Music Notes: August 2016

August 31, 2016 at 9:03 pm (Uncategorized)

And here we go for the end of summer

1 Various artists – Sherwood at the Controls volume 2

Argh, you need to hear this. Volume 1 was dub and post-punk, and volume 2 is industrial dance music. Beatnigs, Mark Stewart, and a simply amazing track by The Unknown Cases called “Masimbable.” Own it.

2 The Jam – Setting Sons

Conventional wisdom is even numbered Jam albums are weaker than the odd numbered ones. Setting Sons is number 4, and while it has some very strong tracks (“Thick as Thieves,” “Saturday’s Kids,””Burning Sky”) it doesn’t quite hold together Like All Mod Cons or Sound Affects . Interestingly, if you can find  the compilation Extras, you’ll find demos from many of tracks from this album, which I think are actually stronger.

3 Husker Du – Zen Arcade

So after listening to Warehouse, I sought this one out The Beatles of hardcore? Nah, judge it on its own merit; Husker Du remain one of those bands who got stronger with every record.

4 Various artists – Jamaican Explosion

In celebration of its reggae/Marley cover, Mojo put together a comp of ska, backbeat and reggae stuff including Prince Buster and Jimmy Cliff and others, and it’s quite lovely. Mojo comps are pretty hit and miss; this is all hits.

5 The Ramones – Hey Ho Let’s Go

No, no, no. The Ramones were a great live band, but steer away from this thin-sounding neo-bootleg apparently from a radio broadcast. The splices between the songs are sloppy, there are frequent interruptions from a Spanish announcer, and the cover has Dee Dee Ramone playing bass even though he left the band a decade before this recording was made. Not even for collectors.

6 Neko Case, k. d. Lang, Laura Veirs –  Case/Lang/Veirs

Collaborations are a tricky thing, especially when one collaborator, Lang, is a much bigger star than the others. Still, this works well. Great country-pop with amazing harmonies.

7 Townes Van Zandt – Sunshine Boy: Unheard Studio Sessions and Demos

Two CD set of outtakes, alternative versions, covers and odds and ends. Poignant, funny, brilliant.

8 The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust

There’s a five year gap between this record and the previous one Mockingbird Time, but the album flows so effortlessly it’s hard to believe the five decade break. You pretty much know what you’ll get: Alt-country pop. Worth waiting for.

9 Nine Inch Nails – Head like a Hole

Ten tracks, four songs , lots of remixes. I’m not a huge NIN fan, not much of a fan at all really, but this is worth a listen. Driving industrial highlights from the Pretty Hate Machine album.

10 Scottie Moore

Shame on me. Scotty Moore, Elvis’ guitar player, died June 28. Go, listen to the guitar on “Trying to Get to You,” and see what an amazing player he was. (Then check out the rest of the Sun Sessions, if you’ve forgotten how brilliant Elvis was too)

Back to school then.

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Medicine and the Magic of the Market

August 28, 2016 at 3:10 pm (Uncategorized)

“I know I’m gonna use good judgement. I haven’t lost my temper in 40 years, but pilgrim you caused a lot of trouble this morning, might have got somebody killed… and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won’t, I won’t. The hell I won’t”

John Wayne as George W McLintock

And it probably won’t be me either, but I’ll tell you, the next time someone tells me about how the market is the best device for solving problems, I’ll feel those urges welling up.

Now, this particular rant was triggered by a piece I read earlier this week about the epi-pen. For those of you who don’t know, an epi-pen is a medical device designed to deliver a single shot of epinephrine (adrenaline) to someone suffering from anaphylatic shock or a heart attack. The makers of the epi-pen in the US, Mylan, have raised the price from about $100 for 2 in 2007, to about $600 for 2 in 2016.

There are a couple of things worth knowing here.

  1. Mylan has about an 85% share of the market in the US
  2. Mylan made over 1.5B in profit last year
  3. Mylan did not create this product but simply acquired it in 2007, and to the best of my knowledge, it’s selling the same product now as then.

So why did it raise the price so dramatically? Apparently, because it can.  . Now, a short while after the story broke, and various politicians and health advocates howled in protest, Mylan backed down (You know you’re on the wrong side when even even weasels like Martin Shkreli criticize you). The new cost is to be balanced but a complicated system of rebates and vouchers, but it’s interesting to see Mylan CEO Heather Bresch twist herself into pretzel shapes simultaneously trying to justify the rise and also explain how she’s against it. (It’s probably worth noting that Bresch sold $5m in shares the day Mylan’s earning report came out. Even if her MBA is fake, she can see the writing on the wall)

An epi-pen isn’t a vanity item. It’s not like making the choice between buying a $70 pair of Levis and a $1,500 Gucci pair (C’mon, it’s denim for fuck’s sake; how much better can it be?). It’s a potentially life-saving medicine. Or rather, it gives you time to get to hospital. A shot of epinephrine doesn’t nullify the allergic reaction, it merely reverses it temporarily. It gives you time to get to a hospital. That’s why, when people with severe allergies go camping, for example, they often carry two devices, because the effects only last for about 15 minutes.

Now, I’ll confess, there’s a personal angle here. My daughter is allergic to peanuts, sesame, cashews and pistachios. She has carried an epi-pen with her since she was a small child. There have been a couple of situations where she thought she had been exposed to an allergen, but she’s never had to use the epi-pen. I live in Canada, where it turns out, Mylan does not distribute epi-ens. It’s currently, it’s about $125 per pen. Like everyone in Ontario, I have government heath insurance, which…doesn’t cover epi-pens. But, I also have private insurance though my employer, which means the cost is pretty much nothing. Good deal. For me.

Well then, people might say, you’re OK. Except that my access is dependent on employment, which under capitalism is never secure. And many don’t have that access, even in “socialized” Canada. The market certainly provides incentives and is a way to distribute products, good and services alike. But it is the way we want to live? Is it the only way to live? Despite the choices we’re offered in life, I’m going to say “no.”

But, if you believe that medicine should be for those who can afford it. That only the wealthy or those with decent medical plans deserve good teeth, healthcare and access to life-saving drugs, you probably do deserve a belt in the mouth.

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The Power of Words

August 26, 2016 at 7:14 pm (Uncategorized)

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean– neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master-that’s all.”

                                                                                                                                                  — Through the Looking Glass

I’ve spent a fair bit of time studying syntax and semantics, so it’s fair to say that language is important to me. Still, when I see the narrative politicians in particular spin, when sacrifice is used to compare running a successful business to the loss of a child, and bigot to mean, well, I’ll admit I don’t quite know what Trump means. (and apparently neither did Anderson Cooper)

When apologies begin with “If I offended anyone…” (implying that if they didn’t offend anyone, no apology is necessary) , when every comment is supposedly “taken out of context”, when none of it makes sense.

Trump of course is the worst offender here, but then again, he does have “the best words.”

I refer readers to something I wrote in 2009 on Orwell and language, but reading Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language is also essential.

Oh and this song by the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy is worth looking at too.

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Memories of Entrism Past

August 20, 2016 at 7:37 pm (Uncategorized)

Leon Trotsky was assassinated 76 years ago today, but the Prophet’s children are apparently still making trouble.

A couple of days ago, I read in the Guardian story about the UK based Trotskyist group the Alliance for Workers Liberty   (the organization  led  by veteran Trotskyist Sean Matgamna most famously known as Socialist Organizer) and its dastardly plan to infiltrate the Labour Party (a policy known as “entrism”), it brought back a few memories.

The first political group I joined was the Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) when I was 18 or 19. At that time, there was no youth section in the party because the leadership of the party feared it would become dominated by Trotskyists. (This was actually the position of one of the youth chairs!) Oddly enough though, during election time the party establishment loved the Trotskyists hidden in the party as they worked the hardest, and their poll counts were always accurate, so if they occasionally sold a subscription to Socialist Voice, so be it.

It wasn’t long after I joined the NDP before I came across Trotskyist in the ONDP’s Left Caucus. The Left Caucus  was founded after the expulsion of the Waffle, and initially it was a broadly left organization. By the time I began to attend it’s meeting, it was, if not dominated by, then strongly influenced by an entrist group called Forward.  The leaders of Forward including veteran Trotskyist Ross Dowson had been  a part of the Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International’s official Canadian section the League for Socialist Action (LSA), but had left arguing that the LSA’s position on the NDP was ultra-left and that Canadian nationalist was progressive. Initially, the group was called the Socialist League, but over time they adopted the name of their newspaper Forward, becoming the Forward Readers Group and becoming more and more secretive about their Trotskyism in the process. . In fact when the Left Caucus helped to launch the Campaign for An Activist Party and ran Judy Rebick (herself a former member of the Revolutionary Workers League, the successor to the LSA) for party president, CAP organizer Michael Shapcock was apparently shocked to discover that many of the grassroots activists there were members of a secret Trotskyist faction. He need not have worried, but more on that later. I attended Left Caucus meeting , and did begin to consider myself a Trotskyist within the NDP, but the overlap between being a member of a Trotskyist group and being part of social democracy was brief. I was bound for more, sectarian waters 🙂

The strategy of entering larger ostensibly working class organizations was conceived as a short-term tactic by the Trotsky and his tiny scattered supporters in the thirties. in 1919, Trotsky had denounced social-democracy as an appendage of the bourgeois state, but a dozen or so years later, his fortunes had changed somewhat. As social-democracy moved left in the thirties, Trotsky argued that while the party must always be independent, his supporters were not yet parties, so it was OK to enter Rosa Luxemburg had once described as a rotting corpse. Uh huh.

The tactic became known as the “French Turn” as it was practiced on a large scale in the French Section of the Second International (SFIO), but I’ve heard members of he Militant group (now the socialist Party) grumble that it ought to be called the “British Turn” because it was practiced first in Britain in both the Labour Party and the Independent Labour Party.(I think I still have a copy of the pamphlet “Problems of Entrism” somewhere) In a number of countries including the U.S., Trotskyists entered , sought recruits and split with the aim of replacing that organization. This was probably most effective in the US and allowed Trotskyists there to launch the Socialist workers Party in 1938.  In France the tactic was less successful, as the Trotskyist group in France had split and both factions entered the SFIO, squabbling during their time (This is documented in Trotsky’s book The Crisis of the French Section )

In Britain though, the relationship between being a Trotskyist who was working in the Labour Party and a Trotskyist who was working for the Labour Party became a little blurred. Like the French, the British had split into two groups, the Revolutionary Socialist League and the Workers International League. Both groups working the Labour Party, but the WIL was able to grow, by largely abandoning the party to work in industry. The RSL became moribund and eventually fused with the WIL to become the Revolutionary Communist Party, an open organization. Within a few years of the end of the war, the RCP had shrunken to virtually nothing and its members had returned to the bosom of the Labour Party under the dictatorial leadership of Gerry Healy.

Healy ‘s group published a barely social-democratic newspaper called Socialist Outlook, and after its suppression, sold Tribune. In 1959, the Club became the Socialist Labour League,. and while members still remained within the Labour Party, the SLL operated as an independent organization which ludicrously postured as a revolutionary party (of course, the SLL’s successor, the Workers Revolutionary Party made the SLL look modest and sane, but that’s another story) . After the departure of the SLL, Ted Grant’s Militant tendency became the dominant Trotskyist group in the party, but Grant’s supporters ran the line that social-democracy could be won to socialism by adopting their policies. Privately, they were still orthodox Trots, but the mask quickly became the face.

And it’s that latter current that has prevailed. No longer split and wreck, but build the party, build the left wing, capitulate to the left wing oops! In 1973, members of the Young Socialists, the LSA’s youth group in New Brunswick operated in the Waffle group, and were able to win the New Brunswick NDP to a series of radical positions,. The national leadership of the LSA were apoplectic, arguing that this would lead to a split in the party, and weaken the opportunity to advance Trotskyism. The YS were suspended and withdrew from the party. The LSA had won the NDP to socialism, but Ross Dowson made them give it back! As social-democracy moves rightward, the Trots in the party are the only ones demanding that the party return to its honest roots. So, the Labour Party really not need fear the AWL’s advances because, underneath, they will be honest and true Labour Party members.

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Harry Cleaver: Master of Kung Fu

August 19, 2016 at 7:38 pm (Uncategorized)

I was a little too young to get into the kung-fu craze of the 70s. I was 9 when Enter the Dragon (1973) appeared, and although I watched a few episodes of  TV’s Kung Fu  (1972-1975), both were over my head. I did watch Hong Kong Phooey (1974) on TV, but let’s say no more. about that. I also remember Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” when it was on the charts the same year, but I’m digressing.

The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu was Marvel’s cash-in attempt beginning publication in 1973 . The premise was that the titular character Shang-Chi was the son of arch-villain Fu Manchu, and who had rebelled against his evil father. Marvel, which had tried and failed to get the rights to the TV series, instead acquired the rights to characters such Fu and his arch-enemy Sir Denis Nayland Smith, and developed a supporting cast of allies  along with new characters “Black” Jack Tarr, and Bond-esque spy Clive Reston.

The early issues of book were standard Marvel fare, but when series creators Steve Eagleheart and Jim Starlin are replaced by Doug Moench and Paul Galacy, the book took on an almost cinematic quality – if you can find the issues where Shang-Chi battles Carlton Velcro and his assassin Razorfist, you’ll see what I mean (particularly Gulacy’s art). I didn’t see the original issues of the book, but read them as reprints. In the mid-70s Marvel sought to expand into Britain by publishing weekly black and white reprints  of their US four colour books. The Avengers weekly contained 10 pages each of the Avengers, Dr. Strange, and Master of Kung Fu. I didn’t read the Avengers regularly, but I do remember this copy had Shang-Chi battling the Man-Thing. Later on, I picked up the original issues (but by no means all of them) second-hand.

Last week, I was at my parents’ place and was going through some old boxes of comics in their basement and came across some of the old issues. Issue 18, in which Fu Manchu’s attempts to import a powerful drug into the US contains a letter by… Marxism theorist Harry Cleaver when he was a professor at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. In the letter, Cleaver warns about the pervasive racism of Fu Manchu creator Sax Rohmer, as well as noting the social significance of the book (an Asian hero), and hoping for authenticity in the fight scenes. Small world, huh?

Cleaver’s quite right about the racism of the novels. If you’ve never read the original novels by Sax Rohmer, they are worth a look. but be warned. First published in 1912, the Fu Manchu novels are fantastic pulp fiction-like novels, yet unfortunately, they carry the mark of their times, and along with Edgar Rice Burroughs equally fantastic Tarzan, they are dripping with offensive racial and sexual stereotypes

Harry Cleaver’s Rupturing the Dialect: The Struggle Against Workwill be published next year by AK Press.

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Burkini Madness

August 19, 2016 at 7:37 pm (Uncategorized)

A few years back in Canada, the ruling Conservative Party pulled out all of the stops to prevent some Muslim women taking the Oath of Canadian Citizenship while wearing a veil (this represented a staggeringly small percentage of those taking the Oath, so you can see the urgency, right?) . Apparently, this was an affront to “Canadian values” or some such horseshit to cover the Tories’ pandering to their base. In any event, the Conservatives lost the court battle, then the election, and it was settled.

France however continues. Years ago, they banned the hijab in schools (a policy which is applied, and is not applied depending on where you are), but the new thing is the banning of the burkini on several beaches on the French Rivera. Burkini, you know, those swim-suits that look a little like the old Victorian ones. The latest ban stems from a fight on a beach which began when a man objected to another taking pictures of his wife. The husband apparently threw a rock abut the photographer which is not cool, but it’s usually a good idea to ask before taking pictures of other people. Anyway, one argument advanced for the banning is because…”Beachwear that ostentatiously displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order.” Er, OK. I’d say the speedo is a bigger threat to public order, but that’s just me. Probably another reason not to go to the beach.

I’m pretty sure though, the terrorists of ISIS, Al-Qada and anyone the French are worried about else here aren’t cool with burkinis either. And if we’re still keeping in Canada, the Christian secularists in Quebec (i.e., we’re for secularism when it comes to other people’s religion) should be drawing up similar legislation soon, although with the length of the Canadian summer, it’s hardly worth it.

Here’s a funny column from the Guardian which is worth a look, and not just for the line, “Does my bomb look big in this?”

Honestly, don’t people have better things to do?

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The Kills: 2016

August 10, 2016 at 3:42 pm (Uncategorized)

The Kills, Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince, the Kills, are probably my favourite band at the moment. Still, every band has a sell-by date, and this new record is their fifth and it comes after a gap of several years.

In terms of favourite albums, I go back and forth between the debut Keep on Your Mean Side and Midnight Boom. Just the rawness of the debut and the punky pop (not punk-pop) of the latter do it for me. Sure, sure, No Wow has its moments, though curiously the band only play the title song live, and Blood Pressures  broadens the pallet a little, sacrificing some of the intensity in the process.

The band’s new record Ash and Ice was released on June 6, two weeks after their Toronto date (see below), but the first single and video “Doing it to Death” were making the rounds in May. And, I’ll be honest,  my initial response involved notions of shark jumping. Sure, the video looked fun, (crazy funeral, back flips on cars etc.), but the song just didn’t grab me. The guitar was too low in the mix, and it lacked the passion, I associate with the Kills. The second single “Heart of a Dog” was better, but it still didn’t hold my attention, the way previous records had.

The problem for the Kills, like every band really, is to change and yet retain the fans. If a band simply turns out new versions of the same songs, it becomes a caricature. I love the Ramones, but after a while, they were really writing the same song (I know there’s an argument, that the Ramones only wrote one song, but it was such a great song, they were able to build a career around it, but I digress). Yet, if they change, they risk loosing that original fan base. Not every band can make that transition. We’re so hard to please!

So, Ash and Ice. First impression was disappointment. It didn’t sound like the Kills.  Guitar too low and a focus on percussion, not enough fast songs etc. But , you know, after a few listens, it grew on me. Songs like “Whirling Eye” and “Siberian Nights” pull you in.

But having said all of that, if you haven’t seen the Kills live, you really haven’t heard the band at all. This was my fifth time, and the second time I’d seen them at the Danforth Music Hall. If you haven’t been there, it’s a great big hall holding upwards of a thousand people. The sound is great, and you can usually find a spot to see the band (and without too much trouble you can usually worm your way to the front) . The opening band was LA Witch, a three-piece garage punk band from LA. set the tone. Plenty of feedback, and a scruffy sound which promised great things.

Yet, within a song, the Kills made me forget them altogether.  Alison Mosshart owns the stage. She’s never still, striding back and forth, and she is captivating. A magnetic stage presence. Jamie Hince is simply content to stand to one side, and let his band-mate command. And here’s the other weird thing, the new songs which I’d  heard before, sounded great. The songs new to me sounded great as well (which probably accounted for my initial disappointment when I heard the songs at home). And the old songs, well, they were also great.

So, shark jumping? No. But a transition. And one that I will follow to see where it leads.

 

Setlist: Danforth Music Hall May 21, 2016

  1. No Wow
  2. U.R.A. Fever
  3. Heart is a Beating Drum
  4. Kissy Kissy
  5. Hard Habit to Break
  6. Heart of a Dog
  7. Impossible Tracks
  8. Black Balloon
  9. Doing it to Death
  10. Baby Says
  11. Whirling Eye
  12. Pots and Pans
  13. Monkey 23

Encore

  1. Tape Song
  2. Siberian Nights
  3. Sour Cherry

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Endnotes

August 10, 2016 at 3:10 pm (Uncategorized)

The fourth issue of Endnotes came out earlier this year, but I didn’t get a physical copy until this year’s Toronto Anarchist Bookfair a few weeks back (the good people at the Tower carry it.) Endnotes came out of a split (although they might not use that word) in the British journal Aufheben a few years back, and to date the new journal has produced four fascinating, if dense issues of communist theory. Well worth tracking down.

I should also mention another book from the Tower, Blessed is the Flame, an introduction to concentration camp resistance and anarcho-nihilism. Haven’t gotten to this yet (I’m reading something on the Cincinnati creationist museum at the moment), but it looks interesting. It’s available from Little Black Cart

 

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