Sifting through some random Canadian music

On Sunday, August 16 I was very privileged to sit down with Pat Francis and Mike Siegel to record an episode of the podcast Rock Solid.  We played some music, joked around, it was a jolly old time.  The topic of the episode was Canadian music, which I chose because I felt there was a lot of great Canadian music that wasn’t getting enough attention outside the country.  I don’t like the music because it’s Canadian, that’s just a bonus.  Personally  Below are my musings on the 19 songs I played and some other random tidbits.

I should start by mentioning some of the artists I didn’t play.  Two in particular I left out intentionally: Neil Young, because Rock Solid has already devoted an entire episode to him; and The Tragically Hip, because they’ve been brought up numerous times on the podcast, I was sure Mike or Pat would play them.  Another absence that might be notable is The Guess Who.  I like The Guess Who, but I’m not obsessed with them.  I find sometimes Canadians will interpret non-obsession as hatred which is unfortunate.  The Guess Who are great but I like them like I like The Hollies: they have number of great songs that I will listen to from time to time.  But if we were to compare them to the other major Canadian band active during the same time period, The Band, there’s no contest.  The Guess Who is just not anywhere near The Band’s level of excellence.  But The Band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame two years after The Guess Who.  Maybe I ought not to compare these musically very distinct bands and people might stop misinterpreting my love of The Band for hatred of The Guess Who.

Remember, musical nationalism is pretty stupid.  Despite my choice of topic, I rank Canada as maybe my third-to-fifth favourite country musically.  It competes with Australia and Brazil for those spots.  UK is number two and the United States is obviously number one.  Now, if anyone tries to tell you there’s a country that’s produced more good music then the US, that person is a deluded nationalist.  On the other hand, with it’s large, diverse population and strong culture of freedom of expression, if the US hadn’t produced the most good music then that would be an absolute embarrassment.

Also, Bandcamp is a great website for independent artists.  I try to use Bandcamp over iTunes whenever I can because they only take at most a 15% cut.  iTunes takes 30% and then the label takes a big chunk of that remaining 70% and it’s like that Kinks song “The Moneygoround”.
 
#1 & #15: Joel Plaskett Emergency – “A Million Dollars” / Thrush Hermit – “Violent Dreams”
The Maritimes, especially Nova Scotia, were a hotbed of amazing music in the 1990s.  The best known bands are probably Sloan, their power pop brethren The Super Friendz, the lo-fi darlings Eric’s Trip and the hard rocking Thrush Hermit.  They’re all amazing bands worth checking out, but it’s the last one that is probably my favourite.  Thrush Hermit was much like Hüsker Dü, in that it had two principle songwriters who rarely collaborated with one another.  But, with all due respect to Rob Benvie and occasional composer Ian McGettigan, Joel Plaskett’s songs were always the best.  So it’s no wonder that after Thrush Hermit broke up in 1999, Plaskett has gone on to have an amazing solo career.  “Violent Dreams” by Thrush Hermit is probably one of my top 25 favourite songs ever.  “A Million Dollars” by Joel Plaskett Emergency is just a really great pop song.
 
#2: Caribou – “Can’t Do Without You”

Caribou’s Dan Snaith has done it again.  Previously he’s set his sights on krautrock and psychedelic pop among other things and now he’s written what might be the perfect house song.

I should admit something.  Snaith is sort of my friend.  Really more the friend and employer of my brother Brad but I’ve met him on a number of occasions and he’s a super cool guy.  It would probably weird if I just called him out of the blue (especially because I don’t like telephones and I don’t know his number) but I’m just going to go ahead and say he’s my friend.  That being said, I’ve followed his career since before I met him and I’m always excited to hear where he’s going musically.

Lyrics have not always been a focal point of Snaith’s music.  That’s not to say his lyrics weren’t important or good, but rather sometimes they were non-existent (i.e. an instrumental) or buried in the mix.  In fact, counting all his various aliases, possibly only half of Snaith’s released output has lyrics.  So maybe that’s why this song hits me so hard.  It’s lyrics are quite simple, mainly consisting of repetitions of the title or some variant of it with a brief stanza coming at the very end of the song.  But maybe it’s the simplicity of its message that makes it so beautiful.
 
#3: Daniel Lanois – “The Maker”
Daniel Lanois is a very talented producer who I don’t think is appreciated enough in Canada.  Or maybe it’s just me that wasn’t appreciating him enough in the past.  He’s best known for his productions of U2 that he did with Brian Eno, and I’ll admit, due to Eno’s fame, I always just assumed he was the junior partner.  But that is wrong, as can be seen by the many albums that Lanois has produced on his own.  His first solo album, Acadie (French for “Acadia”) was (obviously) self-produced and released in 1989.

Lanois is not as strong a songwriter as some of the musicians he’s produced, but how can you be when you’ve produced U2 and Bob Dylan?  But he is a great songwriter, and those talents aren’t usually heard by just listening to his productions.  He did write “Where Will I Be?” by Emmylou Harris on her album Wrecking Ball which is a devastatingly beautiful song.

This album doesn’t sound “Cajun” in the traditional sense of zydeco music, etc.  But it is very much infused with the soul of New Orleans.  The lyrics read like a piece of classic Catholic mysticism.  Having The Neville Brothers join in was a great idea and the bilingual singing is a nice touch.  French is his native tongue and he seems very comfortable singing in it.  I’d love to hear him do an entire album in French.
 
#4: Leonard Cohen – “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-on”
Leonard Cohen really is Canada’s Bob Dylan.  They are both amazing lyricists with voices that are an acquired taste.  Cohen certainly isn’t as good a songwriter as Dylan, and he certainly isn’t as musically adventuresome.  But he somewhat makes up for this with his literary credentials that for whatever reason Bob Dylan hasn’t been given.

This track bears some explaining.  I don’t think anyone would pick “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-on” as Cohen’s best song and it certainly isn’t very representative of his entire oeuvre.  Cohen’s music career can roughly be divided into two halves.  From the sixties until the end of the seventies where he used acoustic folk arrangements and sang in a higher register.  Then from the eighties to the present where he performs more in a soft rock mold utilizes a lower talk-singing.  His 1977 album, Death Of A Ladies’ Man does not fit into either of these. Backing vocals on this song are done by Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg among others.
 
#5: Bob Dylan and The Band – “This Wheel’s on Fire”
The song “This Wheel’s on Fire” is best known from The Band’s debut album, Music from Big Pink but the original version from the basement tapes.  My next door neighbour in residence at university, Leks Maltby, got me onto this treasure trove of material which was finally released legally last year.  Perhaps it’s because their songs often cover very American subject matter, but I feel like The Band doesn’t get the respect it deserves as a Canadian band.  Neil Young is in the same boat of having lived most of his life south of the border but he’s somehow seen as more Canadian.  Maybe it’s as simple as Levon Helm’s southern accent.  The Band is spectacular.  Probably the greatest Canadian band ever.  There has been controversy of late concerning the actual extent of Robbie Robertson’s songwriting genius.  I find a lot of the evidence against him unconvincing.  Either way, it doesn’t change how amazing the music is.  This particular song was co-written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko.  Dylan sings lead on the original recording and Danko sings lead on The Band’s version.
 
#6: Pick a Piper – “Lucid in Fjords”
My brother, Brad Weber, has been making music for over 15 years.  I’ve been an eyewitness his progression as a musician.  While earlier bands like Lazyeye and Winter Equinox certainly displayed heavy influence by My Bloody Valentine and Tortoise, respectively, he’s always managed to put his own unique stamp on things.  The current outlet for his musical genius is Pick a Piper, a band he runs with two high school friends.  While I think Brad has certainly learned a lot being the touring drummer for Caribou, Pick a Piper I think is his most personal project yet.  In particular his use of vocals and lyrics have reached a new high that makes his sound both more accessible and more exciting.

Pick a Piper’s first album was released in 2013 and it is really good.  My favourite track is “Hour Hands” which features some amazing brass work by Colin Fisher and Steve Ward.  If only the song could be ten minutes longer.  The track I played on Rock Solid is entitled “Lucid in Fjords” and it’s more of a pop song.  It features vocals by Ryan McPhun of The Ruby Suns.  Pick a Piper’s second album should be out sometime next year.
 
#7: The Diodes – “Tired of Waking Up Tired”
In late ’70s Toronto punk rock bands like The Viletones, Teenage Head and The Diodes ripped shit up.  The Viletones had great songs like “Danger Boy” and “Swastika Girl,” and Teenage Head had “Top Down” and “Let’s Shake”.  But the best song of them all was “Tired of Waking Up Tired” by The Diodes.  Their first album came out in 1977, and it was a flop so their record label didn’t promote their second album in 1979 south of the border much and that is shame because Americans missed out on this gem.
 
#8: The Pursuit of Happiness – “I’m an Adult Now”
The Pursuit of Happiness is a band I discovered at university.  In class, actually.  At Wilfrid Laurier University I took a course called History of Rock Music with Dr. Brent Hagerman.  It was amazing.  It was entertaining and highly academic.  Kids, stay in school, it sometimes pays off.  The prof tried to use Canadian music whenever possible and this is one of the songs.  It’s by The Pursuit of Happiness.  This song was originally released in a rather lo-fi version 1986 and was a top 40 hit in Canada.  Two years later they re-recorded it with Todd Rundgren but unfortunately, aside from an appearance on Beavis and Butt-head, they were never able to crack the American market.
 
#9: k-os – “Follow Me”
I have a lot of respect for musicians who can both sing and rap well because they’re a rare breed.  Two very different examples would be Mike Patton of Faith No More, etc. and Lauryn Hill.  k-os employs a lot of live instruments including acoustic guitar so his sound is not completely unlike that of Hill or her former bandmate Wyclef Jean.  Between production, singing and rapping I think his rapping is actually the weakest.  And his lyrics about how he hates the state of current hip hop can get quite tiresome.  His first two albums, Exit and Joyful Rebellion are both quite excellent.  His third album Atlantis: Hymns for Disco sports an epically awesome title and contains, oddly, very little disco.  More disco usually equals a better album.
 
#10 & 11: Harmonium – “100,000 raisons” / Robert Charlebois – “California”
So there is a tendency when discussing the best Canadian music, even within Canada, to completely ignore over a fifth of the population, namely those who speak French.  I’m not going to be able to fix this myself, but I did play two Québécois tracks on Rock Solid (Lanois is a Quebecker, but most of his recorded output is in English).  Speaking of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, neither Harmonium nor Charlebois are members of this body which apparently hates Francophone music (no La Bolduc, Félix Leclerc, etc.).  Also, journalist Bob Mersereau’s book The Top 100 Canadian Albums horribly under represents French Canadian music.  I’ll admit, there’s tons of it out there that I don’t know about.  Not being able to speak French is certainly a barrier.

Harmonium is a folky progressive rock band in the vein of Jethro Tull.  Their first album is fairly straightforward and accessible but the two following it get pretty noodly and pretentious.  I still love the stuff, though.

Robert Charlebois is a gem of a man.  Very few singers are comfortable playing bossa nova, psychedelic rock and disco among other genres.  His psychedelic phase is my favourite, namely the albums Robert Charlebois avec Louise Forestier (aka Lindberg) and Québec Love.  One day I’ll learn French and then I’ll be able to not understand him in his native tongue.
 
#12: Owen Pallett – “Song For Five & Six”
I got to meet Owen Pallett backstage at the Bestival on Toronto Island this past June.  Fortunately I didn’t embarrass myself too much.  I just introduced myself as Brad Weber’s brother and explained how he was a great artist and arranger.  I made sure to put arranger in there.  But I stopped there.  But I could have gone on to say how his and Arcade Fire’s soundtrack totally made the movie Her, and his gorgeous strings on Now, More Than Ever by Jim Guthrie have got me through many a hardship over the past decade.  I could have said I like The Last Shadow Puppets way better than Arctic Monkeys, principally due to (again) his strings.  I really love string arrangements in pop music, and really, no one does them better than Owen Pallett.  Thank you for the music.
 
#13: Whitehorse – “Sweet Disaster”
Whitehorse are a husband and wife duo consisting of solo artists Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland.  The gentlemen at Rock Solid said they thought this song sounds like a James Bond theme.  I hadn’t previously heard that, but after it was pointed out to me, I definitely hear it now.  This band loves their reverb.  And their harmonies.  My girlfriend, the beautiful Ellen Jakubowski, introduced me and bought us concert tickets as a Christmas present.  This song is from their third album which just came out this year.  Their second album is very excellent.  Their first album is not as good although they do a pretty good cover of “I’m On Fire” which somehow works as a duet.
 
#14: Spirit of the West – “Home for a Rest”
If you don’t like this song, you’re probably not at your best.
 
#16: Ocean – “Put Your Hand in the Hand”
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, a lot of hippies found God and became known as the Jesus freaks or Jesus people.  They made what’s called Jesus rock or Jesus music.  As a Christian I can categorically say, it’s not good gospel music.  At best it’s half-decent pop music.  But there’s something just so ridiculous and sincere about it, I can’t resist it.  There were groups with special names like “a band named David” and “2nd Chapter of Acts”.  Godspell could probably be said to fall into this same category although it’s a high water mark.  “Put Your Hand in the Hand” was Ocean’s only hit outside of Canada.  It was originally recorded by Anne Murray and composed by “Snowbird” composer Gene MacLellan.  Murray, being officially a country singer, is obviously under obligation to record a few gospel numbers.
 
#17: Danny Michel – “Feather, Fur & Fin”
Danny Michel is a beloved local singer/songwriter from Kitchener who I can only assume was named after the father and daughter on Full House.  Actually, he’s older than that.  He’s released some 10 albums which can be easily acquired on Bandcamp, Zunior.com or iTunes.  Michel is just one of many great local musicians here it Kitchener-Waterloo.  While we often search for quality in the blue chip rock stars, there’s plenty of gold to be found in that obscure café down the street.
 
#18: Joni Mitchell – “River”
Appropriately, this is a song about a Canadian in California, yearning for the winter of her childhood.  It’s hardly a deep cut but it might just be a greatest piece of Canadian music ever.  From Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece, Blue.
 
#19: The Diamonds – “Little Darlin’”
Now, there was this phenomenon in the 1950s where a black group or singer would record a song and it would be a hit among black audiences and then a white group or singer would record a vastly inferior version and have a huge international hit.  See exhibit A: Pat Boone.  There is one major exception to this rule of crappy white covers.  That is The Diamonds’ version of “Little Darlin’”  It was written by Maurice Williams who also wrote “Stay” and originally recorded by his group The Gladiolas.  The Gladiolas version is great but there’s a certain “je ne sais quoi” about The Diamonds’ version.  First rock ’n’ roll hit with a Latin beat.

Other songs that didn’t quite make the cut

Absolutely Free – “Beneath The Air”: Absolutely. (link)
Arcade Fire – “(Antichrist Television Blues)”: Bruce? (link)
Billy Talent – “Voices of Violence”: Punk your face off. (link)
Carla Bley & Paul Haines – “Rawalpindi Blues”: Poet extraordinaire and father of Metric’s Emily. (link)
La Bolduc – “Le petit sauvage du nord”: I love La Bolduc, does anyone else? (link)
Braids – “Miniskirt”: Take that. (link)
Les Cowboys Fringants – “Mon pays, suivi du Reel des Aristocrates”: Simply the Quebeckiest! (link)
Eric’s Trip – “New Love”: Rain and rock. (link)
Feist – “Inside and Out”: Supreme disco. (link)
Nelly Furtado feat. Timbaland – “Promiscuous”: Bring that on? You know what I mean! (link)
Gowan – “A Criminal Mind”: Check out the cheesy music video! (link)
Grimes – “Oblivion”: Pitchfork’s best song of the decade. (link)
The Heavy Blinkers – “Silver Crown”: The Beach Boys are alive and well and living in Halifax. (link)
Junior Boys – “Banana Ripple”: An electronic epic. (link)
Lake of Stew – “Mary Margaret”: Assassination was never this fun!
Gordon Lightfoot – “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald”: That electric guitar! (link)
Local Rabbits – “Intro”: Funk‘eh’. (link)
Kate & Anna McGarrigle – “Kiss and Say Goodbye”: Anna composed “Heart Like a Wheel,” Kate co-composed Rufus and Martha Wainwright. (link)
A.C. Newman – “Miracle Drug”: Supreme power pop. (link)
Organized Rhyme – “Check the O.R.”: Tom Green’s origins. (link)
Peaches – “Fuck the Pain Away”: This song defies explanation. (link)
Bruno Pelletier – “The Age of the Cathedrals”: Victor Hugo rocks out. (link)
The Sadies – “Lay Down Your Arms”: Country-surf-rock. (link)
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet – “Having an Average Weekend”: Blame it on the kids in the hall. (link)
Alexander “Skip” Spence – “Books of Moses”: Mad genius. (link)
The Super Friendz – “Up And Running”: Halifax pop explosion. (link)
The Sweet Homewreckers – “Sweet Casualty”: From Peterborough, ON, one album and done. (link)
The Tragically Hip – “New Orleans is Sinking”: Hey man, thanks. (link)
Martha Wainwright – “Whither Must I Wander”: Read Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson is a genius! (link)
The Weeknd – “Twenty Eight”: Could Abel Tesfaye be Michael’s heir? (link)
Neil Young – “Walk On”: An optimistic song opening a bleak album. (link)

Coda

As often as you can, pay for music, support the musicians you love.  I am certainly guilty of “liberating” music now and then but I’m trying to cut down.  Support your local record stores, buy music there instead of iTunes or Amazon.  And when the ridiculousness that is modern international copyright law prevents you from getting the music you want, steal it and buy a concert ticket with the money you would have spent.

Links

Some Canadian record labels/online music stores
Zunior.com
MapleMusic
Mint Records
Arts & Crafts

Other links
Pick a Piper (Soundcloud)
Pick a Piper (Bandcamp)
chorusVERSEchorus: a music blog my buddy Leks writes for

Grexit

So Greece voted no.  Top economists recommended they do so, and that’s why they’re economists, not politicians.

Worst case scenario, Greece will be forced to leave the Eurozone and the European Union.  Still struggling financially, they’ll be pushed into the arms of their Orthodox brethren in Russia. Greece will degenerate into a nationalist dictatorship.  Maybe they’ll try to annex Cyprus.  Worst case scenario.

Austerity is not fun, but, I don’t know, it’s sort of the price you pay when governments run huge deficits for decades and you the people keep voting such people back into office.  Seriously, just don’t get into debt.  That is just good advice for everyone.  Sometimes debt is unavoidable.  But you should still consider it a personal failure.  The Euro was a dumb idea.  It really was.

“Nobel” laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote that “a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands.”  Mr. Stiglitz seems to be confused. A number of cities, mainly one, in Greece, thousands of years ago, had a strong democratic tradition for men.  There’s some democracy in the modern era, but Greek history has been largely dominated by tyrants, emperors, meddling monarchs and military dictators.

Maybe everything will be alright.  You never know.

God Save the Republic

I know everybody has been wondering, so here you go:

And now, a life’s journey through hip hop music

Like any good suburban white kid, hip hop to me, for the longest time, meant the Beastie Boys.   I knew very little about music in general, much less hip hop in particular.  But then my life changed when, in the ninth grade, I discovered a little icon on the desktop labelled “Napster Music Community”.  Quite literally, Napster changed my life.  I started out downloading old cartoon theme songs but eventually I moved on to more serious music. Napster would soon be shut down but other services rose to take its place.  And I had a voracious appetite for music.   I can still remember the first time I downloaded Kraftwerk.  It was “Autobahn” and it blew my mind.

But we’re getting off topic.   It was not until the twelfth grade that the world of hip hop started opening to me.  I discovered a lot of new music that year but there was one song, one song above all others that dominated the 2003–2004 school year and that was “Hey Ya!” by OutKast.   “Hey Ya!” was such a stroke of genius and really helped open my eyes to the possibility of amazing hip hop music.  I like to see it as the genius of “Come Together” turned inside?out.  Whereas “Come Together” featured a pop group playing a funk song, “Hey Ya!” featured a funk group playing a pop song.

During the same period I was still a little caught in that phase of “real music needs guitars” so a fellow from Toronto by the name of k?os and songs like “Follow Me” were oh?so?pleasurable.

Then I went off to school in Peterborough and discovered even more music.  Now, remember, this was all through word?of?mouth and various assorted websites.  Facebook and YouTube would not come into my life until second year.   But one group I discovered in first year was the Wu?Tang Clan.  The Wu?Tang Clan are known for their frequent use of kung fu imagery but some songs, like “One Step” by Wu?Tang associate Killah Priest featuring Hell Razah & Tekitha features some of the best biblical imagery I’ve heard in a song.  Now the biblical imagery you’ll hear in most Wu?Tang songs is often a little strange sounding.  That’s because most members of group are associated with the Five Percenters, a radical offshoot of the Nation of Islam.   Killah Priest himself is a Black Hebrew Israelite.   I find these groups’s black nationalism to be a little unsettling and often venturing into the realm of black supremacy.  As far as I know, both groups, for instance, believe that black people and specifically not Jews, are descended from the tribes of Israel.  Crazy?  Yes, but they still make some damn good music.

Now in second year I went on record saying I did not care for M.I.A.  I found her music irritating.  Then I opened up a bit, I mellowed out a bit and “Galang” is an awesome tune.  It was also in second year that Kanye West’s second album Late Registration came out and I fell fully in love with that man’s music.

But fast?forward to 2010.  Kanye West hadn’t released an album in two years, he hadn’t released a traditional hip hop album in three years and hadn’t released a truly great hip hop album since the aforementioned Late Registration five years earlier.  And in the meantime he had become obsessed with his celebrity and generally had displayed embarrassing public behaviour.  I was ready to write him off.  Then he delivered My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the greatest hip hop album ever.  That’s right.  Sorry Endtroducing….. and Illmatic, you’ve been replaced.  Kanye silenced the haters once and for all.  “Lost In The World” featuring Bon Iver and “Who Will Survive In America” are the last two tracks that are meant to be heard together.

Now Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop” has become ubiquitous over the last year and it is a great song, but I think the best song from their album has to be “Same Love” featuring Mary Lambert.  Hip hop has had a very rocky relationship with homosexuality and this gorgeous number takes issue with that perceived inevitability while also taking organized religion to task for its institutional homophobia.  Choice line, “And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten / But we paraphrase a book written
3,500 years ago”

Aesop Rock is another artist I was not a big fan of back in the day.  Reflecting my rather conservative politics at the time I said I didn’t care for his whole “working class hero thing”.  I was quite enamoured at the time with his Def Jux label mate El?P.  So it’s strange when I returned to Peterborough this month, “Daylight” became the song I yearned to listen to several times.  It’s a brilliant piece of music and I only wish I had been blasting it 8 years ago.

moar:
Beastie Boys – “Sabotage”
Bubba Sparxxx feat. Timbaland – “Deliverance”
The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes”
The Streets – “Never Went To Church”
Uffie – “Pop the Glock”
Monster Fever – “Monsters Don’t Get No Respect”
Monster Fever – “Monster Night Out” (my brother Brad is featured rapping in this one)

Passions

What are one’s passions? That’s a dangerous question for me because they’ve proved in the past to be very fickle. Ten years ago I was convinced I was going to become a computer programmer and that was that. But my math was not up to snuff and ultimately it just became boring.

Next was journalism. I started reading Tom Wolfe and became a big fan of Citizen Kane. When I was passed over for editorship school paper I was devastated. I lost that passion just as quickly as I had gained it.

My attention was then drawn toward fiction. This is where I was at in my final year of high school and thus English Literature was the program I applied for at university.

Three years later (one of which I passed) my enthusiasm for Shakespeare and my pretentious classmates was waning. But in this case, a lot of things had changed in my life. I had found love and then lost it pretty hard. The temple of secularism that was university had driven me to become more spiritually aware. I was heartbroken, academically unsuccessful and had a handful of new mental diagnoses to boot. Yay!

But I payed for my sins – I spent a semester at community college where I took a geography class alongside a young lady who couldn’t India on a world map. After that I jumped headlong into my latest “kick”: religion. Oh yes, forget all that other stuff, I had finally found my calling. And I could legitimately use the word “calling”. I was going to become a pastor.

That dream took a year or two to die but now it’s definitely six feet under. I eventually
realized two things: I hated school (but loved education) and becoming a pastor would
involve a whole lot more of that. Also, my fits of crushing social anxiety are decidedly
impediments to a job that is all about interacting with people. The same thing happened with my dream of voluntary service. There was a SALT placement in Serbia I was looking at. It looked lovely. But as I looked at all the forms and all the requirements and what I had to do and where this might take me my head started swimming. I couldn’t take it. I cashed out, I dumped the forms in my recycle bin where they still lay, taunting me. Maybe someday. But I’m getting old.

My political evolution has been much less haphazard. I can easily see the path I have made and why I made the turns that I did. I was once quite conservative. I think it still would not be inaccurate to describe me as a conservative but that’s only part of the picture. I’ve lost a lot of faith in institutions. That, combined with interest in nonviolence has driven me to look into Christian anarchism. Truthfully though, I’m a Christian democrat. I believe in the concept of a social market economy and I think community is essential. When it comes to others I’m certainly paternalistic.

My politics now are mostly informed by religion. I’m a firm believer in the consistent ethic of life, which for me encompasses opposition to violence, capital punishment, euthanasia and abortion. For the most part I consider these issues to be intimately connected although I realize most do not. That said, I still do approach each of them differently.

My commitment to nonviolence frequently wavers. I do not like war but at the same time I find the idea of asking Syrian rebels to lay down their arms and say “pretty please” to the Assad regime to be stupid and naive. Capital punishment is illegal in Canada and I really don’t foresee it coming back. Euthanasia is still illegal although I find its growing acceptance to be rather disquieting.

And then there’s abortion: it’s a topic I’ve blogged about before but rarely ever spoken of in public because that’s a conversation that usually doesn’t end well. I’m still thoroughly opposed to the practice but I have an almost equal amount of disdain for the pro?life movement which seems to think that shaming women for their past “indiscretions” is somehow an effective way to lower abortion rates. I’ll admit my own attitude in the past has at times been rather callous. There also seems to be a weird connection between pro?life and anti–same?sex marriage groups. That’s like having a group that’s anti?war and anti?vegetables: the two issues are utterly unrelated. There’s an Israeli charity, Efrat, that focuses more on support for the mothers but I don’t think it goes far enough. I wish there was a group whose principle mandate was financial, social and mental support for mothers along with education on the adoption option. That would be good.

But for now I’m most interested in copyright reform. When’s that going to happen?

Bikini Kirill: Pussy Riot and Civil Disobedience

Why are you arresting me, I’m practising civil disobedience?!

During this age of latte liberals we’ve forgotten the actual purpose of civil disobedience.  It’s not because you have anything particularly interesting to say.  Anyone can say “fuck the system.”  True courage lies in being willing to give up your own freedom for something you believe in.  In fact I’d go so far as to say civil disobedience is pointless if you don’t get arrested or otherwise persecuted.  No one would read How I Didn’t Get Sent to the Gulag by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Andrei Sakharov’s I’m Still a Well Respected Physicist Working for a System I Abhor.  And so now that three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison what are we to make of it all?

I’ll admit, it took me a little while to warm up to Pussy Riot.  First, their name is absolutely ridiculous (though I must say it’s amusing to hear so many straight-laced newsreaders being forced to pronounce it, like a modern day “Deep Throat”).  Second, I’ve never really “gotten” the whole riot grrrl movement.  There seems to be more emphasis on anger than song structure (although I do quite enjoy latter day Sleater-Kinney).  In general I just don’t like angry people.  It’s possible to combat injustice while keeping a cool head.

But Pussy Riot is a bit different.  They aren’t really a proper band per se.  They haven’t released any albums and their public performances are not so much concerts as they are political theatre.  And that’s what their performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was: theatre.  It was horribly offensive and incredibly attention-grabbing.  It got the job done… sort of.  The thing is now everybody seems to be focused solely on Pussy Riot rather then the message they were trying to convey.  And their current message is protesting the close relationship between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church, the latter of which is currently being led by a less-than-saintly man named Kirill.

Oh, Patriarch Kirill.  He is a man that values mammon over God, he has KGB skeletons in his closet, he’s BFF with Putin and a supporter of Lukashenko.  He sees himself as the leader of all Eastern Orthodox Christians and has schemed with Turkey to limit the power of the communion’s real primus inter pares, Patriarch Bartholomew.  He’s also a magician, known for his famous disappearing watch trick.  Swell guy, really.  And the Russian Orthodox Church has always had a far too close relationship with the government.  The only time it wasn’t close was during the Soviet era when it was more or less illegal.  Even then during World War II the church had close ties with Stalin who used it as a tool to drum up nationalism.  So asking for a little separation isn’t unreasonable.

It would appear the band members are not Christians, which is unfortunate.  I mean, I don’t care what they personally believe it but it would lend more legitimacy.  It’s like when veterans criticize war, you always take it more seriously.  But it seems they have plenty of Orthodox followers, including one of their lawyers, and they are certainly no strangers to the Bible.  Their closing statements at the trial are riddled with biblical quotations and other religious allusions.  My favourite was Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s reference of yurodstvo, which is the concept of performing foolish and outrageous actions for the love of Christ.  Seriously, the statements, although long, are well worth the read.

So does that mean I think they should be released?  Not necessarily.  What they did was still offensive (although they have apologized for that part) and even here in the free world they would have at least received a fine.  But more importantly is the issue of media coverage.  I think they should stay in prison because that way at least the issue has a chance to stay in the headlines for a bit longer.  If they are released it will all be forgotten.  Make no mistake, it will be forgotten eventually, regardless.  After all, when was the last time you heard anything about Mikhail Khordokovsky?  He’s still in jail and the government that put him there is still in power.  So I’m not really concerned that Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova are in prison.  I’m more concerned that Vladimir Putin isn’t.

Sources:
The Economist: The Pussy Riot verdict: An amazing piece of political theatre
The Economist: Turkey and Russia: Old rivals, new partners
BBC News: Russian Orthodox Church defiant over Pussy Riot trial
The New York Times: In Russia, a Watch Vanishes Up Kirill’s Sleeve
n+1: Pussy Riot Closing Statements
YouTube: Pussy Riot-Punk Prayer.mp4

Letters From Skyrim

During reading break I resumed playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which I had put on hold at the beginning of the term in January.  It really is an amazing game.  It’s not perfect, like perhaps it shouldn’t be snowing inside but those are all very minor quibbles.  I was browsing some forum when I came across someone complaining about Skyrim and in particular saying it was not as good as The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall a comment I found rather funny.  This poster is only able to get away with such a comment because most of the people playing Skyrim have never played Daggerfall.  Not that Daggerfall is a bad game, in fact it’s an excellent game, only it is very dated.  I had been playing it in the early fall before obviously putting it on hold when Skyrim was released.  Daggerfall’s biggest downfall is that it was released before mouselook became universal.  The game designers at the time probably didn’t realize it but mouselook revolutionized PC gaming.  The inability to look all around you or the ability to only do so with the keyboard severely limits a game’s functionality.

But back to Skyrim.

Skyrim is the first game I’ve ever pre?ordered and picked up the midnight of release day.  I got there nice and early and was seventh in a line of apparently over 200.  It was a fascinating study in human behaviour.  As I said there were hundreds of customers there and only a handful of employees plus a few security guards.  We could have easily stampeded and stole all sorts of things but we didn’t.  I like to think of it as a testament to human civility but perhaps it was just a case of nobody willing to make the first move.  If a riot had broken out I can’t decide whether I would’ve started punching the rioters with impunity or huddled in a corner in the fetal position.

There were a lot of smokers which I guess disproves the commonly held belief that nerds are smart.  I also overheard a man complaining that since car crashes are already illegal there’s no reason impaired driving should be.  Genius.

It’s quite possible I was the only person in line that is planning on going into the ministry although I really have no proof of that.  And in fact, I’ve always appreciated The Elder Scrolls’s treatment of religion.

The dominant religion is a polytheistic one with a basic structure based on the Greek/Roman model but with some notable tweaks.  The Aedra behave more in the non?interventionist fashion of real world monotheism whereas the Daedra are the classic Greek gods behaving in their own selfish manner.  The status of the Aedra has allowed for syncretism for political reasons.

The elevation of the emperor Tiber Septim in godhood after his death is clearly based on Julius Caesar’s posthumous divination as Divus Iulius.  That the divine version of him is referred to by his pre?regnal name “Talos” is reminiscent of Haile Selassie who was known as Ras Tafari before ascending to the throne of Ethiopia.

But Skyrim represents a new chapter in The Elder Scrolls series.  The first for games, although they had unrelated protagonists, were intimately linked.  They all involved, to a certain extant, the emperor Uriel Septim VII, who was assassinated at the beginning of Oblivion.  There were other connections as well. Arena and Oblivion both involved Mehrunes Dagon and the realm of Oblivion (although with the former I believe it was a retcon).  Daggerfall and Morrowind both involved the building/activation of a Dwemer (Dwarven) brass God (Numidium/Akulakhan).  Skyrim is like the four preceding games in that you start as a prisoner and you must first escape a starter dungeon (except Morrowind didn’t have a starter dungeon).

The one thing I’m most impressed with is continuity.  The Elder Scrolls series has amassed a huge amount of lore and it must be a headache to comb through it all.  But I’m interested to know is how far in advance do their story writers plan?  The concept of thu’um, the dragon speech first received a casual mention in Redguard in 1998 (it might have even been merely in the game’s documentation).  Now, 14 years later thu’um reappears as an important plot device.  Now did the writers go back and search for things and then fit the story around them or is this an extreme version of Chekhov’s gun, being placed there with the knowledge that years it the future it would reemerge with a vengeance?

A final note, in this game you are given the option to get married.  I perused some forums and chuckled at some posters describing their prospective video games wives as “freakin’ hot” and other such refined descriptors.  I wanted to mock them but I recalled there was a time in my life that I also had a little too much reverence for video game women.  Ahh, simpler times.

Well, that was a hodgepodge affair but it’s been too long since I posted anything.

Silly hats make me more republican

I am ze Fascinator!  I have been sent from ze future to wear stupid hats.

stupid hat, canadian style

So apparently Kate changed outfits five times in 24 hours.  Now this is pure speculation but the only reason I can think of to change your clothes that often is if you poop your pants.  Now if it’s true that our little Katie has continence issues then maybe she should have stayed home.  Which I assume is Cambridge.  I mean that would be ridiculous to have a title and not actually live in that place.  You know, that must be dreadfully inconvenient for Chuck and Camilla, what with the former living in Wales and the latter across the water in Cornwall.

Now I realize this is all very childish and petty but I don’t haven any other options.  By their very nature, royalists are immune to logic.  I’ve tried.  They just continue to swoon over the celebrity of these unemployed individuals.  So maybe if I can convince people that she poops her pants (which still makes sense even if she’s wearing a dress due to the dual meaning of the word “pants”) then maybe they’ll find her less alluring.  But with my luck it will just make her “earthy.”

Of course I’m being facetious and there are other explanations for Kate’s frequent wardrobe changes.  Like maybe she peed her pants.  Or maybe she’s a sloppy eater.  I bet they had her eating some stereotypically Canadian food and we all know how sticky maple syrup can be.

Throw the Irish to the dogs

I strongly disagree with the EU bailing out Ireland in this time of crisis.  It is because I am reminded of another crisis in European history, a much, much more serious one in which Ireland turned its back on its continental brethren.

On July 17, 1941, continuing from a conversation started the previous day, TD James Dillon (possibly the greatest Irishman of the 20th century) gave an impassioned speech to the Dáil Committee on Finance.  Appealing to the deeply Christian nature of the Irish nation he, among other things said the following:

I say to-day that the German Nazi Axis seeks to enforce on every small nation in Europe the same beastly tyranny that we successfully fought 700 years to prevent the British Empire imposing on this country. I say—and I say it on the authority of Our Holy Father the Pope—that Germany in every small country which she has conquered has sought, not only to establish political domination, but to impose on the conquered peoples an atheist church which derides Christianity and which forbids the people of those States to serve God according to their consciences. I say—and here again I claim the authority of the Holy Father for the statement—that the Nazi domination, in every small State in Europe where it has been established, imposes upon the Christian peoples of those countries the obligation to choose between the Reich and Christ, and that statement is quoted further from the Pastoral Letter from the German Bishops to their own people.
Naval and air bases are required in this country by the United States of America and Great Britain.

The immediate response from deputy Andrew Fogarty summed up the views of every other Irish politician on the threat posed by Nazi Germany: I say the Deputy should be removed out of the House. I will put him out—quick, the corner-boy. If he does not shut his —mouth we will shut it for him.

In reality, I do believe aid should be given to the Irish but I think it should be accompanied with a formal condemnation of their actions, past and present, of moral relativism.  Neutrality is a war crime unto itself.

Multiculturalism Is Doomed to Fail

Meant to post this awhile ago…

Much ado has been made about Chancellor Merkel’s comments in regards to multiculturalism in Germany, that it has “utterly failed.”  At least they tried.  Certain former leaders of Germany were decidedly against multicultarism.

But frankly, I’m not surprised.  Multiculturalism is doomed to fail because too many immigrants are stuck in their ways, unwilling to integrate themselves into their new home.  This is partly why the whole idea of emigration has always baffled me.  Here you have people who are so proud of their country that they decide to leave it.  Huh?  Sure, many countries are poorer but if you truly loved your country you would stay there and try to build it into something great.  Of course the receiving nations’s national pride often evolves into xenophobia which is never a good thing but is worse if your country is the kind of place people like to immigrate to.

Of course it goes without saying that this doesn’t apply to refugees.  Refugees are those that leave their homes due to persecution: they don’t have a choice.  I love refugees, but said love has little to do with the people themselves.  I love refugees because I jump at any and every chance to ridicule foreign states possessing subpar human rights records.

Now here comes the twist: none of this applies to Canada, and to a lesser extent, Australia.  Founded by British subjects and populated with an assortment of European immigrants, our two countries were forged in the fire of the two world wars.  Since then it has become increasingly evident that our national identities are fairly shallow.

The Canadian nation began to die after the fall of the Diefenbaker government and we’ve been constitutionally multicultural since 1982.  As for down under, after the demise of White Australia their proximity to Asia and it’s plethora of unpleasant regimes made mass immigration inevitable.  With each passing year the Anzac legend dies a little bit more. Canada is beyond hope but republicanism could still save Australia, provided they want to be saved.

And it is only here, in countries void of a strong central identity, that multiculturalism can truly flourish.

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