Monday, June 30, 2008

The Last Kind Word Blues from the Vinyl Cafe

I was introduced to the Vinyl Cafe a couple of years ago by Kevin, when we were both on the same team. Kevin is a mainframe programmer and a bit of a film and book buff. If I recall correctly, Kevin used to listen to Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe on CBC radio, and one Christmas, was looking for a particular Vinyl Cafe story to read over a Christmas gathering. I helped Kevin out by visiting and peering between the covers to gleam the story. I suspect Kevin's Christmas went a tad better than Dave's in the story -- I'm quite sure Kevin wasn't drunk and didn't take a turkey to a hotel. Stuart McLean has published many of his Vinyl Cafe stories collected in a few volumes over the years. What better way to enjoy the quirky Canadiana that it is his characters -- sort of Bob and Doug, but without the beer and hoser phenom.

I had nearly forgotten about the Vinyl Cafe, until my wife and I happened to be in a strip mall in Gander, last fall. We were killing some time on our two weeks on the rock, when I found a used bookstore. Those that know me, know that I have an affinity for used bookstores. Wandering around the store, my eye stopped at the Vinyl Cafe Unplugged. The only Stuart McLean book on the shelf. I picked it up, and for the remainder of our vacation, I indulged my wife by reading out loud to her, the misadventures of the Dave and Morley clan. There is something very Canadian about the Vinyl Cafe stories, in cabin looking over the Atlantic, as a storm rages outside. The stories are quaintly Canadian; making light of the everyday absurdities of life and our responses to them; and at times, poignant -- sad with a longing at the passage of time.

There are many memorable Vinyl Cafe stories. One that keeps coming back to me again and again is the Last Kind Word Blues, that introduced my wife and I to Geechie Wiley. There's not much known about Wiley. She was black American blues singer and guitar player from Mississippi, who recorded three disc records in the early 1930s. I wonder sometimes about who the woman was. From what we know of her today, she probably lived a life of relative obscurity -- came and went, and is remembered for the three songs she left behind. Her music is haunting. See the video below for the Last Kind Word Blues.

This past Christmas, our older daughter bought me the remainder Vinyl Cafe books. Since then, I've been called on to read a story or, preferably, two, after dinner, before we all head our separate ways. Tonight I knocked off another book. Our house is running dangerously low on the untapped wisdom of the Vinyl Cafe. Tonight, the second story came from the last book that was untouched.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Two birthdays and a world to save

My birthday went by this past week. It was a sort of celebratory event the entire week, culminating in a birthday breakfast this morning, which included a few presents -- even though I didn't really want anything -- and wasn't expecting much. This past week also marked the first time I registered for a stay at a hospital.

The hospital visit was planned -- been in the plans for a few months at the very least, following a visit to my GP. The whole process of, "there's something weird there, touch it," through to, "nice to meet you, drop your pants," and "don't worry, you won't feel a thing," probably took six months. It was not an emergency, but a proactive move on my part to take care of my health. Six months move pretty fast. It was my first encounter with the process of surgery, and having no expectations, I guess I am satisfied. There are those who rail against the Canadian health care system, but taking the context of my encounter out of the picture, it was not a bad experience -- even a pleasant one. There was the issue of the hospital losing my pre-op paperwork -- which meant I had to refill a form and sign the consent just before being wheeled into the OR -- but that was it. I was out of it. The doctors did their thing. I apparently woke up to the OR staff singing "happy birthday" -- which I don't remember. I was loaded up on drugs and shipped off to home. The next day, I got a courtesy call from one of the nurses at the hospital wondering how I was handling the pain. The pain was being handled. Like I said, I am satisfied. Something that in a different time would have killed me, is now routine day surgery. In and out. Just like that, and I even dropped into work a couple of days after for a few hours. I didn't need more reason or evidence to be thankful to be a Canadian -- having the luck to have circumstances put me on Canadian soil -- a citizen -- but this week, I had another reason handed to me. What I took for granted this week is a luxury that most of the world can't even dream of. I took for granted the fact that my life wasn't on the edge -- I wasn't at risk -- that I would be well. In a couple of days, Canada will celebrate another birthday. I will spend it quietly, reflecting on where I am, and the opportunities that are before me. Yes, another luxury.

I am a Canadian (eh!), but as I like to think, I am also a citizen of the world. The luxury of being Canadian allows me to think of myself as a global citizen first, and a Canadian second. In keeping with my international citizenship, my wife gave me something I didn't already have, for my birthday -- a donation to the David Suzuki Foundation, directed to be used for their Oceans Preservation Project. The oceans cover most of the planet and are key to sustaining life as we know it. Life on land and the oceans are connected in ways we probably still don't fully understand, from the food chain to the air we breathe; yet we treat the oceans as a garbage dump. Effluent from industry to household waste not properly disposed of, ends up far away in the ocean -- out of sight and out of mind. We've managed to affect chemical changes to the oceans. The oceans are becoming more acidic, and as a result, tiny lifeforms at the bottom of the food chain are being killed off. It's not called a chain for nothing. The higher lifeforms are connected to the lower ones -- as the lower lifeforms die out, the danger will spread outwards on the chain. At the end of that chain, are humans. The danger isn't for the coral reefs, the dolphins and the whales. We're the ones in danger. Us, and our oversized appetites that trawl the planet leaving destruction in our wake. [Sigh ...] Saving the world means saving ourselves.

Check out the latest Discover Magazine for a pop-sci education on the topic.

King Rat by China Miéville

After reading Un Lun Dun, I took the other China Miéville novel I had off the shelf, and dived into it, reading it as I lurched every-which-way on the daily bus rides. King Rat was Miéville's debut fantasy novel, published in 1998 and it is quite unlike Un Lun Dun. To begin with, King Rat is not written for younger readers. It is dark retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin story -- wherein many rats are drowned and children are kidnapped.

In the Rat King, the Piper is the antagonist. He's evil incarnate, with the ability to make anything he wishes, dance to his tune, and do his bidding. Back in Hamelin, he drowned the rats that had invested the village, except the King, who managed to escape. Through time, he's tortured other souls, including Anansi, king of the spiders, and Loplop, king of the birds. In modern day London, King Rat, Anansi and Loplop are plotting revenge on the Piper, with a secret weapon, King Rat's son, the half-man, half-rat, Saul Garamond, who just may not want to be a part of this little war -- but was bred for revenge, since being both man and rat, can't be seduced by the Piper's music played for rats or people.

King Rat is set against the underground drum and bass movement of London. The pounding music sets the tone for a savage story in the urban jungle. Miéville does an excellent job of bringing the music scene alive in King Rat, using it deftly to shape the landscape in which his brutal revenge story is playing out. The story comes with lots of twists and turns, which are cleverly inserted just before you start wondering where it's all going. The transformation of Saul from human to man-rat happens fast. It will make you think twice of the alleys and rooftops of cities. Overall, King Rat is a pretty good fantasy novel, set in today's London. It takes you away, but keeps reminding you that you didn't really leave.

I can see this novel being very easily adapted to a movie. That would be cool.

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

I recently finished Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville. It's been a while since I sat down to read a book of fiction, and since I was going to be spending hours in a flight to China, I decided to take a book along to fill the void. I had picked up Un Lun Dun sometime ago, and its been sitting on my bookshelf, calling to me.

Un Lun Dun is a fantasy novel, set in an alternate London -- unLondon, as it were. Miéville sets out to write an unfantasy novel. The setup has been used many times by fantasy authors. There's usually a prophecy of an outsider who travels to a far off land to save it from a menace. There is a quest. There are trials that will test the mettle of the hero. Lessons will be learned; sacrifices will be made. The hero will be fair -- the blonde-haired, blue-eyed type. The villain will be evil. The hero will triumph just in time, and there will be a happy ending.

Forget the usual however. In Un Lun Dun, the hero is a heroine, and is not the one that has been destined to save Un Lun Dun. The heroine actually starts out to be the sidekick, and she's anything but fair and heroic. She's probably East Indian and is on the pudgy side. She is not into the hero-thing, rather being there out of necessity -- because there is no one else to save the day. She'll take on the quest -- and it will be dangerous. There will be deaths.

Miéville takes everyday London an adapts it to Un Lun Dun. It's a bit whimsical, but geared towards a younger audience. It doesn't distract, but it will probably take a little time to get used to it. As a fantasy novel for younger readers, Un Lun Dun delivers and kept this adult reading it to the end. It's engaging, but not demanding. It generated enough interest in me to read the other Miéville book on my shelf, King Rat.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Freedom to be dumb in Louisiana

Whoo-hoo! Louisiana has voted to stunt progress and scientific literacy in the state! Governor Bobby Jindal, a biology major that apparently wasted his time in school, signed into law yesterday, the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). The LSEA seeks to promote critical thinking in education, especially in the areas of evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning. Yet again, logic and intelligence has given way to religious fanaticism. The dumb just keeps getting dumber.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin is dead

George Carlin died today, June 23rd, at the age of 71. He will be missed. See some of his routines.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Nissan Murano AXJY 263 asshole

AXJY 263Today I encountered another asshole too stupid to care -- too stupid to care for their neighbourhood, the environment, and ultimately, their health. The asshole in question drives a Nissan Murano SL AWD, with Ontario license plates, AXJY 263. From the details on the plate, the vehicle was purchased in Willowdale -- and it was parked at the Longo's at Laureleaf & Bayview. I stood around for about 10-minutes after taking this picture, waiting for the asshole to show up, before I ran out of patience and went grocery shopping. Whoever parked the Murano there is an asshole -- an asshole because they left their SUV running while they went shopping. It was a bit of a warm day, but there was a nice breeze. The gas guzzling asshole just couldn't wait the one minute it would take for the A/C to cool the vehicle down, so they left the engine running so the A/C could keep the vehicle cool. One day, people like that will be thrown in jail for crimes against the environment.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How to train death squads and quash revolutions from San Salvador to Iraq

Julian Assange of Wikileaks introduces the 219-page U.S. military counterinsurgency manual, titled, Foreign Internal Defense Tactics Techniques and Procedures for Special Forces (1994, 2004), with the declaration:
How to covertly train paramilitaries, censor the press, ban unions, employ terrorists, conduct warrantless searches, suspend habeas corpus, conceal breaches of the Geneva Convention and make the population love it.
That there exists such a manual isn't at all surprising. Those that know the history of the U.S., knows the country has repeatedly engaged in some questionable colonial excursions to other countries, usually with disastrous consequences for the peoples of the host nation. What should be surprising -- shocking, even -- is some of the tactics the manual advocates: warrantless searches; detainment without charge; the suspension of habeas corpus; prosecuting individuals for terrorism who are not terrorists; concealing human rights abuses from journalists; and, the use of subterfuge and "psychological operations" (propaganda) to make these and other "population & resource control" measures more palatable. These are exactly the tactics the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have employed on the United States.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Border guards to become media enforcers

There's something sinister afoot in Canada. The federal government is working secretly to sign on with the Europeans to protect the interests of the RIAA and MPAA. If an agreement is reached, copyright protection enforcement would fall to border protection authorities -- you know -- the same people who screen you at airports and stop the shipments of gay & lesbian literature at the border. Border guards would have the authority to inspect laptops, mp3 players, cellphones and other digital devices, to look for copyrighted material. Even if you bought the material legally, or own original discs, the border guards could take your device away and destroy it. Instead of ensuring our nation is protected, the government is working to ensure that the outdated business model of RIAA and MPAA members are protected -- at the detriment to you.

Whoever came up with this dumbass idea must have spent one hour too many listening to really loud Metallica music.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Witch on Steeles

WitchLast week, I met a real witch. I don't mean witch in the Wiccan sense; those that honour nature and are legend for stripping naked and dancing around fires. Nor do I mean witch in the Salem sense; being in the wrong place in the wrong time. I mean witch in the good ole fashion nasty sense -- the whole crone business; of nasty old ladies who cook children in ovens, cause princesses to die by spindle pricks and scare immigrants out of bus seats with their spittle of intolerance. You may not have heard of her, but the wicked witch of Toronto is well known to those who travel on the 53 Steeles Ave. E. bus, on weekday mornings. This witch usually board the bus at the Laureleaf stop. She's peroxide blonde; her stench disguised by expensive perfume; and her body glittering with precious stones. Being a witch in the new century is apparently lucrative -- which makes it a mystery why this hag doesn't have a chariot hauled by black stallions. Last week I had the displeasure of sitting beside this witch. She boarded the bus, walked up to the Chinese girl sitting beside me and told her she wanted her seat, because she was a senior, and the sign said so. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having reserved seats for the elderly on buses. It is a good society that respects and values those of the elderly persuasion. It's a good thing. The problem with this shrew however is that she's anything but nice; anything but deserving of respect. Outwardly, she doesn't appear to be old enough to be a senior citizen. Even if she is a senior citizen, opening with the demand, "I want this seat," is not a nice thing. Asking if she could have the seat would be a more respectful approach. The previous week, this crone came to the attention of my wife on the same route, when she demanded of another Chinese girl, her seat. After she had been given the seat, she then turned to an older Chinese woman sitting beside her and remark that Chinese people coming to Canada ought to learn to read English. Last week in my encounter, both my wife and I were sitting in the front of the bus. In fact, my wife had the first seat, I the second, and the Chinese girl, the third. Our witch skipped my wife and I, and attacked the Chinese girl. I'm sure there's a reason there for the passover of my wife and myself -- and any which way you look at it, those reasons aren't nice. I'm looking forward to the day this witch demand me give her my seat. I'm planning on being just as impolite as I push her into the oven.

Saying no to human rights

The United States has decided to withdraw its mission to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) -- the UN body charged with dealing with human rights violations around the world. The UNHRC was created in 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights. At that time, the U.S. decided to not participate as a member, but instead send its mission as an observer. Even that, is now being pulled and it's a move that is shocking to many. One obvious way to view this position by the U.S. is that it has no regard for human rights. That would be a mistake however. The U.S. position on human rights needs to be seen beyond the tarnished perspective of the current American administration. King George has done much to destroy world's confidence in America's commitment to human rights. But, America has always practiced a less than idealized position on human rights. Human rights for America has always been tied to its political aims. America has never been a perfect state from a human rights perspective. Its criticism of the UNHRC however, does have validity. The UN's business of human rights has been checkered. The UNHRC allow as members, those who do not respect the human rights of their own citizens -- and allow such mockery of the system, as having Pakistan sponsor a resolution that would prevent the defamation of religions; and prevent resolutions with force being passed against states such as North Korea and Myanmar. While the UNHRC has had some positive impacts, it is also hampered by some members who are bent on manipulating the idealism of an international human rights enforcement body.

There will be a lot of criticism for the U.S. pulling out of the body. This time however, I may be more inclined to understand America's position.


Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo, has done something unique to get attention in a world of very short attention spans. It has created Uniqlock -- a catchy multimedia presentation on the web that blends music, dance and data visualization. It's hard to explain the experience. You'll have to take a look at it yourself. There's something compelling in the presentation that makes it difficult to just navigate away from the site. When you've had enough of the experience, click over to the Uniqlock's archives to find other presentations created by Uniqlo.


Goosh is cool! It's a command-shell for Google. From a command prompt, you can type search queries and have the responses come back as text in the command-window. Totally retro. Check it out.

This is his country

"Don't you fucking talk to him like that. And don't you fucking talk to me like that. This is his country. Not yours, not mine."
Something must happen when you give people guns. They and those with guns become important -- become deserving of respect -- and everyone else, just backdrop for the scene. That has repeatedly been the case of American soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. It's not limited to American soldiers of course. Peacekeepers are at times no better. The very people they've come to help become unwitting victims. Lack of respect turn those who were once supporters to enemies, as casual disregard for those without guns -- without the implements to command respect in regions of conflict -- become the norm.

Read more in the Star.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Why Dan Hilliard Suck

Here's one that will have you screaming, WTF?! Stacey Fearnall has been fired for shaving her head to raise money for the charity, Cops for Cancer. She raised $2,700, but her boss told her she was fired from her waitress job, when she showed up to work with no hair. Her boss is Dan Hilliard, also known as an asshole. The restaurant is Nathaniel's, in Owen Sound, Ontario. Make sure you never eat there.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Dumb People for Hilary

David Swanson has an excellent post at, on the Clinton surge post the DNC reluctant decision to cave to Clinton's pressure and count the votes from Florida and Michigan. Yes, Clinton still thinks there is hope. And so do a lot of dumb people, who are backing her.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Call for Revolution

Sometimes what we need is a good ole fashion revolution. That is the case being by Robert Higgs for America.
The beginning of political wisdom is the realization that despite everything you’ve always been taught, the government is not really on your side; indeed, it is out to get you.
Read more in his commentary, post at the Independent Institute.
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