Goodbye 2015

December 31, 2015 at 4:40 pm (Uncategorized)

As with most years, 2015 had its share of bleak moments: The bloody, brutal attacks on Paris, the rising of killings by police officers acting with seemingly  limitless impunity, the deaths of such talents as Lemmy, B.B. King, Christopher Lee, Lesley Gore and many more. The list could go on. So, here’s the annual list of things that made life just a little easier (or at least interesting)

1  New York

Seems to be, the city makes the list every year. I was in New York twice this year. In the fall for a political session, and in the summer for a two-day quick trip with my son. There’s something to be said for seeing a great city with someone who has never been. Great city which, no doubt, will continue to appear on this list.

2 Star Wars

Saw this two days ago. Now, it’s not the second coming as some of the reviews would have you believe, but it’s pretty good. Perhaps it was the low bar set by the last three films that made this one so much fun. Maybe it was that J.J. Abrams seemed to tap into the spirit of what made the originals great. Maybe it was the dynamic new leads (Yes Daisy Ridley – thank you!) And was it just me or was Adam Driver channeling Neil Gaiman? Who knows, but it was an extremely pleasant distraction.

3 Walking the dog

You know the story, your kid begs you for a dog promising all the things she will do for it… and you end up walking the thing. OK, I love that dog, so I don’t mind so much. Sure, sure, when it’s snowing or pouring with rain, the idea of walking the dog isn’t so appealing, but in general, that time spent with the dog is very zen. Time to be on my own (No,. I don’t spent it on the phone) with my thoughts. An oasis in the craziness of life. A time to stop and sniff the flowers (or in the dog’s case, the lamp posts)

4 The Scarborough Bluffs

On Canada Day this year, my daughter decided she wanted to take a picture of the dawn at the Scarborough Bluffs. It’s a lovely part of eastern Toronto on the waterfront. So, my daughter. and my wife, my sister-in-law and her daughter got up at 4:30 or so and I drove everyone there. It was dark, but windswept and beautiful. Unfortunately, it was also foggy, and so we could see nothing as the sun rose. When the fog cleared, it was still lovely. Maybe next year.

5 The return of the old

Luna, John Cooper Clarke, the Sonics, the Rezillos. Bands I never thought I’d see, but they all played Toronto this year. Now, my usual rule is not to see bands on the revival circuit, but my exception is that if I never saw the band in their prime, I might go. There are reviews for all of these bands on this blog. It’s nice to remember.  (Caveat: I saw the Rezillos a couple of years back, but I had such a good time, I thought I would break my rule and see them as they toured with a new record. Mistake)

6 Pompeii

Not the actual city or event, but the travelling exhibition. I saw the show at the Royal Ontario Museum in the summer. Incredible artifacts from a city frozen in time (or more accurately volcanic ash)

7 Movember

I grew a mustache in November for “Movember.” Didn’t sign up for sponsorship and almost shaved it off when I heard people calling themselves “Mo-bros,” but I stuck it out. Occasionally I’d look in the mirror and think, “Hey, not bad.” Then look again and realize, “You look ridiculous.” My wife hated it.

8 The Return of the Victorian Era

Penny Dreadful, Ripper Street, the Knick. Lots of cool shows seem to be set in the late Victorian era. Maybe it’s the steampunk lover in me, but it’s that ‘birth of the modern’ coupled with the past (that history BA) that makes it so interesting. Sure, sure, not to idealize the past, but still, I wish for a time when men still wore hats (that’s right  not caps, hats)

9.  Halloween

There are people who argue that Halloween should be a statutory holiday. I disagree. A stat holiday likely would mean people stay home. The purpose of Halloween is to get out and dress up. This year, I bought stage make-up to affect a Chelsea smile (a la the Joker). It disgusted a lot of people. Mission accomplished. Halloween is much more fun that Xmas.

10 The Daily Show

I’m still recovering from Jon Stewart leaving the show, but Trevor Noah is doing a pretty good job. The first couple of weeks were a little wobbly, but Noah is gradually developing his own Daily Show. Can’t be easy following Stewart, but the show is still the funniest part of the day (the world has been kind in gifting him with the Republican clown car though)

11 Alanna Cavanagh- Artist Extraordinaire

Alanna and I used to work at the Village Bookstore in the 1990s. A few years ago we reconnected (and not through Facebook!). Turned out her current partner was an old political sparring partner of mine (fortunately, even though we were in different Trotskyist groups, we got along OK).  At her pre-Xmas open house this year, I ran into a guy I knew in university who I hadn’t seen in almost thirty years, and a woman whose daughter was a classmate of my own daughter. All roads lead to Alanna Cavanagh. Buy her stuff, she’s tremendously talented

12 The Beguiling

Still my favourite comic book shop in the city: Indie publishing, super-heroes, art books, and a bunch of cool other stuff.  Also, the people who put together TCAF. Go, read, feel cool.

13 Ben Sherman Mac

It seems every year there’s an item of clothing on this list. This year, it’s a light coat by Ben Sherman. Sue me.

14. Manga

I’m not a big Manga fan. I read Full Metal Alchemist years ago, but beyond that. I tried to Attack on Titan because everyone said I should, but it didn’t grab me – a bit too violent and the art was poor.  At last year’s TCAF conference, I got a copy of Master Keaton, the story of a part-time professor, insurance investigator archaeologist who was in the SAS. Imagine if the Da Vinci code was a graphic novel and was actually worth reading, and you’d have a sense of this book. Very cool. Also reading Monster and an adaptation of Richard III. There’s always new stuff to discover.

15 Macbeth

It only took me 35 years, but I finally got to see Roman Polanski’s Macbeth. You see we were supposed to see it when we read the book in high school, but the teacher who promised it, never delivered. On a couple of other occasions, I almost saw it, but this year was the year. It’s creepy. It’s bloody. But it does some very clever things too. Ross is elevated to a conspirator but simply by placement rather than changing or adding lines. The film is just filthy. I don’t mean rude, but there’s a layer of dirt that seems to surround everything and marks the film as such. I’m not sure it was worth waiting for (it wasn’t on the bucket list), but it was interesting.

16 Rock Autobiographies

Didn’t like Chrissie Hynde’s. Kim Gordon’s felt slight (like her art writing though). Elvis Costello’s was tremendous. Am reading Patti Smith’s M Train right now and enjoying it immensely. Who was it said that reading is dreaming with your eyes open?

17 PS 4

OK, this is for the boy. We upgraded to the PS 4 this week. Sold the PS3 and all of the games we had. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the PS4 operates on HD TVs. I don’t have one. No matter, we’re working on it, and I have no doubt greatness awaits. (Ouch)

18 Pizza Libretto

Commercial plug for a pizzeria on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. Our default celebration pizza place. Great food, great service, great ambiance. we were there most recently for the boy’s birthday.

19 Communicating Vessels

Communicating Vessels is a publication out of Arizona, the 27th issue of which recently appeared. It’s a fantastic zine. Self-published and always packed with interesting articles on art, literature, politics and poetry. No web presence, no email. If you want a copy, write. And send money: CV, PO Box 2048, Tuscon, Arizona, 85702, USA.You won’t be sorry.

20 Quotation

So, given the praise, it seemed appropriate to end with a quotation from the current issue of CV. I don’t share the pessimism of the end, but the spirit of the rest is pretty cool.

But nothing is completely static. that is why the ages have fitted this engraving with different styles of dress. The essence remains largely the same; the clothes are always changing. during the medieval insurrections it was dressed as a peasant. Hundreds of years later, during May 1968 in France, it was garbed in the clothes of a young blouson noir. At the height of the social ferment in 1960s America it came to the scene as a black automobile worker on wildcat strike in Detroit. More than a century before this engraving derived its timely shadows of life and light from English weavers under the moniker of Ned Ludd.

The wish to turn the world upside down as resurfaced again and again throughout history: ties are made between those who have had enough. These ties of solidarity and affinity are eventually broken – and then they suddenly reappear in a different time and place.

We may be losing the battle. But the dream is still there for those who refuse to utterly surrender.


Happy 2016

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December 30, 2015 at 1:01 am (Uncategorized)

C’mon, admit it. We all thought that Lemmy would live forever. The man who took too many drugs for Hawkwind. The man who spent 35 years in the loudest band in the world. But sadly, the Motorhead madman lost his battle with cancer.

I saw Motorhead twice at the Oxford New Theatre. On the Bomber tour in 1979, and then on the Ace of Spades tour the following year. My ears were ringing the next day as I proudly wore my Motorhead sweat shirt to school. Someone once told that three out of the four songs on the Golden Years E.P. were recorded at the Oxford show in 1979. I’ve looked into this, but have never found any proof either way. It would be cool though. After the 1980 show, my friends and I waited patiently at the stage door to meet the band. I still have the signed programme from the show. A treasured memento.

As a kid, I was into punk. But Motorhead were a metal band who were harder and faster than many of the punk bands. They had more in common with the punks, than the likes of Judas Priest and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

Wasn’t it Lemmy who once said, if Motorhead moved in next door, your lawn would die? I don’t believe in God. Neither did he. But it would have been cool to see where Lemmy would land.

Now, go and play those records, LOUD

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New China Journal

December 29, 2015 at 1:05 am (Uncategorized)

A friend forwarded this link from a new journal about China called Chung . The piece is entitled No Way Forward, No Way Back: China in the Age of Riots


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‘Twas the Day Before Christmas

December 24, 2015 at 8:48 pm (Uncategorized)

And to paraphrase Joey Ramone,

“Hanging out in Don Mills and there’s nothing to do;
It ain’t Christmas if there ain’t no snow.”

I walked around today in 15 degree weather (that’s Celsius kids), in brilliant sunshine. A few weeks back, there was a joke circulating about Syrian refugees arriving in Canada and saying to each other, “See, the weather’s not so bad here.”  I lived in England until I was 17, and a white Christmas was never a certainty. More often than not, a grey, wet Christmas. But it’s funny how those traditions sink in. I don’t think I ever celebrated Christmas in a religious fashion, but if we didn’t do anything now, I expect I would feel vaguely disappointed. This year, my parents are coming to our place, but it’ll be a vegetarian holiday and no crackers (sorry mum).

Last night, I was surfing channels and one of the stations was showing the Seinfeld Festivus episode. It’s still funny almost twenty years later.




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Music Notes – December 2015

December 22, 2015 at 6:58 pm (Uncategorized)

December notes are always a little early early.

  1. Metric – Pagans in Vegas

The sixth album from Metric finds them a little more synth-poppy than I remember, and it’s a formula whose appeal fades over the course of the record; but for the first half it works well.

  1. Generation X – Generation X

Gen X were part of the original punk wave, but their reputation has not lasted. Unfairly dismissed as poseurs, their first album does have the tunes: “One Hundred Punks,” “Ready Steady go,” and “Kiss me Deadly” are all worth repeated plays.

  1. Patti Smith – M Train

The second volume of memoirs from Patti Smith is as good as the first, though it’s a series of vignettes rather than a narrative. I’m half way through the book, but now I know a lot about Patti’s love of coffee, detective shows and, oddly enough her membership in the Continental Drift Club. Great reading.

  1. Bobby Gillespie – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down

Not a solo album, but one collected by Primal Scream’s front man. No surprise really, as whenever you have a retrospective edition of a “cool” record, there’s often a Gillespie quote on it.  Kris Kristopherson, the Byrds, the Beach Boys,  and Primal Scream’s take on “Darklands” among others. Put together by the wonderful people at Ace Records.

  1. CBGBs

So the word is that CBGBs will reopen as a restaurant at Newark Airport. Huh? My wife and I walked past the club once in the late 1980s and meant to go in later in our trip. We never did. I often fly out of Newark though, but I don’t expect I’ll be eating there.

  1. Squeeze – Singles 45s and Under

You sort of have to admire a band that named themselves after the worst Velvet Underground album. A friend gave me this greatest hits record for Xmas (yes, I did already have it), but excellent taste Paul. A fantastic recrod and maybe one of the greatest comps around. Every song a winner. Even the ones that aren’t really.

  1. Various artists – Live Stiffs

I was weeding some stuff from the collection the other day and came across this live compilation from the Stiff Record train tour. Elvis Costello. Nick Lowe, Larry Wallis, Ian Dury and Wreckless Eric, along with an all-star version of “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.” Great. Worth having for Costello’s live version of “Miracle Man.”

  1. One Direction – Carpool Karaoke

If you read this column regularly, you’ll have noticed One Direction get mentioned more often than is probably healthy. Having said that, this clip from James Cordon’s Late L:ate Show is hilarious. Merry Christmas Sam.

  1. Timothy White – Music to my ears

Another stocking stuffer from Billboard’s editor in chief. I like essay collections as you can dip into them at your leisure. Published in the late 1990s, it’s a nice snapshot of what was hot and what was not .

  1. Billy Mack – “Christmas is All Around”

The great Bill Nighy like no other.



Till next time.

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Field Notes Paul Mattick jr. – December 2015

December 14, 2015 at 2:49 am (Uncategorized)

THe article belwo first appeared in the December 2015- January 2016 of The Brooklyn Rail.


Editor’s Note

I grew up around adults who had made it through the Second World War—by leaving Europe in time, evading or refusing the draft in the United States, or by being among the lucky ones to survive a spell in a concentration camp. Many of these people expected a new world war in the 1950s, given the fierceness of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. rivalry, and were particularly apprehensive of a coming nuclear holocaust. Later, I met people who had left Europe for South America to be safer from radioactive fallout when the war came, and others who thought of moving—or actually emigrated—to Australia for the same reason.


As it turned out, the expected nuclear conflict between the great powers did not take place. Instead we had—developing out of the anti-colonial wars of national liberation that followed World War II—a series of murderous proxy wars in Asia, Africa, and Central America, in which local conflicts were provoked or magnified by big-power involvement. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 led to an apparent diminution of the threat of superpower mutual assured destruction, although both Russia and America continued to maintain fleets of planes, ships, and missiles armed with nuclear weapons, while the number of nuclear powers expanded. War continued on the periphery of the economically developed areas, as ethnically oriented forces fought to reorganize control of the Balkans, Central Africa, and various Asian countries, while what amounted to army-sized gangs fought over control of natural resources—diamonds and other minerals, oil, grazing land—in Africa and drug routes in Central and South America.

At the same time, of course, the “advanced” nations had not given up their interest in war. The last decade of the Cold War saw the U.S., in addition to its continuing gigantic military expenditures, investing billions in creating an army of Islamists to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. The jihadists had wider interests than those that suited the Americans, involving the destruction of governments in Saudi Arabia (despite Saudi support for jihad) and Egypt, along with Israel—all allies of the U.S. With the help of the “poor-man’s air force”—car and truck bombs—Islamist fighters pushed the Americans out of Lebanon and destroyed military bases and embassies in Saudi Arabia and Africa, along with a warship and other military installations. On September 11, 2001, the Americans could no longer pretend that this fight did not directly concern them. When the Bush administration took advantage of the situation to demonstrate American might by attacking Iraq, the result was unmitigated disaster: the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime led directly to a renewed sectarian struggle between Shia and Sunni wings of Islam which, in combination with the complex national and ethnic rivalries of the region, has turned the Middle East into a living hell for its inhabitants, driving millions of them into exile.

With the most recent turns of these events—the emergence of the Islamic State out of the Mesopotamian branch of Al Qaeda and, in the last weeks, the IS’s turn to terrorism abroad—why not just admit that the Third World War has come? (I’m hardly the first person to have this thought—besides the ever-present Pope, for instance, Iraq Foreign Minister al-Jaafari called the Paris attacks a new stage in an ongoing world war.) It did not start, like the first two, with formal declarations of the major world powers. Instead, it emerged gradually, in the context of big-power rivalry and in a world system lacking alternative means for settling conflicts over such basic questions as the control of resources. It is fueled by the worldwide availability of weapons, from the ubiquitous AK-47 to sophisticated truck-mounted missiles, that flooded the world to meet the needs of various proxy wars (and let us not forget the sizeable contribution made by arms production to American, Russian, Chinese, French, and Israeli GDP), in addition to the billions of cars and tons of fertilizer available to ever more ambitious bomb-makers the world over. Unlike in the earlier world wars, sides are not clearly defined: In Syria, for example, Turkey, officially a Western ally, is more concerned to prevent the emergence of a Kurdish state than to support the war against IS, now fought most successfully by the Kurds; wealthy Saudis fund jihad, while the Saudi air force bombs jihadists in Syria (and anti-jihadists in Yemen); the U.S. and Iran find themselves on the same side vis-à-vis the Afghan Taliban and the IS, while they are otherwise fierce enemies; France and Russia, at odds over Ukraine, coordinate bombing runs in Syria. But this very confusion of “sides” constitutes the new globalism of the war, which can no longer be localized, but is as liable to pop up in New York or London as in Mali or the Philippines.

Another novel feature of this world war is the difficulty of imagining an end to it. Even in Syria, taken by itself, the fragmentation of anti-government forces and the incoherent relations between the outside forces involved makes it unlikely that the Assad regime—even if it were stronger than it is, and even with considerable foreign assistance could defeat them—any more than the Russians were able to defeat the conflicted forces that opposed them in Afghanistan.1 And the poor prospects of “solving” the “problem” extend beyond the Syrian situation. One can get a sense of the apocalyptic open-endedness of the global struggle from reading expert opinion: The hardest line in a recent sampling of strategic thinking on what to do about the IS came from Shabtai Shavit, a former chief of Mossad, who declared on Israeli radio that “we have to push aside arguments on law, morality, and comparisons of security and the rights of the individual.” Instead we need to do “what they did in World War II to Dresden. They wiped it off the map.” But as an expert on Mideast affairs at the Brookings Institution commented, this would just produce “a wave of terrorism the likes of which the world has never seen.” Perhaps this dilemma could be resolved by the invention of an alternative “constructive” version of Islam, able to displace the hold of jihadism on the hearts and minds of large numbers of Muslim young people. Beyond religious reformation, what is needed, as the New York Times summarized the opinions of various tank-thinkers, is “greater accountability” of Middle-Eastern governments, along with “fair justice, better schools, more job prospects.”2

A tall order, you might say. (While we’re at it, why not provide jobs and decent living conditions, along with an end to police harassment, for the vast Muslim population crammed into the slums ringing French cities?) At least such views involve recognition that today’s jihadism—which is not a traditionalist revival, but a contemporary product, widely inspired by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the Moslem Brotherhood activist executed by Nasser in 1966—is a response to the failure of postwar capitalist growth to extend to the formerly colonized areas of Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. It is this failure, matched by the failure of Arab socialism and secular nationalism to produce governmental accountability, fair justice, better schools, and good job prospects, that has led to the religion-based rejection of “Western” modernization and facilitated the recruitment of tens of thousands of Muslims from around the world who are ready to kill and to die in the effort to construct a socially meaningful existence within our stagnant social and economic system. The idea that a “moderate” version of Islam cooked up by West-friendly imams could displace the real Islamic reformation, the Islam for our time, worked out by Qutb and advanced by Bin Laden, al-Zarqawi, and al-Baghdadi, only testifies to the bankruptcy of the official political and cultural imagination.

The failure of the revolutionary wave that followed World War I allowed capitalism another chance; the depression and the new world war to which it led opened the way to a new period of prosperity, the postwar “Golden Age” that ended in the mid 1970s. The receding tide of economic growth, which has allowed the accumulation of riches in a few hands and places while leaving the great majority of the earth’s people a decreasing share of the wealth they generate, has eroded the hope of progress that once helped people tolerate life under capitalism. With a future this bleak, it is not surprising that we see the creation of all sorts of backward-looking apocalyptic practices, from various forms of Christian fundamentalism at play in the U.S. to Jewish ultra-orthodoxy and the Islamic State. What we are witnessing is not a “clash of civilizations” but the self-destruction of one civilization, the one that once proudly called itself “modernity.” As Adam Schatz observes in a penetrating article:

The attacks in Paris don’t reflect a clash of civilizations but rather the fact that we really do live in a single, if unequal world, where the torments in one region inevitably spill over into another, where everything connects, sometimes with lethal consequences. For all its medieval airs, the caliphate holds up a mirror to the world we have made, not only in Raqqa and Mosul, but in Paris, Moscow, and Washington.3

The apocalypse that threatens is thus not the one promised by the various gods invoked by the world’s cults but the one produced by capitalism’s inability to manage the forces it has itself unleashed. The world’s leaders seem to finally understand that climate change is a real problem, for instance, but it is generally assumed that the coming climate talks in Paris will produce very little of the change necessary to avert the worsening of the ongoing catastrophe. The economic (and therefore political) interests that would need to be shoved aside are simply too powerful because they are too basic to the way world society operates. Similarly, while the limitations of the capitalist economy make it impossible to solve the social problems generating the misery behind the global jihad, the leading nations are structurally inhibited from addressing the resulting situation by any but military means. Military means have become central to the very functioning of the leading economic power: As Gabriel Kolko pointed out in his valuable book, Century of War, following World War II the U.S. military budget “became a very crude surrogate for public works or social measures and alone made government deficits possible […] thereby sustaining the general economy […] The very existence of military preparations carried with it an inherent propensity for activism, with all of the consummate risks that entailed.”4 But even states not as dependent on military Keynesianism as the U.S. have economic as well as political investments in militarism. And, finally, what else are they to do?

As a result, the major states are trying to behave like “great powers” at a moment when there are no longer any great powers in the 19th-century sense, a moment when the forces constricting the global system exceed the strength of even its strongest elements. The result is the barbarism Rosa Luxemburg warned about, as the alternative to socialism. The third world war may well turn out to be the most terrible of them all if the earth’s population does not put a stop to it, by breaking once and for all with the conditions that are producing it.

  1. For an informative analysis of the Syrian situation, see William Polk’s article, “Understanding Syria: From Pre-Civil War to Post-Assad,” the Atlantic, December 10, 2013.
  2. All quotations from Tim Arango, “Envisioning How the Global Powers Can Smash a Brutal Enemy,” New York Times, November 18, 2015.
  3. A. Schatz, “Magical Thinking About ISIS,London Review of Books 37:23 (December 3, 2015).
  4. G. Kolko, Century of War: Politics, Conflicts, and Society Since 1914 (New York: The New Press, 1994), 475.

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