Packing it in

As of yet, anyway.

The other day I mentioned that I had 13 unfinished drafts in the queue waiting to be finished/polished/fully started.  As of this morning it was up to 15.

See, I tried this week.  I really did.  Had some ideas (some great ones, too!) and started getting them fleshed out, but then something else would come along to get in the way of the creativity/coherent thought.

It has not been my favourite week.  Been having a lot of those (not favourite weeks) lately.

Last night I spent the evening packing.  I am moving house in less than a month (!)  and the anxiety/stress about the coming chaos finally got me off my butt to start the procedure in earnest.  It’s not so much the packing I don’t like (though the packing is hardly fun), but living surrounded by boxes and being unable to find something that just might have been boxed up accidentally?  Crazy-making.

I don’t do well with chaos (an understatement, if there ever was one).  I am a 21st century BCE old fogey at heart.  Like our Mesopotamian forebears I am FAR more affected by the dichotomy of order and chaos than I am by the good/evil that the monotheists started on about later.

But I’m not going to talk further about the whole externalization of evil nonsense at the moment.  I honestly don’t have the energy right now. 

Moving- even if it’s for a happy reason- is never a fun process.  Add in the crazy logistics of contemporary life- cost of trucks & storage, shifting all the billing addresses, cancelling all the no-longer needed services, changing the driver’s license/health card, booking the time to DO the moving…


The packing isn’t always the worst part.  It provides a good opportunity to purge the life trappings that have become unnecessary and the chance (awesome for a lover-of-order like me) to shore up the awareness that there is a place for everything and everything CAN be in its proper place.

The last time I moved house I packed in a fairly robotic frenzy.  I had experienced a major life-change (one that was forced upon me rather than reached through mutual discussion and any semblance of respect) so things went into boxes with only the most minor attempts at purging.  Unless it was truly rubbish, into a box it went.

So there’s some ‘unexamined stuff’ to go through.

Which means that this time out I’m finding all kinds of interesting things.  Some melancholy, some cool as hell.  Old letters from friends long gone, love notes best consigned to the trash, CDs I forgot I had.  Cassette tapes I forgot I had.

While packing up the shelves that hold the vestiges of my life in the ivory tower of academia (such as it was), I found those items left to me by my late mentor and friend, Papa Kaz.

As we cleared out his office for his impending retirement years ago, we reached the point where he had had enough and basically just bequeathed all that was left to me and my interest.  If I wanted it, it was mine.

Since I inherited the office itself for a time following his departure, and since I was pretty much done with the packing myself, a lot of it was just left there on the shelves where he had placed it all at some point over the 30+ years he worked at the uni.

When it was my turn to vacate the office, the unexamined things- plus those items that he had personally given to me- made their way to the study at home.  To be boxed up when the last move took place

I found a rather peculiar and interesting file folder in with all the articles about biblical exegesis and slides and maps of the Ancient Near East.  It has nothing to do with Religious Studies, and there doesn’t seem to be a familial connection given the cursory read I’ve made of the materials thus far, so I’m only assuming it came from him because of proximity to his other stuff.

When I have some time to relax I will have to do a little research on the contents and let you know what I’ve found.  It’s a mystery though.  And I love mysteries…

NO distractions!


Moving can be both a trip down memory lane (past the bad blocks and the good) and a period of catharsis as new things are set in motion.

It can also be a supreme pain in the ass.

Suffice it to say, in the next little while I won’t be contributing as many posts as has become my norm in the past few months.  Although writing is generally calming, so its therapy mightn’t be a bad thing when the chaos threatens to overwhelm.  Hard to say.  Will be here when I can regardless.

Packing it in has come to be used colloquially to mean ‘calling it a day’, finishing things up, stopping work on something.  In World War I it became military slang for being killed.  The idiom can be used imperatively as a command for someone to just quit it! and have done!

As much as I’d like to pack in the packing, that isn’t possible.  Once I get something started I tend to be a bit obsessive about finishing- especially if there’s a time constraint of any kind.  And, in this case, there is.  I’ll keep to it and pack up or discard the items and the memories- whichever the specific item/memory and common sense dictates- that the process brings back into light.

Why do I have so many books?  Seriously.  WHY?  Does one person really NEED eight copies of the bible?  And those are BIG books.  HEAVY books.  Granted, only three are in English, but COME ON!  It’s not like that stuff is my life’s work anymore.  Stay or go?  Toss or keep?  Stay, but store.  (This has been an example of the common internal/sometimes external conversations that will be the norm in my house for the next few weeks.  The cats- and likely my neighbours- think I’ve lost it.  This aside was brought to you by my brain).

I’ll ignore the feelings of overwhelming chaos that living surrounded by boxes instills in the deepest part of my core, and just get it all sorted and ready for transport and new beginnings.

I’ll allow the packing to displace the other crap that’s going around me, for a time, since it’s stuff I have no control over (in the main) anyway.  My focus, which has been divided in many directions of late, will be concentrated on the immediate task at hand.

But right now I have to go buy more packing tape.


This might be a little obvious and sentimental (and overplayed and commercial), but it remains a good song and it is about moving and such.  And Green Day’s energy is a good inducement to productivity.

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.

So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth it was worth all the while

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Happy Birthday Jim

Jim Henson would have been 77 yesterday.

As I was getting ready to leave the house this morning, I had CBC NewsWorld on in the background, per usual, and for some reason (I missed the lead up) the weather dude, Jay Scotland, was talking about this particular gem from the Sesame Street archives:

I had to look for it immediately.  For some reason, I can remember laughing until I was in pain as the spider chased Kermit.  I think it was the ‘heeeeey Frog’ that did it.  Too freaking funny.  Looking back at it now, you really have to love the hippie/70s sentiments coming through in the granola that Little Miss Muffet prefers over the curds and whey and the waterbed in lieu of the tuffet (which is a type of ottoman/pouffe/stool that one sits upon).

Jay claims that Kermit, as the Roving Reporter, was his first push toward the world of broadcasting.

I can believe it.  Sesame Street (and, in a different way, The Muppet Show) provided first steps in education, community building and entertainment- all at the same time- for generations of children.  Beginning in 1969, Jim’s Muppets helped the Children’s Television Workshop provide the early building blocks of learning by employing an innovative use of tv.  Attempting to positively use the ‘addictive qualities of television’ the CTW (now Sesame Workshop) helped young children in the States and Canada prepare for school.  It is now broadcast in over 120 countries.

Focused on holding the attention of children, so that they can actually absorb the education on offer, CTW quickly realized how pivotal Jim and his Muppeteers were in the overall execution of their objectives.  Arguably, Sesame Street set the paradigm for all children’s programming.  It has certainly earned its place in popular culture.  The Muppets have been everywhere.

If there was no Jim Henson, there would be no ‘best joke ever,’ as told by Pepe and Seymour on Muppets Tonight.

I still hear ‘hell if I know’ (or, more properly, ‘Eleph-Ino’) in Pepe’s voice whenever it happens to be uttered in my general vicinity.

This song- with both Muppets voiced by Jim- fits right in with my current attitudes (although not as applied to romantic involvements).

(I DO hope that something better comes along.  Veryvery much.  I’m doing my damnedest to make that happen.)

I loved The Muppet Movie in general, but Steve Martin’s role as the disgruntled waiter remains a classic within the Classic film.  So many wonderful- and wonderfully cheesy- cameos in the movie, and those subsequent.

Rowlf, Rowlf the Dog was the first of Jim’s Muppets to appear regularly on network television.  His dry delivery and sense of humour, combined with his love of the piano and unflappability in the face of the usual Muppet-y chaos that surrounded him was always inspirational to me.  He was my Muppet alter ego.  As much as I love Kermit- and many of the others (Pepe remains a favourite, and how can you not love Animal?)- Rowlf has always been my go-to Muppet.

Rowlf with Jim and Frank Oz- literally his ‘right-paw man.’

I’m finding it hard to stick to my Humanistic outlook on life at the moment (as you might have gathered).  There have been too many examples lately of the opposite of goodness in people- internationally, here at home and in my personal environment (although there is one particular exception to that seeming recent rule.  I’ll have to write something about that guy soon).

In any case, Jim’s birthday yesterday- and Jay’s remembrance of Kermit as the Roving Reporter this morning- reminded me just how much of an impact he had on my life.  I distinctly remember where I was when I heard that he had died (he mightn’t have been John Lennon or JFK, but he was THAT big a deal, as far as I was concerned).  The memorial tributes- often featuring sad Muppets- broke my heart more than a little.

Years ago, the Ontario Science Centre (where I was a ‘junior member’ and participant in the OSCOTT Club- ‘Ontario Science Centre on Tuesdays and Thursdays’) hosted a touring exhibit called ‘The Art of the Muppets’.  I still have a postcard from my visit to see some of my faves live and in person (as it were).

I have no negative memories of Jim Henson yet he and his creations pervade my existence in a very real way.  To paraphrase a friend of mine  (who was talking about Davy Jones’ death.  You can find the original quote here), Jim did nothing to make his fans sad.  Ever.  Except die suddenly and rather inexplicably.  But he did make myriad people happy.  Still does, since his creations endure thrive and continue to entertain and enlighten new generations.

He was certainly a great educational facilitator but he was also an incredible storyteller and teacher in his own right.  His Muppets have presented old stories in new ways, taught life lessons as they explored their own origins and concepts of family and continue Jim’s legacy to instill in us the reality that we are all the same.  Humans, monsters, animals (and Animals), birds (and Birds).   And that even inanimate objects- like food and furniture- might have stories to tell and lessons to impart.

Makes me think that Kermit/Jim (and Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher) might have had it right. Perhaps we will find that rainbow connection.

Some day.

If we channel our inner Muppets (‘calling Rowlf, Rowlf the Dog’) and keep listening to the voices of the Monsters, Frogs, Dogs, Grouches, Aloysius (who knew Snuffy had a first name?) Snuffleupaguses and other storytellers among us to figure it out.

Storytellers like Jim Henson.

P.S. Didn’t I just say the Muppets were everywhere?  This morning (Thursday) I caught the time-shifted Jimmy Fallon show (not sleeping again, me) and the cast of Sesame Street joined him to sing their theme song.  To celebrate the start of their 44th season.  44th.  Go Muppets Go!

Muddling through

As of this morning there are 13 drafts of incomplete posts in my WordPress dashboard’s storehouse of thoughts.  This is unusual since I’m generally pretty good with the follow-through and finishing stuff.  It may sometimes take a while- I have been known to procrastinate now and again when no established deadline is looming- but things do get done (this is, of course, excluding the novel(s) I’ve been working on for countless years).

I haven’t felt much like writing since my weekend rant about politics and politicos in this city.  My frustration quotient- on a number of fronts- has reached critical levels, and I’m finding that my thoughts have been running in too many directions at once to actually get anything of substance down on the (virtual) page.  Or sleep for more than a few hours at a time.

Need some quiet.  And real rest.  And not likely to have either in the near future.

So, in an attempt to make the brain shut the hell up for a time, and make it possible for me to drag myself out of bed in the morning, I spent part of last evening watching some of the new shows that are being offered for our consumption and potential edification.

James Spader is awesome.  He will always be Alan Shore to me, but I do have high hopes for The Blacklist.

The season premiere of HIMYM was good- and makes this, the last season, look promising.

There are a couple other new shows that are intriguing- namely David E. Kelley’s new one with Robin Williams and Sarah-Michelle-Gellar-the-Vampire-Slayer.  Boston Legal remains one of my favourite shows (Alan Shore and Denny Crane rule) and Kelley seems to know when to let his actors run with the characters and do what feels right.  I’m sure the directors have their hands full keeping Robin Williams under some semblance of control, but the result should be worth a look regardless.

It’s great to see him back on the small screen (I, unlike many younger viewers, well remember his original turn as Mork- on Happy Days).  And I have a definite soft spot for Buffy (which remains one of the best-written shows out there.  Joss Whedon does dialogue like no on else).  Given her past ability at handling Whedon’s scripts, I’m sure she will more than hold her own against the manic zaniness that is Robin Williams.

As mentioned, I’m cautiously interested in Sleepy Hollow– mainly because they’ve linked Washington Irving’s story (which was based on Germanic  folktales of ‘the Wild Huntsman’) with biblical apocalyptic mythology.  Neat twist- we’ll see how it plays out.

I look very forward to the return of Elementary.  I know I know.  The naysayers all say that Cumberbatch’s contemporary Holmes is the one worth watching, but I love Jonny Lee Miller.  Ever since he was Sick Boy, really, but he was really great in another underrated television role a few years ago.  With its modern take on prophecy and prophets, Eli Stone might well need its own post.  Anyway- I do like his take on Sherlock, and the supporting cast of Lucy Liu and Aidan Quinn has really come together.  This season Rhys Ifans will be showing up as Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft.  Lots of good acting chops in that mix.

Lest you think that my couch is about to swallow this potato whole, I have actually cracked a book in the past few days.  I’m rereading High Fidelity, Nick Hornby’s first novel that was made into the movie starring John Cusack.  The film was pretty good- Jack Black was pretty amusing, and Cusack is generally quite endearing- but the original story’s British-ness is somehow more resonant.

I get Rob Fleming’s association of life- and life events- with specific music.  The concept of the ‘mix tape’ as central to the romantic lives of people of a certain age is one that seems to be recurring in my general environment lately.  In addition to Jian Ghomeshi’s 1982, that was my cottage reading a couple of weeks back, I read Love is a Mix Tape- Rolling Stone Editor Rob Sheffield’s sad tale of the life- and sudden death- of his wife, the night the lights went out back in July.

Those books, and Sheffield’s Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, all play with the thought, sincerity and hard work that used to go into the making of a mix tape for someone special.

There is nothing comparable these days.  Making a playlist can be done in a matter of minutes- as one draws from 1000s of songs pulled out of iTunes or the like.  Sure, The Shuffle Daemon has thrown me for a loop a few times with its accurate matching of the music to the mood/ weather, but there is something incomparably innocent, nostalgic and loving about the process of choosing just the right songs and getting them all to both work well together and fit on the tape- without getting cut off part way through.

(I have sooooo many mix tapes with cut off songs.  Tapes I listened to so often that sometimes, when I hear those songs now, I expect them to just end at very specific places.  I remain surprised when the song plays all the way through.)

Anyway, all this thinking about song lists and the perfect mix tape inspired me to make one of my own.  Figuratively, anyway.  I still have lots and lots of cassette tapes in storage.  Unfortunately, I currently have nothing on which to play them.

So I made myself a playlist.  Not of songs of love or lost love or unrequited love, but songs that are upbeat and happy and determined (if songs can be determined- and I think they can) to drag me out of bed to face the day.

The implied rejection of the past while has, seemingly, become overt, and although I’m attempting to do my best to muddle through (‘to continue despite confusion and difficulties’) some days it’s harder than others.

So these are songs to help with the muddling.

Vampire Weekend.  There are few of their songs that don’t make me think of summertime and friends, but A-Punk is just so upbeat and catchy.  Can’t stay confused and difficult in the face of this.

I wrote about this James song before, but this is a different version- although just as uplifting.  And reassuring in its assertion that we all get thrown a little off kilter now and again.

The The.  This has to be one of my very favourite songs ever.  Matt Johnson is cooler than cool.  And he might be right.  This might be ‘the day when things fall into place.’

The Gaslight Anthem is another band that is just fun.  And high energy.  And lyrically sophisticated.  And did I mention fun?  They put on an awesome live show, too.

Talking Heads.  Not only were they one of the most avant-garde bands ever, but they remain fun as hell.  The world is moving and I’m trying to stay right there with it.

Sweet.  Glitter rock.  Ballroom blitzes.  This is self-explanatory.

And finally, a little Aztec Camera.  Because Roddy Frame and that guitar riff can make anyone feel better.

I’m in love with everything that breaks the grip of caution
On our getting up and leaving for a bigger day, still some say
That all you need is money to be free from what is poor
Well that’s the lie of looking up from somewhere down

Because the sun will show to testify that all the
Time between belongs to you and I, to be still on fire
And when the strongest words have all been used
And all the new ones sound confused, to be still on fire

Somewhere in the middle we could see through all the people
And be playing second fiddle and be feeling sore
Shown the door

To chase out all the child in you
Is throwing out the baby for the chance to make it easy to be more

Solid advice.

Muddling through.

Mayor McCheese

(Following hard on the heels of my post regarding the reprehensible treatment of educators here in North America, came more news that truly put me off my food for the duration.)

It is terrible that we in no way adequately compensate so many of the people who study hard, achieve their academic goals and hone their teaching craft as an extension of a sincere vocation that impels them to teach the next generations and give back to society in a very real way by so doing.

‘Terrible’ isn’t a strong enough word.

So I guess my back was already up and I was feeling somewhat battered and raw by the latest evidence that the things I hold to be vitally important don’t seem to be the things that society values and nurtures.  That’s a crappy thing to be thinking about heading into the weekend.

After a long week of work and with a longer list of things to get done at home, I opted to take a break last night and catch up on some mindless television (or maybe read a novel- if I was feeling really motivated) as the laundry laundered.  The tv went on in time to catch the local news.

The Big Story was about Blackberry and its seemingly endless downward spiral.  I’m not a Blackberry user, so I’m not invested one way or another in the brand.  I do feel for the thousands of employees that now find themselves jobless, and I have some concerns about what this latest blow may do to the employment market here in my neck of the woods (admittedly some real self-interest there.  Never claimed to be a saint), but I’m not enough of an economist or financial analyst (as in, I’m in NO WAY an economist or financial analyst) to really know what might come of the whole thing.

The news outlets are still talking about the collision of the OC Transpo bus and VIA Rail train in Ottawa a couple of days ago.  It was a tragic and inexplicable event, and it seems that the reporters have backed away from the distribution of disaster porn somewhat.  Toned it down, at least.  They seem to be reporting the facts as they come to light rather than speculating and blaming and ‘interviewing’ witnesses who were still in shock.  This is nice change.

The same CUPE Listserv that sent the article about Margaret Mary also sent a notification that there would be crisis counselors on hand at Carleton for the coming days, offering shoulders to lean on, since there were two students among those who lost their lives.  The community is banding together and coping as best they can in a situation that can only be described as shocking.

Shocking and random and horrifying.

And then the anchors started talking about an inexplicable recurring phenomenon here in this town I call home.

Mayor McCheese hanging with his buddy the Hamburglar.  Apropos, non?

‘Ford Fest’.

Our putative mayor’s semi-annual masturbatory celebration barbeque.

Last night’s gala was the second one this summer.  The first took place earlier in the season out in the East End as a means of maximizing his public image as he worked to ‘bring the subway to Scarborough’.  Good turn out- of those who wanted the subway, regardless of whether or not it was something that was remotely cost-effective or practical for the numbers of people who need to be moved on public transportation on a daily basis.

Yet, they show up to see the guy in DROVES when offered a burger or a hotdog.

The self-aggrandizing jackass.

What is wrong with us as a society that we routinely marginalize those who opt for education and selfless public service as a way of life, while CELEBRATING an ignorant, possibly criminal, buffoon because he claims to be out for the ‘simple folk’ of Ford Nation?

He won the mayoral race on the basis of a catch phrase about freakin’ gravy and the train it rode in on.

That, and because he arguably had no real opposition.  George Smitherman was severely damaged by his connection the Provincial e-Health scandal and by the unfortunate truth that an urban gay man still doesn’t play all that well in the 905.

(The sad thing is that it might happen again.  The host of our cottage weekend had us all up in arms and ready to tie him to a tree with his assertion that he will vote for Ford- whom he despises as much as the rest of us- if the only other option is the person who seems likely to make the shift from Federal back to Municipal politics to throw her hat in the mayoral ring next Fall.  If it comes to that, the rest of us will likely have to kidnap Will and tie him to said tree until the election is over.  For all our sakes.)

Ford played to his base- the suburbs- and has since continued the systematic dismantling of the downtown core.  He put the kybosh on  Transit City and has screwed up the planning already completed by Metrolinx- an organization that was restructured and put into place in an effort to keep the politics OUT of the evolution of public transportation in the GTA- and ended up with two whole subway stops in Scarborough to show for it.

His motion to put a Ferris Wheel (among other such things) in the Port Lands development, and his push for a casino in the city, were, thankfully, shot down.  As they fully deserved to be.

His personal antics are a continuing source of embarrassment (whether or not he smoked the crack/said the things he said)- and still make international headlines, sullying the name of the city.

Still all kinds of unanswered questions about this photo and the people in it.
‘No Comment’ says Mayor McCheese

That we have an under-educated, inarticulate and self-serving joke running the city into the ground is bad enough.  But what’s worse it that there are way too many people that are supporting him as he does so.

At least 20 000 of them were expected to show up for free burgers and beer last night.

And not all of them are even from the ‘burbs.

I hear arguments from his supporters that frequently begin with the assertion that it is the ‘white 416 elite’ of this city that are most vocally opposed to the Mayor and his cronies/cronyism.

Being honest, there is some level of truth in that.  The media, in particular, has been known to stoop to less than appropriate levels of journalistic integrity in their criticisms of Ford.  That isn’t to say that the guy doesn’t have a serious persecution complex about certain media outlets, but there really didn’t have to be quite as much coverage of his drunken stumbling during Taste of the Danforth as there was.

The Marg Delahunty thing was hilarious though.

Are there those of us who would prefer to have a municipal representative who can speak articulately and authoritatively and who has at least a passing knowledge of Canadian geography?  Um, yes.  Yes we would.

Would we prefer a mayor who managed to complete his higher education, indicating that he might at least have been exposed to some of the history and workings of the wider world outside of Etobicoke and Florida?  Again, yes we would.

Would we prefer that the mayor of the country’s largest and arguably most multicultural city wasn’t racist?  Uh huh.

Would we prefer a mayor who actually has the ability to set aside the politics and the wants of his Nation in favour of plans and programmes that will benefit the City as a whole?  Yes.  PLEASE.

And would we prefer a mayor whose ego isn’t so disproportionately huge that he thinks he is outside of the law and not subject to conflicts of interest?  You betcha.

If such opinions are indicators of ‘416 elitism’, then mark me down as ‘guilty as charged.’

Unfortunately, short of de-amalgamation, which seems unlikely to happen at this point (although here’s a petition for that very solution, if you’re so inclined to support a good cause), I’m really at a loss as to how urban Toronto will recover and move forward in becoming the world class city it should be.

It’s not going to happen under the thumb of Mayor McCheese and his Brother Behind the Throne.

And he will be hard to get rid of if he is still managing to keep as many people as reported drinking the Kool-Aid beer at his celebratory barbeques.

I turned the tv off long before getting the 11:30 local news update confirming the number of attendees.  I actually couldn’t bear to have it confirmed.  Maybe 20 000 people DIDN’T show up to pat this guy on the back.  I’ll live in that ignorance for the rest of the weekend (birthday celebrations to attend today!) so I can still hope for some collective sense.

I guess Ford Nation isn’t alone in its tendency to delusion.

P.S.  To be honest, I’m not sure who first started calling the guy Mayor McCheese (the use of that tag has become ubiquitous here in TO), but it is a reference that fits for oh so very many reasons.  Still, I’m thinking the REAL Mayor McCheese would likely have a pretty strong case for defamation, had he not completely disappeared from McDonald’s marketing campaigns many years ago.  So, just be to safe:  No direct offense is intended against any cheeseburger-headed mayors who used to shill fast food with large, purple, milkshake-loving gum-drop shaped monster-things.  I always liked your top hat and jaunty striped trousers.



I spent some time- almost 10 years- as an Undergraduate Instructor (Part-Time Professor, Sessional Lecturer… the nomenclature varies with the school) at a number of universities here in Canada.  It says as much on my ‘About page.  If you have checked out some of my musings hereabouts you likely are aware that I do have something of a tendency to, well, lecture– for lack of a better term- at times.  It comes naturally.

N.B. THIS is going to be one of those times.  Fair forewarning.

You’ve also likely gathered that I am not, currently, teaching.  And that this is in spite of the fact that I LOVE being in the classroom, and hold those experiences as among the best of my life thus far.  In addition to the life-long friendships that I established with cherished mentors, I keep in touch with a number of former students.  I celebrate their victories (academic and otherwise) and empathize when the row they’ve chosen to hoe turns out to be more obstacle-filled than expected.

I understand that last bit all too well.  It’s not easy being an academic these days.  And certainly not an academic in the Humanities.  This is my personal experience speaking, along with the witnessed experiences of close colleagues, friends and former mentors who have come up against the same shift in values that I have dealt with.

I personally know people who struggle to make ends meet on Sessional salaries (approximately $7200-$8000 per course per term, when last I looked at Universities here in Ontario) that, even when maxed out, still don’t amount to substantial earnings.  Especially when you consider that Sessionals rarely, in my experience, secure even two courses per term.  And since, despite the incredible work load associated with preparing, presenting and marking for more than two courses a term (with classes of as many as 300 students), those salaries generally don’t include benefits.

Here in Canada we are fortunate- with our Universal Health Care medical concerns are generally not financially crippling.  But prescription costs, dental bills, eyeglasses (to compensate for the strain we put our eyes through reading all our weighty tomes) are, in the main, not covered if you are not a tenured or tenure-track Professor.  And when the rotation of courses means that there isn’t anything available for you to teach for one term, or two terms, or three terms… employment benefits can be difficult to come by.

I remain on the mailing list of one of the Public Unions I was involved with as a Sessional Lecturer, and yesterday I a received an email with a very disturbing linked story.  A disturbing American story, but the situation at Canadian universities is far too comparable.  Also included was this response from Inside Higher Ed, an American website that offers news, opinion and information about job opportunities in the realm of higher education.

Take a second to click the links.  I’ll wait.

How is this possible?

I was well-aware of the insecurity of the job description.  I have read numerous articles about the “Road Scholars”- those academics who travel between universities in different cities to make ends meet until landing tenure track positions (or giving up the career path for reasons of exhaustion and emotional defeat).

I actually was crazy delusional committed enough to my academic career path for a time that I commuted from Toronto to Ottawa to teach a course there for a term.  A WINTER term.  Did I mention it was in OTTAWA?  Where it snows.  A LOT.  One term was enough.  Between gas prices/train fares and the time needed for the commute, it was starting to COST me money to teach my classes.

I admit it.  I gave up.  When reapplying for my job every four months- generally with uncertain results- began impacting my health (to say nothing of my credit report), I gave up.

Unlike Margaret Mary Vojtko, I had options and could afford the relative luxury of giving up.  I am young(er), healthy and I have an incredible support system surrounding me.  I have been able to figure out next directions and work toward revised goals and still keep a roof over my head and food in the refrigerator.  It hasn’t always been fun, but I have never had to choose between paying the rent and buying groceries.

I can’t say the same for friends who haven’t given up.  I know of many who have had to rely on Food Banks and other valued community services to get through the rough terms.  That makes me very angry.

What makes me very sad is that neither I, nor anyone else I have had the privilege of working with over the years, chose academia and university teaching for the big pay cheques.  I chose to pursue my doctorate as an expression of my love for my subject matter and the importance I place on education.

Education for its own sake rather than as a means to an employment end.

I have always felt a strong pull toward the classroom- I continue to be surrounded by teachers- and firmly believe that a strong grounding in learning how to read and write critically and with analysis, research skills that can lead to the development of independent thought and opinion, and the exploration of the great works of human history, literature, art and music are key elements in creating responsible citizens who participate in our democratic processes and concern themselves with issues outside of themselves.

Not everyone out there agrees with me.

I have had far too many conversations with those who see the study of the Humanities as little more than ‘dilletanteism’, with no ‘practical’ application in the ‘real world’.  I won’t go into my responding rant (perfected through the number of times I have had to employ it) at the moment, but suffice it to say that this sort of attitude lies at the very heart of a number of the things that I have mentioned here, in this forum, in the past.  We aren’t critical enough in our thinking or analytical enough in our responses to the wider world around us.  Without being able to quote specific statistics but drawing upon my experiences and those of others I know and hold dear, the decline in the emphasis on the importance of studies of the Humanities is surely directly linked to our current level of intellectual laziness.

As I say, a rant for another day.

Likewise I’m not going to comment on the behaviour of the Roman Catholic authorities and their dismissal of the facts of the case.  I will say that it is interesting that a representative of the labour union that was attempting to organize the non-contract/tenured professors (a move that was stopped by the institution’s claims of ‘religious exemption from federal labour regulations’) seemed to care more for Margaret Mary’s welfare than the religious institution that had employed her for 25 years and then unceremoniously terminated that employment.


Margaret Mary’s story hit very close to my home.  Even though I am no longer involved in that world, I know and deeply respect many of those that are.

As Daniel Kovalik (said union representative) noted in Colleen Flaherty’s article:

“As amazing as it sounds, Margaret Mary, a 25-year professor, was not making ends meet.  Even during the best of times, when she was teaching three classes a semester and two during the summer, she was not even clearing $25,000 a year, and she received absolutely no health care benefits.  Compare this to the salary of Duquesne’s president, who makes more than $700,000 with full benefits.”

In the last year, he says, Vojtko was reduced to ‘abject penury,’ following a course load reduction- she was teaching one class, making $10,000 annually- with huge medical bills stemming from her cancer treatment.  She could no longer afford heating, so she worked at an Eat n’ Park restaurant at night to stay warm.  She tried to sleep during the day at Dusquesne (University), when she wasn’t teaching.

“When this was discovered by the university, the police were called in to eject her from her office,” Kovalik says.  “finally, in the spring, she was let go by the university, which told her she was no longer effective as an instructor- despite many glowing evaluations from her students.”

Please note that Margaret Mary was 83 when she died, earlier this month.

As Mr. Kovalik also notes, ‘adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities.’

Despite ill-informed commentary to the contrary, we do not treat our teachers (at any level of the educational system) with the respect and dignity they deserve- especially given the importance of their role in furthering the education of the next generations of community, institutional (medical, educational, not-for-profit and etc.), business and political leaders.

In addition to his statement that freedom is impossible without education, Epictetus maintained that the understanding of our ignorance and gullibility needs to be the first subject of all study.  With this self-knowledge we can begin to discover and incorporate knowledge that has come before us, and use it to develop our own ideas and solutions to problems.

Strong teachers facilitate this process.

We need them.


This a reality that is reaching critical mass.  The life of Margaret Mary Vojtko is a shameful illustration of the imbalance between the compensation received by teachers and that received by administrators in educational systems both here and in the US (the same can certainly be said for the disparity between the wages of workers and the salaries of CEOs in the business arena, but I’ll leave discussions about that sort of thing to Bill Moyers- he’s my favourite voice of reason in that particular realm).

I WAS Margaret Mary.  I left the world of the university when the ‘paying of dues’ on the road to career success seemed less and less likely to lead to anything like a liveable payout.

I quit.  I admit that.

I know a lot of people who defiantly remain on the road, and one or two of them could well end lives of educating, mentoring and facilitating the development of pivotal skills, in the same ignominious manner as did this life-long teacher who positively impacted the lives of countless students.

It’s long past time for us to re-evaluate our societal priorities and set up a rest station on this road- an exit that offers a break from the long haul, to grab a cup of figurative coffee and have just a little bit of leisure time to shore up reserves before getting back in the classroom to aid in the retention of freedom about which Epictetus spoke.    Almost 2000 years ago.

I just hope that there are still enough people out there who have been fortunate enough to have been exposed to the analytical and critical thinking tools- like those suggested by Epictetus- required to address and rescind such inequities.

If we don’t make systemic changes SOON, there certainly won’t be in the years to come.


It’s still unseasonably cold here.  Honestly.  What do we have to do to get some Indian Summer thrown our way?  And since I’m nearly as cold in the city as I was at the cottage (okay, that’s hyperbolic- it was DAMN cold at the cottage) I’ve been wishing I was back there more than a little bit.

I got to thinking today about one of the kitchen chats I joined after walking in on it in the middle- because that’s what we do- talk, interject, offer opinions/advice/whatever.  The things friends do when interested in each others’ ideas, opinions and perspectives.  They were discussing atheism vs. agnosticism and asked me to define both terms.  I offered my definition- and some of the reasoning behind my non-belief, which led to the same argument which our host and I have been having for well over two decades.

Theism is defined by the belief that at least one deity exists- somewhere- and the term is commonly used to describe the belief in a deity that is personal, present and active in the world/universe and who is gainfully employed in providing its governance.  Therefore, an a-theist is someone who does not believe that any such a deity exists.

Going back to the original Greek roots of the term, I am literally ‘without gods’.

And I’m good with that.

Agnosticism is a bit more complicated- and varied- in its definition- and that was a source of a bit of contention.  Also from the Greek, agnostic literally means ‘without knowledge’ and generally is applied to those who neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of a god- or many gods- as they have been imagined and described by people.

Agnostics admit to ‘not knowing’.  They‘re good with that.

Some will apply more of a philosophical meaning to the term, asserting that human reason and rationality are not capable of justifying whether- or not- deities do- or do not- exist.  Essentially those philosophers among us would claim that there is no way of knowing one way or the other.  Some suggest that you ‘can’t prove a negative’ and this ‘evidence of absence’ argument is one that is often tossed around when believers and non-believers (or those who allow for uncertainty) ‘discuss’ such things.

I concede that proving the non-existence of something is pretty tough to do, but I also suggest (as have others before me) that the flip side of that little tautology is that those who maintain the existence of something are likewise required to offer proof- that is acceptable to my particular worldview– that that same thing DOES exist.

Otherwise, I’m not likely to buy what you’re selling.

And since no one has, as of yet anyway, offered me anything remotely resembling definitive proof that the gods are anything other than the creations of us human beings, I’m very comfortable with my non-belief and I will thank you to not attempt to sway me to your perspective.

By all means- believe as you wish.  We are fortunate to live in a society that allows us the freedom of our beliefs- and their expression (at least at the moment and in Provinces other than Quebec…) so I will likewise not attempt to disabuse you of any privately held views on religion and gods.

Do I have time for proselytising?  Can’t say as I do.  Sometimes my Canadian politesse comes into conflict with this reality, but as willing as I am to hear you out in your argumentation, if it includes anything about me being condemned to eternal hellfire or cursed for my non-belief, I’ll likely cut you off pretty quickly.

Name-calling has no place in rational discourse, and telling me that I’m ‘damned’ isn’t nice at all.

And attacks launched from the defensive?  Also not attractive.  Nor something that will incline me to listen all that sincerely to what you have to say.

Clear example of this tension- but also the way in which it is consistently overcome- is the ongoing discussion about this subject that takes place repeatedly.  We will never agree on the divinity/non-divinity of Jesus (although ‘never’ is a word I hesitate to use.  Too restricting- he might yet change his mind…  Joking.  Seriously- just joking.  He knows I’m joking- and that I’m not looking to change his mind on the subject).

As an historian of religion. I believe in the existence of Jesus as an historical figure who sought change within his religious framework and social milieu, and that the guy had great ideas and inclinations toward inclusion, love and peace.  He was a radical dude, seeking religious and cultural change for the better.

A prime example of the heights of humanity to which we should all aspire?

Zero argument there.

Son of a deity?  One third of a triumvirate god that became incarnate in human form?  Immortal and supernatural?

None of the above.

The thing with this ongoing discussion is that we always take the time to listen to what the other person has to say, and we both are secure enough in our belief(s) that we can maintain a sense of humour about the arguments.  We happily agree to disagree.

When I touched upon this subject previously, I offered up an meme I’ve seen circulating that demonstrates the worst of the ‘New Atheist’ propensity toward labeling those with opposing views as ‘stupid’ or the like.

Not productive.

On the other side of the fence… I happened upon this little gem (that would be sarcasm) last night:

Also not remotely cool.

Although I’d think that Dawkins (and Hitchens before he died) would likely have found it quite amusing to be described as one of the harbingers of the Apocalypse.

A mythological story about the ending of all things and the return of a deity in which they do not believe.


Such rhetoric is demonstrative of this insidious propensity toward the externalization of ‘evil’ and making people monstrous because of a differing worldview- that I keep harping on about.  Not good.

Definitely not good.

The more we vilify each other and create and perpetuate dichotomies of right/wrong, good/evil, black/white, the farther away we continue to stray from the message and the mission of teachers like Jesus of Nazareth.

One of the reasons I love and respect my friends and family (and the peeps I have had the opportunity to meet through this forum) is because we can continue to engage in dialogue without in any way dismissing or diminishing the beliefs of those around us.

Last night, while out for dinner in one of our local little restaurants (Focaccia near Yonge and Bloor.  Try it if you get the chance.  The staff is FANTASTIC), I overheard the conversation of the couple who had been at the next table, just as they were leaving.  They were discussing their full-fledged support of the nonsense in Quebec– while loudly proclaiming their total ignorance of the beliefs and traditions of those they were demonizing.

Respect for our beleaguered waiter- who had been dealing with such commentary for the duration of their meal- was the only thing that kept me from speaking out as they exited.  That, and the awareness (after years of experience) that minds cannot be forced open, and that, sadly, some people are just unwilling to even attempt to see a perspective outside of their own.

So instead I wrote this post.

In frustration that there are still so many who will not offer dignity and respect to those whose ideas differ from their own.

In exasperation that there are too many among us who still seek to divide rather than to bring together.

But also in remembrance of the fact that there are all kinds of people out there who are honestly willing to listen to one another and, as required, agree to disagree.

Lots and lots of people who realize that all humans are reflections of one another- regardless of place of origin, cultural context or belief or non-belief.

And that I am privileged to have a whole bunch of people like that in my life.

P.S. Speaking of the Four Horsemen and such things… I watched the series premiere of ‘Sleepy Hollow’ earlier this week.  Seems the Headless Horseman is really Death- that Rider on a Pale Horse who seems to have been called up by a demon-type thing in the woods around town.  Potentially interesting amalgam of a classic American story and apocalyptic mythology all thrown into the 21st century Hudson River Valley.  Will have to check it out for a while and see.  Told you apocalypses seem to be everywhere lately…

Cottage on the Bay: Postscript

So I’m home.  Been home a few hours, finished the laundry and chores and some of the work I didn’t get done before I left town.  The temperature has dropped, even here in the city, so I’m sitting, wrapped in a blanked, thinking about the weekend, and wishing I was still on the Bay.

It was COLD- as expected, yet you never REALLY expect just how cold cold can be when you have no windbreaks between you and that farfarfar shore of the Great Lake, and the temps fall rapidly as the sun disappears.  I swear I only survived Friday night without freezing because I lucked out and the dog decided to sleep with me rather than her lord and master (there was some bitterness about that, let me tell you).  Thank you Scout!

But it was beautiful.  Clear nights- star filled with a half moon and even sightings of Mars setting on the horizon (although it might have been Venus, or not a planet at all- even with all the astronomy apps at our collective command we couldn’t agree just what it was that shone so brightly before being extinguished in the lake as the earth turned to hide its flashy sparkle).

There was a UFO sighting Friday night.  No seriously.  It can’t have been a plane.  It zigzagged crazily across the sky and remained visible for quite some time before disappearing completely.  Was a little freaky, actually.

My cottage reading material, Jian Ghomeshi’s 1982, was thoroughly enjoyable and gave me more than a few laugh out loud moments as I related, or at least remembered friends who certainly could have related, with the slice-of-life stories he had to tell about growing up in a northern suburb of Toronto at the beginning of the New Wave era, with an abiding love and respect for Bowie- and music in general- and how the seeds were sown and began their development into the musical and cultural career path that he has earned and enjoyed in subsequent decades.

I especially loved his story about sitting outside of a suburban studio every day for weeks as Rush prepared for their tour of the then-newly released Signals album (practicing, among other songs, Subdivisions, their iconic tune about life in Canadian suburbs).  Young Jian and his friend listened to the rehearsals day after day, clutching valued albums to their hearts in the chance that the band members would appear and be gracious enough to sign them.

They did.  And, of course, they were.  They are Canadian after all.  And incredibly classy dudes by ALL accounts I have ever heard.  So Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson acknowledged their devotion in hanging out there every day and offered to sign the albums when the 15-year old fans were too overcome to make the request.

Great story.  Solid memoir/creative non-fiction and very evocative of that particular time period.  The backing music of the weekend frequently fit nicely with the words I was reading.  Nicely done, Jian.

The Bay Cup was played- we have a new Champion (congratulations Shawn!)- and there were no casualties over the course of the fairly decisive victory.

The temperature actually began to rise through the day Saturday- although the wind also picked up, adding the music of the winds and waves to the soundtrack of the weekend.  I was able to remove at least a couple of layers of clothing as the evening progressed, and didn’t need Scout to survive the night (although she again chose to hang with me.  Good judge of character, that dog).

There were some moments of disagreement the first night as we realized that our host (whose hospitality was most appreciated) was attempting to contravene the rules of song choice and repetition.  He had a new bluetooth gizmo that was hooked into his iPhone- and therefore only HIS music- and he wouldn’t give us the code.

Fortunately we had an IT guy along, so this was remedied relatively early on (thanks Shawn!).  But Will retained control of the music for much of the weekend regardless.  Since it didn’t become a Phish-fest (all Phish all the time!), the rest of us let him get away with it.  He was also playing good and/or highly amusing selections.

In addition to the great food, games, leisure time and liberal napping policy, we had lots of great conversation, including the requisite debates about politics and religion.  Some will say that these are topics best avoided in polite company, but despite all of us being Canadian- polite by definition- we don’t tend to shy away from expressing our opinions.  The conversation does grow heated at times, but we all truly do have the courtesy to respect each others’ views and hear each other out.

After we discussed atheism vs. theism and the comparably humanist ideology behind the specificity of our individual beliefs regardless of whether or not we added supernatural players into the equation, our host (a theist, for lack of better definition) had this song for us:

I had never heard it before, and boyohboy did it make me laugh.  I was previously completely unaware of the John Butler Trio, an Australian band that Will discovered on an extended trip Down Under years ago, but I WILL be looking further into their catalogue after this weekend.

Interestingly, John Butler started his career as a busker.  Jian Ghomeshi’s band Moxy Früvous similarly spent some time busking as they developed their repertoire of political- and locally-themed folk-rock satirical tunes.

Butler is an advocate and activist for causes that embrace environmentalism and global harmony, and his musical influences include bluegrass, celtic, roots, funk rock and alternative rock.  And that song is hilarious.  The part about ‘knowing the sheep biblically’ seriously had both me and Matthew (two of the atheists among us) in tears of laughter.  Awesome- and accurate- description of the vengeful deity of the OT tradition.

Another contribution to our ongoing musical education was this song by Bobby Darin.

A lovely, and simple, song written in reaction to the Vietnam war.  Given the recent events in the world- and the push of certain world leaders to get involved in international conflicts- the song had a pretty emphatic poignancy.

‘Now no doubt some folks enjoy doin’ battle
Like presidents, prime ministers and kings
So let’s build them shelves where they can fight among themselves
and leave the people be who like to sing’

There is always room for Jack White.  Always.  But one song in particular- Shawn’s choice- very much spoke to the atmosphere of the weekend, and the reasons why we were all there.

Another simple, lovely song about the innocence of childhood friendships- and their potential for longevity.  So in keeping with the decades-long relationships that continue to bring us together at that cottage on the Bay.

There was lots of music- old and new.  There was this surprise choice from Nick:

Surprising, not because it isn’t a great song, but because Bob Seger is somewhat outside of the norm of his usual choices and tastes in music, which tend toward the shoegaze-y.  As he explained, he wants to be remembered as ‘surprising’.  Wants it on his tombstone, actually: ‘Here lies Nick.  He will surprise you’- in the hopes that it will freak out unsuspecting visitors to his grave.

But, under Will’s insistent tutelage, the weekend really belonged to The Airborne Toxic Event.  He introduced me to this band years ago- right after the release of their first album in 2008, but they had fallen off the playlist somewhat of late.  They’re back up on top- especially since they have a relatively new album that most certainly needs a thorough listen.

There were a number of ATE selections played (repeatedly, I might add.  Nick frequently asked- ‘Why do I know this song’- with the response being ‘Because you’ve heard it 7 times in the last 24 hours.’  But, by consensus, we let this go since we were all jamming to the selections.  And since it wasn’t Phish).  These two got the most airplay:

Between the incredible prowess behind both the lyrics and the music and the sentimental yet borerline bitter edgy subject matter, this is a band that deserves more exposure than they have received (here at least.  Conan O’Brien, for one, appreciates them greatly).

As we sat and watched ‘Grandma’s Sitting Log’ (a HUGE chunk of wood that our host, somewhat ill-advisedly- due to its size- added to the fire at around 2 am) struggle to burn, we all appreciated the songs- likely for different reasons- but as a group, joined in sharing- our stories, our songs, out experiences and our enduring love, respect and friendship.

(All while Matthew complained about the ‘ironic potato chips’ we were also sharing- ‘Grilled Cheese and Ketchup’ one of Lay’s ‘Canadian selections’- limited time flavours.  We have yet to really figure out exactly where the irony lay, but the chips honestly weren’t that good- despite the fact that Marty Short is acting as the advertising spokesperson for the chips- and Marty can usually do no wrong at ALL.  We were all too afraid to even OPEN the ‘Maple Moose’ flavoured ones).

That’s a pretty good synopsis of a fantastic weekend.  My reserves have been restored and I feel better able to face the week ahead than I have in quite some time.

Big thank yous to all those who made it possible.

Same time next year.

Cottage on the Bay

What’s up with the weather gods in TO?


Tuesday and Wednesday we were dealing with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees (that’s about 100 degrees Fahrenheit if you’re still using that quaint means of measuring) when the humidity was factored in.

Today?  Chilly north wind.  Tomorrow?  CHILLIER north wind.

And I’m going to be on a rock in the middle of the Bay.  About 2 degrees Celsius overnight.  TWO DEGREES.

I’m not ready for summer to end, so, despite the less-than-ideal temperature, I will do the true Canadian thing and head north this afternoon for an annual pilgrimage with some of my best peeps.

We try to do this every year.  A couple of nights away, sans spouses/significant others, to just hang out and catch up a little.

We have known each other for decades (as I both date myself and make myself feel old) and have been hanging out through thick and thin- camp, school, higher education, marriages, divorces, kids, houses, jobs, great gains and huge losses and, generally, life.  As friends, roommates, brothers, sisters, confidant(e)s…

We’re family.

We are privileged to have access to a family cottage/compound on Georgian Bay that SCREAMS Canada.

A September Gale by Arthur Lismer
We will likely experience a gale or two over the next couple of days

Georgian Bay is filled with landscapes that are quintessentially Canadian.  It was a popular subject of the Group of Seven, and such images are, internationally and here at home, as Canadian as toques and two-fours, poutine and politesse.  There will be certainly be two-fours this weekend, and toques might be advisable- given the forecast.  Poutine isn’t as likely, but the politesse is ingrained and therefore a given.

Of a sort, anyway.  Good manners and polite discourse are relative when you’re on an island and there is beer and barbeque involved.

And then there’s the Bay Cup.  That annual Risk Tournament that I mentioned here.  As I said, I will not participate due to a past traumatic Risk-related occurrence- except to occasionally pop my head in to goad or slander or critique the strategy of one of the combatants.  Unfortunately the defender of the Championship Title (and current Keeper of the Cup) is not able to join us this year, so it remains to be seen whether or not the battle can legitimately be waged.  It will be up to the Rules Committee.


I have my cottage book lined up (sadly, not Ray Davies’ new one- but only because it isn’t yet available).  Jian Ghomeshi’s 1982 is solid CanCon and highly appropriate for a real Canadian cottage weekend.  Plus I passed him on the street the other day as he was on his way into the CBC studio.  Reminded me that I’ve been meaning to read the book.

There will be food and games and talking and general shenanigans.

And there will be music.

The cottage weekend has to be finely mediated in the musical department.  No one person gets to control the selection for more than 5 songs at a time (this is veryvery necessary.  No one needs to hear 48 straight hours of Phish.  No one).  This keeps the peace- which is certainly required after the full contact Risk Tourney.

Early on there is all kinds of variety as we all offer up some of the newer stuff we’ve been listening to recently.  A lot of attempting to persuade those of, shall we say, established tastes to just listen to this song- give it a chance.  We start off with choices that are generally chill and part of the background to whatever else is going on.

As the stars come out (and there is NOTHING like a clear night under the stars at the Bay) music is the focus, and the selections become more nostalgic- and predictable.  The comfort in the predictability is palpable.  Years fall away as the selections are chosen.

The fire will be stoked (‘Stoke the fire again’, a quote from Commander Worf, will be heard ad nauseum) and the singalong will begin.

These are some of the songs of the Bay.

Donovan.  I have only ever met a handful of people who have actually heard this song.  Everyone knows Mellow Yellow and Hurdy Gurdy Man, but you can really tell a lot about a person by what they think about Atlantis.  If you don’t like it, I’m really not sure we can be friends anymore.

Harsh, but there it is.

(I’ve actually used this song in classes in which we were discussing myths of Atlantis.  The reactions of undergraduate students to hearing it for the first time is always illuminating- and pretty accurate in gauging how ultimately invested in the course they would be.  It’s a pretty solid litmus test.)

Futurama used a version of the song- sung by Donovan himself- about the sinking of Atlanta.  Hilarious episode.  I’m going to miss that show. Again.

History, life and love under the waves.

Ultimate cottage song.


This song is mainly included as a source of remembered silliness.  Short version of connected back story: it involved someone wearing a woven basket-like plant holder as a hat.  There might have been alcohol involved.

It IS filled with good advice though.  SO important to ‘know when to walk away and know when to run.’  Great inspiration when one is feeling like one is ‘out of aces’.

Simple Minds’ 1982 tune is connected with this year’s reading material and recalls summers past while reminding us of the wonderful things yet to come.  Like their show at Massey Hall in October.  Looking back and forward all in one song.

I’ve already referenced this song this month, so I won’t talk about it again.  But it will be heard.  More than once.

The Last Resort, also previously discussed and best played as the sun is setting, is especially resonant when appreciated in the beauty and quiet and peace of the Lake.  Its cautionary message- ‘You call someplace paradise kiss it goodbye’– makes my heart hurt thinking that THAT particular paradise could ever be lost.

This one generally ends the night(s).

Appropriate since it’s the song that never ends.  Don’t get me wrong.  I can appreciate Phish and all, but this song is sooooo very long.

(I will totally understand if you don’t actually watch that one all the way through.)

And, if we let them, there are those among us who will try to play back-to-back various live versions of the song as their 5 selections.  Not on my watch.

It will be a weekend of relaxation and shoring up of resources- something I very much need right now- with people I love and respect- and who never cease to make me laugh and think about things differently than is my day-to-day wont.

A weekend to remind myself just how fortunate we are.  How fortunate I am.  To live in Canada and to have the friends and family I have.

Hope your weekend is as restful and restorative as mine is sure to be.

Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça?!?!

So yesterday I wrote a little rumination about what happens when bureaucracy- spurred by reactionary ‘necessity’ to quell a whole load of bad press- gets a little ridiculous in the ‘whole shebang’ application of rules and regs.

I was talking about music- which is important to me, personally, and which is also a representation of this country and the freedoms and culture that we are able to access.  Keeping the doors open for new local and international music is a good thing.  It keeps Canada looking shiny and welcoming and full of creative outlets on the map of the world.

Today I feel a little silly for speaking out about a surcharge for touring bands.

Why?  It goes back to that matter of proportion I mentioned.

Today’s idiocy is crazy big in comparison.

There’s been a lot of buzz around what that kooky PQ Premier Pauline Marois was going to come up with next.  A few months ago she backed the Quebec Soccer Federation’s ban on religious headgear on the soccer field, suggesting that the Quebec Federation is “autonomous” and not bound by the rules of the Canadian Soccer Association.  The ban was eventually overturned- once FIFA weighed in and ‘clarified’ the ‘ambiguity’ that QSF said led to the ban in the first place.


So that little interference in the rights of citizens of Quebec was staved off- when the International governing body of the sport got involved and helped sort out the ‘language barrier’ that QSF claimed was the origin of the push for the ban.

Today all the murmurings were solidified as Bernard Drainville, the Minister who Premier Marois placed in charge, delivered the proposed Charter of Quebec Values which would prohibit those working for the state from wearing any outward trapping of religious affiliation.

They generously supplied the graphic up top there ^^^^^ to help us determine what is acceptable, non-ostentatious religious imagery and therefore allowable (that’d be top three pictures for the non-francophones among us) versus those thing that are just too conspicuous to be worn while undertaking the business of the province (or city).

(Ostentatoire means “ostentatious or conspicuous”.  Les signes ostentatoire are therefore ‘ostentatious or conspicuous signs or symbols’)

‘Ostentatious’ is relative and will be defined by the province should the legislation actually be passed.

Naturally, the voices of the politicos and pundits are being raised in varying choruses in response to all this.  So far I’ve seen this one against, and this one against, and this one which is for the proposal.

If you’ve read much of anything else I’ve had to say here at colemining central, you are likely aware that I’m not one for the organized religion or the believing in external supernatural manifestations of the wondrous and creative human imagination.

I am all for figuring out the humanity behind such wonderful (or terrible) creations, and I am all for living in a society/community/world where freedom of belief is a matter of course and not something that should be regulated- or supported in any financial way– by the state.

This lies at the heart of last week’s little introduction to the concept of secularization and the absolute separation of church and state that I firmly advocate.  By all means, believe what you want to believe.  As long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights and freedoms of others to believe what they want to believe AND as long as I don’t have to contribute to the support of your belief/group/commune/whatever with my tax dollars, we will all get along just fine.

Supporters of the proposed Charter claim that its origin lies in the impetus of the drive to secularization in Quebec.  I have heard people who emphatically maintain that it is a natural extension of things like the move to remove the teaching of religion in public schools.

(That requires some clarification.  Are they talking about ‘religious teachings’ or ‘teaching about religions’?  The former ABSOLUTELY have no place in publicly funded schools, but the latter SHOULD DEFINITELY be part of the curriculum in a multicultural society)

Not much said about the maintenance of the rights of ‘Separate Schools’ in that particular motivation, though.  But I’m not opening THAT can of worms at the mo’ (this post is long-winded enough as it is).

In addition to the obvious violations of personal rights and freedoms (as if those things alone weren’t enough), this proposal is filled with hypocrisy and ambiguous argumentation.  Attempting to legislate that people cannot wear what they want to wear if it is- or can be seen as- an outward expression of their beliefs is rife for misapplied interpretation.

All kinds of people dress to outwardly manifest their lifestyle or beliefs (religious or not) and we (arguably) let them alone to do their jobs.  Last I heard tell there was no ban on piercings or tattoos (at least nothing officially legislated), nor of particular hair styles or dyes, specific fashion choices and etc.

If I decided that I wanted to worship Ra, and began to wear the symbol of his wandering and watchful eye as a representation of my devotion to the god, would I be subject to the ban were I a public servant in Quebec?  Chances are most people would think I was wearing an ‘evil eye’ talisman and regard it as ‘not ostentatious’- if it was even recognized as a religious symbol.

(Ra’s wandering eye is actually the foundation of the Mediterranean and Mid-Eastern use of the evil eye as a talisman against demons and other negative influences.  But I digress…)

And then there are the crosses that riddle the province- like that big giant one on the Mont in Montreal.

This one here.  Not at all ‘ostentatious’
Apparently such architectural features are part of the cultural history of the province, just like the cross in the Assembly- where the proposal will be presented- and therefore exempt from the ban.

It’s a slippery slope.  Like the language laws.  Multiculturalism vs. Melting Pot (another issue far too large to address right now).

Most of the experts in Constitutional law that I’ve heard talking today say that the proposed Charter won’t stand against legal challenges.  It’s too obviously in contrast to things like free access to employment and the denial of individual identity, values that are upheld by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Add to that the fact that religious belief or non-belief does not equal impartiality.  That’s as faulty an argument as I’ve heard.  If someone is inclined to be biased in their viewpoint- to the extent that it might impinge upon them doing their jobs- then can’t the argument also be made that a ‘hidden’ (i.e. not outwardly manifested through appearance/clothing) ideology- such as white supremacy, as an extreme example- could potentially be more of an inhibition to someone doing a job without prejudice or attempting to exert undue influence in the execution of the job?

This is about a politician looking to create division between provincial and federal governments- for the furtherance of the separatist agenda.  It’s provocation and it’s politics.

But it’s also reprehensible.  And, as of this afternoon, it is apparently something that is gaining support in the general population.

Yesterday it was bureaucracy that was running amok.  Today it is purposeful divisiveness and blatantly un-Canadian political posturing with hyperbolic arguments about ‘distinct society’ and faux secularization.

Amok is a concept originating in Indonesia that can be roughly defined as ‘to make a furious and desperate charge’ (thank you Pythia/Wikipedia).  In the traditional sense, it was associated with possession by an evil spirit, eliminating the responsibility for the damage done while amok from the person under the influence of the externalized evil.

You know how I feel about externalizing evil.  And demons and such.

There is no excuse- political, demonic or otherwise- for this attempt at institutionalized and legislated intolerance in Canada.

Criss de calice de tabernac d’osti de sacrament!

Pardon my French.

P.S. Interesting that Quebecois profanity is all linked to Roman Catholicism and its liturgy.  Wonder if that outward manifestation of religious symbolism will be legislated next…

Bureaucracy run amok

And from the files of the most recent example of reactionary politics and the elected leader of our country…

While I admit that our opinions sometimes differ, Alan Cross has had an undeniable impact on radio and music appreciation in my part of the globe.  And his mind works similarly to mine.  His Ongoing History of New Music and The Secret History of Rock link together music/musicians and the context and history in which they were writing.  During his tenure at CFNY the station was cutting edge in its programming and support of the music industry in Toronto.

Gotta give the guy his props.

I saw something about this particular situation last week and, while my original impulse was one of outrage, I set it aside to explore more thoroughly when I had a bit more time.  Alan has done a very good job of gathering the deets on his blog and explaining some of the whys and wherefores behind this ridiculous decision.

As he notes, while the Harper government has certainly not been shown to be a great friend of the development and preservation of programs meant to enhance the arts and culture, this ridiculous new fee that is to be levied on foreign musicians who wish to perform in Canada is actually collateral damage from a scandal that came to light last spring.

RBC- the largest financial institution in Canada- was taken to task (rightfully) for laying off Canadian workers and replacing them with foreign contract workers.  This resulted in the expected amount of backlash in the media, from Canadian labour groups and from the opposition parties in the House of Commons.

The Harper government’s response was that they were ‘working on’ the problems with the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.  Result?  This new $275 application for offshore workers who wish to apply for jobs in Canada.  And that Canadian workers MUST be offered the positions first.  All fine, on the face of it.

But, as Alan notes, whoever wrote this addendum to the Program rules did not think about the specific needs/realities of the music industry.  Alan is a music industry insider, and, as such, can (and does) speak far more clearly about the ramifications of this fee for bands (from other countries) who are signed to Canadian labels and other such intricacies.

I am pissed about what it will do to the diversity and availability of bands that come through this town o’ mine on a regular basis.  One of the things I love most about this city is the number of smaller venues that offer exposure to both local and touring bands that are not regularly found on the radio stations that are run by the huge, corporate and impersonal media conglomerates.

I love perusing the tickets lists on the sites run by independent record stores like Soundscapes or Rotate This.  For a few bucks you can see new music- or old favourites- at all kinds of cool joints around town.  Some of these bands are just starting out- and working hard to garner followings and gain some exposure.

I have been lucky enough to see a whole lot of hard working musicians in these small clubs, bars and taverns over my lifetime- sometimes little bands who later went on to command stadium crowds (and ticket prices).

But more often I tend to gravitate to those singer-songwriters who have made working careers of writing and playing their own music in dive bars and concert halls- touring for the love of the music and the interaction with the appreciative ears in their audiences.

These are not necessarily musicians who are likely to make it to the stadium level or regular airplay on local radio station morning drive times.  But the rapport with the audience and the pure energy that is generated with a smaller crowd in a smaller venue is something that should be experienced- and it is that which is threatened by this reactionary and unexamined application of a rule meant to crack down on the bad publicity that arose with the RBC situation.

The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern is one of my favourite music venues in town (seriously, check out the ‘History’ section on their website.  There’s some pretty cool stories in there).  In addition to the annual Skydiggers Christmas show (which is a holiday tradition with some of my peeps), I have seen an number of great bands there over the years.

Almost exactly three years ago I had the opportunity to first see this guy live:

It was during TIFF.  The Boss was in town in support of “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town”, so there was a whole lot of speculation about whether or not he might put in an appearance at Jesse’s show at the Horseshoe.

Largely because of this:

Tickets, that I had bought at Soundscapes for $14, started selling for crazy prices on Craig’s List and Kijiji.  My friend, who first introduced me to Jesse, is also the biggest Springsteen fan I’ve ever known, so there was a fairly high level of hope and anticipation (though he was convinced that it wasn’t to be) in the air as we showed up for the gig.

The Horseshoe was PACKED.  Like I’ve never seen it before.  And it was filled mainly with film industry douches who were there only on the off-chance that Bruce would stop by for a set.  When Jesse and the band took the stage, I set aside my frustration that a large percentage of the audience was there only to be seen and/or in case of a Bruce appearance (they continued to talk on phones- and occasionally to each other- as the band began their set.  Honestly.  The rudeness.  Put the damn phones away and give the BAND your attention and respect) and let the music flow.

Jesse and the band were electric- and full of personality that would have been lost in a less-intimate setting.  At one point Jesse climbed across the heads of the crowd to the bar to grab a tequila shot from the incomparable Teddy Fury.

All things considered, the band handled the gig with grace and respect- for those true fans who were there to see THEM (Bruce never did show- to the surprise of almost no one who was actually there to see Jesse and the St. Mark’s Social).

I’ve since seen him twice- both times back at the ‘Shoe- and both times with a more modestly-sized audience (one was a January show and it was so freakin cold outside that I could hardly blame people for not coming out).  Though there might have been fewer of us, the enthusiasm (of the audience and the band) was engaged and completely together.  At one point Jesse had us all sitting in a circle on the dance floor singing along to his great cover of the Replacements’ Bastards of Young.  It was like a camp out.  In the Horseshoe.  With Jesse Malin.

Those are the kinds of shows- and the type of venues for live music- that are threatened by the arbitrarily applied rule that has been put in effect by Harper’s Conservatives.

As Alan Cross points out, Canada is NOT closed for business and exposure to great, working musicians from all over the world.  While some people may be content with spending hundreds of dollars to see mainstream acts (I hesitate to call them all ‘artists’) at massive venues, I remain part of the music buying (and appreciating) public that likes to see new music in smaller places without having to take out a bank loan (likely negotiated by someone from overseas who was hired before the rule went into effect).

There are certainly bigger concerns in the world at the moment.  The issue of intervention or non-intervention in Syria tops the discussions that are happening in the rooms of power around the world.  I understand that.  It’s making both my heart and my brain hurt.

But this issue, close to my very soul since it is a big part of the soul of the town (and country) I love, is another example of programs/rules/procedures being instituted by a bureaucracy/government without analysis or insight into larger or longer-term consequences.

It’s Monday, and the week is likely to see some pretty big decisions that will have ramifications for us all.  I’ve already started my reading list with this and will continue on from there as I try to get a handle on the push for military intervention in Syria.  But I plan to ease back into the week.

Jesse puts it nicely in NY Nights:

“On my TV they’re still playing god.  I’m sick of politricks.”


But.  As I keep emphasizing, it is our responsibility to stay awake and aware of what our politicians are up to- and speak up when it isn’t acceptable in our reasoned assessment of the situation.  Whether the proposed actions are an attempt to halt thousands of people killing other people in the name of ideology and power, or a ridiculous surcharge for musicians who enrich the already rich life we are privileged to have here in Canada.

Proportion matters, but so does participation.