Cue the fireworks,

Milan has started a new group blog project about climate change, specifically about the importance of leaving coal and other non-renewables in the ground. The key logic is as simple as this: if we burn all the non-renewables we are certainly doomed to catastrophic climate change – but if we restrict ourselves to just oil, we might fare a little better. Of course, we need to limit our consumption of oil too, but an important first step is getting it through our heads that we do not have the right to extract and burn alternative fossil fuels (coal and oil sands) just because they are there.

The blog is an open project, continuously on the search for new contributors. If you are interested, you should probably contact the milan directly. Of course, anyone can comment on posts.

Climate change is the central social justice issue for our generation. I’ve argued on burycoal.com that this does not mean we need to ignore other goals, or even “prioritize” climate change over other issues (I argue making this kind of priority does not necessarily make tactical sense). However, as epistemically sensitive as my arguments sometimes are, this really is me telling you that you should care about this.


Tyler’s new Record – “Sentinel Road”

Tyler Shipley of the Consumer goods is releasing his record of songs written during/about the 2009-10 CUPE 3903 strike. The release concert/party will be at the Central, next to Honest Ed’s, on March 6th from 6 to 9pm.

Tyler’s music is compelling and surprisingly fun to listen to. Try “Hockey Night in Afghanada” – a piece about being a hockey fan in a time when it’s being used as war propaganda:

The songs from the new record might have less resonance to the general population than they do to people who were involved in the 3 month labour dispute. I find the title track moving:

It will also include a version of the “Song for the Lines”, written and sung during the strike:

Originally there was some talk of my “Pond Road Strike Song” appearing on the album, but I was unable to meet up with Tyler in Winnipeg during the recording of the album. I’d link to a recording of the Pond Road strike song, but I can’t actually find one posted on youtube. When I get around to it, I’ll post it myself.

I encourage anyone, especially those interested in social justice and labour relations, to check out Tyler’s music and his band, the “Consumer Goods“. And, if you’re in Toronto, to come to the Central on March 6th for the album launch party. Who knows, maybe he’ll ask me on stage again to play the Pond Road song!

EDIT: The Pond Road Strike Song is now on Youtube!

Montreal Week: Winter 2010

I love this city. Everytime I come here, not only do I have a wonderful time – but I feel a kind of spontaneous affinity for this place which resembles far more how I feel about Vancouver than how I feel about anywhere else. Like the trip I paid to Montreal during reading week fall 2009, this has been a family trip – Simon lives here, and Malcolm flew out here from Uvic for the week as well.

Quebec is a great place to drink beer. There are more microbreweries doing more different things here than anywhere else I’ve visited. And the prices are always reasonable – twelve packs cost 12-15$, and it is not unimaginable to see twelve packs of Unibroue, which in Ontario would run you 25$, for 11.99$. We found this fantastic grocery store in Verdun where you could buy anything either by the case or by the bottle. We bought a “Ginger Beer” Beer. It wasn’t good. But that’s ok – because we didn’t have to buy six to find out.

This grocery store was a bit strange. In some ways, it felt very fancy, like a whole foods. On the other hand, you could buy pork rinds by the pound. And, it took us ages to find the tofu section – which was tiny. Ironically, we were looking for veggie burgers so we could recreate “dirty burgers” from Trailer Park Boys.

We did actually make dirty burgers – you can see the final result here. Actually, we watched a lot of Trailer Park Boys this week. And, we drank a lot of beer while watching it. It is a very entertaining show. It manages to strike a good balance between strong season-long story line, and enough  random funny things happening in each show. I.e. in season 7 there is a model train theme that runs through the series, starting with a model train convention in Bangor, Maine, and concluding with the use of a model train to smuggle dope across the border. But, that’s enough about Trailer Park boys.

The light was not particularly conducive to photography most of the time, and a lot of the city is brutal in a not particularly attractive way. This isn’t even a very good photo – but it certainly is interesting. If anyone understands how that building got an imprint of an older building in the side of it, feel free to speculate in the comments section.

If it weren’t for Urban Outfitters, where would hipsters lose all their money? Of course Montreal has one of these.

This is just neat. Or maybe it isn’t neat. Either way, it made a decent photograph.

According to the guy who works there, this place has the best fries in the city. And, I agree. Try the “Bourgeois Tofu”, a small 1.99$ sandwich. Order two though, they are a bit small.

Walking around the city at night, it starts to remind me of Vancouver.

My brothers insisted we go to an indy show feature the “Antlers”. Good thing – the band is fantastic. See here. Very intense power duo. Another power duo my bros introduced me to are Japandroids. Apparently power duos are the thing now, thanks to the White Stripes I suppose.

We had coffee and baked treats at the Atwater Market. Thanks mom.

This city is magical at night when the whether is warm and the snow sticks on the ground.I took this photo when I was on my way from “Arts Bar”, a kind of McGill equivalent to AUS beer gardens, to see my friend on the Plateau. I was happy, but a bit depressed, when I realized that I still don’t feel this way about Toronto. Why are some places so much more loveable than others? I have my theories on this, but I won’t bore anyone with them here. Or, maybe Toronto is just missing AUS beer gardens. (Actually, it’s missing the AUS straight up since both York and U of T student societies are arranged in the idiotic college structure rather than by faculty).

At midnight that day, the snow was still coming down hard.

I’ve never understood why walkups are so popular in Montreal. Safety, anyone? Apparently not. Who pays for the broken limbs?

Notre-Dame Cathedral is neat, but it costs to enter so we stayed outside, contemplating whether we could pretend to be Catholic. Old Montreal in general is pretty awful – touristy, but also thin. My brothers don’t appreciate the absurdity of yuppy life like I do – while I find the hyperstylish object store perverse, wonderful and absurd, Malcolm just finds it repulsive. And that’s fair enough.

Possibly the highlight of the trip was going to a Quebec Major Junior hockey game – the Montreal Juniors play only a few subway stops away from Simon’s dorm. It’s certainly the most francophone thing we did, and most working class. Junior hockey is cheap, gritty, and not terribly good if you’re used to watching the NHL (or currently, the Olympics). But it is cheap (10$ tickets from a scalper), and pretty exciting.

Ideals as Forces of Historical Particularity

In a recent long drawn out argument with Milan over tensions concerning the oversight of institutions which can not be subject to normal democratic control, i.e. central banks, I had some thoughts concerning not so much what a Government is or could be – but rather concerning the implications of the kinds of answers we give to these questions on how we think about our current situation and how we might change it. To put it simply, I tend to think of Democracy as an ideal which we are not living up to, and that the political duty put on us by our right to live in a rational state puts on us a duty both to make our state rational and to (but not in this order) find out what it would mean to make a state rational. This to me is obvious – what is not obvious is how to go about doing it.

But what I realized in the discussion was that I was making a problematic assumption by separating the ideal (the “rational state”) from the means by which we achieve it. It is good, I think, to hold open how one might make a state rational, and also to hold open what a rational state would be. However, what I was ignoring was how the category “rational state”, even emptied of most of its content, remains a non-neutral ideal towards which we project, and which determines our struggle in various ways.

To explain what I mean, I will employ the example of a statue that stands here in Montreal on the road leading up to McGill. The statue is a luminous yellow of a gathering of people. The ones in front are looking forward, calm, confident. Some silly, some caniving. As you walk backwards along the statue, the people in the crowd are less and less focussed on the focal point out in front, and more on each other, on fighting, on cheating. At the back there are people starving, laying on the ground.

What they are staring at is ideals, values, utopia maybe. The ones in front see, but it is ambiguous to what extent the ideal is drawing them forward. At first, it looks quite clearly that it gathers them, but then you notice some of the faces in the front row are anything but genuine. And besides that, the ones in front shield those behind from the ideal – hence the fighting, caniving, etc.. And at the back, there are the starving, laying on the ground.

The statue is perhaps a bit didactic, and certainly not an “argument” – but it does make me question the “ideal – real” idealist pull, “progress”, the “It will be ok so long as we strive for good values”. Because, striving for values leaves people out. Instantiation is always partial.

In “No Country for Old Men”, Anton Chigurh says to Carson Wells character, when he is sitting with him in his hotel room with a gun trained on him: “If the rule you follow led you to this, what use was the rule?”

The point being – values should be evaluated based on their effects, not their pretensions.

Of course, I already accounted for this by leaving means open, it is our duty to figure out which means will get to the ideals. But – it is rationally required to go farther – to determine “empirically”, or at least by experience, which ideals actually bring us places we want to go. So, even the projected ideal “rational state” must be re-evaluated in the light of what means it inspires us to create, and what the real effects of those means actually is.

Anyway, the point is to not take the ideal as a neutral “utopia, would be nice”, but (at least for the ones in play) as productive agents which make and motivate our world and experience. It is easy for us to see the politically problematic nature of ideals in history, i.e. “Wilderness”, “Civilization”, “Noble Savage” – but it is not similarly easy to see the contingency of the ideals we strive for. We assume they are right, and that the difficulties lie in the way we try to bring these ideals into reality. But the ideals are themselves what bring the world into reality – not the world they purport to beckon, but the one they actually bring.

Haitian Benefit a Success!

Saturday’s benefit concert was a success! We raised almost 400$ for charity, and decided on which charities to give to democratically. We picked Batay Ouvriye (Fight-Work) and Partners in Health. Due to a complex democratic money-allocation vote, Batay will get 17$ for every 10$ Partners gets. Good thing we have a calculator.

I took videos of most of the performers, so you can get an idea of what the party was like. Sasha started the night with “Can’t Dance with you”, then stood on top of a stool to play this. His next song was in the Kitchen, and then he played in the bathroom. I have some footage of Mip rocking out. It’s really worth checking out her myspace page. I didn’t record any of Tyler’s set, but you can see him on myspace too. Ketan took some videos of my performance – I played “Hard Times in Old Haiti” and “Westfall”. I also played my new “Charity Song” (includes “Neutrality Song”), which Kolia quite liked.

The event overall was very uplifting – using the space for proper community events is a positive thing. There’s more on that, and on other opportunities for community events we might plan  on the Theme-house blog (which I’ve been thinking about renaming: “ToadLaneAwarenessProject”). Of course – there’s also the conference which is coming up. Overall, a pretty exciting time to be around Toad Lane!

EDIT: Sasha’s performances have been removed due to his request.

Kevin Annett Speaks Tonight in CCRI North Dining Hall

Tonight at 8pm (February 5th, 2010),  Kevin Annett will be speaking on residential schools and his experience bringing the Canadian genocide to light at 403 Huron Street, Toronto.

Last night I watched his film “Unrepentant” on the same topic (available to view on google video). It is a powerful work. Kevin Annett has brought to light important information on the purposeful infection of first nations children with diseases (notably TB and small pox). While these allegations are often dismissed as speculation, it turns out there is pretty solid evidence by respectable white figures at the time. The most frightening figures are those which express a 50% mortality rate for Children who were officially brought to the school – especially in the context of knowing many more children were brought to the school than the paper record reads because Children younger than 5-7 were not officially to be removed from their communities, but in fact largely were.

It turns out this story was reported in a mainstream newspaper (the ottawa citizen) in 1907.

Kevin Annett was removed from his ministerial position at Port Alberni without cause, and was expelled from the United Church under extremely dubious circumstances. I recommend anyone in Toronto to come out to the event and support his continued struggle to bring exposure and justice to this national abomination.