Thursday, January 29, 2009

General Strikes are Awesome

France is having one right now.

That, my friends, is social and civil solidarity. Could we ever have one here in Canada? Could we have had one this week if the government had tabled a lousy budget and the Liberals supported it out of their own political expdiency?

Oh right....Tant pis.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Et tu, Harpe?

Watching the Federal Budget, it was hard not think that Stephen Harper has produced a budget that both manages to rehabilitate Bob Rae's 1991 Ontario Budget, you know, the legendary one where he went all Keynesian on Ontario and everyone freaked out (the beginning of the conservative "turn" in Canadian politics), and also repeat Conservative history. He is miming Mulroney's government which, when faced with cutting or spending, chose the latter.

Now all that remains is for the Liberals to step in and restore financial order to the federal government, while conservatives demand tax cuts "more responsible spending" from those "tax-and-spend" liberals. With the cycle complete, Canadians can rest assured that their cherished myths of the Canadian political landscape are still intact.

But what's also interesting is that the Conservatives really do seem believe in their own cardboard cut-out version of "the left". "We'll give them the budget they want, which will be all about huge deficits and all that other crazy crap they like, and they'll love it." Tilt at those windmills, Tories!

I guess we'll see.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


For no good reason at all, beyond that I am impetuous and find my blogging here increasingly distracted by bits and pieces, I have created a new blog just for those bits and pieces over here.

My hope is that it will be the Modernist component to my overall intellectual project.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


It seems that tenor Jon Villars, who was meant to have sung Florestan in the Canadian Opera Company's production of Fidelio, has walked off because "he hasn't mastered the role".

Yikes.....what does one say to that?

The COC remains a source of drama, both on and off stage!

A Community Service

With the demise of the Queen West Home Depot, the Torontoist, among others, would have you believe that the Queen West area is bereft of a steady supply of lumber.

For you see friends, despite the fact that the main readers of Torontoist and other Internet broadsheets are downtowners, their sensibility vis a vis many kinds of consumer goods is clearly suburban.

Some time ago, I documented Leah McLaren's lamentable ignorance of lumber and hardware stores in her area.

However, we expect ignorance from Ms. McLaren.

But to hear the Torontoist say:

Too bad that this latest bit of news means that the only victory for the locals is a hollow one: instead of ma and pa hardware stores getting pushed out of the community, some other ma and pa stores will instead; and instead of having a cheap and expansive hardware shop around the corner to buy lumber and paint from, they'll continue to have to mold things they find in the trash into other things with their bare hands, because that is what everyone on Queen West does when they need to make stuff.

Although it is apparent that the author's tongue is slightly against his cheek, nevertheless, I can no longer live with a misconception that hurts our local businesspeople!

Someone needs to take action.

So, in the public interest of those at Queen and Bathurst and its environs, here are the names of two, count them TWO, hardware/lumber stores within walking distance of said intersection!

1. There's Downtown Lumber at 172 Ossington Avenue, (416) 532-2813. I have purchased lumber from them, and they will even cut it to measure, for free.

2. Even closer is ML Lumber at 856 Dundas Street West, (416) 603-7878. Although I have never purchased lumber from them, they have an excellent hardware selection as well as a tool rental service.

Here's hoping to never again hearing an online hipster lament the lack of hardware and lumber in this area.

Thank you.

A Conversation about Biodiversity

Charlie Rose recently hosted a panel on his show talking about biodiversity. It's great stuff. Not much else to say except that you should watch it, and yes, this blog is well on its way to becoming a video link aggregator.

But it's an intelligent video link aggregator...Right?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

National Film Board Now Online

The NFB has digitized their collection, so now I can do stuff like this:

This is Arthur Lipsett's 21-87, a very well-known experimental film, and also the inspiration for the Force. Seriously.

If Canadians were just a little bit more myopic, our identity "problems" would be over. Oh yes, and if we all also spoke French and English and Cree (at least).

Or better yet, Finnish. Seriously. (Some other time)

Anyway, what the NFB has done is really tremendous. It also shows, contra Philip Marchand's ridiculous article in the National Post musing about why Canadians can't name many national authors, shows that both greatness and government funding can go hand in hand.

I will take a stab at mocking Marchand's article next week - but today, I will watch, what is, for many Canadian boys my age, the greatest NFB film - the Hockey Sweater!!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy America Day

The overwhelming response to my suggestion that we open up this whole playlist idea to Canadians themselves was unsurprising. Indeed, one could infer that this says something about Canadians! Or no one reads this blog....but who needs empiricism when one can idly speculate?

It seems that the only thing that Canadians are less passionate about than say, Canadian politics, is, uh, Canadian identity. Unless it's trying to tell Americans what Canada is all about, and then we're really interested. Indeed, most of our soul searching revolves around trying to tell Americans what we're all about, because they're the audience that matters, they matter far more than we do.

So everyone around me, and indeed the world it seems, will gather to observe and celebrate the inauguration of the President of the United States, all kind of wishing we were Americans today after eight years of thanking God that we weren't. Which is odd. Really odd.

I really don't get any of it. Call me a curmudgeon, but I'd like to think my indifference is more a growing sense of cosmopolitanism than good old fashioned Canadian parochialism and resentment toward those "exciting" Americans.

Only time will tell.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Warning for my Female Readers

If a young man by the name of Franz Kafka asks you if he can strike up a relationship with you via correspondence, do not respond.

However, Kafka's strategy of constantly putting off any kind of physical encounter, in favour of a mediated one, seems pretty much in line with the social preferences of nearly everyone I know.

People love to be connected. Why?

Because in being connected you can always be alone, yet never solitary.

Kafka was there before the rest of us again, that clever fellow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Stehpen Harper's Playlist

Part of my morning routine now entails putting CBC Radio Two on....for my dog. I don't know if he likes it or not, but he doesn't like me leaving and the radio distracts him, and there's something for everyone on the New Radio 2 now, right?

Anyway, today they were featuring something called Obama's Playlist. And what a dog's breakfast it is.

The list is divided into four categories, and although they don't name them, I will - Category A is Popular Canadian English Language Songs, Category B is Classical Music Played or Composed or Breathed on by Canadians, Category C is Quebecois Popular Music that no one in English Canada has heard before or ever will again, and Category D is, uh, Canadian Jazz/Popera/Swing/Lounge music.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that pretty much the only songs I can see going on there pretty much with a free pass are those of Gordon Lightfoot. Seriously. Only Gordon Lightfoot appears to represent CANADA in some amorphous way.

The rest? I suspect Obama, if he were to listen to it, will probably go "That was sung by a Canadian? I thought the Barenaked Ladies were from Maine."

Let's face it, Categories B-D are there so that not every song on the list is a pop song. True to their advertising, CBC is trying to strike the very "balance" they are now all about, even though the title of the whole project away the bias - it's "49 songs from North of the 49th Parallel" and not "49 string quartet movements from North of the 49th Parallel", etc...

"49 Musical Works...", although a tad wordier, would have been more inclusive, super-duper inclusive New CBC Radio Two.

But this got me thinking - what would a playlist, by Canadians who didn't vote for Stephen Harper, people like me, look like?

I'm not saying Harper is ignorant of what it means to be Canadian, but can we agree that he lacks a certain charity toward the opinions of others, and that his vision of Canada is er, radically different from mine.

If the soul of a country is in its music, what would people have him listen to? And, while we're at it, what would the "silent majority" of conservatives have us latte-sipping liberals listen to in order to better understand the Canada they always feel is in danger of disappearing? Despite the facetiousness of my last sentence, I am being sincere.

Can we trace where some of those differences lie? Could we see some commonalities? Could art/entertainment serve a positive political function?

So, let me know, or, if you like, spread this around and let's see what we can come up with.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Meta Meta Meta Blogging (II)

Last week, I posted on Toronto philosopher and drink-mixing gadfly Mark Kingwell's Globe and Mail article on idleness. I quipped about his commenters, and then who shows up to comment on his own article? Mark Kingwell!

And his comment is a model of patrician self-deprecation:

Mark Kingwell from writes: Hi everyone, many thanks for the comments. Russell's essay on idleness is indeed a good one, which is why I discuss it at length in the introduction to "The Idler's Glossary." For those interested, I make clear there how my position is distinct from his (and Aristotle's) in what I think are important ways.

I'm still looking, in idle moments, for the definition of plagiarism that includes exchanges of different ideas on the same topic. For some of us, that's called philosophy.
Again, friends, buy his book. And to heap irony upon irony, I urge you to read his comments against those of his virtual interlocutors - does one see the wit, the sophistication, the rhetorical compression is his response?

How I wish I had someone like that commenting here!

Bravo Professor Kingwell! Now how about another Gimlet?

Meta Meta Meta Blogging

A few days ago, there was a huge jump in my daily page loads - they're pretty consistent, as in pretty consistently low...I guess racism in Sousa isn't much of a draw....

Curious, I delved down, and discovered that everyone was heading to this page, something I tossed off a long time ago on whatever whim I had at that time (Much like this post right here)

To boot, they were all from Italy...anyway, it seems that Christian Rocca, a writer for Italy's Il Foglio newspaper, linked to me talking about Tyler Brûlé talking about Il Foglio.

So here I am talking about Christian Rocca citing me citing Tyler Brûlé citing Il Foglio.

Hooray for blogging!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Dwellers of the Western World

For all the years I was in a wind band, we never once played a march by John Philip Sousa. As far as I can tell, the reason why we this never happened was that in high school, his music was too hard, and in the University, it was too low brow.

It's really strange when you think about it, because the bands themselves pretty much owe their popular existence to would be like orchestras never playing Beethoven! Or movie theatres never screening Chaplin. Or televisions never showing Milton Berle, all the time.

However, one thing I can say is that I'm not sure that even if we had performed Sousa, we could have ever performed the suite from which the title of this post is derived, mainly because the piece is, um, racist.

In three movements, Red Man, White Man, and, yes, Black Man, the work explores the musical characteristics of the various races, or, more appropriately, one of the genders of the various races, or, uh, one of the genders of one of the various colours of North American peopl...yeah.

It's kind of a minefield, isn't it? He does this kind of flutey thing in the Red Man, and a cakewalk for the Black Man, and it's pretty easy to go, yeah, back in the day, this kind of music, as cultural shorthand, probably worked. As it still does, despite the fact that the "popularity" of something like the cakewalk meant "popularity in the white community", something that rather pervades to this day. (Rap, anyone?)

Which is exactly the problem with Dwellers of the Western World. The music paints in broad strokes, but I wonder, when white people listen to the White Man, do they sit there and go, yup, that chorale in the middle of the movement, that's my music, this music characterizes us.

I suspect not, and yet I suspect the outer movements would have the opposite effect, because they are there precisely to characterize.

My evidence? How about the fact that the Red Man and Black Man movements are less than half the size of White Man? And that neither movement is as musically sophisticated as the middle movement?

Let's say he'd called the work the On America Suite, and he'd named the first movement On the Plains, the Second In the Bandshell, and the Third On the Dance Floor, things might have been more ambiguous. Which is just the way we like things now, isn't it? Ambiguous enough that people might think you're doing something inappropriate, but you're really not, or vice versa?

So it's not much of a stretch to see the Dwellers of the Western World as a fairly concise overview of race perceptions and relations in America at the turn of the Century. That Sousa, ever the populist, is well known for playing straight down the middle when it came to his crowd, makes this supposition that much more plausible.

That these works were intended as entertainment brings home this point - in explicitly expressing these racial cultural stereotypes to his audience, Sousa is also reinforcing them.

But it's a nice piece - so what can one do with it? I don't know if explaining any of this in the program notes does the trick, because the music itself is coded along racial lines...or maybe I'm just too senstitive about all this stuff. Yes, maybe I just need to be less sensitive...

Beyond that, any thoughts?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Bathroom Grafitti and the Hopelessness of the Modern Situation

Found on the men's bathroom wall of Levack Block.

Who brings a magic marker to a bar?

People who are passionate about entertainment criticism.

Friday, January 02, 2009

On (not) Hating Daniel Barenboim

The Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Concert was excellent, as it usually is.

This year it was led, for the first time, by Daniel Barenboim. I disliked Barenboim for ages, for reasons I cannot really recall, beyond maybe divining a certain moral turpitude in his actions at some point that offended my then black and white sensibilities.

I disliked him even though he led perhaps the best orchestral concert I've ever seen, in the very same hall he was in today, except leading the Chicago Symphony. I cannot recall one of the works, however, they performed Debussy's La Mer and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, both of which were revelatory performances of works I had up to that point been less than impressed with.

However, the highlight of the evening was when, after numerous ovations, Barenboim swung around, sat the orchestra down, and the opening chords of the overture to Tannhäuser pressed into the hot May air.

By this point, everyone, exhausted, elated, just started crying and hugging each other. The music had crept up on people, and caught them terribly off guard.

Just imagine it - a whole bunch of rich, old, young, fat, skinny, poor people hugging each other in gratitude that the CSO would play Wagner for them. If only we could get people to keep clapping after the curtain drops at the Canadian Opera Company...

Nevertheless, I still hated Daniel Barenboim.

And then I forgot why I hated him, but as a legacy of that hatred, I still avoided him. And then one day, I happened upon a book of his conversations with Edward Said and it occurred to me that I had absolutely no reason whatsoever to dislike the man.

And then I saw his performance of one of the Beethoven sonatas last year on American public television, and realised that I could no longer ignore the man. And now I realised just what I've been denying myself, although it had been right there in front of me, all along.

Thoughts get in the way, don't they? But rather than lamenting on the lost years where I absented myself from his music making, I will concentrate on what he still has to offer.

So perhaps the best thing about New Year's isn't just that it's a fresh start, but also an opportunity to really change one's mind.

Anyway, here's a highlight from yesterday's show - the muscians walking offstage in protest to his lazy, slapdash conducting. (Some things never change)

Thursday, January 01, 2009


I had an old friend over to my place this afternoon, someone I bumped into last week who I hadn't seen in a long time.

He always seems to be doing stuff, as in, his life seems productive, but not in the crass capitalist way, like he made 55 widgets yesterday.

Rather, he seems to be on the path of the life worth living. Anyway, seeing him on New Year's Day, the 11th anniversary of my moving here to Toronto in search of a grander life, was a helpful, nay, necessary reminder of why I am here, and not in Calgary, or even Vienna.

Speaking of which, Mark Kingwell had an article in the Saturday Globe about idleness. Although I'm certain it is in part to help sell paperback copies of his Idler's Glossary, it is delightful nonetheless.

As always, I recommend you ignore the comments by "readers", unless you are a sociologist, and then, they may supply you with something useful, like how people who desire their own subjugation resist the possibility that it is they and not their overlords, who threw away the keys to their shackles.

I am busily looking for mine...if you find them, don't hesitate to drop me a comment.