banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Justin Trudeau's kiss of death

I'm starting a new meme - the "Justin Trudeau effect". It refers to the disastrous effect that a visit or endorsement from Justin Trudeau has on a Liberal candidate's election prospects. The latest victim: Calgary Centre Liberal candidate Harvey Locke, whose campaign received a visit from Young Justin last week. Trudeau's visit helped Locke snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the hands of Conservative Joan Crockatt in yesterday's federal byelection.

If I were a Liberal running for office, I'd think twice before asking for Young Justin's help. In 2006, he endorsed Gerard Kennedy at the Liberal leadership convention. Kennedy lost to Stephane Dion.

Trudeau travelled to Halifax in 2009 to campaign for provincial Liberal leader Stephen McNeil who was running for the premiership of Nova Scotia. McNeil lost to the NDP's Darrell Dexter.

In 2010, Trudeau breezed in to Toronto for a double whammy, campaigning for Liberal Tony Genco who was running in Vaughan in the federal election, and for George Smitherman who was running for Mayor of Toronto.  Genco lost to Conservative Julian Fantino and Smitherman went down to defeat at the hands of Rob Ford.

Trudeau is an empty shell whose much-lauded magic touch with the electorate has a record of fizzling when it really counts. Now that he's running for the leadership of the federal Liberals, he has once again trotted out his alleged charisma for the faithful, promising to lead them out of the wilderness into the Promised Land. Good luck with that.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Turkey meat as a political manifesto

It must be tough being a liberal; so many temptations to stray from the narrow path of leftist orthodoxy. Every day one is presented with hundreds of little decisions, the consequences of which could mean the difference between post-colonial political liberation or western hegemony, sexual and gender equality or patriarchal heteronormative oppression, racial harmony or white supremacy. Take, for example, the Thanksgiving turkey; American liberals sitting around the table on Thursday must have been paralyzed with indecision when asked by the hostess (oops - host person), "white meat or dark?"

Ron Rosenbaum of outlines the dilemma in an article that almost defies parody titled The unbearable whiteness of white meat :
This is what I can't understand: Why does most of America want its turkey meat white? Why do people flock to the obscenely named Butterballs, which boast of overinflated breasts as unnatural as the silicone boobs of truck-stop strip joints or of the Kardashian sisters?

Why have we broken the chains of the whiteness that bound us to fatally tasteless white bread while still remaining imprisoned in the white-meat turkey ghetto?
Despite its superior taste, dark meat has dark undertones for some. Dark meat evokes the color of earth, soil. Dark meat seems to summon up ancient fears of contamination and miscegenation as opposed to the supposed superior purity of white meat.
I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that white meat remains the choice of a holiday that celebrates Puritans.
Indeed, the connotations of the pale and darker parts of the turkey constitute a meaty metaphor for the Thanksgiving feast itself. The allegedly more refined and daintier white parts, the wings and breast, have never touched the ground the way the earthier darker legs have done. And you know how dirty dirt is.
By the way, if you want to read a brilliant poetic embodiment of the real story of our "Pilgrim fathers," a chilling antidote to white bread, white meat, and Thanksgiving treacle, I recommend you take a look at Robert Lowell's amazing, chilling poem "Children of Light"(which could have been called ("Children of White").

Its opening lines represent the best unsentimental epitaph for the myth of Thanksgiving:

Our fathers wrung their bread from stocks and stones
And fenced their gardens with the Redmen's bones.
Maybe that's why I have a prejudice against the white-meat sacrament of the holiday that covers up the white man's crimes.
It's Lowell writing about his pilgrim ancestors who began the rolling genocidal slaughter of those nice Native Americans who made the first Thanksgiving possible.
The real Thanksgiving story is extremely dark, far darker than any leg and thigh meat.
Could fear of facing our dark history be behind the prejudice against dark meat? Or is there more to the darkness of dark meat that feeds that fear?
Not to mention the carbon footprint of those freakish birds!  Mr. Rosenbaum would probably be happier sitting down to a bowl of organic shade-grown fair-trade quinoa harvested by indigenous Peruvian native cooperatives.

You know, Mr. Rosenbaum - sometimes a turkey is just a turkey.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  The Sky is Cryin', by Elmore James:

Justin Trudeau is the Ethel Merman of Canadian politics

Every time I hear Justin Trudeau speak, I wince; not so much because of the stunning vacuity of what he says, but because of his hammy, histrionic style. Watching him give a speech or hold a press conference is like watching a bad community theatre production of Our Town. The maudlin cliches and the over-wrought delivery make me cringe. So, I have some advice for Mr. Trudeau - if you're going to go all theatrical in your public utterances, learn from the Queen of Maudlin herself: Ethel Merman.

Merman, born in 1908, ruled the Broadway stage during the Golden Age of musicals, starring in long-running shows that are now classics. She introduced some of the great standards of the American song book - I've Got Rhythm, Everything's Coming Up Roses, and There's No Business Like Show Business. I find her fame a bit puzzling, much like Mr. Trudeau's. She had a voice like a fog horn and she looked like a female impersonator, and there was never anything subtle or nuanced about her stage performances. When I see videos of her Broadway appearances, I feel like I've been yelled at by a crazy neighbour to get off her lawn. And yet she dominated the stage for decades, and great composers like Irving Berlin demanded that she sing their songs.  Watch this live performance of Everything's Coming Up Roses from late in her career to see what I mean:

Now listen to one of Mr. Trudeau's press conferences, after he was challenged for suggesting that if Stephen Harper got away with his hidden agenda, he might consider becoming a Quebec separatist:

Watch La Merman sing There's No Business Like Show Business, backed by The Boston Pops Orchestra:

and watch Young Justin from the recent interview which has landed him in hot water:

If Mr. Trudeau is going to go all Broadway Diva every time he speaks in public, he should emulate the greatest diva of them all. Ethel Merman was a superstar despite having a voice like a high school marching band. She dominated the stage because she didn't need a microphone to belt tunes to the back of a theatre in the days before electronic amplification, and she covered for her lack of vocal finesse with lush orchestrations, flamboyant costumes, lavish scenery and big hair. Trudeau already has the hair and the House of Commons provides the stage - I think you'll agree that if he wants to go full diva and yet cover for his lack of intellectual finesse, he'll need some of his admirers at the CBC to hook him up with their costume department. Maybe a rose in the lapel and a cape would do the trick, or has that been done already?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day

Grave marker of a Canadian soldier of the Great War "known unto God", at the Canadian Cemetery near Ypres:

Wreaths at the Menin Gate, Ypres - a memorial built after the Great War to commemorate the soldiers of Britain and the Empire who fell at Ypres and whose bodies were never found. The medieval city of Ypres was destroyed by shelling in the war - to this day, traffic is stopped at the gate every afternoon while a bugler plays the Last Post.

Poppies growing in a field near the Vimy Memorial in northern France:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: On the Wall, by David Johansen and the Harry Smiths. Johansen is the former lead singer of the New York Dolls:

Nice school ya got there - shame if something happened to it

There's a lot that disturbs me about this story. A Toronto Islamic school is investigated by the York Regional Police's hate crimes unit after complaints are made about racist materials in its curriculum. After a six month investigation, no charges are laid, but the school administration receives a friendly "visit" from the police "advising" them to change their curriculum to make it more reflective of Canadian values. Is this what we want in our country - police making "suggestions" to private groups and organizations that have not broken the law but have the audacity to challenge state-approved orthodoxy? I agreee with the school's critics that the material being taught in the school is offensive and outrageous, but that in no way justifies the heavy-handed actions of the police.

Here's a sample from the school's curriculum resources :
End of Jewish Plots and Treacheries: Ever since the Prophet’s entry into Madina, the treacherous Jews had vehemently opposed him and his Islamic call, evoking memories of their hostility to the previous Prophet, Jesus Christ, half a millennium ago. The crafty Jews entered into an alliance with the polytheist Quraish in a bid to stamp out Islam. They conspired to kill Prophet Muhammad despite the fact that he was lenient towards them and had treated them kindly, hoping to convince them of Islam’s truth. But eventually as Jewish plots and aggressions increased, he had no choice other than to take up arms against them, in order to protect Islam and the Muslims. At the battle of Khaiber which is famous for Imam Ali’s heroic exploits, the Prophet defeated them ending Jewish intrigues and conspiracies in Arabia.
Islam has allowed boys to engage in sports for one specific reason and that is to always keep them healthy and strong. But why should a Muslim be healthy and strong? Firstly, it is necessary to take care of the body because it is a gift from Allah. Secondly, so that you may physically be ready for jihad whenever the time comes for it.
Teaching young impressionable Muslim children about the "crafty Jews" and their history of treachery, and preparing young boys for jihad is not acceptable in Canada. It is offensive. Although a private school, it was operating in a public building owned by the Toronto District School Board, and the TDSB was right to terminate the school's permit to use their facility.

The police investigated the school's curriculum material, some of which came from Iran, and found that there was no basis to lay criminal charges. That wasn't enough for the York Regional Police, though:
“To demonstrate the thoroughness of our investigation we found it important to articulate that there are portions in there that clearly are not criminal, but perhaps from a pluralistic standpoint don’t necessarily appear to be the types of teachings that you would hope to see in an open forum,” Det. Brett Kemp said in an interview.
He said while the role of police was to investigate whether the teaching materials violated Canadian law, investigators felt the need to draw attention to concerns identified during a review of the madrassah’s syllabus books.
“That review looked at the content in its entirety and there were some we thought, ‘This isn’t a police issue, this is non-criminal, however to be more reflective of Canadian core values it perhaps needs to be revisited and perhaps needs to be taught in a slightly different way.’”

Pardon me, but it isn't the job of police to decide what is "reflective of Canadian core values". It is their job to enforce the laws of Canada, end of story. When the police start dropping around for a chat, suggesting that while you haven't broken any laws, you might just want to watch your step (wink, wink), then we are not living in a free society. Once we allow the police to start doing this, where does it end? It won't stop at religious organizations - eventually political groups, bloggers and even private citizens who dare to challenge Canadian shibboleths like multiculturalism, bilingualism and abortion will be receiving "friendly visits" from the Boys in Blue.

The proper response to unacceptable or offensive opinions is to give them lots of publicity, expose them to public scrutiny (and ridicule if need be), and to refute them with more free speech. When the police decide what opinions are "the types of teachings that you would hope to see in an open forum", then there is in fact NO open forum, and unpleasant or dangerous ideas are driven underground.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Goodbye to the Quinte Hotel

On Monday Nov. 5, a decrepit and seedy stripper bar in Trenton, Ontario was completely destroyed in a blaze that closed downtown Trenton for most of the day. It was big news in this small Eastern Ontario town, home to Canada's largest Air Force base. The Sherwood Forest Inn, as it was called, was once known as the Quinte Hotel, and was the subject of a famous poem by local poet Al Purdy, who grew up in Trenton and lived most of his life in nearby Ameliasburgh.

Purdy wrote his famous poem At The Quinte Hotel in 1968. He had a gift for finding drama in small town life, and in this poem he describes a night of drinking, fighting and poetry reading in the hotel's bar, which was fairly close to his home. The poem is beautifully rendered in this video featuring Gord Downey of The Tragically Hip and the voice of Purdy himself:


The hotel was notorious in Trenton for decades. It probably won't be missed by most of the locals save for the strippers that worked there, the drunks that hung out there and the teenagers who used to sneak in and drink there underage. Here's a comment from a YouTube viewer who was a resident of Trenton:
I grew up in Trenton in the 70/80's. Most of the bad influences on us was because of the Quinte Hotel. The first time I drank a beer was at the Quinte, I was 15. Saw my first stripper at the Quinte. Saw Varouge, Helix, Max Webster and many more at the Q. I even had a gun pointed at my head one cold January night in '79/80 by an undercover police officer. They were getting ready for the first of many big raids in Trenton. It didn't seem like it then but looking back it was a scary fucking place.
It's hard to tell by looking at it in these photos (taken in 2011), but underneath all the aluminum siding and brick accretions was a structure almost 120 years old, one of the few surviving original commercial buildings in downtown Trenton.

Here's a photo of the fire from the local paper, The Trentonian:

and a photo of the charred ruins taken this morning:

Purdy's boyhood home at 134 Front Street in Trenton was torn down in 2011, and there isn't much left in the city from the years he spent there.  His home in Ameliasburgh is still standing and has been recently sold to a preservation group that is planning to turn it into a writer's residence for young poets. He would have been saddened to see the old hotel destroyed, but it lives on in his wonderful poem.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Best sandwiches ever

Whenever I'm in Ottawa, my partner and I try to make an effort to eat lunch at the Art Is In Bakery - they have, hands down, the best sandwiches I've ever eaten, served cafeteria-style in a funky industrial space. All the food is carefully and lovingly prepared; it's an unusual dining experience.

The bakery is located at City Centre - a bleak industrial building featuring a long row of loading docks facing onto a nondescript parking lot overlooking LeBreton Flats.  It's near Albert St. and Preston, not too far from the Canadian War Museum. They've taken over one of the loading docks and outfitted it with a retail and seating area out front, with the main bakery and kitchen in the back. It's not unusual to see bakers hauling huge bags of flour side by side with customers eating lunch. In the summer, you can eat outside at picnic tables set up in the parking lot.

They're famous for their bread, but I go for the sandwiches. The AAA Angus Striploin sandwich, my favourite, is thinly-sliced tender medium-rare Angus beef piled on half of one of their signature loaves, with cheese, grainy mustard and arugula. It's unbelievably delicious.

On Saturdays only they feature an incredible hamburger - it's grilled to perfection outside on the loading dock on a Green Egg barbecue, then served with thick-cut bacon, grainy mustard, white cheddar cheese, tomato and arugula on one of their toasted house-made sesame buns. It's accompanied by a side of delicious house-made cole slaw. It's not for picky eaters and at $14 it's not cheap, but it's worth every penny. Wash it down with one of their unusual Dry Sodas, like my favourite rhubarb flavour. You could go the rest of the day without eating and still have a smile on your face at the end of the day.

While you're there, try their baked goods if you have any appetite left (or take them away for later). They have rich buttery cookies the size of your head and delicious flaky pastries - my favourite is the PBJ Danish - a huge Danish pastry filled with peanut butter and jam and loaded with sliced bananas.

The restaurant is crowded with patrons every time I visit - people drive from all over the metro Ottawa area. It's a testament to the quality of the food that so many people will travel to their out-of-the-way industrial park location just to eat there. Check it out next time you visit Ottawa - you won't be disappointed.

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Rollin' and Tumblin', a Muddy Waters tune covered by Imogen Heap and Jeff Beck: