Guest Post: Pete Seeger, May 3, 1919 to January 27, 2013

Pete Seeger BanjoYesterday, when word came out that Pete Seeger had died, someone I only know through Twitter as @PrigInASuit, had some pointed things to say on the subject. I sent him a message asking if he’d like to spin those 140-character-constrained thoughts into a full blown obituary.

He did. And here it is: @PrigInASuit on the passing of a folk music legend…

* * * * *

Pete Seeger is undoubtedly a legend of multiple generations, movements, and causes. From the folk music scene, to the American Civil Rights Movement, to environmentalism, he was an inspiration to many in the past, present, and (hopefully) the future. An unwavering activist, who stayed true to his beliefs throughout his life, Seeger transcended generations.

It is one of those generations that will bastardize the spirit of Pete Seeger. You see, the “Baby Boomers” as they like to be affectionately referred to, will once again reminisce one of the catalysts of their idealistic youth. Unfortunately, a scant few will have maintained the spirit, let alone the letter, of what they will now speak about as something that they were part of. Some may even declare that they were there at the “start”, that they were not fly-by-night hippies but instead the “real thing”.

As the Boomer Generation attempts to re-establish their street cred, remember the following things that they have also spearheaded:

Continue reading “Guest Post: Pete Seeger, May 3, 1919 to January 27, 2013”

Weekly Reckoning: Gone But Not Forgotten Until Time Obliterates Everything But We’re Star Stuff So Look On The Bright Side Edition

weekly-reckoning1. IT’S ALL GONE MONDRAGON After 18 years, Winnipeg’s Mondragon is closing. Mondragon was famous in Winnipeg as an alternative bookstore and café that served something called southern fried tofu. As Fearless Editor Whitworth says, “Mondragon is like Heliotrope and Buzzword combined AND it’s a worker co-op. Super shitty.” Remember the pad thai at the Heliotrope, people? Remember Gord at Buzzword, who could zero in your taste in books with unnerving accuracy and make the perfect recommendation every time? He also introduced me to the music of Vic Chestnutt. RIP stuff we loved. Just remember that new good things are always welling up from the common soil of our consciousness, from a random idea in some kid’s head to a storefront or a dance company or what have you. Hot damn.

2. REMEMBER THE GOOD OLD DAYS WHEN WE THOUGHT HAPPINESS WAS A RATIO? Did you know that the secret to human “flourishing” resides in an approximately 3-to-1 of positive to negative emotions? I had no idea that this was the new hotness in psychology until I read this article, which tells us that, thanks to a 53-year-old student who a thing or two about the mathematics behind the theory, the new hotness is actually the old lameness. Or more accurately, the old bullshit. I have a lot of love for stories about outsiders who show up and break received wisdom in half. Alan Sokal makes an appearance as well. Ain’t no party like an Alan Sokal party because an Alan Sokal party subjects your cherished beliefs to elaborate mockery.

3. THE SPICE OIL MUST FLOW The Enbridge Alberta Clipper pipeline is back up and running after an oil spill near Regina. Wait, what? Apparently everything is just fine, though. Juuuust fine.

4. JESUS STATUE SO FAR NOT ANIMATED BY LIGHTNING Here you will see photos of the statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro being struck by multiple lightning bolts. Residents may or may not be worried about the possibility of the statue coming to life and terrorizing the residents of the city with random blessings.

5. POLAR VORTEX 2: ATMOSPHERIC FREEZAROO Weather reporting is good for two things: doomsday predictions and fantastic names. “Polar vortex” sounds like a malevolent living force from the frozen North intent on sucking the warmth from every creature on Earth like a terrible reverse Santa Claus (or regular Santa Claus on Opposite Day). Now it seems that the Polar Vortex, instead of dissipating, has returned to its northern lair, where it’s hanging out and plotting its return – with blizzards this time. Seriously. Screw you, Polar Vortex.

Weekly Reckoning: Very Aggregation. So Newsgathering. Wow! Edition

Weekly Reckoning1. WOULD ANYBODY LIKE TO READ THE OFFICIAL FBI FIELD GUIDE TO TORTURE? For some time now, the American Civil Liberties Union has been attempting to view FBI documents on interrogation practices. So far the FBI has offered up a 70-page document that is so heavily redacted that it’s largely useless for the ACLU’s purposes (namely, determining whether the agency’s techniques are unconstitutional). It turns out that an unredacted, freely available edition has been sitting at the Library of Congress since 2010. Why? Because the author filed a copyright claim on the work.  Which is confusing, since US government publications are copyright-free. I bet somebody in the FBI is envying Justine Sacco right now.

2. GOODBYE MR. BRONFMAN. Edgar Bronfman Sr., the Canadian-born billionaire, died Saturday. The story says that he was “surrounded by family,” which is how all these wealthy old people seem to go. When I die, I want my obituary to read “besieged by family.” I also want it to read “Mr. Morgan’s body will be trebucheted in a random arc and direction next Thursday. Funeral services will be held at whatever spot he lands.” My tombstone will simply say “Wheeeeeeeee.”

3. STOP WATCHING THE NEW BEYONCÉ VIDEOS AND READ THIS. What is this “this” I refer to? Why it’s an oral history of Sir Mix-a-lot’s 1992 callipygian call-out to big backsides. So when you resume your evening of watching Beyoncé Knowles back her posterior into the camera lens, you can draw an assured cultural line between her record-breaking iTunes album and “Baby Got Back.” And if you’re not listening to/watching the new Beyoncé album, just what are you doing with your holidays? Get on that.

4. HOW THE HELL DOES BLACKBERRY STILL HAVE $3.2 BILLION IN CASH ON HAND? Because they posted a quarterly loss of $4.4 billion. I’m no economathemagician, but that strikes me as a lot of money.

5. YOUR INADEQUATE COOKIE. Over at Serious Eats, one man set himself the task of creating the perfect chocolate chip cookie. He came up with a recipe so complicated and time-consuming that no one in the world could possibly follow it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

R.I.P., Nelson Mandela

A giant has passed away.

The death of Mandela will send South Africa deep into mourning and self-reflection 18 years after he led the country from racial apartheid to inclusive democracy. But his passing will also be keenly felt by people around the world who revered Mandela as one of history’s last great statesmen, and a moral paragon comparable with Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

I wonder how different I’d be if I hadn’t become an adult in the 1980s, when the tide truly began to turn in South Africa. Nelson Mandela might be the greatest political figure who lived during my life. Rest in peace.

Brian’s Not Dead, You Guys

The important work I do at Prairie Dog sometimes involves reading the Family Guy Wikipedia page. And on that page there is listed an upcoming episode with the title “Brian The Closer”. Page is here, copyright application is here.

Another upcoming episode has this description: “An unnamed episode will guest star Maya Rudolph as a runner whom Brian falls for and Glenn Howerton as the publisher of a children’s book written by Joe. The episode is slated to air in the fall of 2014.”

Welcome back, Brian. It’s like you were never gone.

Weekly Reckoning: Enjoy What You Have Edition

Weekly Reckoning1. LOU REED 1942-2013. Like most of us, Lou Reed ate breakfast, read the papers, went for walks and eventually died. Unlike most of us, he played in the Velvet Underground, hung out with Nico and Andy Warhol, and made some of the best music of the 20th and 21st centuries. He also recorded a rap song in the late ’80s, which should have been terrible – but which, even now, I still find myself singing in the shower. The details of his death haven’t been released, but it’s known that Reed had a recent liver transplant. I suppose we could stroke our chins and throw around terms like cancer and hepatitis C, but the truth of the matter is that he’s gone, we’re all going to hit that marker soon enough, and we should probably focus on doing something even one-tenth as amazing as Transformer or Magic and Loss. I mean, even if Lou Reed did nothing in his life but record vocals for Rock and Rule, he’d still be awesome. So let’s remember Reed and do something incredible today.

*curtain rings scrape along shower rod* *hot water hisses* Better check that sausage before you stick it in the waffle/Make sure that candy’s in the original wrapper/ Hey pitcher better check that batter/ Make sure the candy’s in the original wrapper hey hey

2. THE TRUTH ABOUT MUCOUS. Ever wondered why your nose drippings are green? Click and be satisfied. This is why the military-industrial complex created the Internet.

3. THE US ESTABLISHMENT IS BUSY EATING ITSELF ALIVE. Allegedly, Obama knew as far back as 2010 that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone was tapped. And how do we know? An anonymous source in US intelligence told a German newspaper. Is it true? Is it nothing but a plume of disgruntlement’s noxious smoke? This is mesmerizing. UPDATE: If you follow the link to the original piece, you’ll see that the copy has been replaced by a flat-out denial of the allegations.

4. I BLAME LORNA. Regina’s oldest church is missing its crozier! Quick, someone call the crozier police! What, no crozier police? Well okay, contact the Crozier Squad at 1-900-CRO-ZIER. When the hell did that become a phone sex line? Citizens, it’s up to you. Go forth and form roving bands of crozier-seeking vigilante thugs. Raid homes. Steal children. Unleash your petty grievances on the city in the name of restoring croziers to their rightful places.

Seriously, though, St. Paul’s crozier is beautiful and irreplaceable. Let’s hope it makes its way home.

5. “GENETIC MATERIAL ONCE THOUGHT OF AS TRASH IS NOW BELIEVED TO BE IMPORTANT IN PERSONALIZING YOUR FACE.” Ha ha, scientists. If it’s personalizing your face, then it’s definitely trash (link goes to video) (a video explaining how some molecular trash makes our trashy faces look like they do).

SaskFilm RIP


SaskFilm, the province’s heretofore, once very busy film commission is no more. As of 3pm today, SaskFilm shut down its operations for good.

It was created under the Progressive Conservative government of Grant Devine in 1989 and, among other things, SaskFilm helped to facilitate hundreds of productions such as Little Mosque On The Prairie and Corner Gas. It also courted a host of bigger budget Hollywood productions to shoot in our fair province, bringing outside investment, and employing a small army of film professionals in the process.

Perhaps most importantly, along with the also now deceased Saskatchewan Communications Network (SCN), SaskFilm helped to export Saskatchewan’s stories to the rest of the country and the world. Local independent productions such as Wapos Bay, Landscape As Muse, and The Neighbour’s Dog would not have been possible without SaskFilm. For those who used to work in the industry – both as worker bees and independent producers – it’s been a long time waiting for the other shoe to drop. For whatever it’s worth, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Parks Culture and Sport is, ostensibly, partly replacing the role SaskFilm played with the still mysterious Creative Industries program. Although, despite its launch in the Spring of this year, there has still been no indication of what kind of funding or incentives independent producers specifically in this province can expect.

As someone who used to work in the Saskatchewan film industry, what else is there to say other than thank you to SaskFilm for helping to build the Saskatchewan film industry over 24 years of service.

For further information on what SaskFilm did, you can visit their facebook page and download a document that lists the hundreds of productions that were shot with SaskFilm’s assistance.

R.I.P. Seamus Heaney

“Irish poet Seamus Heaney has died in Dublin at the age of 74,” reports NPR. “He was one of the world’s best-known poets. In 1995 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.”

Unfortunately, I haven’t had too much contact with Heaney’s poetry proper. His translation of Beowulf is fantastic. It’s the only version I’ve read in full, and none of the others I’ve encountered match it. I’ll leave the real eulogizing to others, like Dan Chiasson over at the New Yorker.

R.I.P., Alex Colville

Hound In Field, 1958One of Canada’s greatest painters, whose work I’m a fan of,  has passed away at 92. From CBC:

While Colville’s images seemed to be taken directly from reality, he drew them from multiple sketches and studies, planning a perfect composition before he began to paint. The painting process could take months — with layer upon layer of thinned paint painstakingly applied dot by dot to a primed wooden panel. “Behind his words, as behind his art, you can sense elaborate webs of thought. And, also like his paintings, he stands quite alone, beyond category. It’s impossible to speak with him for a few hours without feeling his powerful sense of self. He is, it seems, a free man.” Robert Fulford wrote in Toronto Life in 2000. The tranquil scenes are deceptive, because something about the relationship between figures or the nature of the landscape will convey loneliness, isolation, parting, work, leisure, estrangement, love.

“I see life as inherently dangerous. I have an essentially dark view of the world and human affairs .. Anxiety is the normality of our age,” Colville was quoted as saying.

I was born in 1967 on John A. MacDonald’s birthday and Colville designed a special run of coins to mark that auspicious occasion (some have incorrectly claimed the coins were issued to mark Canada’s 100th birthday). Also that year, Colville painted Pacific, an ominous work that Sask lit nerds will remember gracing the cover of Dave Margoshes 2007 short story collection Bix’s Trumpet And Other Stories.

AlexColville_Pacific.tiI went to a Colville talk in Winnipeg in the early 1990s with my pal Chris Hlady. Colville was intelligent, warm and gave good slideshow. Someone asked him why his animals have faces and his people don’t. I can’t recall his answer. He might have dodged the question to let us figure that one out.

Also, he showed a small painting he’d done of a bat which obviously made me like him more.

Rest in peace, Alex Colville. Thank you for making my life richer.

R.I.P. Cory Monteith


Vancouver actor and protagonist of Glee Cory Monteith was found dead in an hotel room this afternoon. The actor had been battling drug addiction and just recently finished a stint at a rehabilitation centre. While Glee is not my cup of tea, Monteith was an outspoken Vancouver Canucks fan and all-around good guy. A bad Saturday ends up worse.

R.I.P., Willie

And now for another indulgent note about a deceased pet. Willie the snake passed away last week. It’s all right: he had a good, long life and was very old. Willie was a male checkered garter snake and I bought him as an adult in early 1996, so that would make him at least 17. Not bad for a garter snake! Oh, the memories: shortly after I got him, he started slithering around his tank upside down. I thought he was toast but it turned out he was just vitamin B deficient, and a quick trip to the vet for a shot (yes, they give injections to sick snakes) fixed him right up.

In the last couple of years Willie lost some weight and developed what I assume were cataracts, but he was active and alert and eating right up to the end. It was just his time. He is survived by Klaus, Priscilla, Rusty, Mittens and Scoodles.

I don’t have any photos handy but here’s an episode of the Web TV series SnakeBytes that’s about checkered garters like Willie. They make good, low-maintenance pets for the right person.

Bon voyage, Willie! You were a good snakey-poo. You were handsomely patterned, good to handle, you never pooped in your water dish and you never bit anyone. What more could anyone ask? Good job! Good life.

Jean Stapleton, RIP


stapleton1Actor Jean Stapleton, best known as Edith Bunker in the 70s television series All In The Family, has passed away at the age of 90.

Though she became a household name for her Emmy Award winning role as Archie Bunker’s long-suffering but sweet-natured wife, Stapleton was also well respected for her work in theatre, appearing on Broadway in productions like Funny Girl, and Damn Yankees. 

She’ll always be Edith to me, though. I have warm memories of being a little kid in the 70s, nestled between my parents on the couch as they watched the show, laughing along with the studio audience, though I was too young to understand the jokes.

So long, Jean.

Chicago Sun-Times Lays Off Entire Photo-Staff, Effective Immediately


Among those laid off is John H. White (see photo above), a 68-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner. Meanwhile, the Poynter Institute reports that the Sun-Times will start giving their reporters mandatory training in iPhone photography. Because that’s the same thing, right?

We know print journalism is under siege – it has been for years. And, contrary to popular opinion, this is not so much because of “the internet” as the fact that there’s a smaller number of companies that own more and more news outlets. And the practice of these companies is to prioritize their bottom line over – oh, I don’t know – being a watchdog for democracy. But still, every time you hear about another paper laying off staff, or shutting down altogether, it hurts. News today that the Chicago Sun-Times has laid off its entire photo-staff feels like a sucker punch. This is terrible news, not just for journalism, but because it debases the craft of photography itself. Is it just me, or does it seem like we’re getting to a point where no one knows anything about anything. Maybe that’s the idea.

Homicide May Be Linked To Rob Ford Video… Or Not (Probably Not) (Actually, There Is No Homicide) (Updated)

The Globe and Mail just posted a word salad that seems to suggest that a staffer in Rob Ford’s office was interviewed by police about something to do with a tip about a murder of someone that may or may not have been somehow connected to a video of Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. And that tip may have involved another Rob Ford staffer. Or not.

As for what that tip might have consisted of was lost in a jumble of pronouns and run-on sentences.

All we can say for certain at this point is that the words “police,” “investigation” and “homicide” are now linked to the Rob Ford crack video controversy. We also know that Mayor Rob Ford has declared on his weekly radio show that no video exists.

On a completely unrelated note, here is a Mitchell and Web sketch that I really, really like but it has absolutely NOTHING to do with this or any Rob Ford related news.

UPDATE: According to much clearer writing in the Toronto Star, the Rob Ford staffer was interviewed by homicide detectives but not about a homicide. And, apparently, there was a shooting in an apartment next to where the Star reporters watched the Rob Ford crack smoking video but the shooting victim was not killed and the interview with a Ford staffer happened before this shooting incident.

To sum up, there is at present no reason to think that any actual homicide is linked to the Rob Ford video scandal. And as for this Mitchell and Webb video, it has, as I already said, absolutely nothing to do with that Rob Ford video scandal nor the fact that Rob Ford denies the existence of any video.

To The Conservative Malcontents On Twitter Who Are Still Mad At Me For Criticizing The Late Ralph Klein

Read this piece by Glenn Greenwald on talking about dead politicians.

But the key point is this: those who admire the deceased public figure (and their politics) aren’t silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting the emotions generated by the person’s death to create hagiography. Typifying these highly dubious claims about Thatcher was this (appropriately diplomatic) statement from President Obama: “The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend.” Those gushing depictions can be quite consequential, as it was for the week-long tidal wave of unbroken reverence that was heaped on Ronald Reagan upon his death, an episode that to this day shapes how Americans view him and the political ideas he symbolized. Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter that hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death. When a political leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise be permitted but not criticisms.

Whatever else may be true of her, Thatcher engaged in incredibly consequential acts that affected millions of people around the world. She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War but also using her influence to publicly advocate for the 2003 attack on Iraq. She denounced Nelson Mandela and his ANC as “terrorists”, something even David Cameron ultimately admitted was wrong. She was a steadfast friend to brutal tyrants such as Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein andIndonesian dictator General Suharto (“One of our very best and most valuable friends”). And as my Guardian colleague Seumas Milne detailed last year, “across Britain Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted – and for her political legacy of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown.”

To demand that all of that be ignored in the face of one-sided requiems to her nobility and greatness is a bit bullying and tyrannical, not to mention warped.

You can read (and comment on) my short and, his legacy considered, fairly gentle piece on Ralph Klein here.

This Week In Dead People – Update

Might as well do it right. UPDATE: Roger Ebert, Margaret ThatcherRaveen, ReveenAnnette Funicello: all dead.  And Johnny Esaw and Les Blank, who were not part of the wallpaper of my childhood, which seems to be peeling away with each death.

Play em off, Arcade Fire!*

*Also not part of my childhood, though it feel like it is.