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August 2007 Archives

August 2, 2007

American nightmare

From Ectomorph: apparently you have to physically destroy a U.S. city in order to get its emergency-room waiting times up to one hour (for the uninsured). I don't think I've ever waited less than an hour or so for care in an ER; maybe a hurricane would help?

August 3, 2007

Dateline E-town

The hopes of a new public-funded hockey arena for the Edmonton Oilers were tragically plunged into a deep coma yesterday, a victim of the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, MN. Sources say hundreds of highly elective infrastructure projects planned for the direct benefit of big businesses may have been injured in the bridge collapse. Hardest hit were cities divided by major rivers, cities experiencing booms whose budgets are already struggling to cope fast-rising labour costs, and cities where the quality of existing roads is already shoddy. “Sounds like a triple play,” said one Edmonton observer, who went on to add that early hints from the Minneapolis incident suggest that bridge repair and inspection is likely to become especially urgent in places which experience widely divergent thermal extremes. The new arena is survived by several scattered piles of brown envelopes and a confused but affable mayor.

August 6, 2007

The prince of tides

From Mark Chu-Carroll: a God-bothering crackpot presents an argument against the "gravity concept."

August 7, 2007

Running-buddies with Bakunin

When you’re a hardcore Wagnerian—the kind of guy who can’t stand to have fewer than seven different complete recordings of the Ring cycle on his iPod—reading serious broadsheet newspapers basically means accepting a constant risk of running across something ignorant about your favourite composer that pegs your diastolic blood pressure into four digits. (For a weblogger, the standard quantitative proxy for this is the italics-to-roman ratio.)

August 8, 2007

Great advice, shame about the timing

Where, oh where, was Michael Weiss when we needed him? His “What Not to Name Your Blog” piece in Slate arrives too late to save the thousands of webloggers who are trying to build brands upon ridiculous classical allusions, stale-the-day-they-were-born “-pundits”, and incomprehensibly weenie collisions of random nouns. As a byline-conscious professional I wisely chose to follow Weiss’s 7th Commandment, “Embrace the solipsism.” The one problem I face is that about 70% of my readers in all venues seem to believe my name is itself an invention. Which I guess it halfway is, but I'm not responsible for it.

August 9, 2007

Embracing the solipsism, cont'd: Coshian roundup

A clearing of the backlog of new pieces, reactions, and relevant material for the Colby Cosh fan:

  • Here’s my written ed-page take on the coinciding deaths of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman, who were among the last living giants of cinema’s auteur age. As the piece hints, I revere Bergman and know relatively little of Antonioni.

  • My signed column last week was about Barack Obama out-neoconning the neocons by launching a tubthumping threat against Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf. But then maybe I’m the neocon realpolitiker; I don’t like the idea of needlessly undermining Musharraf, who may be a bastard but who not only stands between his country’s mullahs and the bomb but has managed to preserve the ever-tenuous border peace with India. Former Mossad agent Michael Ross filed a response: the short version is that someone has to police the North-West Frontier Province and Waziristan, and if Musharraf can’t do it then we should. Question: so what if we can’t do it, either? Do we know more about the terrain, the details of al-Qaeda operations, and the Pashtun culture than Musharraf does?

  • Here’s a Full Comment quickie about what could be a big breakthrough in automotive fuel efficiency. And here’s a link to the most mind-blowing U.S. news story of the week (one whose big implications for national security no one has yet noticed).

  • You think you can figure out without help who wrote this and this? Some of those arguments should sound vaguely familiar.

    Watch for a fresh piece about Barry Bonds in my usual spot in Friday’s Post. Warning: may contain new and counterintuitive ideas that haven’t yet been pummelled into the ground by a hundred beat writers!

  • August 11, 2007

    NP: As authentic as Pamela Anderson

    “I suspect that the future, with its more flexible ideas about body modification and cybernetics, may revere Bonds for precisely the reasons most of us loathe him.” Here’s my Friday piece on the new ruler of the much-diminished kingdom of home runs.

    August 12, 2007

    They really wanted John Allan Cameron, but it turns out he's dead

    You know, I could swear I remember the Edmonton Folk Music Festival as an event that attracted names like Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, K.D. Lang, Billy Bragg, Wilco, the Barenaked Ladies… thank God the Edmonton Journal is here to tell me, and in a mysteriously defensive tone, that the new harder-to-get-to and harder-to-get-into version of the festival, which features Buffy Sainte-Marie (yes, really) as the headliner, is just as wonderful as ever. After all, don’t the organizers deserve bonus points for making sure that the cash registers are solar-powered? (No word on where the kilowatts for all that amplification and stage lighting come from, but it probably doesn’t add up to much. Any connection to that giant power plant just a few blocks away should be underplayed, and please don’t mention the Indian burial ground it’s sitting on top of with Miss Sainte-Marie in earshot…)

    August 14, 2007

    Saved from Iron Maiden

    The death of Tony Wilson has plunged my boss Jon Kay into a reverie. Who can have made such a sarcastic comment about the legacy of Factory Records?

    August 17, 2007

    You'll never forget... this comic book

    From Stupid Comics: oh, only a little thing I like to call the most incredible printed item in the history of mankind. (Offer void outside the Dominion of Canada.)

    Coshery roundup: a two-column week

    The Post kept me busy this week: on top of my usual workload, I took on the job of writing the late-afternoon insta-reaction piece for the front page when the Prime Minister shuffled his cabinet. Without the usual benefit of second-guessing everyone else a day later I mostly hit upon the same conclusions; one welcome personnel change I didn’t have space to mention was the rotation of Bev Oda out of Heritage, where her ostentatious feeding on campaign-funding slops from the tax-farming entertainment industry had become a potential election liability for the Conservatives. (In the ‘06 vote similar behaviour cost the Liberals Sarmite Bulte’s otherwise pretty safe Ontario seat.) I would compare the move to the scene in The Untouchables where the judge switches juries and pulls the rug out from under Al Capone.

    Friday’s column analyzes the prospects for an NEP-style attack on Alberta’s oil sands; as I’ve argued since the days of the Chretien government, the climate-change catastrophism that would provide the pretext has probably passed its peak, and the gummy black soil around Ft. McMurray may have become too essential to the economy to come under confiscatory attack.

    August 18, 2007

    Dodos not quite extinct


    I’ve built up a big pile of clips while dealing with the Big Canadian Issues of the Day. Let’s start thinning it out.

    Sheldon Stern reports for the History News Network that more and more African politicians and educators are calling for an honest appraisal of Africa’s role in making the intercontinental slave trade possible. In some cases this has involved a strange twist on “white guilt”: i.e., contemporary Africans from poor countries apologizing for crimes against the ancestors of present-day middle-class American citizens:

    In 2000, at an observance attended by delegates from several European countries and the United States, officials from Benin publicized President Mathieu Kerekou’s apology for his country’s role in “selling fellow Africans by the millions to white slave traders.” “We cry for forgiveness and reconciliation,” said Luc Gnacadja, Benin’s minister of environment and housing. Cyrille Oguin, Benin’s ambassador to the United States, acknowledged, “We share in the responsibility for this terrible human tragedy.”

    As if Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf didn’t have enough problems, there’s a complicated constitutional argument going on over whether he has the right to campaign for re-election while wearing his military uniform. Dawn has the details.

    The International Herald-Tribune has a piece on a new road being built by the Israeli government between Bethlehem and Ramallah. The idea behind the highway is to meet Israeli guarantees of territorial contiguity for the Palestinian West Bank—students of modern German history who studied the debate over the “Polish corridor” will understand the idea. But the Palestinian side of the road offers no access to East Jerusalem; it’s sealed off from a parallel road for Israeli users by a high concrete barrier. The IHT naturally devotes a great deal more space to the spluttering complaints of Palestinians and their supporters, who are having a near-essential condition of statehood supplied to them on Israeli-held territory at huge Israeli expense, than it does to the advocates and planners.

    A pop group has convinced a Danish court to hand down a landmark decision preventing its record company, Sony BMG, from selling its records in downloadable digital formats without permission (presumably on a “moral right of the artist” basis relating to the quality with which the work is reproduced and presented, assuming that the original contract was otherwise ironclad). The Copenhagen Post says “the decision will probably have global consequences”. So what high-powered, legendary act was responsible for this added nail in the coffin of the record industry, you ask? That would be Dodo and The Dodos. “Dodo and the Dodos never achieved any international recognition, and the band’s songs are all sung in Danish,” we learn from the article. “The band’s biggest hit was ‘Vågner i natten’ (‘Waking in the Night’) from their self-titled debut album released in 1987. The band has sold an estimated 1.5 million records and ranks as one of Denmark’s best-selling bands of all time.”

    Finally and most importantly, don’t miss Too Many Tristans’ roundup of the “greatest” classical CD covers ever. If your highest ambition in life is to see Placido Domingo’s head being devoured by a mysterious black ellipse, as it has been mine, prepare for nirvana.

    August 19, 2007

    Look, our copyeditor took $80K to go write pressers for Suncor, OK?

    Apparently Ft. McMurray has been adding something called “flouride” to its water. Which, as you know, it draws from the “Athebasca” River.

    Too many kooks

    The start of classes is right around the corner—does anybody know if UVic’s “latter-day Socrates” and UBC’s “wonderful weirdo” ever got their act together? It seems to me they could just swap campuses and get a fresh start on bullying and haranguing a whole new group of undergraduates.

    August 20, 2007

    Spruce Avenue Shuffle

    Bjork and Einar

    I’ve got most of my compact-disc collection digitized now and I’m in the nerdy process of rating every track on Winamp. Turns out it comes to about 375 hours of music (with several box sets still outstanding), ranging from stuff I loved when I was 13 to CDs included with music magazines to discs I inherited from a deadbeat roommate and couldn’t sell. It gives you that satisfaction you get from buying a really big block of cheese. At some point I may want to stop eating this but it WON’T be because there is no goddamn cheese in the house. The shuffle function turns out to be great for rediscovering hidden gems that were long buried in otherwise bad albums (or otherwise distractingly great ones), and people like it when I write about music (probably because it allows them to feel justifiably superior), so join me, won’t you, in listening to a few tracks selected entirely at random?

    “Speed Is The Key”, The Sugarcubes (from Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week, 1989)

    True story: a friend of mine went to a Björk show in Vancouver this summer, and when I asked her how she liked it, she said she’d had a great time but she couldn’t stand the awful opening act, which was described as being fronted by “some guy who mostly ran around shouting and moaning.” I can’t remember if off-key trumpet playing was mentioned, but as any Cubes fan would, I understood immediately that the culprit had to be the notorious Einar Örn, Björk’s old bandmate and the man whose bleating was chiefly responsible for the poor reception that greeted Here Today. Turns out Einar’s new act Ghostigital followed Björk around the world this summer. Even a passionate Sugarcubes adherent would have trouble greeting this as wholly positive news, and most of the alien elfling’s present-day fans probably have only the vaguest idea that she was in a celebrated indie group of the ‘80s that popped up on MTV pretty regularly.

    Here Today was the group’s Difficult Second Album, which was followed by a third before the tight-knit little Icelandic cabal went its separate ways—though not before guitarist Þor Eldon Jónsson begot children with both female members, the jammy bastard. As you might expect, Einar was mixed a lot lower on that third record. As a band the Cubes actually got stronger and tighter as their recording career went along, but their notices got steadily worse, as if music critics had been deliberately assigned by the record industry to pry Björk loose from her old drinking buddies and set her on the fast track to individual stardom. “Speed Is The Key”, in which Björk portrays “a future woman in an irresistible world,” is a bit generic. But it’s got two saving virtues: a nice jangly guitar part from the philoprogenitive Þor, and Einar bellowing the immortal line “DOES NO ONE RESPECT SPACE RULES?” Rating: ** (of 5)

    “Farewell, Farewell”, Fairport Convention (from Liege and Lief, 1969)

    I’ve been handing out five-star ratings for the pre-1970 Fairport stuff like a lottery winner in the champagne room. My inability to resist the eerie tag-team of Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny (and tarted-up Childe ballads) is possibly sort of embarrassing, but then again, let’s recap what we’ve got here: it’s the best English folk-rock group ever, indeed the inventors of English folk-rock, playing at their absolute peak on an album that is pretty much undisputed as the best record in the history of English folk-rock. Not only that, it was their comeback record after a terrible van crash that killed their young drummer, Martin Lamble. In short, it’s the Back in Black of hey-nonny-nonny music. So the bidding pretty much has to start at four stars. Rating: **** with a corner on *****

    “In the Back Seat”, The Arcade Fire (from Funeral, 2003)

    Anything left to say about this bunch? Against all odds they came out of Montreal and gave us something new that wasn’t “world music” bongo-diddling or droning techno for the tight-pants set. I think a lot of groups are probably capable of this kind of thing but for some reason the revolution in cheap recording hasn’t given us many acts that are willing to experiment with instrumentation, arrangement, and harmony while obeying the First Commandment (YOU’RE A ROCKER, SO ROCK OUT). I realize this is rampant old-fartism but when you listen to The Arcade Fire you can tell those guys have, collectively, heard and absorbed a whole universe of music ranging from disco to punk to glam to prog. It just seems like there are an awful lot of shitty bands around who complain about how “corporate” radio is these days but show absolutely no sign of having gone to the used-record shop and done their own homework. And nowadays it’s not like you really even have to leave the house. Now get off my lawn! Rating: *** (which is pretty good for, like, the eighth best song on the album)

    “1985”, Robert Fripp (from Let the Power Fall: An Album of Frippertronics, 1981)

    Honestly I just keep looking at the subtitle of the CD and thinking about how the record company probably insisted on it so they wouldn’t be ploughed under by returns from angry buyers still expecting “Fracture”. I also get distracted by the long list of concert dates listed in the liner notes (they include a show at what is today the Royal Alberta Museum). Isn’t the defining characteristic of Frippertronics that most of the notes are played by means of a delay pedal? This track is eleven minutes long and it couldn’t have required Bob to touch a guitar string more than about 40 times. What was that like to watch in person? The recorded track kind of speaks to my classicist side, though I tend to like the similar-sounding Fripp and Eno stuff slightly better, but in my pre-dotage I can’t envision going to the live show. What for? To see what skinny tie Fripp was going to wear that night? Or maybe to hover around the scene in the bloodthirsty spirit of an autoracing fan, hoping for some kind of catastrophe with the Frippertronics?

    Maybe that’s the secret—they were hoping a chip in the delay pedal would short out and Fripp would be forced to announce an impromptu live performance of the complete Lark’s Tongues in Aspic with audience members as his sidemen. “You play percussion? Marvelous. Here are your chains, and I’ll need to you change into this loincloth.”¹ Rating: *

    “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, the Beatles (B-side of “All You Need Is Love”, 1967)

    Since Ian MacDonald has pretty much permanently settled all the arguments and squared away all the technological and musicological details when it comes to the Beatles², I’ll confine my comment on this track to something much more valuable: a crazy (yet true!) piece of trivia. You know the squawky drunken-woodwind sound that pops up between the vocals on this song? That was played (by Lennon) on the wonderful Clavioline, a proto-synthesizer invented by Michel Gondry’s grandfather. Rating: ****

    ¹ Yeah, I made a Jamie Muir joke. It's what you signed up for.

    ² And what MacDonald didn't cover, this guy has.

    August 22, 2007

    Heraldic brain baffler

    Mysterious coat of armsThis coat of arms was awarded in 2004. Can you figure out whose it is from the clues embedded in the design? When you're ready for the answer, Googling for the Latin motto should do the trick.

    August 23, 2007

    Caesar's salad

    New from the American Mathematical Society: a strange-looking algorithm for finding the days between two dates, and, more interestingly, an explanation of why it works despite (and because of) one rather odd-looking term in the formula.

    August 25, 2007

    NP: Scans ‘n’ trans

    Here’s my Friday Post column, which Wikiscans a few Canadian institutions and discusses the implications for the reliability of everyone’s favourite online encyclopedia. And here’s a Full Comment follow-up to a Post editorial about the controversy surrounding J. Michael Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen. That entry’s comment thread has unexpectedly become a venue for an interesting mini-debate about Bailey’s hypothesis (which is actually an expansion on the work of the U of T’s Ray Blanchard).

    About August 2007

    This page contains all entries posted to ColbyCosh.com in August 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

    July 2007 is the previous archive.

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