The End of History?


I wrote this column just days after the election, but was so dispirited that I never published it on Frustrated Boomers. Two weeks into the Trump presidency, it bears repeating.

This morning, Neil Postman‘s son, Andrew, wrote something along the same lines. It is worth reading.

quote: “Our public discourse has become so trivialized, it’s astounding that we still cling to the word “debates” for what our presidential candidates do onstage when facing each other. Really? Who can be shocked by the rise of a reality TV star, a man given to loud, inflammatory statements, many of which are spectacularly untrue but virtually all of which make for what used to be called “good television”?

Who can be appalled when the coin of the realm in public discourse is not experience, thoughtfulness or diplomacy but the ability to amuse – no matter how maddening or revolting the amusement?

…. For all the ways one can define fascism (and there are many), one essential trait is its allegiance to no idea of right but its own: it is, in short, ideological narcissism. It creates a myth that is irrefutable (much in the way that an image’s “truth” cannot be disproved), in perpetuity, because of its authoritarian, unrestrained nature.

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/02/amusing-ourselves-to-death-neil-postman-trump-orwell-huxley?CMP=share_btn_fb

And here is my column, originally published on November 27th, on Bob Segarini‘s wonderful site, “Don’t Believe A Word I Say.”

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When we’re confused by where we are, it’s important to look at where we’ve been.

Confusion, uncertainty, masked as fear, pride, or hubris, reigns in all of us in these last days of 2016. What a year! I’m tempted to ride out the last bit hiding under my bed with my cats.

I don’t think Trump could have been elected in any other year but 2016. Not only has it been a year where we’ve lost so many of those whom we respected and loved, but a year where the horrific has become commonplace, whats-aleppowhere democracy is shoved aside as unfriendly to business,  where opinion (literally) trumped logic,  and the slaughter of millions of innocents barely raises an eyebrow.

“What is Aleppo?”  Gary Johnson asked “What is Aleppo,” while seeking the office of President of the United States. America … you have much to answer for.

We have to understand that we would never have come to this moment in history without a lot of groundwork being laid. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, amongst others, foretold days like these; it’s been in the works for quite some time. huxley-vs-orwellPerhaps Huxley, in Brave New World, understood our impressionability more than Orwell did in 1984 … it’s not that we are being denied books or access to information, it’s that we prefer entertainment to knowledge.

From the foreword to Neil Postman‘s Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1986, Penguin edition:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

It’s not being a conspiracy theorist to understand that there are market forces, globally, that need certain conditions to occur, in order to sustain capitalism, and that those forces will do whatever is necessary to create and sustain those conditions. However capitalism, of necessity, must eventually eat itself, since it is based on continual growth.

Before we move into the next era, post capitalism, we have to deal with the mess that capitalism has made, not just to the planet, but to our thinking. We have to understand that we have been willing lambs to the slaughter of intelligence and sober thought, distracted by shiny things that hold our limited attention for seconds before our constant craving for the next sensation propels us on to the next shiny thing.

north-korea-bomb“The world’s nuclear clock  sits at one second to midnight .. but first, a word from our sponsor.”    

We have to come to grips with a constant rage that bubbles beneath the surface of our collective consciousness, a rage that has no real focus, but seizes on whatever temporarily irritates or annoys us, that compels an acting out far beyond what the situation warrants.

We have to accept that we have been lied to, in the name of business, as our resources have been seized and ruined for future generations, as species become extinct due to their habitats being stolen from them. Human greed and human need have made the chances of your great-grandchildren ever seeing a real live elephant, slim.

politicians-before-and-afterAnd, in what I consider truly tragic, we still have to somehow find a sense of trust in those we elect to lead us into this uncertain future, and I don’t know if we can suspend that much disbelief any more.  There comes a point at which we simply can’t deny that each successive political  ‘saviour’ is just a new mask on an old face of treachery, bought and paid for by market forces.

Billions of our hard earned tax dollars have been frittered away on projects benefiting commerce, not the people. In Ontario alone, before privatization of Hydro One,  it was run by one president, one vice-president, one department head, and so on. The president’s annual salary was around $420,000. Today, in Ontario ‘s Hydro (between the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), Hydro One and the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) (all three Public Sector Agencies)), the president reportedly earns around $4million annually, and there are 11,879 employees who make more than $100,000/year. These top earners draw combined annual earnings of over 1.6 billion dollars. 626 in management positions are making more than $200,000/year…

… while many Ontarions are having to decide whether they can afford heating or eating this winter, because they can’t come up with the money for both.

And yet, this week we’ve heard that our Prime Minister has been making the rounds, intent on privatizing yet more of the country’s assets, despite economical and historical data proving that privatization of assets can add a minimum of a third of the costs to taxpayers, when internal positions are outsourced.

Canadians on a government pension of $12 to $14K a year can only pretend for so long that the enormous government wages and pensions of civil servants and politicians make any sort of logical or humane sense.

well-dressed-lobstersDespite no recent Prime Minister having been elected with a clear majority or mandate, sweeping changes that will affect Canadians for generations have been put into place over the last few decades, with barely a whimper.  Or, if a whimper was murmured, it was simply ignored. At best, we changed lobsters and continued the dance.

And we can only look on from afar and pray for American’s who are, like it or not, about to have their historical clock turned back to the ‘good ol’ days’ of segregation, back alley abortions, internment camps, and increasing civil unrest.

Many think we’re at a pivotal moment in time, although  the events of 2016 may pale in light of other ‘really terrible years,’ like 1347-50, when the Black Death took a third of Europe’s population;  1492, when the indigenous people of America invited the wrong people to dinner;  Ireland’s Potato Famine of 1845; or  Europe in 1943, when the Holocaust deaths were at their height. Certainly, Syrians will name 2016th as their country’s nadir.

franz-ferdinand-1914From History Today, ” If I was forced to name the worst year, it would probably be 1914. In July of that year, a European order that had brought peace, prosperity and extraordinary artistic and scientific progress, began to unravel. The vast conflict that followed led directly to the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the Cold War and the mess that is the modern Middle East. Only in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, did we enter a relatively stable period – the ‘End of History’ – before it came crashing down on September 11th, 2001. ”

So – we’ve been here before. However I don’t think there’s precedent for this year of Syria and Iraq; unparalleled devastation creating a flood of refugees fleeing for their lives; Europe’s epidemic of terrorism, Brexit,  the Zika outbreak, horrific civil unrest in Turkey, growing racial tension in the United States; famine in northern Nigeria,  American peaceful protests being met with aggressive military engagement; and possibly worst of all, the unholy alliance of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin … these are this year’s trials. homeless-world-cup-2016

What comes after the “End of History?” Whatever happens next, it is certainly a time when the decisions and actions we – as a people – take now, will determine where we go from here, and will define not just North America’s future, but the entire planet’s.

 

 

Put On Your Dancing Shoes!


jennieJennie is a party. Jennie will brook no voyeurs on the voyage. You must be involved, you must eat, you must drink, you must dance! You must participate, because “fun doesn’t just happen! You have to make it happen!“ Jennie turns the world on with her smile.

I love Jennie. I met her last night at the Rally, where Pat Blythe and I had gone to see the sold out Beatles’ tribute, “Yeah Yeah Yeah.” The place was packed, the dance floor jammed. Everyone sang along to the timeless songs at the top of their lungs.

Like Jennie, everyone was there to make fun happen. And much fun did indeed ensue, as we danced the Swim, the Frug, and countless other dance variations until our feet ached.

yeah yeah yeah the bandThe Yeah Yeah Yeahs are Frank Russel on drums, Kevin Rolston on bass, Bruce Nasmith on keys and guitar, and Don Maclean and Frank Zirone, also on guitar. Everyone sings. Everyone is a top-notch, well respected musician. And clearly, every one of them loves classic Beatles music.

Their tribute, complete with screen presentations, appeals to a wide age range, but skews mainly to the boomer base. Although the group has performed only infrequently in the past year, every outing is a sold out success. And at each event they gather more fans who can be counted on to spread the word, and anticipate their next appearance.

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davidceliaFive years after releasing his third CD, “I Tried,” David Celia is back with another eclectic mix of country folk, pop pedal steel, and reggae infused whimsy. The new CD “Double Mind” is a wander through a poet’s thoughts; by turns gleeful, introspective, determined or questioning, but always with Celia’s patented quip in the tale.

Following a successful European tour, David kept a low profile, with limited exposure, prior to Thursday’s CD release at the Great Hall. What a beautiful venue! The room lives up to it’s name, with a soaring ceiling ringed by a second story walk around balcony.

The musicians for this showcase gig were the venerable Cleave Anderson on drums, Tim Jackson on bass, Jay Swinnerton on keys/vocals and Burke Carrol on pedal steel. Ariana Gillis joined the group briefly, contributing vocals to the title track, as on the album.

I’ll be honest; I prefer hearing David’s songs in a more intimate room. His songs are thoughtful and intelligent, and beg to be front and center, not background music. Listen to the whole CD at http://exclaim.ca/music/article/david_celia-double_mind_album_stream

The Grind, from “Double Mind.”

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xprime-pm-coverI’d been looking forward to Xprime’s CD release gig for months, particularly after the sneak preview we’d had just before CMW. And as always, the boys didn’t let me down.

I can hardly believe how far the group’s writing has come in just a year or two. The new songs on PM reflect a maturity and craftsmanship that is both of the moment, and yet timeless. You’ll wonder where you heard earworms like “All to Myself,” or “I Can’t Take No More” before, but it’s all new baby, and it’s infectious pop at it’s best.

Don’t take it from me – stream the whole CD at http://xprime.ca/

Rube GoldbergGab Sid, Neil Carson, Steph Mercier, and Phil Taylor are all lead singers, but skilfully work together to create distinctive harmonies within each song. Live, you can’t take your eyes off the stage, as they bounce and pogo and careen in a controlled frenzy. An Xprime gig is not just a concert, it’s a well-oiled Rube Goldberg impossibility machine.

So I was already smiling before even arriving at the Rivoli, where we ran into Neil and Phil on the patio pre-show. They were heading off to grab a bite … hey, they’re growing boys! … whilst Pat, Bob Segarini and I were in pursuit of adult beverages.

xprimeRivoli Jun 2015We’d barely had a chance to grab a bevvy and snag a place to park our gear before the guys bounded on stage, and hit their marks in an explosion of energy and aural goodness. They pounded the maddened crowd into submission with great tuneage and an inexorable visual onslaught. I couldn’t stop grinning and singing along as Pat slunk through the crowd, taking photos of the group in action. (She’ll have those photos for you on Wednesday.)

And, inevitably, Pat and I braved the standing crowd to bust some moves. I’ll never understand why Toronto audiences refuse to dance. You’ll see the toes tapping, and the hips swaying, but apparently actually dancing to your favourite band strikes fear into the hearts of those too frightened to blow their cool by giving in to the beat.

xprime runningIt’s like Jennie said. “fun doesn’t just happen! You have to make it happen!“ Xprime opened the fun door and laid down the boogie, and a few brave souls followed that funky music. Toronto, you’ve got nothing to lose but your dignity and a little shoe leather. It will be worth it.

By set’s end, I was a little breathless, but exhilarated and clutching an Xprime tee shirt. The boys will be criss-crossing Ontario through the next month, with stops in Kingston, Peterborough, Sarnia, Windsor and London. Grab any chance you get to see them. Catch them at your local venue before they’re a big ticket experience. This is a band on the move, ripe for the plucking by some impresario who can pair them up with a major headlining act. It would be criminal not to get Xprime’s music and energy in front of international audiences.

And when you do go to see them … dance, for gawd’s sake!

(originally published http://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/06/07/roxanne-tellier-put-on-your-dancing-shoes-toronto/

Fighting For The Right To Protest


One week ends and another begins. It’s been a tough couple of weeks for many, even more so than other weeks. After a bitterly cold and seemingly unending winter, Toronto’s spring has yet to settle in, as it jumps from sweltering daytime highs to overnight lows that wreak havoc on wardrobe choices and spark terror in the hearts of gardeners. Yesterday’s cold rain came and went in great sweeps and gusts, ripped my umbrella inside out, and left me soaked and miserable as I waited for that most elusive of creatures – the dreaded Lawrence Bus. It’s a hard rain, baby.

C51 pinsI had intended to join the thousands protesting Bill C-51 at Queen’s Park, but the downpour, a lack of bus fare, and a husband increasingly concerned by possible repercussions due to my outspoken opposition to our government, kept me home.

BILLC51 protesters Toronto

For those who think that opposition to the Bill is melodramatic and all conspiracy theorish, ask yourselves; is your concern that the protesters will be beset by terrorists? Or that the protesters will be stealthily added to a police file, arrested for attending a rally, audited mercilessly, or simply have their characters assassinated, and their passports taken away?

Think I’m exaggerating? A new law became effective on Friday. “The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration says it would revoke citizenship for anyone found guilty of terrorism, treason and high treason, and spying for a foreign government.” And bear in mind, terrorism as defined by the bill includes “activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada” that includes “terrorism,” “interference with critical infrastructure” and “interference with the capability of the Government in relation to … the economic or financial stability of Canada.

Which means that protesting the Pipeline, or even Monsanto, is loosely covered under the bill, as terrorist acts interfering with Canadian economics.

WW2 vet against c51There will, if this law is not blocked, be no checks left on state power. State Security will operate outside the law. Citizens will be convicted on secret evidence in secret courts. Citizens will be subject to arbitrary searches and arrests. Due process will be eradicated. Internal security organs will serve as judge, jury and executioner. The outward forms of democratic participation — voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation — will remain, but become meaningless forms of political theater.” Chris Hedges on Bill C-51.

The Canadian arm of Amnesty International indicated that the anti-terrorism bill could be used to target environmental activists and aboriginal protesters, or any other form of protest without an official permit or court order.

Bill C-51 “opens the door to collecting, analyzing and potentially keeping forever the personal information of all Canadians,” including every instant of “a person’s tax information and details about a person’s business and vacation travel.”

It’s pretty ironic that Canada is set to ramp up security, just as America’s NSA has been told to stop collecting citizens’ private information.

senate votes to kill NSASo basically it all boils down to a Senate debate between those who say we must give up some liberty to keep us safe, even though it doesn’t, and those who believe we must protect our liberties, even though they won’t.” — Jon Stewart

Yep. And same thing here. In a matter of days, the Senate will vote on whether to accept the Bill or not. Ergo the protests across Canada, as 67% of Canadians do NOT want the bill passed. At this stage, official word is that “A Senate committee is offering to conduct a review of Canada’s new anti-terrorism powers five years after Parliament adopts Bill C-51, and is calling on the government to quickly adopt new measures to fight terrorism and improve its existing counter-terrorism operations.”

And that’s very daunting. And a real blow to Freedom of Speech and Canadian democracy.

But don’t take my word for it … ask the Raging Grannies of Ottawa.

They’re game, these Grannies, if a little distracted. And brave.

Or ask Cathy Cook, who wrote and performed this blues, empathizing with victims of Stephen Harper’s contempt of aboriginals, women, environmentalists, and veterans.

Or the Ontario based singer/songwriter Terry Tufts, who’s written several songs on our messed up government, and lack of choice in the upcoming election.

Dirty Little War – Written And Performed By Terry Tufts

If nothing else, it seems like we’re finally getting new Canadian protest songs. What is concerning, however, is that the new protesters all seem to skew to the higher end of the age spectrum. Like Dennis Jones, a musician and songwriter based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, who’s been playing guitar and singing for 48 years.

Or Ian Patton, a 5-string banjo player/composer from Edmonton.

Or Halifax based Mike Chandler and Margaret Anne McHugh of SolidariGLEE

I find it interesting that the songwriters protesting this Bill are middle-aged and older. People of all ages are attending rallies for this and other protests, so there are certainly younger voices available. I’m not sure if the lack of participation is due to apathy, a dread of the folk music scene, or a lack of information. Maybe it’s a mix of all three.

Let’s close out with Stevie and the ConserviCats singing the praises of the new Secret Police Bill C-51.

Right then, enough with the politics … How’s about some new music?

This moody ballad is from Vintage Trouble’s first album. Their next release, 1 Hopeful Rd., is due to drop August 14th. Currently, the band is opening for AC/DC in Europe. Live, these guys are monsters, as several of us here at DBAWIS can attest.

Quirky singer/songwriter David Celia has a record release party set for June 4 at the Great Hall. Here’s a taste of the new CD.

Rats! I missed Food Revolution Day, Jamie Oliver’s global campaign to put compulsory practical food education on the school curriculum, on May 15th!

At least we can watch the video. Here’s Jamie with Ed Sheeran, Paul McCartney, Jazzie B, Professor Green, Alesha Dixon, Jamie Cullum, Mr Hudson, Hugh Jackman, Us the Duo, George The Poet, Che’nelle, DJ MK and The London Youth Choir

And of course, don’t forget that Xprime will be playing their new album at their CD release party at the Rivoli on June 4th. See you there!  Xprime CD Release June 4

(originally published at bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/roxanne-tellier-fighting-for-the-right-to-protest/)

The Mondrian on Coxwell Avenue


Coxwell 157 2012A few years ago I was walking down Coxwell Avenue, below Gerrard, and saw an amazing house. Snuggled between two very ordinary residences, 157 Coxwell was a jewel shining amidst trash, an exotic bird in four story flight. I stopped dead in my tracks to contemplate how this beauty came about in a city more known for uniformity than individuality.

And of course, I had neither my camera nor my phone with me to capture the sight. So I carried on my way, but often found myself thinking about the house. Mondrian with a hint of Mandelbrot, I thought.

fractal-mondrianI’m not one of those who search out architecture. The grandeur of most contemporary mansions featured in glossy magazines only prompts a sigh for the waste of money and the egotism of those who build shrines to their own wealth and positions. But I do appreciate individualism, and that’s something we sorely lack in Ontario.

Our older homes tend to reflect our British backgrounds. Our colour palettes generally run to beiges and greys with the occasional red brick. On the plus side, that same craving for “over ‘ome” means that we rely heavily on gardens, trees and legally protected parklands, often the only bit of colour to be found for miles.

Cut to yesterday, when I once again found myself at the corner of Coxwell and Gerrard. The bus was taking forever, it was a lovely day, and I was wearing my favourite sneakers. So I decided to walk towards Queen, and once again have a look at that extraordinary house.

Coxwell 157 May 2015As I approached, I saw two men excitedly talking and gesturing towards the structure, which seemed to have undergone some reconstructuring. The back of the house had been extended, and there were eight new foundational supports visible. Plywood covered some of the colour blocks.

Coxwell 157 May 2015 fullThis time, I had my camera ready. I snapped a shot of the side addition, and then moved to get a full shot of the front, smiling and nodding at the two men. They asked me why I wanted photos of the construction, and I told them of my interest in the house’s appearance.  

As I explained, one of the men laughed, and introduced himself as  Rohan Walters, the original architect. His friend was another prominent architect, Daniel Karpinski. They were there to see what changes were being made to the structure, as it had been sold, and the new owner wanted to put her own stamp on her residence. Changes included an elevator installation, and of course, a great deal of additional floor space.

Rohan WaltersI asked Rohan if it was hard for him to see changes made to his design. He admitted that he was worried about changes to the overall composition of the building. He’d spent a great deal of time in first imagining how the original structure would look. Here’s some of his thought process:

Then it happened. I’m sitting amongst ‘The Group of Seven’ paintings. Being amongst paintings, particularly these paintings are healing for me. With my face in my hands, I looked broken. I raised my eyes to the paintings and then it hit me: the colours of the sky, the flora and fauna. The various hues, depths, tones, intensities and responses over the day and seasons. That is what I had been missing. True colour is never alone; it is a tapestry of ever changing and yet knowable themes.”

st johns newf housesDaniel, Rohan and I continued to chat about the importance of colour in residential construction. We agreed that Toronto tended to conform to neutral palettes, with rare exceptions, and that other cities, like those in St. John’s, Newfoundland had a more joyous and welcoming appearance. In fact, St. John’s is amongst the eight most colourful cities in the world.

http://enpundit.com/8-most-colorful-cities-on-earth/

We continued to talk about the importance of an infusion of colour into cities. Daniel told me that the citizens of the Soviet held East Berlin were so depressed by the grey, bleak architecture of the time that they would covertly throw hollowed eggs filled with paint at the buildings. A colourless city is a joyless place.

coxwell-kitchenI was sorry to have to leave the conversation, but Rohan gave me his contact info, (SpacesBy Rohan.com) and sent me a package of interior and exterior photos of his creation.

At home, I researched the history of the project, and found several informative articles, including a four part blog Rohan wrote for “Reading Toronto,” in 2005. Some of the innovations Rohan brought to the construction, begun in 2002, seem tremendously rational, but had not been previously considered in construction codes.

“This Coxwell house is, arguably, the first house built since the 1997 edition of the OBC not requiring a heat recovery ventilation system. I pitched the head mechanical engineer at the city. I showed him my calculations for the house’s natural air infiltration and ex-filtration in concordance with non-combusting appliances such as the ‘direct vent’ furnace, condensing dryer, warm floors and single air volume that did not combust any internal air. As such the air exchange rate met the facts and intent of the code. “

His own home, “Triangle House,” possibly the smallest triangular building lot in the city of Toronto at the time, was built in 2005 for himself and his children, and carried on the colour blocking theme, and utilized such nuances as

Triangle House night“A combined heating and domestic hot water system, orchestrated electrical and plumbing designed with baseboard and pilasters, comparing the vibrations and sound of this frame home with that of a masonry home because of the concrete topping on top of the joists and limiting the building footprint with pier construction, the concrete positioned to act as a ‘thermo mass’ assisting in heating and cooling depending on season, and so on…. a teaching tool for myself: the possible from the improbable.”

I thought about our unlikely and stimulating conversation as I continued to walk towards Queen Street, cutting through parks and side streets. The Beaches has always been a desirable area, not only for the beach access, but for the sense of community and family nurtured by the residents.

lakehouse buildingIn pursuit of well-heeled buyers who want to piggyback on that charm, a lot of the older homes and buildings are being torn down, and replaced with cookie-cutter townhouses and condos. Where once a three or four story building was considered an eyesore and impedance to lake views, new constructions feature heights that will effectively distance the long-time residents from the nouveau.

montreal winter outdoor-staircases-Cities have a life of their own, which derives from the cultures they encompass. Consider the square greyness of the uptight and politically choke-held Ottawa, the slightly askew streets and impractical outside staircases of Montreal, or the exuberance of Calgary’s newest buildings, which appear overnight from the ashes of the Cowtown’s foundations.

ethnic enclave TorontoToronto, once so proudly W.A.S.P., now teems with diversity. The areas where new immigrants congregate to create ethnic enclaves may not be to your taste, but display individuality in the face of the conformity seemingly endlessly churned out in bland suburbia.

We need more visionaries re-imagining urban Toronto. Duly and safely freshening your beige home exterior is a bore. This year, try pink. Or turquoise. Or emerald green. You never liked your neighbours anyway.