30 June 2010

Comrade Bingo Goes to the Toronto Fringe Day One

Thanks to Blogger which can't even host podcasts, we need to transfer you to another blog to listen to our Toronto Fringe podcasts.

Here is our interview with playwright, R.J. Downes for his new show Tightrope

28 June 2010

Canada Day Week: Rick Mercer Rant about the Queen

Canada Day Week: In praise of Jean Chrétien

He's uncouth but uncouthness can be a quality in a politician and it suits him particularly well(1). His accent, a lasting marker of his modest origins, fits in with the rural myth of the Québécois family. Chrétien was the 18th child of 19. That was not an uncommon number of children for a rural Québec family to have in the thirties(2).

The boy showed promise early on, attending law school at the prestigious Université Laval in Québec City. He became an MP in 1963 and for decades was Trudeau's right-hand man, his economic guru, his Gordon Brown. Except they got along famously. The aristocrat from Montréal and the plebeian from Shawinigan. 

Québecers have always had a love-hate relationship with both Trudeau and Chrétien. Both men were staunch opponents of Québec sovereignty but they crystallised their image in the eyes of Québecers when Trudeau sent in the army and imposed the War Measures Act in October of 1970 (a.k.a. "The October Crisis") in order to fight a handful of hippie insurrectionists. 

To the rest of the country, it's aslo a mixed bag. Trudeau and Chrétien dominated the political scene in Québec for over three decades and this signalled how, no matter how decentralised Canada is legislatively, all the power resides in Central Canada. The rest of Canada is consistently reminded how Québec, that bitter trouble-maker who just can't wait to turn eighteen and split already, keeps producing the country's greatest politicians, artists and athletes. 

If you had asked me what I made of Chrétien when he finally became PM in 1993, I would have said that, well, he wasn't a Tory and he wasn't NDP. I have a bit more respect for him now. This is the man (along with the next PM, Paul Martin) who put the lid on bank deregulation when he was under great pressure to deregulate. Banks would whine and stomp their feet, saying we'd missed the boat and Canada possessed a Third World banking system. Our bankers now purr with self-satisfaction as the world is hailing the wisdom of the Canadian banks.

Chrétien is also the man who kept us out of Iraq. Last week, he was in Montréal to receive an honorary degree from Concordia University. He explained how he made his decision. "[The decision] was... based on the fact that young Canadians had made their view very well known," reports the CBC. The young are the ones who fight our wars and they should be heard but I never saw appetite for going to Iraq amongst other Canadians, no matter their age. Unlike Tony Blair in Britain, Jean Chrétien listened to Canadians and we owe him thanks for that(3).

And that decision will remain a huge part of his legacy. The US and the UK economies were strong and are now crumbling due to banking crisis. In the long run, it is their debt to China which might very well see them kneeling before the next world superpower. We don't talk about the very frightening rise of Chinese nationalism but what if the movement gains real momentum? It was hard enough to fight Germany and they weren't 1.5 billion strong and the West did not owe it hundreds of trillions of dollars.

Of course, Canadians suffer when the US and the UK are so terribly weak, but the fact remains that insofar as a Canadian PM could do what it takes to protect Canadians, Chrétien did what had to be done. He stood up to the business world and the world. A quality seldom found in a Canadian politician.

(1) This statement does not apply to "free willy" politicians like Berlusconi or the shirtless Putin.

(2) To understand this one must understand "la revanche des berçaux", "the revenge of the cradle". From the end of the eighteenth century to mid-nineteenth century, Britain attempted to flood Québec with English speaking immigrants to eventually stamp out the use of French in the province. The Catholic Church saw this as a threat to its existence in Québec (read the Durham report) and pressured families into producing an unhealthy number of children. Even in the fifties my grandmother would get a visit from her parish's head priest every year she didn't have a child.

All this changed in the sixties when Québec underwent radical secularisation which we refer to as "la révolution tranquille", "the quiet revolution". Québec went from having the highest birth rate in the world to the lowest within two decades. But it worked. At the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, French speakers made up forty percent of Québec's population. Now, even after decades of low birthdates, it's over 85%. The province hasn't been at the bottom of the birthrate list in the last decades. Not being able to resort to faith, the Québec government has opted for throwing packets of money at people who have children in Québec. Of course, those measures need not discriminate according to language since our numbers mean French will maintain its dominance. For a while at least.

(3) In an earlier version of the CBC article (they keep editing their articles and changing the titles. This article's title used to refer to JC's decision's not to go to Iraq. Hate the CBC) JC also adds that it's a grave mistake for a politician not to listen to the people.

27 June 2010

Repost, G8/G20. Toronto resident impressions contextualised for non-Canadians.

Edit: this is a repost as formatting issues were to deeply embedded in code to be solved swiftly.

We started hearing about the unprecedented G8/G20 security measures over a month ago. From then on, every day brought news of more extraordinary measures which would make the lives of downtown Toronto residents complicated and possibly dangerous.

We were told to leave town for the weekend, but some of us are homeless, some of us are poor and some of us have professional responsibilities. The show must go on.

My street, hours after the tear gas

About one month ago, the authorities announced the perimeter of a security zone which would be fence off. That was traumatising enough. The zone includes the busiest subway, train and commuting train station in the city, possibly the country. In turn, the security zone would be protected by a buffer zone with traffic and other access restrictions. For the tens of thousands living right outside the buffer zone, it was clear we would be sitting ducks between protest and police.

In the last week, as police invaded our every streets downtown, not a few more police officers here and there but often dozens of cops, one street corner after the next. Helicopters hover over downtown for twenty or so hours at a time and then go and come back a few days later. Then we had our 5.5 earthquake on Wednesday which for a moment I thought might be a terrorist attack. I ran to my window, saw no smoke and the CN Tower still standing.

Friday, downtown Toronto was a ghostown we called it. It was crowded compared to the emptiness in between passing protesters this weekend. Coming back from work felt like waking up from a coma like in 28 Days Later. Litter everywhere but no souls. In between the riot cops, violence, riot cops, peace protesters, riot cops.

On Friday, a young man was arrested for refusing to identify himself while outside the security zone. It's how we discovered a "secret law" which the Ontario government passed in camera on the 2nd of June. Any person standing within five metres of the security zone could be asked for identification and be searched without cause.

Last evening and today (Sunday) the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has been showing is a one-minute loop of the few burned police cars thugs burned down and the shop windows they broke. Thugs are part of society. Such events are going to attract them. Even the mainstream media (CBC, The Toronto Star) have admitted that the police abandons cars so thugs will take the bait and all protesters will be criminalised in the eyes of average Canadians.

But look at this clip. Police repeatedly dive into the crowd, knock someone down at random and cable tie them. They are trying to provoke a riot.

 This footage was taken by a cameraman with G20 credentials. A few days ago, Chief of Police Bill Blair participated on a Live Chat with the Toronto Star in which he stated anybody was welcome to take photos and footage.

This happened near Queen's Park where a CBC reporter verbally mentioned this happening  late yesterday afternoon but, oddly, I haven't seen this footage on the CBC. What I have seen one hundred times is a one minute loop of police car burnings and window smashing. If it is a serious media outlet at all (and looking at CBC News and  CBC Newsworld coverage in the last few years, it is doubtful that it is), then the CBC should be far more interested in abuse by  the state than the actions of petty criminals.

Peter Mansbrige (prominent Canadian broadcaster on the CBC) responded to criticism of the one-sided footage by saying that media should really asks itself why it covers "thuggery" instead of peaceful protesters. Mansbridge, you toad. Stop being a pushover to the people who give you your pay check. Don't ask yourself. Give us substantive, informative stories. That one minute loop is an embarrassment to The Mother Corp (other word for CBC) and an  embarrassment to the country. CBC has been total Pravda today.

What's important for my U.S. and U.K. readers to understand is that we have a minority Tory   government that's been hanging on thanks to so-called left-leaning parties like the New Democrats (NDP). Just like the LibDems in the UK, the NDP have never enjoyed so much power and cannot believe their luck. Although they are not in a coalition with the Tory government, they have often voted with them against the interest of the Canadian people. 

Another important point: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, our three biggest cities, have not  elected one Tory MP. The Tories hate cities and they do not understand them. A Harper spokesman said that downtown Toronto was the perfect place for the summit because it is empty on weekends. 

(aside: that may be true of Albertan cities like Calgary and Edmonton. Many prominent Tories are from Alberta. The Progressive Conservative Party merged with the Reform Party in the 1990s to become The Conservative Party. The Reform Party was a mostly Albertan/western  party which included members with Neo-Nazi pasts way into the 1990s. Needless to say, they are homophobic and hold archaic views about the role of women and their right to control their own bodies. Soon after the merge, there was a power vacuum and figures from the Reform Party took over the Conservative Party. These are the people in power now.

Last note: Reform and PC merged because they were never going to win on their own. The Fiberals had to indulge in very bad corruption for the Tories to get where they are today. Anger that the Liberals also give votes to the NDP)

Toronto is not empty on weekends, people from all over the Greater Toronto Area (GTA, 7 million people, 1/5 of the country's population) come to Toronto on the weekend to party. It's    full of restaurants, theatres, cinemas, museums and nightclubs — all of which have lost millions over this weekend. The damage from broken windows is nothing compared to the  economic blow the summit is hitting them with. 

The Tories don't care of course, no one votes for  them here. But we must submit to the majority, except... Canada is a Parliamentary democracy with a First-Past-the-Post electoral system. My riding (electoral district) of Trinity-Spadina has 110 000 voters, whereas some rural ridings, like in Prince-Edward-Island, have 40 000 voters. My vote is worth three times less than the 
vote of a rural dweller. This division of ridings is designed so the densely populated provinces of Quebec and Ontario, who represent one half of the country's population, don't dominate 
Parliament. It is true that Central Canada yields a lot of power. So does China. The first lesson of history is "numbers". All minorities should be looked after but, when it comes down 
to it, democracy is about majority rule.

I do have sympathy for our First Nations in rural areas who are forgotten and abandoned but, as you can imagine, the Tories are not interested in them at the expense of the cities. (You don't want to know what the average Tory thinks of our First Nations.) All kinds of minority interests, such as baby seal clubbing and the abolition of the gun registry, are imposed on a vast majority for the sake of the very few.

People who know me know that I love England but I have said I wouldn't move there on account of identity cards and CCTVs. I should have kept my mouth shut. The UK scrapped it’s identity card project. Meanwhile, G8/G20 preparations came with CCTVs now perched all over downtown Toronto and who knows whether the police will cease their expanded identification and search powers when Air Force One flies back to Washington. As my Facebook friend Ian Sedwell wrote me, the authorities, having put in place measures "they always wanted” they might “find they are just so indispensable they have to keep them".

Today, even the mainstream media is reporting that the police is demanding identification and searching people who live around the corner from me, at least 700 metres from the fence. Some on Twitter are claiming police officers are even searching children.

There have been at least four hundred arrests so far, perhaps the greatest number of arrests in Canadian history. This isn't just Harper's fault. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is in it up to his neck, having passed the "secret law". And Toronto mayor David Miller issued a statement in which he focused on thugs. 

I will end by referring you to a good blog about whether or not Toronto is really burning. I think it is but not for the reason Miller and other leaders are telling us.

And watch Dave Coles’ clip. Protests starting more than three kms away from the security zone have been often blocked within two blocks of beginning their march.

As far as what was discussed and settled on between world leaders this weekend, well, I usually am a political animal but I could care less. I may write a blog about what I experienced coming home last night, but it's not that interesting. Fear of cops, fear of thugs, happy to be home safe. Followed by utter disgust.

My suggestion is for the next G8/G20 meeting to take place on a military base. 

Stop using the innocent citizenry as sitting ducks. 

G8/G20 a Toronto resident's P.O.V.: contextualised for Americans & Brits

Due to deeply embedded formatting issues, blog was moved to the same blog but on a different post here

23 June 2010

How to end your career — splendidly

This is an addendum to Spyderkl's blog about giving career advice to Stanley McChrystal, I would like to note that your man in Afghanistan doesn't hold a candle to British World War One hero, Tommy Woodroffe.

The veteran became a broadcaster for BBC radio and was asked to cover the 1937 Royal Naval review. It only happens a few times in a century that the Royal review happens at night as it did in 1937. The ship go out into the Thames with their lights up until, at a pre-determined time, the entire fleet goes dark. Well, Woodroffe had a meal and a few drinkypoos in the hospitality suite of the boat before he went on air live from the HMS Nelson.

This marked the end of his career at the BBC. Both Woodroffe and McChrystal went out, if inadvertently, in style.  

Safe for work: Save the beavers!!!!!

Wet conditions have flooded ditches in Winnipeg and beavers are moving in.

"A city crew took the dam down, but it had been rebuilt by the next morning." writes the CBC

These people are either mentally-challenged or very, very new Canadians. Any Canadian knows, from age 3, that beavers rebuild dams the minute you destroy them. That's why the beaver was chosen as our national animal. The rapacious bald eagle south of the 49th and the industrious beaver over here.

A representative for Winnipeg, Rodney Penner, says the city will kill the beavers in a humane way approved by the province. So they are not retarded, just sadistic.

Look at that cute face. Lay off our national symbol, Winnipeg!

"Killing rather than relocating the animals is preferable because beavers can carry diseases, and moving them into a new territory can spread the disease."

But then Penner goes on to say that beavers are not endangered, there a five million of them all over the province. Yes, beavers are ALL over Canada. Their diseases are everywhere.

In Montreal when a beaver takes upon himself to block the St. Lawrence seaway, we trap him and move him. Everybody lives.

Mind you, in Winnipeg, the beavers are threatening a golf course and we know how lethal Canadians get when it comes to protecting golf courses.

Hello Oka standoff!

P.S.: By the way, human children in Canada are not endangered either. If they become mildly annoying, does it mean....?

22 June 2010

The Queen shows us her boobs. Again.

Photo by Juergen Teller for New York magazine

I know, I know, Helen Mirren is a fantastic actress and she's still very beautiful. In my salad days, when I saw the first episode of Prime Suspect, it took me about two minutes to say "I want to be just like her".

Mirren won a mountain of Emmys, she posed nude in 1996 for Radio Times, she got her Oscar in 2006 for The Queen. She then posed nude for for a men's magazine a couple of years ago and now again at 65 for New York Magazine. The photos are accompanied by a short interview to promote Mirren starring in her husband's new flim, Love Ranch.

Of course, Dame Mirren has been naked a lot in her films but that's fair game. I understand the idea of making a statement about nudity and older women but must this statement be repeated over and over again? 

Whenever I see an actress posing naked, I think she must be insecure and/or her career is in trouble. None of the above apply to Helen Mirren. I'm not disputing the fact that Mirren is entitled to strut her stuff, I just wonder why.

Part of my issue is that Harrison Ford won't be posing naked to promote Morning Glory? How often do Hollywood male actors pose naked to promote major movies? I'm sure Annie Leibovitz has got a few to take their kit off. But not many.

17 June 2010

Hitler and the vuvuzela at the 2010 Fifa World Cup

Clip is wrong because, actually, the vuvuzela has been used since the 70's... and, as some are saying, criticism of the vuvuzela has become more annoying than the vuvuzela itself. But I guess it would be too much to ask Hitler to respect African customs. 

Link from The Amazing Katarina who seems to have a mainline to every Downfall spoof.

15 June 2010

Hey grandma! Keel over already!

Will your wealthy American relative to start pushing up daisies this year? Because this could mean a truckload of money for you.

"Ripped from the headlines" TV show Law & Order had a good episode this year in an otherwise dismal year. Plot: a very expensive private clinic specialising in alternative treatment to chemotherapy is being investigated as it seems to hasten the death of wealthy cancer sufferers. When older cases are unearthed, the prosecution sees it doesn't have a case because the clinic has indeed prolonged the life of many patients.  And then someone goes "wait a minute", 2009 patients' lives were prolonged but not the lives of 2010 patients. And everybody screams DEATH TAX!

As in there is none. For this year only. In 2009 the death tax exclusion was of 3.5 million and it will shrink to one million in 2011, but the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 "sunsets" in 2010 which means private clinics across the US won't see their respiratos depreciate too much this year. 

These are great days to be rich. According to the NYT:

"The United States enacted an estate tax in 1916, and when John D. Rockefeller, America’s first billionaire, died in 1937, his estate paid 70 percent. Since then, the rates have fluctuated, but this is the first time the tax has been repealed altogether."

Texas oil tycoon Dan L. Duncan passed away last month leaving his children nine billion dollars, tax free. Talk about Christmas arriving early. Read more about it in the NYT article above.

Note: We at Comrade Bingo value life and hope you will understand the above is half tongue-in-cheek. Half because we are persuaded real cases of hastened deaths will turn up.

13 June 2010

Stoned Professor

really, really stoned law professor

12 June 2010

Soccer's strange cultural imprint on North America

There was this soccer naysayer on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart a couple of days ago, saying "soccer" is a simple game, good enough for little kids to play, and Americans like complex games. Hmmm. I don't see Americans being obsessed with cricket and although "soccer" isn't my favourite, it is far superior to American and Canadian football, a.k.a. rugby for sissies.

It came to me though, how soccer has infiltrated North America in at least two interesting ways. I looked up the Urban Dictionary and almost all "soccer" terms are linked to women and so are the two concept which sprung to mind this morning and prompted this blog.

First of all, there's the "soccer mom". I found several blasphemous definitions on the web, but basically, a soccer mom is a middle-class woman who drives the kind of cars used for invading Iraq in order to transport one, two, or more children to after-school activities. They might well go to Starbucks, yoga and buy organic but they could just as well be decidedly more downmarket, culturally if not monetarily. Basically, a soccer mom is a woman who has given her power over to a man by "choosing" to stay at home and raise his children.

Second — I don't think there is a term for the motif of little (and not so little) girls who channel millennia of violent impulse through "soccer". It is true one can verify that stereotype with girls' field hockey and lacrosse. There is a verifiable myth of billion dollar heiresses "playing" lacrosse in New York's Central Park. Playing as in trying to kill each other. The phenomenon is satisfyingly demonstrated in the excellent film, Igby Goes Down.

But because "soccer" is more popular with the American middle-classes, it is where the "girls as gladiators" zeitgeist resides. And it is probably more popular because lacrosse and field hockey come with sticks and, trust me, you don't want these little girls carrying a stick. There's a very funny "Gilmore Girls" episode about Luke Danes sponsoring a "soccer" team and the terrifying need for little girls to express their rawest instincts on the pitch. I have never had the chance to see this for myself but "violent 'soccer' girl" is sure part of our culture.

And Elizabeth Lambert is the queen of them all. See for yourself.

That is all. Just wanted to share the curious ways in which "the beautiful game" has entered North American culture.

10 June 2010

Monty Python makes football bearable

"Nobby" Heidegger captains Germany against Greece with the surprising presence of Archimedes in the line-up. Manager Martin Luther brings in Marx as Nietzsche is expelled for his third booking in four matches, this time for accusing referee Confucius of having no free will. 

This is a match in which a lot of thinking happens and the ball remains stationary until Archimedes has his, wait for it, "eureka" moment. He kicks the ball and passes to Socrates who scores. Hegel launches a protest arguing "that the reality of Socrates' goal is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics, while Kant holds that, ontologically, the goal existed only in the imagination via the categorical imperative"
If only football were really like that.

09 June 2010

Has Sir Patrick Stewart lost the plot?

Remember that "Extras" episode in which Sir Patrick Stewart played himself as a complete tw*t? Well, maybe that was closer to the truth than we would have liked to believe.

Last night at the Glamour Awards, Sir Patrick objected to comedian James Corden's posture. Corden told Stewart he was dying (as in making everybody cringe). Stewart went on further insulting Corden. Then the Avatar girl said she loved Corden's belly and she wouldn't mind seeing Sir Patrick die (on stage) either. 

You can't make this stuff up.

Do we need to warn you: high cringe factor.

08 June 2010

World Cup Anthem: Shakira's shaking her hips again

South African is overpopulated with great musicians who can claim international renown, but it's Latina singer Shakira who was chosen to sing the official World Cup anthem, "Waka Waka, (This Time for Africa)". 

This isn't my cup of tea at all and I guessed right off the bat that African dancing + Shakira would make for some hip shaking.

At least the vid shows Maradonna for a few seconds...

American Horror Genre and Everyday Anxieties

All I know about the movie "Foreclosure" currently in production is that it's a horror film about people losing their house and this immediately called to mind an essay I read in graduate school.

"Romance and Real Estate" by Walter Benn Michaels is only tangentially interested in the American haunted house as an exorcism of middle-class anxiety about mortgages and at the time I found it to be the essay's most interesting point.

Michaels quotes a 1984 NYT magazine article written by Stephen King:

"[The Amityville Horror] is about a young couple who've never owned a house before; Margot Kidder is the first person in her family actually to have owned property. And all these things start to go wrong — and the horrible part is not that they can't get out, but it's that they're going to lose the house. There was some point where things were falling, and the door banging, and rain was coming in, and goop was running down the stairs, and behind me, in the little movie house in Brighton, this woman, she must have been 60, was in this kind of ecstasy moaning, 'Think of the bills, think of the bills.' And that's where the horror of that movie is."

This isn't just about the costs of repairs, says Michaels, it's what the ghosts have done to the couple as investors in real estate. 

Cast your mind back to all those horror movies opening with a visit of the only house the couple/family can afford in the area. Even if the buyers feel lucky and blissful, they are conscious of fluctuating interest rates which, as Michaels writes are "as intangible as ghosts".

Michaels' essay centres on The House of the Seven Gables, a book Hawthorne wrote during of the peaks of land speculation in the nineteenth century. The novel makes a connection between witchcraft and title disputes between property. This arks back the Salem witch trials which were very much about rich owners seeking to expand their territory by having less powerful neighbours be accused of, and hopefully hanged for, witchcraft. (For more on this read Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum). Hawthorne uses the Salem example as a partial source of inspiration in a complex critique nineteenth of century mercantile capitalism. 

"The whole project of romance," writes Michaels, "with its bizarrely utopian and apparently anachronistic criteria for legitimate ownership, had already played a significant, if ironic, role in opening the American land market."

I find this metaphorical relevance of American horror to real life fascinating and satisfying. The birth of American horror (American Gothic) is deeply grounded in American soil itself. It seems to me that American art was shaped by the anxiety stemming from the irreconcilable chasm between Protestantism and nature. The first Americans were Puritans, city dwellers. They had constructed for themselves a belief system with utter disregard for nature. The Pilgrims' belief system stood completely at odds with the wild environment that met them at Plymouth Rock. Wild environments command animist, pagan-like beliefs and Protestantism deliberately shook off any hint of allusion to Pagan belief or practice.

Camille Paglia writes in Sexual Personae: "Classical American literature suffers a sex problem [...] Puritan personality, unitary and sharply bounded, was formed by the rectitude of acts, a masculine straightmeasure. Hawthorne shows patriarchal will waning in The House of the Seven Gables, with the decadent relics of shabby mansion and inherited curse.

America's sex problem began with the banishment of the maternal principle from Protestant cosmology. Medieval Mariolatry was and is a pagan survival that Protestantism [...] opposes. But in the absence of the mother from pioneer American values imaginatively limited a people living intimately with nature"

My take on this and Paglia's were heavily influenced by Leslie Fielder's chapter on Charles Brockden Brown in the seminal Love and Death in the American Novel. Fielder posits that this anxiety between Protestantism and nature gave birth to American Gothic.

We can only guess at how much damage this gulf between environment and belief has caused in real terms in American life. Some would say it is oddly appropriate that the first American novel, Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown, is about a religious zealot who believes God wants him to kill his entire family. A mission which he executes with fervour and a flair for spectacle.

Back to the movie "Foreclosure". It's never safe to raise one's expectations when it comes to horror. The beauty in all this is that we need not expect the average American horror filmmaker to possess a thorough understanding of Hawthorne and Fielder to produce great American Gothic. The savageries of mercantilism and the fundamentals of Protestantism are echoing well and have marched through time to us. All the filmmakers of "Foreclosure" need is a good sense of intuition.