ever there was one – loves reading about John Galt or Hank Reardon, it’s  because he doesn’t resemble them at all.

“Not that we should dismiss Rand. It’s easy to call her writing ‘badly executed on every level of language, plot and characterization,’ as Thomas Mallon wrote in the New Yorker in 2009, or to mock her ideas as ‘stuff that seems very deep when you’re nineteen years old,” as Bill Maher put it in 2013. But judging her books as literature or as serious social science misses the point. Her books, like Superman comics are fantasies. And fantasies are powerful.

“The fact that Rand’s novles, despite their numbing length, are fundamentally simplistic- even, well, cartoonish – makes the fantasy more compelling, not less.”

Michael Goodwin, Introduction to The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality, and the Financial Crisis by Darryl Cunningham.

I confess I never read Ayn Rand’s work in high school or university;  I was a Lord of the Rings man. Sure, I read some of her ‘shorter’ pieces, but the general flavour of it seemed to be a pseudo-intellectual justification for petty selfishness written in such a turgid, didactic style as to be virtually unreadable.  But apparently, it is readable.  So many conservatives cite her work as inspirational, could I have missed something? And her work still sells. In vast quantities. Surely there must be something there?

Well, I suspect that many who cite her influence didn’t make it through the cannon, but rather relied on the Cliff Notes account (is there such a thing) or the Wikipedia entry. It’s just a way of  appearing deep and scholarly while acting out of simple greed.

Rand herself though presents a massive range of contradictions and inconsistencies, and oddly enough supported a whole range of positions that would make many a neo-con wince, not to mention those who didn’t think unfettered capitalism was a panacea for all the ills of society:

  • She hated feminism, but believed abortion was a right.
  • She despised Christianity and was an unrepentant atheist.
  • She disliked Reagan
  • She thought homosexuals were disgusting, but she disapproved of laws against homosexuality.
  • She believed that native peoples’ were savages and felt that their displacement from land was OK because they hadn’t developed it.
  • She also believed that tobacco had nothing to do with lung cancer even after she developed lung cancer (She was a heavy smoker all her life)
  • At the end of her life took medicare payments and social security, arguing that this was not hypocritical, but rather she was just taking back what was owed her, it having been stolen earlier in the forms of taxes. Erm, Ayn, everyone does that. (Does this make you a Welfare Queen?)
  • And she paid lip service to intellectual independence only to surround herself with sycophants, casting into the darkness those who disagreed with her.

There’s a new graphic novel biography of her called The Age of Selfishness. The first chapter dealing with Rand’s life and her  numerous blind spots about her own ideas and behaviour are dealt with in a very readable way. The second chapter which deals with the recent financial crisis is less interesting as it holds the standard interpretation that the crash was caused by greedy bankers looting the store rather than a problem endemic to capitalism. My own views are better explained in Internationalist Perspective. The third section delves into the psychology of selfishness and human nature and is the least interesting in my opinion.

Still, if you’re hungering for more people mocking the libertarian  loon, check out John Oliver’s bit How is She still a thing?

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Fall is Coming; Get Out Your Wallet

July 2, 2015 at 11:19 pm (Uncategorized)

If you live in Canada, you’ve no doubt heard the joke that there are two seasons in Canada: Winter and July.

Not quite true, but the shortness of summer is keenly felt. More so by the fact that the back-to-school ads, reminding us that the cold weather is just around the corner, seem to get earlier and earlier. “It’s only a matter of time,” I said to a friend, “before they’re running back to school ads before school has finished.”

Jul 1st, I was watching TV when an ad came on for a Buffalo car dealership and its Labour Day sale. Not quite, but close enough.

I smile when I hear people complain that the holidays (especially Christmas) have become so commercial. You’re kidding, right? Capitalism is an economic system where everything becomes a commodity, something for sale.

You don’t want everything in life to be reduced to a sales pitch, let’s make a system where the basis of life isn’t the value-form.

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Not Quite Another Normal Day

July 1, 2015 at 2:13 pm (Uncategorized)

Canada Day. Ooh, Google picture. And that’s about it for me. But my daughter decided she wanted to photograph the Scarborough Bluffs at sunrise.

So, we got up at 3:45 and drove to the beach with her, my wife, sister-in-law and niece.

It was dark when we got there. Dark and foggy. It stayed foggy until well after sunrise.

Still, it was cool to be there. I felt like starting my Gothic romance set in the 18th century in the wilds of Scotland Canada. I don’t have any desire to live in a rural environment, but sometimes it’s nice to get away from the city (even better when you can do this and not leave the city)

I still don’t care about Canada Day, but it was a good way to begin.

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