Saturday, November 29, 2008

Muse : ik

Earlier today I headed into one of my favourite cafés, The Black Stilt, and found it packed. I enquired about a few free seats but they were all reserved, so I stood at a bar Rumsfeld-style. After a bit, a young woman kindly offered me one of the seats I had enquired about, at least until her friend got back. I noticed she was working on some artwork and we got to talking. It turns out Cleo was making covers, pictured here, for her newly released CD, Muse : ll Ik. She had recently lost her job and needed some rent money, so she had a release party and made half her rent. I listened to it and bought one right away. Given the flurry of production she is still developing a MySpace page, but if you would like to purchase a copy for between $7 and $20 (I encourage you to do so) email me or post a comment and I'll get you a copy.

Cleo described her music as a combination of jazz, dance hall, drum&bass, and hip hop, which I think is pretty accurate. If I had to choose one genre it would be hip hop – she raps in a quick paced rhythm reminiscent of Matisyahu. The intricate compositions, however, make it difficult to stray far from the jazz designation. Her voice is an ethereal mixture of Shawn Colvin, Azure Ray, and Ani DiFranco; she also incorporates some Blige funk and Björk vocal effects. Although the production quality of all the songs is not equal, something a few tweaks on the mixing board will rectify on a second release, their ingenuity is. I really enjoyed Simple; the catchy guitar lick loops nicely with her fast flowing rap and the lyrics are filled with reflexivity and contemplation, e.g., "You sit there cynically pretending not to care about my lyrics" and "The West was better before my ancestors settled here." On Manifest she collaborates nicely with a male vocalist and adds strings to the funk beat. (It would work great if the short clip of throat-singing at the end was worked into the song.) Stairwell Sounds and Great Goddess profile the great range of her voice, from haunting to whimsical.


Ode regularly tops my list for providing a disparate, yet comprehensive collection of views and opinions. In the current issue Paolo Coehlo relates an enlightened tale, Our Lady the Juggler and the editors compile the Top Bestselling Books Around the World by collating the top-ten lists of ten independent bookstores from around the globe. It contains a series of articles on the global economic crisis in which Noreena Hertz's Death of a Paradigm stands out. Noreena, a siren of reason, justifies her numerous credentials in her lucid and humbling analysis of the economy. She points out that the present affords a opportunity to set a number of schemata right; however, she notes, "That means the smartest politicians will be those who aren’t only willing to differentiate themselves from the laissez-faire past, but who are willing to engage in a transparent exchange of ideas about what kind of world, what kind of society, we want."

A good example, which even the most forward-thinking of politicians may have to rescue, is the American auto industry. Currently, it teeters like the statues of overthrown revolutionaries. These companies have not learnt, even the hard way. Ford, of the three, has perhaps learnt the most since it adopted green production techniques and buildings earliest, but it never has crawled out of the financial hole that these changes were intended to rectify. Chrysler, for a while at least, was insulated by the weight of Daimler; thus, GMC, independent and prospering remained brazen in its devotion to SUVs and trucks (and suffers for it). Nevertheless, remember that these companies reaped the rewards of these strategies for a number of years. Unfortunately, like most current economic paradigms they were unsustainable; thus, like all the sub-prime signing bonuses, profits have vanished.

First let us get some perspective. One point that I heard on a recent radio interview needs to be repeatedly stated: bankruptcy does not mean that car production will disappear and all related jobs will disappear in North America. Furthermore, it does not mean that the brands will disappear (think of Nestle, Interbrew, and the unsavoury Altria). What it means is that these companies will be purchased at a stock price for which they are deemed profitable and will be trimmed to make this a reality. Thus, the real issue revolves around pride, and American pride should not be tied to unprofitable behemoths from another era of economic evolution. They have had their day in the sun. They convinced North American governments to build roads for their cars, opposite to train companies, and instilled a mindset of the unconquerable horizon. What could be better than letting them fall to their self-appointed fate and carefully blowing on their ashes so a flaming phoenix arises?

Friday, November 28, 2008


Today on my way through town, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a display of blown glass. I went inside the artevo gallery and discovered more than a few treasures. On my way toward the glass I fell in love, not some glib affair, but the enduring kind, with Aguiar's Trio XXXIV:

He applied oils and resin over a copper-leafed canvas to present a landscape both stark and vivacious, one captured on a photographic plate and in amber. After meditating on the piece for some time, I met Carolyn, the Gallery's manager, who demonstrated the light's play on a similar piece using the dimmer switch. Immediately, I wished to take Trio home and experience the range of emotion and hue for myself. She also spoke about some other works, not currently on display, in which he applied oils on a silver leafed canvas:

Aguiar's years studying art and working as a restorer have held him in good stead; his innovative works embody styles ranging from engraving to spray paint art. Each piece, a sublime creation, beckons for affection and adoration.

I learnt that the remarkable glass gracing the window was the work Robert Pierini and his son, Antoine.

That they achieve such astounding effects with glass leaves viewers with little recourse: to abandon their preconceptions and embrace they mystery. You must marvel your way through their websites and see some pieces in person to really discern this. My favourites are the flacons of Robert.

It is enlightening to discover such collections in Victoria. artevo also has locations in Calgary, their flagship store, and Toronto, just opening. I have already wandered into the gallery a few times to admire the Aguiars and Pierinis; however, their collection is much more extensive. The sculptures of Ottaviani and Frost demand particular attention. I also enjoyed the Buddhas of William Edward Rees.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sovereignty Trumps Identity

In the wake of a study that shows Tim Hortons should be included in the list of Canadian cultural identifiers, alongside toques, canoes, hockey (and lacrosse) sticks, and beavers, Canadians struggle to be removed from no-fly lists. This situation has been compounded by the decision of the U.S. to extend their jurisdiction to U.S. airspace; thus, a person on a list cannot fly through U.S. airspace. Apart from privacy issues, personal information of passengers is sent to the States, flying will be even more of a hassle, since few airlines will fly around U.S. airspace. Unfortunately, like Palin's pardon of the turkey, these decisions have been painted on backdrop of cultural irony. Fortunately, humour has flourished as well; I thoroughly enjoyed a piece on the bafflement of complete sentences.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Humanity's Power on Film

In a matter of weeks, it will have been sixty years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed. National Geographic has produced an excellent illustration to commemorate the act:
Since 1961 Amnesty International has drawn attention to countless atrocities that contravene the declaration and this weekend they commemorated the charter with their annual Film Festival. I could only attend on Saturday, but was glad I chose this day since the Pearson College choir skilfully performed a number of carols and traditional songs before the first movie. USA VS AL-ARIAN, a story which subsequently has had a happy ending (he was released), details the incarceration of Sami Al-Arian, an SFU professor and outspoken Palestinian activist. I couldn't help feeling uncomfortable with the similarity between the strong-arm tactics of Florida's judicial branch and those found in less esteemed countries. The film does a good job of presenting the facts, as much as a film can, and like any good documentary does not neglect character development. The focus of much of the film is Sami's wife, Nahla, an inspiring and authoritative figure whose story is compelling and well filmed: on one occasion, on the verge of a breakdown, she turns to the camera and states that she's a poor actress and not acting for the camera. In stark contrast his wife and family, Sami is filmed in his prison cell; however, this background does not diminish the poignancy of his sentiments. At one point he states that the government is wearing down his family to get to him; tragically no one truly realizes what he meant until a malicious judge hands him more prison time for the plea bargain he'd had signed at the urging of all his family.

After the film Andrew Wender, who gave a detailed introduction on the Patriot Act and Bush's executive orders, fostered much discussion on the film and future of the U.S. justice system: How much can change under Obama? This film was followed by Justice Without Borders, an Amnesty production, which provided a good history of the International Criminal Court and some of its successes. The film also covers fairly America's initial encouragement for the ICC and its recent reticence. The last film, My Daughter the Terrorist, was a film I was fairly sceptical of: I wasn't really in the mood for an indoctrination film like Jesus Camp, though it's excellent in its own right, or its unintended (ironically so) counterpart Obsession. Unexpectedly this film was much less about two daughters who become brainwashed suicide bombers; these women are professional soldiers who train very hard. It is very touching how the mother deals with the separation from her daughter, especially at the end where she tearfully watches the same documentary you have just watched, the closest connection to her daughter she's had in years.

Ana de Lara's latest film First Winter Last is a semi-finalist in the Migr@tions contest. (You can view and rate a number of good films from around the world that address immigration.) First Winter Last documents the experience de Lara had in coming to Canada, in which she was called a "chink." De Lara notes that coming from the Philippines she did not know what one was, but sensed it was derogatory. I felt that this part of the film which takes place at the end was overplayed and detracted from the film. Nevertheless, the beginning, especially the animation sequence, was excellent, so the film warrants its average rating of 3.5.

Ari Folman's latest, Waltz with Bashir, masterfully deals with the impact of war, here the Lebanon War. As he notes in an interview, he will have done his job if he deters youth from going to war. He purposely presents this simple message and avoids glorifying war with the spectacular animation.

On the other hand, if you require some entertaining distraction turn to A Colbert Christmas. As expected this film is witty, satirical, and full of excellent performances by Elvis Costello, Feist, Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, John Stewart and John Legend.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


The news that Bruno Senna was testing with Honda, stirred up many emotions: loss, grief, and the inspiration of greatness. I watched once again the tragic footage of his uncle's death and various tribute videos, the best being this one:

Don't be put off by the opening text; this is a great tribute. The film opens with coverage of Ayrton in his car just before his last race, then spends some time on the crash itself, before flashing through highlights of his career. It's obvious from his demeanour and accomplishments that he was a great man, but the moment that encapsulates him best, I think, is when he pulls his car over in the middle of the race, gets out, runs to Eric Comas' car and presses the kill switch to put out the fire. The film ends with Senna's victory shouts at the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix in which he overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles and won with only two gears, a task that left him so exhausted he had to be lifted out of the car.

Commenting on his last qualifying session for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix Ayrton said,

I was already on pole, then by half a second and then one second and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel. Not only the tunnel under the hotel but the whole circuit was a tunnel. I was just going and going, more and more and more and more. I was way over the limit but still able to find even more.

Then suddenly something just kicked me. I kind of woke up and realised that I was in a different atmosphere than you normally are. My immediate reaction was to back off, slow down. I drove slowly back to the pits and I didn't want to go out any more that day. It frightened me because I was well beyond my conscious understanding. It happens rarely but I keep these experiences very much alive inside me because it is something that is important for self-preservation.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

New faces and approaches

As Obama breaks new ground by broadcasting his first address on YouTube and indicating that he will support an Israel peace plan that honours the pre-1967 borders, good news was to be had north of the border. British Columbians just voted in their civic elections, every three years, and made some pretty good choices. In these elections the small percent of the populace that actually votes (19 percent in the last election) usually favours incumbents. Whether it was the three elections in as many months (federal, U.S., and municipal), voter turnout was up and a few surprise candidates got into office. In Saanich, the fresh faces are Dean Murdock and Paul Gerrard, two candidates I had voted for last election; both are progressive and support initiatives, such as light rail. Unfortunately, Rob Wickson, the candidate I was campaigning for, didn't make the cut, but like Murdock and Gerrard, a second try in three years may result in success especially when its based on 7,000 votes he received this time around.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Getting it Right?

Since my days as young lad in Scotland where I regularly ate venison, rabbit, and duck, as well as pheasant or grouse on special occasions, I've always eaten game whenever I can; thus, when I heard that some friends had brought back moose from the Yukon, I jumped at the chance to have some. The rich and intricate flavour of the slow cooked meat had a texture similar to pulled pork. Paired with Premices Côtes Du Luberon 2006, a crisp full bodied red, we had a veritable feast.

While I was over there Harvey showed me some books on the Saanich Tribes, e.g., Sencoten Legends and Stories. As I flipped through them I noticed some characters and diacritical marks that I didn't recognize, so I enquired about them. Harvey pronounced some guttural sounds and a long "sh" sound. Later I reflected on these sounds. These were the sounds that I'd heard attributed to a propensity for drink when I'd first arrived in Canada. This irony stung, particularly when I'd read that seized aboriginal lands had been returned. The seizure of these lands was described as a "difficult chapter" in B.C. history. I put Last Great American Whale on repeat and wondered how much we'd really learned in the last 100 years.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Switching Gears

In the vacuum left by the U.S. election, I have been handing out fliers for some municipal politicians. My motivation is twofold: I support these politicians and am eager to increase voter turnout. Although civic elections seem dwarfed by wider global issues, their results determine the condition of our communities and the environment that our children learn in. There are two components, in Canada: a vote for mayor and council and one for school trustees. The Saanich Civil League also wants to increase turnout; they note that only 19 percent of residents voted in the last election. They have released a publication of the voting record of the past council on key issues, have a profile for each candidate, and candidates' responses to eight issues. Although there have been some staunch accusations of misrepresentation in the first publication, their result matches my impression from reading the local newspaper and my overall preference in candidates. Other resources are Saanich News's Introducing Candidates (similar coverage is available from the Black Press for other municipalities) and online minutes and newsletters from local community associations. In addition to these relatively unbiased resources, others, such as the Victoria Labour Council, endorses a number of candidates. This wealth of information that is easy to access and read leaves little excuse for voting by name recognition.

There is much less information readily available on school trustees. In addition, to some coverage in local newspapers, much of it encouraging people to vote for trustees, there are a couple of sites: VLC and StrongVoices (basically a website for two candidates that have teamed up). Other information is available, but not widely disseminated, such as the Victoria Strings Program list of trustees who support music programs. Essentially there are two things to consider in evaluating a trustee: how well they can manage scarce funds and what programs they favour. Shirley Bond's cuts make it even more necessary that trustees be particularly astute. The legality of school fees is an issue that John Young has spearheaded. This labyrinthine debate is better suited to lawyers, but after some examination of the evidence, he appears to be correct.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The Obama fever that sprouted in all corners of the world thrives today: inauguration tickets go for thousands of dollars on eBay, for the first time and Disney invites Malia and Sasha to appear on Hannah Montana. Nevertheless, the fever's root, change or the hope for it, thrives as well; that is, these entertaining tidbits in no way replace substance. Obama has indicated that he will "Curb the role of lobbyists." (Bad news for AIPAC's stranglehold, I hope). He also wrestles with the illegality of Guantanamo (he may actually close it) and provides hope for Iran. Thus, Obama has exceeded expectations and justified the mania which remains much more than a hollow Hollywood production.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It Happened. What Now?

Obama's victory has taken some time to sink in, a week exactly. I guess that in my subconscious I was expecting some Republican court decision or other tactic to overturn the result. This irrational fear stems from the last election result, the media's coverage during this campaign (recently, e.g., Khalidi), and the fact that the stakes were so high. Now that reality has dawned on me and I have assuaged my fears, I celebrate. Celebration is definitely called for: the only thing Obama did not accomplish was a supermajority in the Senate. Furthermore, even with Missouri undecided he has a stellar mandate: 53 percent of the popular vote and a victory very near Clinton's first term win (a win in Missouri would push him close to Clinton's stellar second term victory).

The day after the election I watched this photo essay of Obama's life, which leads to the next point: What now? This essay reinforces why Obama is such a good choice: I have repeatedly said that the Cuban Missile Crisis in the hands of most other men would have ended in annihilation. Obama is a similar case: his intellect, character, wisdom, and decisiveness are particularly suited to these difficult times. Bush has now been rendered even more irrelevant, at least now I can watch W. knowing that it is a chronicle of the past not a telling of the future.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Calzaghe's Conquest

Calzaghe not only conquered Roy Jones, Jr. but he also conquered doubt. He has put the matter to rest: he is great and among the greatest (since the fight his name has been bantered around with Mayweather's). His combination of resilience and controlled fury silenced the early chants of U!S!A! and the ridiculous speculation of the commentators, e.g., their observation that Calzaghe's girlfriend put her hands in the praying position. Beginning in the third round Calzaghe repeatedly taunted Jones by jutting out is forehead, daring him to take a shot and leave an opening. Although Jones did make some incredible punches, like the uppercut in the sixth, he never rattled Calzaghe again. Even with Jones' constant banter Calzaghe still had time to wiggle his hips, run on the spot, and deliver 75 punches a round compared to Jones' 35 to 40. Finally in the eighth round the crowd, perhaps seized by the animal instinct of a potential kill, started to cheer for Calzaghe. I prefer to think that they had realized he was the kind of champion whose greatness transcends nationhood.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Day the World (America) Changed

I can hope again, and put away all the anxiety I've had since America didn't deliver in 2004. I am relieved: the chapter that began in Florida in 2000 has not only closed, but hope, honour, and integrity have surged back into America's veins. Talk about an emotional roller coaster ride! Naysayers kept me from being too bold in my hope and predictions, and I had prepared a scathing criticism, which has now been deleted, in the event that McCain/Palin won. Instead, America has accomplished a great feat; McCain said it best, "... his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving." The honour and grace that McCain delivered his speech with shows that America did it, not just Obama, "... and proved that more than two centuries later a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has not perished from the Earth. This is your victory."

Obama also showed how capable he will be, "There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years ... ." The deep concentration in his face as he spoke about the challenges facing America, made me hope that he takes some time to truly celebrate, though I'm not sure his sense of responsibility will allow that.

He also really struck a chord with me, when he acknowledged the citizens of the world: "And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."

Barack definitely is a Cicero and I expect that many will read and imagine his oratorical and political skills in a few millennia. Welcome to the new dawn.

Looking Good

The American election with its Electoral College system can be difficult to comprehend, but, unlike the Canadian election, results are released as they are tallied, so it's more exciting to watch. With battleground states, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire won by Obama, various sources are predicting a convincing victory for Obama. This link is worth checking out, especially the Changing Political Map: move the slider and see how Americans have voted since 1948. (In 1972 and 1984 nearly all states voted Republican. After viewing footage of the long lines and early results, I am getting hyped, though not counting any chickens before they hatch.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Big Day

With the world focused on tomorrow's election, and having such a stake in it, it seems somewhat unfair that citizens of the world cannot vote; after all election fever has gripped Nairobi and other places just as hard as the States. Nevertheless, this has not prevented refugees in the Gaza Strip from calling random households in swing States and urging them to vote for Obama. Tomorrow is expected to have the highest voter turnout in one hundred years, let's just hope voters are informed. For those voters who need some help making up their mind check out Mike's Election Guide '08. Here's to the adrenaline and anticipation of tomorrow. Vote wisely!

Sunday, November 02, 2008


I have admired Paul Gross for quite some time, mostly due to my wife's appreciation of Due South, and looked forward to watching Passchendaele as soon as I viewed the trailer. Gross faithfully depicts the ordinary by distancing himself from it, an ability which may stem from his multiple talents as a writer, director, actor, musician, and comedian. Thus, the impossible makes the ordinary seem more real. In this film I felt he went too far. He frequently gets launched ten feet in the air by artillery bombardment and survives; furthermore, the film is a little long, a little too detailed, a weakness that may stem from his familiarity with theatre and TV. Nevertheless, this film is worth viewing. He painstakingly depicts the multi-facets of war: racism and small-mindedness at home, as well as the usual love story in brutal conditions, although his is tainted with heroin addiction, filial love, and multi-ethnicity. He has produced a "documentary" that the audience can relate to; this result not only shocks the audience at the horrors of war, but makes them more palpable with its fiction. Thus, the experience haunts more than the average production. The film can perhaps be summed up by the final scene, in which the camera pans out from the front, a site of such horror and sacrifice: from one crater filled with corpses the scene progresses to multiple craters and to such a place that few details can be made out. I was left with the impression that these events were both very significant and somewhat insignificant. Our habit for war and the goodness such sacrifice has brought, at times, remains something I will remember, ponder, and dwell on this November 11th. We are complicated, something Gross portrayed masterfully.

Prank Call Levels Field

The Master Avengers pulled off a master coupe in duping Palin:

This was perfectly timed as some people will likely become entranced with the immigration status of Obama's aunt, given the past fascination the media had with Wright. (Where was the coverage on Parsley?) I hope voters see the slight for what it is: another notch in McCain's negative campaign. I am sure there is some similar dirt in McCain's family that could have been released.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

What's Next?

Although my Halloween, pumpkins carved by my kids (pretty damn good job too), a bonfire, fireworks, and tequila, was nothing like that featured in the Martha Stewart Living that found its way into my house, the cover's title Everything you need for a bewitching Halloween got me thinking: Do I need a magazine telling me what I need? More to the point: Do I need anyone telling me what I need? However, this is so much the case. Consumers have gotten used to seeing Christmas ornaments in stores, fliers, and magazines before Halloween has passed. Stores used to at least wait until it was over. Now there is a consumer treadmill: Aug. 15 = Halloween, Oct. 15 = Christmas, Jan. 15 = Valentine's, Feb. 15 = Easter, Mar. 15 = Spring, May 15 = Summer, July 15 = Back to School. This is no joke, fliers for school supplies do appear in July. So it seems that North Americans can no longer live in the present and now pass through seasons of discontent, e.g., I can't enjoy a summer day at the beach I need to get my child ready for school. This constant motion in life seems to be more conducive to panic, although it may be an illusion since people would probably clock similar evacuation times to those of yesteryear. Hysteria (it rhymes so nice with Listeria) does seem to spread faster. Phrases, such as "live in the moment," "quality time," and "dial down" linger in these panic infused days and three would be terrorists can change what liquids can be carried on an airplane.

Since extemporaneous living, e.g., Gary Busey on Entourage, seems unfeasible, it's probably best just to think for oneself; that is, think about where stuff comes from and why? In Noam Chomsky vein, question everything. If you ever ask, "Do marketers really think I'll fall for this?", know they do. I should note that I am not (entirely) down on Martha Stewart Living, I enjoy and use their recipes; the features on dried bone marrow and cocktails in chemistry flasks were also redeeming. Hopefully we'll have had an Obamaween this time next year.


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