Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Memory Almost Full

I also owe y'all a review of Macca's latest album, don't I?

The short version is that Memory Almost Full, went set alongside his body of studio recordings over the past ten years, shows conclusively that age, maturity - and, yes, tragedy - have sharpened, not dulled, his creative prowess. Make no mistake, this one's special.

Forget the commercialism of the Starbucks deal. Like Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Flaming Pie, Run Devil Run and (to a lesser extent) Driving Rain, this album stands on its own merit.

Ironically, the only track I'm not particularly fond of is the one chosen as the North American single - "Ever Present Past." Not that it's weak, but it's not as representative of the mood of the album as the other tracks.

The opening track - "Dance Tonight" - has taken hits from some critics for being too cute. Y'know what? It is cute. Swallow it. Apparently written whilst entertaining his young daughter with the mandolin, it is cute, but it's also fun - happily, and urgently, fun.

Urgency. Paul's best work has always been characterized by a rare sort of emotional urgency: ballads like "Hey Jude," "Let It Be" and "Maybe I'm Amazed;" rockers like "I'm Down," "Helter Skelter," "Hi Hi Hi" and "Band on the Run," even folksy little ditties like "Blackbird," "Put It There" and "Calico Skies" - they are written, and sung, with an edge. You can tell when Paul McCartney is on and when he's mailing it in - think of the contrast, on his smash 1982 record Tug of War, between the heartbreaking ode to John Lennon "Here Today" on the one hand, and the successful (but entirely forgettable) "Ebony and Ivory."

On Memory Almost Full, that emotional urgency is evident in every track Perhaps on a certain level, the urgency within him is greater than ever: now 65, Paul McCartney is no spring chicken, and the voice has deepened and roughened a bit since 1997. The vocal performances are excellent - not lazy, not strained - but they convey an almost unsettling vulnerability: songs like "Gratitude" and "House of Wax" in particular sent shivers down my spine.

Other highlights: "Mr. Bellamy," whose protagonist joins the pantheon of funky Macca characters created over the years (Eleanor Rigby, Uncle Albert & Admiral Halsey, Rocky Raccoon, Jenny Wren, the nameless girl from "She's Given Up Talking," the Famous Groupies & the Lead Guitarist Who Lived in Epping Forest - to name a few); "Only Mama Knows," an amazing rock melody; "Nod Your Head," which more than one critic has compared favorably to "Why Don't We Do It In the Road"; and the closing medley, particularly "The End of the End," which will be remembered as possibly the most powerful lyric he's ever written. For those who are inclined to splurge on the Special Edition CD or the extras package on ITunes, "Why So Blue" is the best of the bonus tracks by far.

Honestly, it's impossible for me to write this as anything other than a fan. So you can take what I have to say with a grain of salt if you wish. But a quick scan of the reviews available online shows I'm not alone in saying this one is special. Here are a couple of examples. A quick hop oer to wikipedia shows that the buying public is paying attention: in the states, Memory Almost Full is finishing its fifth straight week in the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Not bad.

As I write this, "House of Wax" is playing on the ITunes player. And it still gives me shivers. Yeah, this one's special.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

On the subject of intelligent political discourse

Is there a reason for Antonia Maioni?

Because honestly, I can't think of one. From her vapid postings on Maclean's 50 (sample quote from her comment on the Quebec election: "History was made as Quebecers elected a minority government and was made again as the third-party ADQ formed the official opposition. But the real story of the election is what happened in terms of the vote.") to her inimitable penchant for stating the boneheadedly obvious during her myriad television appearances as Quebec-based-political-scientist-at-large, rarely has a political observer/commentator taken so much opportunity to contribute to the public discourse and delivered so little.

Case in point: how the hell can a Canadian political scientist manage to produce a treatise on the legacy of Tony Blair and fail to acknowledge, even in passing, the impact of Blair's establishment of devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? Are there no lessons to be drawn from this legacy for Canada - say, regarding the perils of dicking around with the distribution of legislative and spending powers for electoral gain?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Getting ready to watch the draft...

...and getting worried about increased competitiveness in the Eastern Conference. Both the Leafs and the Panthers have shored up their goaltending depth charts dramatically within the past six hours. The pressure has to be mounting on Bob Gainey to improve his roster quickly. Don't forget, if either Florida or Toronto had had consistent goaltending last year, both would have likely made the playoffs.

Eklund has been talking up Patrick Marleau-to-the-HAbs rumours for a couple of weeks now. Wouldn't it be nice....

He almost had me...

...but then Colby Cosh had to screw it all up by transforming this appalling case of intellectual censorship and "War on Drugs" hysteria into a rant on public schools. This case has absoluetly bugger-all to due with the merits of public schools and everything to do with Kieran King's critical thinking being targeted for extinguishment by a thread of repressive, socially conservative culture present in far too many communities.

I should point out that, in my public and Catholic high school, we talked about drugs. We talked about the relative danger of pot vs. tobacco, booze, etc. We also talked about sex - hell, a couple of kids put on a how-to-apply-a-condom demo (they used a cucumber, as I recall). Did I mention that it was a Catholic high school?

And you know what? Teachers didn't throw fits or call the principal or have kids suspended. They led these discussions. They encouraged them.

So don't you dare make this about public schools, Colby. Make this about (to paraphrase Al Franken) idiocies and the idiotic idiots who commit them.

Updated faves... include Lori of Fresh Fish Daily as well as the redoubtable knitting blog, Anny Purls.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

by the way...

...I should also note that I've edited yesterday's post in a couple of areas, for clarity.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The meek shall inherit, my ass

This was certainly an interesting way to start my day.

The thing is, I had an opportunity to go to Loyola when I was young. Or, to be more precise, my folks were considering applying on my behalf.

But, family legend has it, they were distinctly nonplussed by the application documents, which sought a great deal of historical minutiae of my father's lineage, and my mother's...maiden name.

More generally, I was loathe to go. I I did spend one miserable month of Grade 8 in what was at the time known as Sir Winston Churchill High School (to this day I wonder, are there so few great Canadians that they had to name the place after a British Prime Minister?) before returning to my natural home of Father McDonald High School, at the time the only remaining English Catholic high school in the Ste-Croix school board.

I am a living witness to the opportunity cost of choosing public school over private, and a poor school over a booming one. When I got to CEGEP and enrolled in the natural sciences stream, I was stunned to discover how much I'd missed out on, particularly in terms of opportunities for enriched math classes. Our dying little school could do little more than prepare us to meet appropriate provincial standards (and they did that very well, I hasten to add), but they simply lacked the resources of the private schools and even some of the larger, well-endowed public schools in the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal. As a result, I was one maybe 3 out of 30+ kids enrolled in the enriched natural sciences stream at Vanier in 1995 without prior instruction in college-level calculus. I didn't die, but I sure as hell didn't end up as an engineer inventing a better lightbulb, either.

But that's the point, actually. I wasn't cut out for high sciences and engineering, but the economic imperatives of the time, the messaging to kids, was always, "go into the sciences, go into engineering, go into computer programming," or what have you.

My public school offered me plenty of opportunities to develop the skills that suited my heart and interests - particularly with regard to writing. I certainly don't feel as if my life was sent permanently astray by the fact I didn't go to Loyola.

So I have no regrets. And I don't resent Mr. Flaherty for his pride; there's certainly something to be said for the story of a little Irish scruff from Lachine growing up to become Minister of Finance.

Instead I'll simply remind him and Mr. Macdonald that, notwithstanding their delusions of grandeur, Loyola grads don't "run the country." Canadian voters - including in particular the 94% of Canadians - have a considerably bigger say.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Quick Shout-out...

To Lori of Fresh Fish Daily, for her kind words elsewhere on this site.

I'm also happy to pass along my best wishes in her ongoing boycott of Starbucks. I wish her well in her hunt for bean alternatives.

Personally I don't do Starbucks. But then again, paying anything more than a buck for a cup of coffee is enough to rile my sense of moral indignation, that is to say, cheapness. Still, fair trade coffee has been an issue of interest to me since university, and Starbucks needs to take care to ensure that what probably sounded to them like a great idea from an image and corporate social responsibility standpoint doesn't undermine the fair trade movement with its methods.

I am happy to report that I did not buy my copy of Memory Almost Full from a Starbucks outlet. I got it off ITunes.

And speaking of Memory Almost Full, a review is forthcoming.

Green auto rebate redux

I hadn't realized, when I blogged here about the eco-auto rebate, just pissed off Honda was.

Apparently they were.

I can understand their point of view. The cut-off is 6.5 L/100 km. The Yaris is rated at 6.4, the Fit at 6.6. And the outcome apparently is that the rebate program seriously skewed sales towards the Yaris. So Honda came out with a rebate plan of its own, and almost immediately saw the Fit sales performance zoom back.

Now supposedly they're tweaking under the hood of both the Fit and the Civic to see if they can come in under the wire - although they stress they won't do anything in terms of reducing the Fit's curb weight that might compromise its 5-star crash rating, which incidentally is better than that of the Yaris, which got a 4-star score.

This is excellent news. And it goes to show that government actually can make a difference, even if the difference is sometimes small.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Fun while it lasted

As I write this post, the Sens have just lost Game 4 to the Ducks. Final score 3-2.

So yeah, the series is pretty much done, but never mind that. Instead, I'd like to call for a moment of silence for the new NHL.

For if there is a single team in the NHL that symbolizes precisely the opposite of what the so-called "new NHL" was supposed to represent, it is the Anaheim Ducks. League leaders in fighting majors. Second only to the non-playoff Florida Panthers in points earned via overtime loss or shootout loss. A whopping nine roster players with double-digit goal totals during the regular season (Ottawa had 12, Detroit 13, and Buffalo had 10 - including three 30+ goal-scorers). A single player - Teemu Selanne - with regular season totals that surpassed the point-a-game plateau.

And yet. Playing a punishing defensive game - call it the "new trap" and making liberal use of their elbow pads and shin guards (it is pure chance that Ray Emery hasn't been decapitated yet), the Ducks are on the cusp of winning the Stanley Cup.

I am loathe to begrudge individual Duck players like Jean-Sébastien Giguère, Rob Niedermeyer and Teemu (Honorary Jet-for-Life) Selanne. They deserve their moment in the sun.

And the Ducks are undeniably winning by playing the game within - albeit on the very edge - of the boundaries of the rules as they are being called.

But that's the problem, isn't it?

Observers have already noted with resigned amusement the lack of scoring during these playoffs. Only three of the top ten playoff scorers have produced at or above a point-per-game clip - and they all play on the Sens' top line. The Ducks have had far more penalties called against them than the Sens, but they have also had far fewer called against them than they could have. Not unlike the 1970's-era Flyers or the Devils and Panthers of the mid-1990s, the Ducks have painted the league into a corner, daring on-ice officials to call a penalty, leading with the elbows, crashing the opposing goaltender with impunity, and then daring the officials to call another one.

And what will we see next year? We'll see 29 teams falling over themselves to sign that 20-goal scorer with size, speed, and sandpaper, and abandoning that noble experiment of smaller, skillful forwards that left the likes of Montreal, Edmonton, Nashville, Minnesota and Detroit on the outside looking in. John Muckler will be pilloried once again for letting Zdeno Chara walk, never mind that Chara proved nothing this season except that he was entirely incapable of leading the Bruins out of the darkness.

I had to laugh as I watched Don Cherry and Brett Hull yacking on the NBC broadcast 2nd intermission show about how fighting is great, the instigator rule sucks, yada yada yada. And y'know what? They're right. Fred Shero coached his goons to 2 Stanley Cups. And Scotty Bowman and the Habs broke their hold on the Cup by...out-gooning them. This has always been the way in the NHL: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em then go out beat 'em at their own game.

But I ask again. Is this really what they had in mind?

I've had enough. I'm watching the Bulldogs. There's a really exciting story being written down in Steeltown. You might want to check it out.

Friday, June 1, 2007

And with that messiness out of the way...

Here be shout-outs to my Facebook buddies from Father Mac, Vanier, Concordia, and beyond! See you on your walls!


Just so's that I might square the circle for those of you who have come here from my facebook site, and to clarify for those readers of this site who've been wondering about the cryptic references to my personal backstory in previous posts....

I am an employee of the federal public service. I have generally chosen to use an alternate presentation of my name when I am blogging and/or posting online. The reason for this is, while I do not tend to engage in partisan debate, and I have not to date written about issues directly related to my area of work, I do like writing about politics and policy issues, and I wish to meticulously separate my work ID from my life as a private citizen. As such, I won't directly criticize government Ministers or officials or organizations affiliated with the Government of Canada, discuss sensitive issues, discuss issues related to my own work, or generally do or say anything that would suggest I am disrespectful of, or incapable of serving, my employer.

You're entitled to wonder, why bother? Anyone who's bothered to read this blog from the beginning will have a pretty clear idea of where I lean on things. My answer to that is, that's not the point. I certainly do not agree with everything the current government does and/or stands for. That is also true of governments in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan...well, you get my point. Bureaucrats are, contrary to popular opinion, a fantastically diverse bunch. What unites us (on good days, at least) is our respect for the institution we serve.

The easier thing to do would be to not blog. Or to quit my job. Since neither appealed to me, I chose instead to find my own balance - by blogging, but not necessrily in a way such that my blogging becomes associated with my work life. I'm told there are other blogging bureaucrats out there, and I'm sure they've all wrestled with these issues before arriving at solutions that suit their needs.

Why D. Andy? Meh. It just happened. Hardly seems worth the effort in retrospect, especially given the Facebook link.

Accordingly, I will absolutely continue to engage in the Canadian political blogosphere, in as respectful and non-partisan a manner as my conscience will allow me to be.