Misery Loves Company

The Mothership Founders?

The Mothership Flounders, Founders And Slips Beneath the Waves?

Mothership's Best Friend?

Mothership’s Best Friend?


As I have progressed down the continuum of Canadianness, I have developed a special feeling for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. As a matter of fact, I used to really like it and appreciate the programming, even if I didn’t necessarily like all of it or agree with what was being said. But I recall waiting for an appointment about a decade ago where a spoke (person) for the CBC talked about shifting the focus and looking to appeal to a different, younger, demographic, and thinking at the time that this was a silly move because what they were after was a transient phenomenon that was already the prey to commercial broadcasting, and that the privateers had broader budgets and answered to no one in terms of standards of veracity or quality of content. So we got Ghomeshi and Strombo and perhaps some young ‘uns did either move to or stick with the mothership, but slowly the overall aspect of the place came to resemble a cheesy facsimile of the same dross that populates most segments of the broadcast spectrum. No longer is there a non-commercial entity out there to call bullshit when the odoriferous hits the circulating blades: the Mothership is beholden to some of the same revenues as the commercial idiot image generator, and gets the rest of its financing through an ideological  and pathological entity called the Harper Government. The last real source of advertising revenue pretty much got nuked this week when the National Hockey League sold exclusive rights to all broadcasts in Canada to the Rogers conglomerate, and you could almost hear the double thud as the oysters of what was left of the CBC fell into the tray for surgical detritus. Insufficient taxpayer funding combined with the end of any vestige of real clout in attracting private advertising spells a death knell for any meaningful existence for the public broadcaster, something that has become increasingly clear with the preponderance of business bafflegab and pop nonsense on the programming sheet. The National, which was once a serious newscast, has become a bully pulpit for panels of programmed apologists for spoliation and any catastrophe, no matter how minor, is the occasion for immense expenditure of resources and broadcast time until the story loses its legs, along the same lines as the same coverage from the privateers: there is only a story to tell as long as it sells advertising, and for every typhoon there is a helicopter in a Scottish pub, for every invasion of Kuwait, there is a Swissair crash off Peggy’s Cove. Peter Mansbridge once had gravitas, a standing that came with substantive reporting. He’s become a doddering, self-promoting figurehead, and I suspect he knows it, but can’t live without he media presence, or perhaps he’s worried that Mr. Harper has ransacked his pension. It’s a symptom of what’s happened all through the network. There is hardly a more useless news site than cbc.ca, slow to update, riddled with double entries, devoid of serious content and totally missing any whiff of context. Blackberry, once the darling of the tech world, has taken a similar tumble and seems the perfect reflection, as an advertiser, of the woes of the CBC. They may have a wonderful product, but who will ever know if they spend their ad money on CBC, and I can’t imagine that CBC will be generating enough funds from their association with Blackberry to stave off the totality of rump status as a megaphone for Mr. Harper. Perhaps the execs of the two organizations can plan a sort of suicidal synchronized swimming routine where they hold up first one, then two, then three fingers, as their respective organizations slip down the whirlpool of the drain of oblivion.


Might as well choose our distractions. Here’s Rory Gallagher:

Master of finger style guitar and patter with a particular twist, Leo Kottke:



Toronto used to have better exports than the Ford Brothers. Here’s the Walsh brothers and some friends dba Downchild Blues Band.


Hope everyone had a great Buy Nothing Day. I did. I spent the day mulching artichoke plants, cooking lamb shanks, playing my Godin Fifth Avenue, reading and quietly fuming about the future and the potential lack thereof.

“….and we’ll live beneath the waves, in our yellow submarine.”

© Andrew Lester


Driving past Nanoose Bay in the late Seventies was an adventure that must have twisted more than a few necks and people did double-takes at the sight of what appeared to be a World War II.-vintage submarine painted a bright yellow sitting across the bay and the marine ordinance testing station. Given that we were only ten years out from the original penning of Yellow Submarine and that the Canadian Navy didn’t seem to be that much of a threat to anyone, it was easy to think of this phenomenon as being fairly innocuous and more than a little amusing. The business at hand, it turns out, was fairly serious, and involved much more than just the Canadian Navy, with nasty real subs coming and going from the Winchelsea test range to see what they could potentially blow up with their non-doomsday ordinance.

I also recall having a rather visceral recoil at the announcement in the late 1990s when it was announced that Canada was buying four mothballed British subs to renew our aging and ineffective fleet. Having had experiences with Triumph, Norton and BSA motorcycles and with Triumph, MG, Morris and Jaguar automobiles, I was horrified to think that we were going to spend $750m for equipment from the land that produced Lucas electrics, commonly known in motoring circles, was Lucas, as the Prince of Darkness, a tart little appellation relating to the failure of all systems and the consequent lack of light or spark. In particular, on had to sake oneself why it was that the Royal Navy (the real one, as depicted on the box of Players cigarettes and a Procol Harum record) had mothballed these modern marvels. We were assured that they would be put ship shape and fighting fit prior to delivery, but such has not turned out to be the case, with these ships (actually, don’t real seamen call subs “boats”?) spending more time in refit than working to defend out coastlines from the marauding hordes of….the drug interdicted? The Russians? I’ve seen with my own eyes a couple of American aircraft carriers that have managed to slip through the protective ring, disgorging a multitude of swabs onto lighters and Government Street to admire the hanging baskets.

True to form, it seems to have taken years to refit  the ships prior to taking delivery, and then the poop came off the poop deck, with a series of onboard fires, groundings, leaks, both internal and external, and who knows what else. So the big news seems to be that the Athabaskan made an appearance being towed in dry dock to Ogden Point to be placed gently in the water to see if she would float, prior to shallow diving and eventual full sea trials. This refit apparently took five years, following the original refit. I suspect that the cost of getting this lot ready for service is more than the original purchase price, and we still don’t have a serviceable submarine fleet.


I would be happy to do without the sub fleet altogether. These are at least as useful as F-35 fighters, which is to say, they are good for the defines industry and no one else. My proposal is that they be converted into low-cost housing, or at least disarmed and set to tasks like monitoring ocean temperature, acidity, radiation levels and other potentially useful information, but I have a difficult time rationalizing even that usage when these things have to be manned by real personnel whose hair must stand up on learning of deployment, or who clearly already suffer from PTSD, and should be ashore getting treatment. Part of the romance of anything in British Racing Green was that it was a ready excuse to retire to the garage, but I don’t think we want to be doing that when the garage turns out to be Davie Jones’s Locker.

Nasty First-World Problems

A Place of Refuge and Reflection

A Place of Refuge and Reflection

There was a time when I thought I would be able, in my lifetime, to read all those works necessary to be well-educated, well informed and somewhat wise. For various reasons, I went off on several tangents, read a ton of material of little or no immediate value to one who would seek wisdom, engaged in other activities, and missed the target by a long way. The first and most obvious reason is that the target was silly and ill-informed to begin with and the product of an undeveloped intellect from the outset. There was a surfeit of worthy material before I ever conceived of the idea, and the parade of new material has hardly let up in the intervening years, so that I’m falling farther behind even as I work through my oft-redefined list of what constitutes the right matter for reading. This occurs to me with increasing frequency as we approach the end of the calendar year, which inevitably signals a torrent of “best of” lists. This helps me to see how little of a dent I’ve made in the literary pile, it gives me a sense of the scope of the production of the book mill, lends a focus to my sense of the expanding universe and leads me to reflect on where I am in this process. We need to add that this also applies not only to other forms of print, newspapers and periodicals, largely, in addition to the nuggets that come in the form of music (with or without lyrics), film, live drama and social interaction.

We don’t collect books the way some folks do. Generally, I read a book, ask Erica if it interests her, and following her use of said book, we look for a place to park it so that it will continue to be read in somewhat the same manner as certain plastic crab traps, once lost, would continue to kill crabs until something either buried them or they were broken up. The library is a good place for some of them, though we can never be sure that our lonely little contribution will be able to call out to potential readers before the physical book goes the way of the aforementioned crab trap. We also target friends and relatives who read, though this is also a bit of a crap shoot as people will smile at the site of a book from us, thank us profusely, and recycle it as soon as we’re out of sight, Who knows?

Having lead a fairly tranquil life, I still have recordings going back to something Maggie gave me when I was seven years old, a Saint’s Day present. It was a collection of stuff by some black women singers, principally Billie Holliday. I still like it and I suspect that I might have gotten this gift because it was to be part of the general family music education and because Maggie might well have wanted to have it around for her listening pleasure. I guess multiple justifications are fine, and when I was seven, I wasn’t one to question a mother’s motives. I have vinyl going right into the Eighties, a bunch of CDs and a rather hefty collection of digital files through iTunes, Wolfgang’s Vault, eMusic, CDBaby, ripped CD files and the odd free download from Joe Bonamassa and suchlike. In spite of this, all these download sites show clearly that I’m losing the race to own all the music I like. Here again, a problem arises in that my musical horizons keep opening up, meaning that, even though I’m losing the Blues race, and the Jazz race, there’s much in the Classical bin that is, and will remain, untouched for lack of time and other resources.

A serious question that arises from this discussion: what drives us to this impulse to “complete the set”, even when we know that the set will never be complete? Perhaps some of the cause lies in the barrage of advertising that confronts us at every turn, or perhaps this phenomenon is a result of other unmet needs. My answer? It’s not such a big deal, as long as we can keep our perspective. As long as the parade of content continues to get distilled into some vision of increasing wisdom, and as long as I don’t get walled in to a too-narrow definition of wisdom because of self-selection of content, there isn’t too great a cause for distress. However, we might give a thought to how we direct our energies: is all this creation making for better lives?

Baird-ing At The Moon



Always Willing To tell Everyone How To Do hints

Always Willing To tell Everyone How To Do Things


According to various headlines, John Baird has expressed deep skepticism about the agreement inked yesterday between Iran and the West over its nuclear program and he will wait to see if Iran abides by the agreement before considering lifting Canadian sanctions. I suspect the Supreme Leader and president of Iran are not quaking in their boots. It was plain that Baird would react thusly once Netanyahu opined that the agreement was a mistake of historic proportions, wherein it remains exceedingly clear why Joe Clark bemoans the state of Canadian “diplomacy”.


And, on an unrelated note:


Old Cartoon, Message Still Current

Like old Tom Lehrer songs, this cartoon, despite the replacement of Mr. Bush, remains pretty much on point. I wanted to share it in light of Laila Yuile’s engagement of a cartoonist to bring a bit of visual satire to her site. Humour is a great way to highlight the ills that plague us, and allow a chuckle as we contemplate all the nastiness and, hopefully, engage in remediation and restructuring. I’m also put in mind of a kind of column that I almost never see any longer, thinking of Art Hoppe’s series in the San Francisco Chronicle of the mid-/late-Sixties about the eighteenth year of our lightning campaign to wipe out the dreaded Viet Narian guerrillas. Who knows, they may be out there but I don’t want to bother looking right now.




So here’s a cute one from Mr. Fish:


Mr. Fish Takes The Electorate To Task

Mr. Fish Takes The Electorate To Task

Just substitute “Premier”, or “Prime Minister”, if you prefer, for “President”.

And perhaps have a listen to Chris Hedges as he speaks to a group of students:




Gee whillikers, all that just to welcome a new cartoonist to Laila’s site.

Teaching, and What Tories and Ford Nation Are Missing

When we were quite young, several of us in the younger generation of our family liked to make bets about little bits of obscure information, in effect, an ongoing tournament of Trivial Pursuit, avant la lettre.  This has carried on, though the betting phase pretty much ended when the payoff was forbidden by parental authority.  I don’t think it ever diminished the competition or the love of both trivia and broader knowledge. Hence, the Jeopardy reference:

Well, This Is Television, Isn't It, Alex?

Well, This Is Television, Isn’t It, Alex?

I believe it was this gentleman, a teacher from Massachusetts, who, as part of the between-rounds patter was cited for teaching his own class in critical thinking. Queried as the the nature of the curriculum, Mr. Barrieu replied that he was teaching his students to sharpen their “malarkey filters”. There was a brief pause for all to absorb just what that might mean, following which Mr. Barrieu added: “Well, this is television, isn’t it Alex?”, after which the host moved quickly to resume the game.

I’m not sure that I agree that critical thinking consists solely of having a functioning malarkey filter, but it certainly is a good starting point, and an item woefully lacking from the armoury of an awful lot of citizens are missing as they degenerate into simple consumers. A degree of skepticism and a willingness to dig into the available information would essentially do an end-run around the obfuscation and window dressing that is the bulk of what comes out of the disseminators of information, written and broadcast press, a group that, in turn enables people like Rob Ford, Stephen Harper, Christy Clark and the like to spout misdirection, meaningless and distractive factoids, half-truths and outright lies. Even with the euphemism, this man’s forthrightness is refreshing. It may eventually, carried to its logical conclusion, lead to some serious questions and to the the demise of post-political personalities, à la Sarah Palin, a trajectory that could soon be the destination for Rob Ford.


Easier to Apologize

Pimm's Cup Runneth Over

Pimm’s Cup Runneth Over


A report in the Globe and Mail outlines how the development of a rodeo ground on agricultural land that was rejected by the Agricultural Land Commission, where the current Minister of Agriculture lobbied in favour of the prospective builder has actually been build, despite the rejection (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/rodeo-development-proceeds-without-government-approval/article15406994/). An administrator with whom I worked used to say quite often that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission, and why to I suspect that forgiveness is already built into this project because of the imprimatur of Pat Pimm, the possibly very conflicted minister, and the general attitude on the part of the current régime in Victoria that it would be more than convenient if the ALR were to just disappear so we could all get on with the real business of drilling for oil, gas, or whatever else it is that the Liberal money pots want in return for their largesse? What should happen? I recall the story of a design job by a certain architect who was mindful of seismic risks and who ensured that the specifications for the foundations of a certain school called for considerable reinforcing steel. When he showed up at the job site for the pre-pour inspection, he was apprised that the cement had arrived and that he pour was complete and curing. Said architect got a sledge and started to do some random sampling on the foundations and discovered that there was no rebar at all in the footings. Result? take it all out, redo it to spec. Everything that developer Terry McLeod has done in contravention of the ALC ruling should be taken out at his expense, and any delay in action or payment for the removal and remediation should result in forfeiture of the subject parcel. Any bets on whether there will be any such action?

That Time Of Year

Yes, it’s the Christmas selling season. We don’t even wait for Halloween to be over any longer, with perhaps the slightest hint of a truce for the Remembrance Day Ceremonies, and then right back at it. This record came home when I was about nine years old. It gave me a somewhat different perspective on Christmas:

Of course there’s also Black Friday to get through, but in Canada there seem to be a series of Black Fridays and other Black Days. It also seems that the back-to-school routine, which starts about the time students hit the beach in July, is barely cold in its grave when the Halloween sugar orgy fires up. In addition, the aforementioned Remembrance Day observations seem to have stretched out into a month or six weeks of breast beating and bleating about the freedoms we enjoy as a consequence of the sacrifice made by current and previous generations. I fully subscribe to the notion that we should honour, cherish and care for those who serve the greater good of society, and it’s galling that the politicians who are always front and centre at the ceremonies and who bleat the loudest (well, not quite as loudly as Donald S.) are those who plot to send these folks on what are most often the business of business, indefensible missions to chase people of colour off the land under which is hidden our oil, gold, diamonds, potash, lithium or whatever else is necessary to keep the consumerist wheels turning.  What seems to pass entirely under the radar, besides the nonsensical idiocy of the missions, is that we’re still doing diplomacy about the same way Metternich did post-Napoloenic Europe, and that these wars clearly represent a failure of diplomacy and a failure to address the structures that underlie that (lack of) diplomacy. But I know that we will really have come off the rails when I see Valentine’s greetings before we finish the Christmas orgy of consumption.


It puts me in mind of something that St.-Éxupéry wrote in The Little Prince, where the fox is talking with the Little Prince about what makes one day distinguishable from another:

“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.

“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.” 

There is so much noise about special occasions that the occasions are less and less special. The celebrations are so ritualized that they risk losing any personal meaning or context: this works out well when the message from one holiday to another is that we ought to go out and buy stuff, and shopping is pretty much the same, window dressing aside, from one occasion to the next.

So Mr. Lehrer, you say it so well:

“Christmas time is here, by golly, disapproval would be folly.

Deck the halls with hunks of holly, fill your cup and don’t say when.

Kill the turkeys, ducks, and chickens, mix the punch, drag out the Dickens,

Even though the prospect sickens, brother, here we go again!”

An Offer Too Good To Be True?

But first, one of my favourite twangers, not twanging in this case, though there are some licks that have a sniff of a pedal steel in them. If you know Gatton, you’ll know this isn’t his steady diet, but it seems he could do just about anything. I’m terribly thankful that he wasn’t camera or microphone shy, and there is a lot of his playing available.



The real mainstream of tonight’s symposium ( steal a quip from Tom Lehrer, another of a different ilk, but worth a listen), is nuclear energy, particularly the recent statement by a group of respected (outside of the Heritage/Fraser Institute crowd) climatologists, including James Hansen, that we need nuclear energy to make the transition to an economy eventually centered on renewables, solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and the like. As I watch the plume of radioactive cesium  from the Fukushima disaster spill out across the Pacific Ocean, I recoil in horror from such a concept. The idea of feeding the beast that is the nuclear industry with all the forever-in-practical-terms waste it generates, the vast corrupt business and government connections it maintains, the general willingness to cut corners in the name of profit and the inherent danger in corralling a runaway fission reaction strikes me as being repugnant and counterproductive in the extreme, almost on a par with the continuation of the use of fossil fuels, with all the attendant pipeline, rail, fracking, refinery and distribution infrastructure, and, of course, the myriad layers of labyrinthine connections between those same industry and government structures.

Then I spent a bit of time yesterday watching a Youtube video, when I could, and perhaps should have been studying to become more Gatton-esque, about molten salt reactors and the use of thorium rather than uranium. I won’t go into the gory details, most of which are irrelevant, nor can I get into the physics, but it seems as though there is legitimate expectation that this technology could, and should, replace our current nuclear infrastructure. Here is the video:


So I did a bit of a quick search and found the company that is looking to propagate this technology:

Flibe Energy

And this morning, a former student posts a link to this on Facebook, stirring the whole thing up some more:

Industry Tap: Thorium Powered Automobile

Not that the process of reconversion isn’t fraught with pitfalls and dangers, but it almost looks like one of those offers that’s too good to be true. And even with the promise of plentiful and non-polluting energy (or, shall we say, less-polluting), there is the constant danger that the whole scheme, like so many others, will fall prey to the rapacious control behaviour of the same clique that is responsible in large part for the corner into which we have backed ourselves.

Finally, from the wonders of the information age, a closing statement from the aforementioned Tom Lehrer:


A Constant Battle

Top line update:

This was over at the Gazeteer’s this morning. Vonnegut was a favourite and this story tells an important lesson.



I’ve always loved music and have always loved learning. My aunt was a band/orchestra/choral teacher and devoted much time to her church music as well. My mother was a music critic at CBS a long time ago, but made it part of her mission to see that her family had musical opportunities. In the family, we had pianos, a clarinet, an oboe, a trumpet, a French horn, various guitars and even an operatic voice. It pains me when our local schools admin attempts to curtail any arts education. There was a link to this on Facebook this morning. Frankly, lets scrap big sections of the military and do this instead:


Why Music? The Many Benefits of Musical Education
Why Music? The Many Benefits of Musical Education via Cool Daily Infographics

Of course, Dad was an architect who also painted when he had a rare free moment,  and was more than keen to pass along the rudiments to whoever would sit in front of an easel. Mother took up pottery at age 52 and produced a volume of wonderful creations. We all used to draw (imagine the potential staring you in the face when you unrolled the back of a superannuated blueprint and contemplated a dozen square feet of white waiting to be filled with the childish scrawlings of whatever child held the pencil…

And the house was full of books.