Archive for September, 2008

Last evening Mica and I went down to the local Neighbourhood House to check out their new community gathering – a movie and potluck the last Monday of each month. Tonight’s feature – The Wizard of Oz. Now, as I’m sure we all have, I’ve seen this movie countless times. But tonight was interesting, because I watched the film with new eyes for a number of reasons.

First, this summer Mica and I went to visit my brother David, who lives in Queens, New York. Mica’s been keen to see New York City, and among the must-dos we identified was a Broadway show. Our choice? Wicked, based on Gregory Mcguire’s simply fantastic novel about the back-story to that most infamous of villains, the Wicked Witch of the West. The musical’s a good show – lots of fun and worth seeing. But the book is just fucking incredible. The Wizard is a dictator, using political manipulation, Nazi-esque scape-goating, a network of spies and naked military force to bring the previously-autonomous regions which comprise Oz under his control. The woman we all know as the Witch is Elphaba – a strong-willed young girl who bit by bit begins to uncover just what the Wiz is up to, and enters into a life underground – her mentor an outspoken academic critic assasinated by Oz’ right-hand woman, her lover a freedom-fighter murdered by the Wizard’s guard, her teachers in all things spiritual and ‘witchy’ an ancient order of holy women increasingly self-cloistered to protect themselves and their knowledge. It’s a brilliant novel which not only delves deep into the ways that states manufacture consent to the poiint that governing myths become simply ‘culture’ but which manages to tell a damn-good story too. Needless to say, read through Wicked and you’ll never see the Oz story the same again.

But that’s just the start. A few years back I was in Chicago for a union conference, and went on a fantastic labour history tour that included some awesome mural projects, Haymarket Square – site of the events that inspired the banner at the top of this blog – and the home of Chicago’s Evening Post, the newspaper that employed Oz author Frank L. Baum.

This in a labour history tour? Yup. And why that was appropriate came out in a long story told by the tour leader, based on a thesis that’s been kicking around academic and political circles for a number of years: that The Wizard of Oz is much more than a kids’ story – it’s a parable about America, industrialization, and the political economy of financial markets. Now, whether this is indeed the case is widely-debated. But a concensus begins to be emerging that whether Baum intended the book as such or not is largely irrelevant at this stage. Increasing numbers of people read Oz as a story of nation-building and struggle, and so it means that now, whatever the original vision of its author. OK. That’s a logic I understand, and one I appreciate. So, making no claims to historical truth, here’s the myth that keeps growing in a nutshell.

The whole thing is a parable about the debate over the gold standard. The value of US currency was pegged to gold, whose small world supply was controlled by a small group of bankers and financiers. In the 1890s, a substantial political movement – represented most notably by William Jennings Bryan  – sought to have the dollar pegged to silver, which was plentiful in the American West, in hopes that this might break the political-economic power of the financial elite and give greater clout to the broader mass of the population. At the time, many of the characters and symbols we associate with the Oz story were common devices in editorial cartoons and popular media, representing specific figures or ideas of political import. So, what to us appear products of Baum’s imagination were widely understood in that time as something else entirely.

The cyclone was a common symbol of political upheaval and social revolution at the time, figuring prominently in many a political cartoon.

The Scarecrow is the politically-naive farmer, his common-sense knowledge increasingly eschewed in favour of the bullshit spewing from economists and bankers.

The Tin Woodsman is the industrial worker – alienated, dehumanized, reduced to a cog in the machine.

The Cowardly Lion is Jennings Bryan himself, talking a good game but never willing to go far enough to force the confrontation with big finance that is necessary.

The Wicked Witch represents the money-elite of the West, foreclosing on farmers and destroying the agricultural heart of America. And she is defeated, of course, by water – the rains being the primary protection for small farmers for whom drought so often preceded the eviction notice.

The Wizard himself, of course, is the political manipulator – no individual as much as the machine that is the political system.

The Yellow Brick Road is the gold standard. And where does it lead but the Emerald City, which represents the dollar, and is fundamentally a place of all style and no substance – an imaginaed wealth which has nothing of real value behind it.

And Dorothy? The Everyman/ Everywoman, just trying to make her way in the world. What’s critical here, though, is the slippers. We all immediately fly to images of the ruby shoes, but that was a device of the movie. In the book, Dorothy wears silver slippers – representing, of course, the silver standard proposal at the heart of Jennings Bryan;s campaign, and the only thing that can safely carry America through this land that is all magic and mystification.

Oh, and Oz as title? That’s something we still see today, in gold and cookbooks – shorthand for ‘ounce’.

Again, is all this true? Who knows. Frank L. Baum always maintained that The Wizard of Oz was just a children’s story. But he was a reporter, he fell on the Jennings side of the gold-silver debate, and in later books he was known to mention political figures by name and go hardcore on the offense against massive institutions like Standard Oil. But really, at this stage it just don’t matter. The metaphor is there. It’s been debated extensively, and has taken on a life of its own. Cause books are as much about the readers as the writer.

Well, with all that in the back of my mind, what better day to see The Wizard of Oz again than on a day filled with news about the financial crisis in the States and the House of Representative’s rejection of a $700 billion bailout package for the speculators behind said crisis. As I sit down to the film, all this other Oz-related stuff comes floating back to me, and all I can think about is how much of an Oz-like moment we’re watching unfold. The great Wizard huffs and puffs and casts about for the right combination of smoke and excuses to hide his complete and total failure; the political-economic crisis is mystified as some unforeseen bit of black magic rather than the structural crisis that it is; the screen comes down and the bankruptcy of the market is laid bare for all to see, but so far there’s no Scarecrow to state so plainly, ‘You’re nothing but a humbug!”

Capitalism is fucking amazing. Every few years a crisis. And every few years a state steps in to declare that nothing’s really fundamentally wrong, it’s just a little tweaking, just a little ‘tighten-your-belts-and-pull-up-your-bootstraps’ and somehow, with the smoke and mirrors and flashing lights of ‘freedom freedom freedom’ the state helps capital to pull itself back from the the precipice. Morally bankrupt. Politically-illigitimate. Economically-disastrous. Ecologically-murderous. But that great founding myth, that one that tells us the invisible-hand is some infallible Wizard, that cities of emeralds are worth the sacrifice of munchkins in the fields, that the glory of the state is somehow the glory of us all – it keeps ticking on.

Capital, like Oz, is all about mystification and sleight of hand. That’s the very nature of the market – to mask the real relations of labour and coercion, of theft and murder, in this oh-so-natural exchange of money. You kill some people and take their stuff. You put them to work to feed themselves. And their children go to work. And their children go to work. And after a while no one remembers anymore that this process of going to work to get some cash to buy some food so you can wake up the next day and go back to work – all this began with killing some people and taking their stuff, and that the exchange of money for work is just the carrying on of that same theft and violence by other means. It’s really quite brilliant, really quite magical, how it all works. Cause after a time, all that was stolen appears earned. All these relations of power appear to be timeless and natural. And the real history vanishes in a haze of new explanations magicked out of the air.

When Dorothy and her friends reach the Emerald City, and finally get their audience with Oz, he thunders at them: “I intend to grant your requests. But first you must prove yourselves worthy.”

And this is indeed capital’s primary message of obfuscation. Everything is possible. Everything is attainable. If you can’t find a job that pays more than minimum wage, if you can’t afford to go to school, if you can’t feed your kids, if the bank forecloses on your home – it’s all down to you. You have not proven yourself worthy. And this, in turn, engenders a culture of delusion-inspired risk. A culture than breeds pyramid schemes, get-rich-quick scams, gambling and the stock market. Cause if you haven’t made it, there’s only two explanations. Either it’s your own damn fault cause you just ain’t good enough, or your horse hasn’t come in yet, and it’s only a matter of time. It can be, it must be, just around the corner. It is magic – it just happens, it will just happen, it must just happen, cause the only other option is to admit that I’m the one to blame for my own improverishment. It’s a mass brainwashing, the greatest of behaviour modification programs.

But every now and then….every once in a while, something happens that belies that notion. Something happens to knock down the screen, and the cracks in the foundation become so apparent, so naked, that it becomes possible to see something else. That maybe it’s not all down to individual failure. That maybe there is something bigger that’s wrong. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a systemic problem here. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something amiss with that great myth we’ve been living by.

And that’s what I’m watching these days. I’m watching the cracks in the order. I’m watching the eyes open up and the fingers start to point and the folks waiting for the bus talking and considering that maybe this ain’t their fault after all. I’m watching the screen go down, and we’re in that moment where Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion pause and look at each other, and begin to wonder if this little old man really is the Wizard he’s claimed, or if instead it is all humbug indeed. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is what’s the most fascinating and the most hopeful.

Will a second round of bailout talks save Oz for another day? I have no doubt. Indeed, Dorothy et al decide, after a few moments, to let the myth live on, and they take tjheir trinkets and smile and thank the Wiz and he floats off into the sky and everything goes back to normal again. Perhaps. Perhaps that is how the story ends. But, once again, how the story ends is only half of it. Cause it’s as much about the readers as the writer. And some readers remember. And as I know from my own experiences with Wicked and with that labour tour in Chicago, some readers never read a story quite the same way again.

Whatever happens, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.


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A lazy Sunday, cleaning house, playing some guitar, generally relaxing. Mica’s curled up with a book and a Blondie cd, her chores done as well. Megan’s soon to arrive from an afternoon at Word On the Street having some literary fun. It is exactly the kind of the day we need.

Weekended on Vancouver Island. Friday was over to Victoria to have a visit with Meg’s folks – Mica’s first time meeting them – and Saturday was my cousin’s wedding in Nanaimo – Meg’s intro to the extended family of aunts and uncles and many cousins. It was all a bit overwhelming, and as we drove back late last night after catching the last ferry home, every one of us was entirely done.

But today it feels like a great weekend. Yes, it was a bit awkward for Mica being at Meg’s family home and figuring out how she was to interact with these new people. Yes, the wedding was a painful affair of Church and formality and way too many speeches. But we are building family in these moments, and each time – whatever the process itself entails – in the aftermath I can feel a few more of the strings that form among us all. It’s a bit like the spinning, these little ties that take off in various directions with each introduction, and which together form this tapestry that we all walk together string by string.

It’s one year now since Meg and I met – not to the day, but to our own way of counting. It was the last Sunday of September, 2007, as Meg was heading off to Ottawa on an early morning flight, as I planned for my usual early-to-bed on a work-night/ school-night. One quick drink with this person at the other end of a computer screen, just to see….But that quick drink turned into hours of conversation and a kiss that didn’t want to end, and I made my way home somewhere around 2:00 in the morning thinking, “Well, that’s interesting….”

And indeed it has been. Here we are now, firmly in this relationship, with new and larger communities, re-defined families, and a future which neither of us could even have imagined a year ago but which now just feels so much like it was always-already there. You don’t need the details. I don’t need to document them all here. And today, I’m kinda lazy, kinda tired, and not really that into the whole blogging thing anyway. So, I’ll leave it at this.

One year on, and I can’t believe how my life has changed, how so many different possible futures have opened up, and how much we have seen grow from these incremental steps of relationship. But it’s super exciting to me, and while larger family gatherings can be maddening at times, I am finding today that I am glad to have them, because they are touchstones for this little family we are building day by day. There’s something important about holding a partner’s hand and leading them into the world you come from. There’s something special about stolen whispers giving the back-stories to various people – the ones most-loved, the ones best-avoided, the crazy eccentrics. There’s something special about sitting down to brunch with a still-new group of people and feeling how space is made to open the circle. There’s something special about watching as three generations and multiple branches of families make their own little adjustments, face their own questions, display their own quirks as a couple’s courtship extends person by person through the larger family.

Today, on this lazy day after too much driving, too much Heavenly Father and all the angels, too much speechifying and too much weird heterosexual tradition, I am so happy for Meg’s family, my family, and relatives I hardly see anymore. Cause it all reminds us where we come from, it all illustrates a little more about what we’re each joining, it draws Mica, Meg and I together in a different kind of way, as a unique little unit within these larger webs. And I realize just how important these little visits are to the consolidation of us.

Nice place to be on this anniversary day.

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Been a couple of days since I’ve managed to write here – not for lack of interest or lack of things to talk about, but simply because it’s gotten pretty damn busy all of a sudden. Tons of cases on my desk at work, preparing to enter collective bargaining for a first agreement with my employer, and – likely the biggest factor – I have been trying to get myself some regular exercise for the first time in a couple of years.

On that front, it’s all good. Did some early morning runs to start, but on the weekend Meg introduced me to the idea of the gym. Never actually set foot in one before, and had no idea what to expect. But I did find that the elliptical trainer, the rowing machine, and the stationary bike are all entirely manageable, and that doing exercise this way, moving between machines, I am able to go for 45 minutes or an hour as opposed to the fifteen minute run I was managing. So, feeling pretty damn proud of myself, and actually starting to enjoy the time each day to get a workout and listen to Dragonforce, Iron Maiden, Slayer or whatever else pops up on the MP3 player.

On top of this, I finally have been sent the author’s proofs for an article on the historical development of the trade union and the limitations of union structure and strategy for current struggles – an article that is now four years old, whose citations as a result appear far less current than they should, and which would likely be written quite differently were I to do it today. But alas, this is simply a reality of academic publishing – delays like this between submission and publication are not uncommon. At least it provides for a bit of change from the grievance work that normally takes my time, and gives my brain a little refresher in academic-think, which is nice every now and then…(but only every now and then!).

So, here I am now with just a few short minutes between meetings – not long enough to put together a proper post on anything, but sufficient for a really quick run-down of what’s been occupying my time and a historical review of the day.

Today is September 24. And it was ninety years ago today that the Industrial Workers of the World was declared illegal in Canada. This I’d known, as tonight is a local IWW meeting which I’m having to miss to attend a parent thing at Mica’s school. But I punched the search into google in order to have a moment to think back on the wobs of that time, the role they played in organizing workers and in opposing the war. And in so doing, I found one of those sites that always intrigues me – a daily recap of historical events and anniversaries.

Remembering is important. Memory shapes us, shapes our interactions with the world around, our expecations, our fears and our hopes. So, flowing from remembrance of the criminalization of radical unions and this article on my desk that needs a final edit, here’s just a taste of things worth remembering today.

1794 – US President George Washington sends in the militia to crush the Whiskey Rebellion. A protest-turned-insurrection in response to taxation on distillers – a tax that disproportionately hit small producers while allowing large, wealthier folks to pay a flat fee – the Whiskey Rebellion marked the first time under the US constitution that the government deployed its military power against its citizens. (Remembering, of course, that state violence against indigenous populations and slaves had a long and active history, but that these folks were not “citizens”.)

1862 – Suspension of habeas corpus in the US, resulting in the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of some 18,000 ‘subversives’ and peace activists over the next four years.

1869 – Black Friday – certainly worth remembering in light of the financial crisis currently rocking the US. On this day in 1869 panic sent the US financial system into freefall after speculators sought to corner a gold market which was backed by nothing but credit. One of the central players was robber-baron Jay Gould, famous for his proud assertion, “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”

1918 – As noted above, Canada decalres the IWW a criminal organization, membership drawing jail terms of up to five years.

1953 – 23 American soldiers taken as prisoners by Korea during the Korean War refuse to be repatriated to the US, stating, “under present conditions in America, the voices of those who speak out for peace and freedom are rapidly being silenced. We do not intend to give the American government a chance of silencing our voices too.”

1968 – Mexican troops attack protesting university students, killing seventeen.

1969 – Trial begins of the Chicago Seven (initially eight, before Black Panther Bobby Seale was severed from the case and sentenced to four years for contempt). These were the folks, including Yippies Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, accused of conspiracy and inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago (noted in a previous post here about folksinger and fellow convention-disrupter Phil Ochs).

1994 – Protesters disrupt the celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington, DC.

Hmmm. Not bad as days in history go. Lots to recall, lots to ponder, lots to remind us that as much as these same battles face us today, it’s just as true that folks keep on struggling, keep on resisting, and that resistance continues to educate and inspire.

And with that…back to the grievance files. Sigh.

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Some months ago I got all hot for a project on professional wrestling as work, and attempts at unionization of wrestlers. I wrote a blog post about it here, and was all fired up to do a couple of different pieces – something for a popular sports magazine, to get the issue some light, something academic, and something concrete around the how-tos that could potentially help to re-kindle an organizing drive. As so often happens, however, the writing never really materialized, and the whole project sat hibernating in the back of my brain for some future date.

Well, a couple of days ago I decided it was time. I pulled up the blog post, saved it as a word document and started thinking on how I’d expand and re-write for the various audiences. And the very next day, out of the blue, my friend Colin phoned from Toronto. Colin’s doing labour law at U of T, and soon will be heading out to BC to article with the firm that represents the union I work for and a host of other faculty unions around the province. Colin, however, was calling with a whole other piece of news. He’s taking a course in sports law, and the prof has worked as counsel to that all-time fave wrestler of mine, Bret Hart. So, Colin’s planning a paper on the whole unionization of wrestlers thing that I had told him about, and wanted to let me know he’d get that to me in a few months so I’d have some legal work to use in my articles, or so we could put something together ourselves. He’s also particularly keen on doing something practical on the issue and trying to push this into some kind of unionization drive.

Funny how that works, how minds can just re-connect on a topic from so far away at exactly the same moment.

Anyway, from all of this, I’ve been thinking again on the wrestlers’ union thing, and finding myself thinking in particular about ‘The Wildman’ Marc Mero.

Marc Mero was never my favourite wrestler. He was skilled, no question. He was interesting to watch work in the ring, no question. But on the other side of the business – the character-development, story-line, entertainment side, Mero never really grabbed me. Hockey player, football player. and boxer, Mero moved into wrestling in the early 1990s, his major characters over the years being Johnny B Badd – a Little Richard knock-off; ‘Wildman’ Marc Mero – standard wrestler plus a little manic insanity; and ‘Marvelous’ Marc Mero – a hyper-jealous, hyper-arrogant a boxer-turned wrestler whose greatest triumph involved winning a match against his wife, whose increasing popularity shadowed his own, driving him insanely jealous. Yeah. that was indeed the storyline.

Marc Mero walked away from pro-wrestling in around 2005, mainly due to various injuries that could not heal properly while he continued to work. He opened a body-building and fitness studio in Florida, and has been there since.

But that’s all just background. What really matters is what else Marc Mero is doing.

When I was talking to Bret Hart, one of the last questions I asked him was who else I should speak to about working conditions in the industry and the whole question of unionization. He gave me a few names, but one comment stuck out in particular. “Talk to Marc Mero. The WWE [virtually monopolistic-wrestling corporation] still tolerates the rest of us, and we’re on decent terms despite our critcisms. But they hate Marc Mero, and have gone after him hard.”

Huh? marc Mero – really? Hadn’t heard his name come up at all before now. So what was the deal here? A visit to his training institute’s website, an email, and fifteen minutes later Marc is writing back keen to talk.

Apparently, after leaving the wrestling business, Marc Mero started getting real vocal about the industry’s rising death toll. And he pinned the blame squarely on the owners. The working conditions, the pressure for bigger bodies, the soul- and body-eating schedule of life on the road, the requirement to work through injuries. Wrestling, Mero said, was killing people left and right. Wrestling owners and promoters, he said, actively encouraged behaviour they knew to be life-threatening. Wrestling, he said, destroyed people, leaving them hurt, psychologically-damaged, and vicious. He pointed in particular to the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit – by all accounts just about the most professional and non-aggressive of wrestlers until years of steroid abuse fucked his brain so bad he murdered his wife and child before killing himself in a psychotic episode. Lots of wrestlers spoke about it, lamenting the tragedy, many indeed taking about ‘roid rage and the impact of abuse of performance-enhancing drugs. But Mero pointed more directly to the industry and the owners, and placed the blame squarely on their shoulders.

And loud. He started getting on every TV show and radio program he could. He talked about the kind of masculinity wrestling encouraged. He talked about the culture of violence. He talked about the drugs as a job requirement. And not content to make his case to newscasters and policy-makers, Mero went straight to the heart of the wrestling industry’s market. Mero went to kids.

Entirely on his own dime, Marc Mero put out the call that he would visit any school that would have him to talk about body image, drugs, masculinity, violence, and wrestling. Now, officially, it’s all billed as a positive-choice, anti-steroid message. But talk to Marc for a few minutes, and it’s pretty damn clear that there’s alot more going on here, and that it’s this work with kids that is precisely what has the wrestling business so pissed off. Because as far as he’s concerned, ‘making positive choices’ is about rejecting the cultural values wrestling promotes. Because talking about steroids means talking about masculinity, violence, working conditions.

Marc Mero was the first wrestler in the WWE to get a guaranteed annual contract rather than getting paid on the basis of a share of the door. Since he managed that, others pushed for the same, and a significant part of the industry has now shifted as a result. Marc Mero isn’t on a union drive, but when I asked him about unions he’s enthusiastic, and eager to do what he can. So there’s some politics here, and some experience in tackling working conditions.

But mostly, Marc Mero is just spending his time and money talking to kids, one by one doing his thing to counter the industry that he was part of so long and that has taken so many of his friends in the last few years. Mostly Marc Mero is just talking loud – to adults about drug-induced psychosis, corporate responsibility for deaths in the ring and out, and the need for regulation and oversight of an industry that is shaping culture in profoundly dangerous ways. And talking, too, to kids – about steroids and self-worth and the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition and bodies and masculinity and the ability to make choices. And though those are words that on first blush appear the most motherhood-and-apple-pie, though those are messages that initially appear indistinguishable from every self-help book on the shelves, they are also the words that have the wrestling industry most on the ropes. And that’s pretty fucking interesting to me.

Cause it’s part of the same struggle waged by the Jesse Venturas, the Konnans, the Bret Harts, to collectivize, to transform working conditions, to go union. But it’s waged on a whole other terrain – hitting hearts and minds of the kids who are the market today, and the cannon-fodder tomorrow. And it’s the one thing the owners can’t turn into a gimmick, can’t package and re-sell.

Reminds me, funny enough, of Pete Seeger. Black-listed for his socialist politics during the McCarthy era, Seeger decided if he couldn’t sing to adults about strikes and struggles, he’d sing to kids about seemingly-innucuous things – all flowers and peace and love. But when you look back on his career, it was that work – that going out to kids with pretty simple messages – that had the greatest political impact. He didn’t know that when he started. It wasn’t apparent in the words he sang. But it mattered, and lasted.

Now, I don’t expect Mero knows that. In fact, Mero may not even have any fucking idea who Pete Seeger is. But seems the owners know that kids count. Alot. Cause while kids don’t make policy, they sure as hell make culture.

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It’s one step forward, one step back, our dance is devilish daring.

A leftward shuffle, a rightward tack, then pause to take our bearings.

We’ll reform the country bit by bit so nobody will notice it.

And just to show we’re still sincere we’ll sing The Red Flag once a year.

That’s Leon Rosselson, a hymn to the Labor Party sung to the tune of England’s equivalent of Solidarity Forever, a tune called The Red Flag. And today, as I read a free paper on the bus, this is what sprang to mind.

Why? Well, no sooner than the ink is dried on the COPE/ Vision deal, we can already see what this was really about – isolating radicals and eliminating any opposition to Vision’s version of the ‘third way’, propped up by the Vancouver District Labour Council et al.

Not many days ago, Bill Tieleman wrote a piece outlining his choices for Vision candidates, all of them loyalists to the original split if not its architects. Gregor Robertson has come out publicly naming his choices – once again, all folks representing the well-behaved and reasonable. And each and every one of Vision’s original coup-plotters has done the same. Now, are they all picking exactly the same folks? No, there are more loyalists than available seats, which makes for some tension. But what is clear is that the entire Vision leadership and all its most public faces are getting out the word to ensure that a Vision candidate isn’t just a COPE-sympathizer in disguise. Yes to Raymond Louie, Geoff Meggs and the like. No one say a word about the few wildcards out there – most notably David Eby, of Pivot Legal Society. If we ignore their bids, if we keep trotting out the same names and faces, maybe just maybe we can make sure his kind of candidate stays in the dark and will eventually just go home.

And in today’s 24 Hours newspaper, Alex Tsakumis writes a little piece entitled, “Of Monsters, Men and Civic Matters”. The basic story? Finally, the NPA might be in some trouble because finally the stake has been driven through the heart of those radical dissenters in COPE.

Really, this is it, and I am not exaggerating. COPE were “Bolshviks”, old-style commies who still show some respect to Fidel Castro, and who believed – crime of crimes – that the purpose of a left opposition was to oppose. Yes, that’s his major issue. COPE said ‘no’ too much, They said ‘no’ to developers too much. They said ‘no’ to the Olympics. They said ‘no’ to more slot machines in Vancouver. COPE was “a spectacle of futile defiance, that would survive only by Promethean suffering.”

COPE, quite simply, didn’t play ball. COPE kept arguing about the rules. Perhaps. But from where I sit, that’s exactly what a political left is there for. From where I sit, defiance is just about the only thing worth voting for. To oppose, to critique, to push, to object, to force the doors a little wider open, to live that “ruthless critique of everyting existing”. If there’s a political role for the left, it’s in refusing to be ‘reasonable’, always playing the voice in the wilderness – because that’s what the struggle is all about, and because – from a strategic standpoint – it’s that radical voice that forces the incremental changes in the first place, after all.

In the anti-globalization struggle, labout got a seat at the table not because their opinion was valued. They got a seat at the table because the black bloc was outside throwing rocks, and making space for labour was a strategy to silence some of the critique from the left. A higher profile for the Assembly of First Nations – that came after Oka, after the radical voice altered the terms of debate and forced the state to at least pretend to negotiate with somebody. And it’s the same deal here. The folks who became Vision got some extra time in municipal debates because the COPE folks were always there demanding more. It’s an old story, and something we see in every major battle, in every confrontation – it is the radical left that makes the space for the social democrats to step into.  It is the voice of opposition that creates the platform for moderates to get some airtime and, and it is the threat of the unruly mob that forces authority to sit down and talk to the third-way-types.

But what have we got now? We’ve eliminated the opposition. We’ve eliminated the voices of dissent. We’ve eliminated everything the left is supposed to be. Ah, good strategy folks. Isn’t that just about exactly what happened with the NDP?

Yeah, Alex T. is sure tickled that the monster of the left is terminal. And kudos to those few double-agents, he adds, who – while Visionaries at heart – stayed in COPE just to make sure they put the red beast to sleep. We won the day, and no one again can accuse us of being unreasonable, uncompromising. That left is gone, we can only hope forever. COPE is dead, long live Vision. Opposition is dead, long live compromise. The radical left is dead, long live the third way.

Am I being too harsh on these folks? I don’t think so. Let’s look, after all, at the words Alex T. himself chooses to celebrate the death of COPE:

It’s W.H Auden, and it goes like this:

The Ogre does what ogres can

Deeds quite impossible for Man,

But one prize is beyond his reach,

The Ogre cannot master speech.

Yes, the big red monster, that fights and bites and gnashes its teeth. Gone, thank God, for something infinitely more civilized, more presentable, more electable. After all, doesn’t electability trump all else? Isn’t that what it’s all about?

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A Not-So-Little Girl

Another school year. Grade six. How the fuck that happened, I don’t know. Certainly doesn’t feel like I’m any older, but all of a sudden here I am with a kid who’s moving past childhood to pre-adolescence.  Scary.

On the other hand, it’s looking like Mica’s finally got just a solid, good teacher – something that I pretty much gave up on some years ago. And that makes the return to school a whole lot better.

I find, though, that I am thinking alot about the growing-up process, about responsibility and safety, about confidence and autonomy. Kids today – at least urban kids of a certain class whose parents can afford to either be home with them or pay for child-care – live in a different world than even I did at that age. On the one hand, there’s a whole other media-blitz that surrounds them and that introduces them to some really inappropriate shit far too early (yes, that’s me sounding like an old man!). But on the other hand, they are coddled and protected and infantilized far more by parents afraid to let their children see and confront and adjust to the world as it is.

And I count myself in that group, too, without question. I have certainly been loathe to send Mica off into the world on her own too early, content to let her be a little girl for as long as she could, content to make sure I was always there at her side so she needn’t face anything she wasn’t entirely ready to face. And while there are times and contexts in which I think that was and remains the right choice, I also now find myself with a kid who is all of a sudden a pre-adolescent, who all of a sudden seems of the age that she should be more autonomous and confident in her autonomy, and yet who has never had to take the steps that build that confidence.

So….what all this means is that, suddenly, I find myself concerned with helping her along that path, dedicated to finding small ways for Mica to begin to step out into the world on her own. In practice, that means formal deals around chores for allowance. It means starting to experiment with walking home from school alone – today was day one of this test, arranged to be a day she was bringing a couple of friends home so it was alone without being alone. It means looking at posibilities for going to camp over the next year or so, and having a few days away from any parental figure. It means leaving her home alone for short periods – first twnety minutes, then half an hour, then an hour, and so on – so she begins to know that she can do it, and I begin to know that she can do it. It means focusing less on entertaining her every moment we’re together, and more on making the best of times to connect while also increasing the amount of time and space that she has to fill herself. It means stepping into new kinds of movies, new kinds of books, new kinds of music – some of which she finds on her own, some of which I introduce to see where it goes.

Yeah, it’s all very new, all very tentative still. But an important time, I think, and one that I am feeling it’s quite important to encourage and develop as much as possible over the next year.

Easy? No. I have my own fears to confront. Mica has hers, and I need to help her through them – that interesting mix of wanting autonomy so bad but being a bit afraid of it, too. And Mica’s mom is not quite at the place I am – understanding that Mica needs to grow and start expanding, but less inclined than I to just get up one day and have her try something new.

So, all in all it promises to be a year of some transition, a great deal of growth, and no doubt a succession of minor crises as well. But that’s OK. In fact, that’s probably just what we need. Cause it won’t be long before this kid is entirely adolescent. It won’t be long before she’ll need to make her way around the city on transit, head off to do things with friends, take up activities independent of her mom or dad. Am I ready for it? Some days, yes, others no. But do I need it? Absolutely, Cause my kid needs it to become first a teenager and then a young adult who feels strong, capable, confident, and knows how to deal with the world around her – what to expect, and how to handle the unexpected. Wow. Tough task.

And I thought helping her learn to read and add and subtract was a challenge….

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A few days ago it was Phil Ochs. Today I’m in a whole other mood. David Lee Roth.

Yes, David Lee Roth. Diamond Dave. DLR. I am total slut for the man, and entirely unapologetic about that.

He’s one of the few – like Joan Jett – that just screams rock’n’roll to me. Pure sex. Pure devil-may-care. Pure rock’n’roll.

Why? David Lee Roth is not the straight-ahead, right-out-of-the-gutter, loud and coarse rebel-type. No, indeed. But he is the absolute epitome of the other side of rock. He’s fundamentally P.T. Barnum, the ringmaster under the big top, all flash and glitter and ladies-and-gentlemen, boys-and-girls, step-right-up-for-the-show-of-your-life. DLR is convinced that the whole world needs to be looking right at him. He’s convinced that he’s the hottest ticket in town, the best show going, and that a night with him is the best night of your life. And y’know, I can’t argue with the man. Cause to me, he is indeed all that. Now, Rolling Stone has taken another view, calling him “the most obnoxious singer in human history”. Well, can’t argue with that either. But then again, that’s exactly the point.

Born into a Russian-Jewish family, an opthalmologist for a father, Dave hooked up with the Van Halen boys, Eddie and Alex, in 1974, creating what was without a doubt one of the finest rock’n’roll outfits ever to come along. But as much as has been made of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar-magic, it was Roth that stood out from the beginning. Indeed, more than once it was suggested the band drop this over-the-top loudmouth, because it was pretty much impossible to pay attention to anything else when he was in the vicinity. But as has been pointed out before, what looked absolutely ridiculous on a little riser in a hundred-person bar was transformed when dropped into a stadium. All of a sudden, what was obnoxious and overwhelming was perfect for the space. All of a sudden, those same traits that drove everyone up the fucking wall in close quarters became exactly what held audiences in awe and drove them into such a frenzy. Roth needed a circus. He needed a big top. He needed a mammoth fucking stage to fit his aspirations and his ego. But once he was there. there was no way of displacing him. Once he was there, there was no question but he belonged, he fucking owned it, and all he’d said about himself and his greatness and his showmanship suddenly seemed right on the mark.

But there’s more to it than that. I’m in love with David Lee Roth because he’s funny as all hell, and because he can come uyp with one-liners like no one since Groucho Marx.

“The problem with self-improvement is knowing when to quit.”

“You know why music critics hate Van Halen and love Elvis Costello? Cause music critics look like Elvis Costello”

“I used to jog but the ice cubes kept falling out of my glass.”

“After all these years of bright lights, I still don’t need glasses – I drink straight from the bottle.”

“When you hear ‘David Lee Roth’ you think of a person. When you head DLR Band you think of a band. Just like when you hear ‘Eddie Van Halen’ you think of a person. When you hear ‘Van Halen’, you think of David Lee Roth.”

“There’s a guy with black socks, black shoes, blue and white bermuda shorts, a Hawaiian luau shirt, a Nikon and a Walkman around his neck, zinc oxide on his nose, a pair of sunglasses, a fishing hat with all the badges on it – and he’s staring up at tall buildings. That’s rock’n’roll.”

Yeah, Dave’s good for lines. And his attitude is more than enough to get me on-side. But there’s more yet.

This is guy who starts every tour the same way. He gets on hands and knees and scrubs the stage top to bottom. Why? Cause it’s show business. And show business people is everybody from the kid taking tickets to the old guy sweeping up to the band on the stage. And when you forget that, your ride is over. You want to be in showbiz? You do what it takes, regardless of where you are in the set-up.

This is a guy who is famous among the hard rock crowd for his tendency to make seedy run-down hotels home when he’s in a new city for more than a few days at a time. Indeed, in Vancouver he’s as likely to be found at the Patricia or another downtown eastside haunt as he is in the Hotel Vancouver.

This is a guy whose primary influences are comic books, Playboy and fashion out of blaxploiitation films, who bases his stage presence on James Brown meets Sinatra meets Bruce Lee, and whose music owes as much to early Elton John and Marvin Gaye as it does to Deep Purple. The noise of punk, the mayhem of metal, the sensibility of funk and R&B. And lyrics that are often as not no lyrics at all, but ad-libbed doo-wop and scat.

This is a guy who holidays in tiny Haitian villages, months-long trips alone up the Amazon, treks through the Himalayas and off-trail hikes across Papua New Guinea – and who, despite some shitty politics, generally seems to do so in a pretty respectful kinda way.

And this is a guy who puts out music across a wide range of genres, with not only individual songs but whole albums devoted to sleazy hard rock, bluegrass, big band, loungey easy-listening. And stage shows along the same lines, some concerts all cock-rock and flips in the air, others all about James Brown, and still others based around a stool, a couple of acoustic guitars and a banjo.

Yeah, there’s lotsa reasons to love Diamond Dave. Just as many reasons to hate him? Sure. But me, I like a good show, I like a good showman, and I like entertainers who are bigger than life, who walk with the swagger of John Wayne and the groove of Shack. It’s the circus without the animal-abuse; the ego that knows its all just a show; the sex that’s all playful; the music that crosses borders and plays just to get attention and just to get people hot.

It ain’t popular. It can’t be taken too seriously. But I love it. Cause though I’m not a dancer, it makes me dance. Cause I can’t stop myself singing along. And cause when I hear a Dave Roth tune, I start walking with a little more swagger and a little more groove myself.


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