Dementia 13



Here’s the scene:

I was driving through Brockton Village a few weeks ago, on my way to a client’s place.

It was dark, the time had just changed and, at 7 pm, it was pitch black and the neighbourhood looked like it was back in the 70’s, all funky brick and jumbled together.

Perfect for what was about to happen. Crawling along in the snagged up traffic, I was busy scanning through my car radio for something to listen to. (It’s getting harder and harder to find something I can stand.)

Suddenly, on the U of T station, CIUT, I got hit by a song that was instantly recognizable but whose title and artist completely eluded me. Oh, come on, what was it?

It ended and another one started. No back announce. I was going to miss who it was.

Luckily, I just had to drop off a computer and be on my way so I could pick up the show again with only missing about 10 minutes of it. The tunes were all of an era. My formative musical era. Late 60’s and early 70’s.

I just couldn’t believe that someone was playing all this stuff that I thought only a few old die hard aficionados knew about.

It made me feel so good. Not much on radio does.

For maybe the only time driving in downtown Toronto, I wanted it to last a little longer.

Just before 8 pm, I heard the female announcer. She only talks at the beginning and the end of each show.

Her name is Christian Hamilton and she is making my new favourite radio show.

Dementia 13!

Christian H Instagram pic

I listened again on Halloween and was delighted again. I knew exactly 2 of the songs, by Van Der Graaf Generator and Lucifer’s Friend. I’d never heard of The Open Mind, Poe, or The Chocolate Watchband. I’d definitely never heard of an all-girl band, The Shaggs.

The Shaggs lp cover

Enough said. Enough seen.

I felt compelled to make a little comment Christian’s Instagram site saying that TCM was playing the film Dementia 13 and I could finally see where the radio show was taking its name from.

Christian replied that the movie and some others in the same genre (70s horror) had influenced her musical and cultural tastes.

She liked the poster art for Dementia 13 and used a sound collage from this and another film for opening her show when she started it.

That answered the question of where the name came from but…

it opens a door, too, to everything that was going on in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Yorkville Evolution lp cover


I guess one of the things that really affected me the first time I heard this show (and on subsequent listenings) was that other people actually knew about this music. But they do, and they love it.

If you look on the “About” section on Dementia 13’s Facebook page, you’ll see a list of some of Ms. Hamilton’s influences. Right at the top you’ll see The Churls, a Toronto group whose album I bought just because I liked the album cover in Sam’s. I kind of liked the attitude.

And there’s  Reign Ghost, a group we would hitchhike to Oshawa to see. They were like our local Jefferson Airplane.

The Churls lp cover

Back when this music was recorded, nobody I knew listened to this music outside of a couple of friends. Especially in a small town like Whitby.

This kind of “psychedelic/acid rock”  music didn’t come to you easily. You had to go out of your way to find it.

That usually meant listening all you could to CHUM FM. In the late 60s, CHUM FM was what they called an “underground” radio station.

David Pritchard, Rainer Schwartz, Peter Green – all those guys who introduced you to new strange music – God bless them.

And God bless the station manager who let them do it.

For a while there, it was magic.

David Pritchard almost singlehandedly got me into radio.

(Him and Ken Nordine and Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood).

And it, inevitably, meant trips into the City and the searches in Sams and A&S on Yonge St.

Sometimes you’d heard some song in a “head shop” in Yorkville and have to ask about it.

The whole thing was a quest.

I sure bought a lot of records (at Sam’s and A&A) in the 60s and 70s just because of the cover art.

After each broadcast, Christian posts the album covers for the songs on Instagram and boy do they bring back the memories.


Looking back, the album covers were worth it. That was a whole industry decimated by the CD and the mp3 file.

At 13, I just thought the most prominently displayed records had to be the best.

I had no idea of the record industry or the strategy of shelving products. (Good God, we would NEVER have called music “product” – I still wince when I hear that).

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the lp album cover to a teenage record collector in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

They were like our tattoos. Our flying colours.

Dead anthem of the sun

Walking around our little town with a stack of albums under your arm, we felt were sending out coded messages for all who had the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Depending on who you might meet on your walk or where in town you were walking, you adjusted the outermost album.

It wouldn’t do to have Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica for all to see, if it was a girl you wanted to impress.

For that, Rubber Soul. Tommy James? Leonard Cohen?

For your informed, but somewhat conventional rock friends, a Led Zepplin was fine – but not Alice Cooper or Velvet Underground.

When you walked into your friend’s house, you’d better slide the Ten Year’s After or Grateful Dead or Mothers of Invention back on top.

 Spirit lp cover


This is how radio works when it works well.

All those thoughts and memories get tapped.

Song by song triggering the history, the music calls the imagery.

We provide our own imagery.

An entire inner dialogue begins, sparking from the music and feeding back into the music. (no, I’m not high!)

There is no conflict between paying attention to the music and all these memories attending it.

I managed to drive home that first night, right?

Practically, it’s a way to work things out.

A waking dream you’re a lot more in control of .

Very little radio can do this anymore for me.

Dementia 13 can.

 julie driscall trinity cover


I really ought to be writing this at night from the warm glow of the Embassy in Kensington Market.

That’s the right ambience and the right environs for Christian Hamilton where and when she hosts her DJ parties.

I still like to drive through older parts of the city and listen to this show in the car, through dark, less known and still interesting parts of the city.

They remind me of when I first started coming to the city and when I moved here for school. And they are little places of refuge, the only place I feel really at home now that the developers and OMB have turned my town into a high class Borg collective. Phooey.

Were in it for the money lp cover

But back to Dementia 13:

This is radio and should be listened to like radio.

Radio doesn’t mean telephone lines and fibre optic cable.

It’s free range through the cool night air. Going out everywhere for everyone.

If you still have a radio, if you still have real speakers and not something you screw into your ear as you stumble up the sidewalk, turn it on and turn it up on Tuesdays nights at 7.

Tune it to 89.5.

Everything about Dementia 13 is analogue.

The album covers, from when there were people making a living (and fame) designing them.

When they were big enough to see, when they existed at all as inseparable from the record.

And the music was recorded analogue – the sound, even in a studio went through air, from the instruments or amplifiers to microphones.

It’s the way it was made and the way it was heard.

It’s the way you should listen to it.

Scratches, rumble, wow and flutter, and all.

Christian H Instagram pic  Way to go, Christian!

Dementia 13 airs on CIUT – U of T’s student radio station  on Tuesday nights or can be downloaded.


Death of an Online Game – Asheron’s Call

Suddenly,  none of us had bodies.
Only weapons waving in the air.
High on a rock, swords and wands floated.
Suddenly, we couldn’t talk to each other.
It had happened in a twinkling.
There had been dozens of us on that rock, massing for one last goodbye.

With Bodies


No Bodies

Discorporation! Beamed into the Void of Bits.
And then:

Asheron Server Disconnect

Asheron’s Call.

Asherons Original DVD

Asheron’s Call came out in 1999, joining Everquest as one of the first MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) games. You had to buy the DVD and then pay a monthly subscription.
You had to be online to play it.

I remember being curious about these new games and how you could play along with strangers from virtually anywhere in the world.
I was already used to BBS’s (Bulletin Board Systems), the forerunner to Usenet newsgoups and, now, all the varieties of social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Google+. In fact, I mostly used a BBS to solve problems with games.

Games up till then came on floppy disks or CDs, then DVDs. You played them alone at your own pace.
The Asheron’s Call DVD installed a “client” on your computer – the main part of the game was run on a remote server and you had to log-in to get going.

AC log in
In the beginning, you were guided through the rudiments of the game then you could play alone or team up with other players.
I was a little nervous at first about “interacting” with other characters. Mostly because I didn’t want to commit time and, to be honest, I was afraid of being humiliated if I couldn’t play as well as the other guys.
You soon figured out who you wanted to be with.

The game itself is all about exploring and doing “quests” – adventures usually involving fighting. You gained “XP” or experience points to advance your character’s skills and abilities. You gathered up “loot” from the bodies of defeated creatures for money or to equip yourself with better weapons and armour.

By today’s standards, the graphics weren’t the best. In 1999, they were great. But so what? The game was so deep and the way the world was designed is unparalleled. You had total freedom to go anywhere and things happened fast.

What did this game mean to us?

Where to begin?

There were those who’ve played this game since Microsoft brought it out in 1999 right up to the end.
Some played every day for hours. Some, like me, logged on for half an hour, an hour, a couple of times a week.

Some went at it like work, building characters and allegiances with huge inventories of items.
All kinds of helper programs (add-ons) were created. Accounts were sold.
You could play the game for the economy built into it.
Or just whack monsters with a sword (like me).

whack sword 2

whack sword

People met, got together in real life, got married, had kids. Sometimes the kids would get old enough to play.

At least one marriage that came of it.
There have been memorials to players who have died (in real life).

I guess the thing about it was that when you logged on, you were with friends. There was almost a warm feeling as the game loaded up and you checked out who was online and you saw familiar names talking away to each other.
People helped each other out in the game and actually asked you how things were going in real life.

These were “friends” well before Facebook. The players were mostly from the U.S. but also Canada, the U.K., Europe – even Asia and South America.

And they had great names like:
Evil Buckwheat
The Ether Bunny
Puerile Pineapple Man
Harlune the Misanthrope
Silence the Kat

That’s just a few of the thousands.

How to put all the experiences of 17 years in one blog post? I can’t.

If you want a taste of all the recollections, look at this:
 The Asheron’s Call Harvestgain Facebook page.

Or look at this tribute video: Highly Recommended!

 Last Minutes of AC

The word had gone out a couple of months ago that this was going to happen.
That after 17 years of familiar faces and names, friends made, enemies squelched, it was all going to be over.
And that time was here.
Even with the warning, it was a little unbelievable. Until twelve noon yesterday.

I guess it started to sink in when I didn’t see the bodies anymore.

Today’s Listening:

1. Wish Upon a Storm by Jom Comyn fr: In the Dark on 99
2. How Do You Say Auf Wiedersehn? by Blossom Dearie fr: I’m Hip
3. Days When We are Free by MashMakhan fr: Mashmakhan
4. I Will Say Goodbye by Bill Evans fr: I Will Say Goodbye

Media Outlaws and the New Confederate Flag

I’ve been reading Wayne Johnston’s book The Navigator of New York.

Navigator of New York

There’s  a passage about the explorer Robert Peary’s wife, Jo, who, even in the 13 months or so of being marooned in the Arctic, had kept herself and her husband distant from the rest of the crew by means of a thin curtain to separate them from their “social inferiors”.

No matter where you are on this planet, some people think they’re better than the rest. The rest, resent this.

Think of the  “down trodden” and “forgotten” voters for Trump. This is the almost  mythical group who say they’ve been left behind.

But now, they’re in power. Who’s the forgotten now?

If Trump and his Eminence grise, Steven Bannon,


have their way, it will be establishment media. TV networks and newspapers.

They have branded “the media” as the Opposition Party.

That’s a somewhat amazing statement given that “oppositional media” or “alternative media” (think “alt-right”) exactly sums up Bannon’s Breitbart News Network.

They’ve made the media the enemy and have the full support of their voter base. The left-behinders.

All this is frightening. As American emotion ramps up between those who think Trump is the devil and those who think he’s their saviour, it has the makings of a new kind of civil war.

Who will carry the new “Confederate” flag this time? The Democrats? The Media?

 Chris Rock's Malcom X flag for south carolina

Maybe Chris Rock’s suggestion above?

I do not come at this with a political agenda or with any particular psychological insights into American society. I come at this as both a media producer and I.T. professional.
I do know something about fiction and how to produce it for the media.

I know that 9/11 and Donald Trump’s election, would not be believed as fiction. Maybe you could pitch them as ideas for a B grade Sci-Fi movie.

It’s a time when everything you see on television makes no impact because it just seems so tame and immaterial compared to what’s going on in real life.

Trump is from reality TV, which is fake life. Scripted fake life.

Both Trump and his megaphone (Twitter) are the latest examples of popular American media and technology.

Trump tweet

He is using new media to kill old media.  Using Twitter against the major TV networks, he can “leap frog” directly to their voter base and the American public at large.

We know what the bullets look like. They look like 140 character index cards with recipes for insanity printed on them.
Without Twitter, he may not have won the election.

h l mencken

A few days ago, Charlie Rose had Bill Gates and Warren Buffett on his show. These guys could buy and sell Donald Trump.
They didn’t mention Trump once. The big boys were sitting at the grown up table and Donald was off to the side at his folding card table for Christmas dinner.
It occurred to me that this is the way to get Trump.

He’s a reality TV producer. That’s the way he’s going to run the USA.
As the old Zen saying goes: “The way he does one thing is the way he does everything”.

Trump craves an audience. Just don’t give him one.


Today’s Listening:

1. The Stable Song by Gregory Alan Isakov fr: That Sea, The Gambler
2. You Don’t Know Me by Nora Jones with Wynton Marsalis fr: “Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis play the music of Ray Charles, with special guest Norah Jones”.
3. Low Steppin’ by Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour fr: Larry and Lee

Bell Media’s “Let’s Talk” – The Irony of It All


Bell Lets Talk logo

Bell Media has this annual thing where they want to get people talking about mental health issues and donate 5 cents for every text with a #BellLetsTalk hashtag in it.

Having some personal acquaintance with this subject, I’m all for de-stigmatizing mental/emotional conversations.
Having some professional experience with media, I can’t help but look at this event as, well …. an event.
Maybe great public relations for Bell, maybe it’s atonement. But fine,  if it gets people talking, go for it.

I’d leave it alone except for what I heard on my car radio. There was a guest mental health professional on a talk show and what he said made me think.

He was saying that a lot of his patients are young people getting anxiety problems with these “hook up” apps on their phones.

Let's Talk hipsters

This is a picture on  The Loop website, owned by Bell Media.
It’s on a page that lists: 10 Canadian dating apps that let you kiss Tinder goodbye .

So …………. Bell is providing services and distributing apps that can give rise to all these problems?
To be fair, every cell phone service provider offers the same stuff.

As Marshall McLuhan said, it’s the effects of media that matters.
And what is happening is that people are connecting to strangers fast and loose.
They blur the lines between the anonymity of the app conversations and something in real life.
If people actually do hook up from using these apps, that’s when everything gets confused. They often cannot discern how involved they are. They don’t know if it’s real.
And of course, they start to care.

I can’t even imagine meeting someone like this. I’d think it was a crank call or a telemarketer.

How different it was for me, say around the age of 19 or 20, when you had to meet people face to face. You only used the phone (if you had one) after you’d met someone in person. After you’d got a physical impression.
The closest thing I can think of was the unwise practice of dating someone in your residence.

If you broke up, it was a real person you had to face or talk to.
Break up and you still had to walk down the hall every day past their door. Ouch ouch ouch.

Dorm Rooms 1890s

My old residence.

Hallways served as “air gaps” between estranged students in those days, I guess.

But if you break up now, have you really broken up? Your relationship was a bunch of text bubbles.

dumped by text

It seems much harder to make a clean line between being with someone or not. And it seems much, much, harder to let go.


I have to keep on saying that I’m not connected to a phone the way younger people are. I’m not presuming that most people can’t handle these kinds of relationships.

But I do worry about the effects of these apps.
Will there be one for therapy?

Today’s Listening:

1. Middle Class White Boy by Mose Allison fr: Live in London 2000
2. Clear Spot by Captain Beefheart fr: Clear Spot
3. I Wish I Was The Moon by Neko Case fr: Blacklisted
4. Ys by Alan Stivell fr: Renaissance of the Celtic Harp

Urfa, By Any Other Name


No, it’s not a love story – though the fragrance of Urfa could easily conjure memories.

Urfa isot bulk

It’s a pepper I’d never heard of until I came across it  on a TV cooking show called Simply Ming and was intrigued by the way the 2 men oohed and ahhed over it.
It was supposed to be kind of like a Turkish chipotle pepper, smoky and raisin flavoured. And it went into a dish called Charred Broccoli and Butternut Squash Hummus . Whew. The pepper went into the broccoli part, not the hummus. And a lot went into it. 

urfa with broccoli

Anyway, I can’t resist a new pepper, especially one that’s more on flavour than heat. My Evel Knievel dare-devil inferno swallowing days are over.

For fun, I looked up where I might get the stuff. A Turkish grocery store just happened to be close by – with parking.
The place is the Istanbul Marche, off Dufferin just south of Yorkdale. I’ve been by it so many times it’s embarrassing. But there it was and in I went.

Marche Istanbul

These days I give up trying to look the sophisticate and just ask the man behind the feta cheese counter: “Do you have Urfa?” Naturally, he’d never heard the word before.

Maybe he was thinking of the Urfa that was a girl’s name and meant “Flower of Heaven”?


But he kindly walked me through the store and showed me where they had all the bulk spices and goodies.
I saw something that looked like it could be Urfa but it was called Isot Pepper. I looked it up on my phone and, yes, Isot and Urfa are the same thing. It’s also called Aleppo pepper – as it mostly comes from the area of Turkey near Syria.
I scooped a pile into a bag.

urfa in spoon

And the cooks were right. It had this unmistakable heady smell of smoke and raisins.
On the way back to the cash, I avoided all the olives, halvah, feta, unknown bakery items and ran right into an entire showcase dedicated to packaged Urfa. About 4 feet tall, there were dozens of pre-packaged bags of it. So it wasn’t some specialty item restricted to the bulk rack. Obviously the customers here buy a lot of it.

urfa isot in bags isot in bag isot biber bag isot burma rice bag

Well, all that satisfied the explorer in me. Now it was time to use the stuff.

Traditionally, in Turkish cuisine, Urfa is used in a lot of vegetable dishes like eggplant with yogurt .

I’d already defrosted chicken drumsticks for dinner so that was what I was going to experiment with.

I have a great chicken recipe from my friend, Sindiswa, which originates in South Africa. It calls for cooking down a lot of onion and fresh tomatoes and adding curry spices – with extra cardamom and ginger. That’s all simmered until  it’s a thick sauce. Add the chicken and braise away for a couple of hours. Works every time.

Chicken a la Sindiswa_0001_resize

Flying completely by the seat of my pants, I added a couple of tablespoons worth of the Urfa. I was a little disconcerted by all the black specks in the sauce but I guess that’s what makes it authentic.

The result was wonderful. Not as hot as chipotles would have been, the Urfa adds some of the smokiness and the “raisin” flavour that it’s known for. The heat is the kind I call a “slow fuse” heat. A bit like the Italian  Bomba sauce, it doesn’t set your mouth on fire like a Habanero pepper or blow your scalp off like wasabi. It has an initial warmth when you take that first taste, but keeps getting warmer in your stomach. But very pleasantly.

Our guests that night wanted the recipe. I’d actually made the dish before for them, but this time they wanted the recipe. It wasn’t about the heat, it was about the flavour.

Next stop, Urfa with eggplant and yogurt.


Todays listening:

1. Eggplant by Michael Franks fr: The Art of Tea

2. Istanbul by They Might Be Giants fr: Flood

3. Before the Dawn by Patrice Rushen fr: Before the Dawn

So, I Want to Take Out a Conjunction on Someone


I’ve been putting this off for almost year.

I thought it would go away and I could let it go. It wouldn’t and I couldn’t.

I have a visceral response every time I get in the car and hear it. Or turn on the TV and hear an interview.

It’s someone starting their answer to a question with the word “So”.

  So interview caption words2So interview caption words1So interview caption words3

I hear it mostly on the radio in an interview (in the car). Sometimes I see it on TV if it’s a panel or forum or interview show.

The interviewer asks a question (any question) like: “How can we stop global warming?”

The guest says “So… the research shows that … blah blah blah science jargon..”

The interviewer follows up with: “and what was the first clue you were on to something?”

Guest: “So… in the timeline of incoming information and analysis, we can say that ….…”

And SO on.

My reaction goes like this:

I feel immediately like I’m being talked down to. Like the whole tone changed, it’s gotten formal. All because of one word.

I’m thinking of what’s going through the interviewer’s mind and that goes something like: “I’m sitting here talking to a pre-recorded message while they’re selling off the CBC Broadcast Centre which is alright by me because this building was the beginning of the end for public broadcasting and it’s run by accountants and lawyers and managers who got hired just because they can talk it up in meetings and, really, who cares about what this dweeb is saying anyways. They probably just want to be a media celebrity like Malcolm Gladwell and have also forgotten my name if they ever heard it in the first place.”

Why, oh, why does this affect me like this? After all, I’ve got used to “like” and “you know” and “uptalk” – though “iconic” still rankles. (is there anything not iconic nowadays?)

Beginning a answer with “so” is not to be confused with using the word properly. As in direct reference to something you just said in order to continue a thought. Or even starting a question with “so”. When they still taught grammar, phonics, and cursive writing to kids, the word “so” was introduced as a conjunction. A conjunction is a connector word. It is not a word meant to start a sentence, whether it be a plain statement or , worse, an answer to a question.

That’s the grammar crime. I know, I know, language gets bent and mutates all the time but when someone starts an answer with “so” I feel something bad.    

The very first reaction, if I could freeze the first millisecond after I hear it, would be disgust or revulsion. As if I’d just seen somebody with suspicious stains on their pants. Something distasteful but something the person is not aware of. At least not aware of the effect they’re having on people.

My next reaction is some kind of pity.

As it goes on, I get irritated and angry.

It’s the same feeling I get when someone looks over my head when they talk to me or, worse,  when they seem not to have listened to what I’m saying and carry on the next line in a conversation with a completely different subject.

Maybe it’s the repetition of the word that gets me. In any given interview, once a person starts this way of answering, you can bet they’ll keep on doing it for every question. Repetition drives me crazy.


The Ascendancy of “so”

In his 1999 book The New New Thing, Michael Lewis writes: ”When a computer programmer answers a question, he often begins with the word ‘so.”’ Anand Giridharadas , in the New York Times, also says “Microsoft employees have long argued that the ‘so’ boom began with them.”
They get a badge for it.

It has spread to academia, self-help authors, scientists, professionals of all kinds, and now to the great unwashed who want to get on the bandwagon of moronic speech.

‘The word is a marker of cause and result,’ says Dr Penelope Gardner-Chloros of the department of applied linguistics and communication at Birkbeck College. ‘Someone who starts an answer with “so” is marking that what he’s saying is coherent with what came before — the question. He’s saying what he wants to say, like a politician — but trying to make it sound like it’s an answer to the question.’

Mark Mason in the Spectator continues the thought:

“If this is the case, then So-sayers are planting the seeds of their own linguistic destruction. As the technique grows in popularity, we will come to recognise it more easily. It will take on the status of Harrison Ford’s tests in Blade Runner, used to tell androids from humans. Hear someone start an answer with ‘so’, and you’ll know you’re about to be spoonfed some pre-cooked PR-speak. A more sophisticated version of the old joke about knowing a politician is lying because his lips are moving.”

Those who defend this crime say it’s meant to draw people in, to include them, to show that they’ve heard them.

Galina Bolden, a linguistics scholar who has written academic papers on the use of “so,” believes that to begin a sentence with “oh,” is to focus on what you have just remembered and your own concerns. To begin with “so,” she said, drawing on her study of a database of recorded ordinary conversations, is to signal that one’s coming words are chosen for relevance to the listener.

The ascendancy of “so,” Dr. Bolden said, “suggests that we are concerned with displaying interest for others and downplaying our interest in our own affairs,” she said.

I say it’s just the opposite. To me, it’s as if I’m hearing the beginning of a recorded message, as if a robot is talking, as if I’m hearing a computer say “working” before it accesses a file.



Speaking of recorded messages, here’s one from John Rentoul of the Independent on Sunday, author of The Banned List: A Manifesto Against Jargon and Cliche. He explains why he is not so impressed on BBC Radio’s Today show.

Click on this link to hear it:


The Algorithmic Age?

So digital-life-smaller

Like the Bronze Age or Steam Age, this term has entered the lexicon to describe how our world has changed thanks to computer programming. It’s all about smartphones and Facebook and iPads affecting our everyday lives.

Mostly, I don’t care what other people do with their toys. After all, they’re off in their own world. But my rant here about the abuse of a poor little conjunction is symptomatic of the effect of all things digital on everyday language. And it’s because of those darned algorithms.

Christopher Steiner in Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World:

“”Algorithms have pretty much pervaded everywhere these days. Use the web, you’re using algorithms. Engage with the financial world, you’re engaging with a world driven by algorithms. Look at any image on any screen, use your mobile, satnav and any other piece of technology and you’re in the world of algorithms. From markets to medicine, the 21st century is being shaped by the power of algorithms to do things faster, cheaper and better than we humans, and their reach is getting bigger every day.”

So… once again, has the medium become the message?

If our world is mediated through computer code and the devices it governs, will it also determine how we use words and ultimately how we think?

The bottom line is that computer code and the devices it works on is more important than human communication. The cart is driving the horse. I feel like the old coot who cares about the correct use of language. But it seems silly to be a brainiac in science or technology or any area of academe and have to filter all that knowledge and all those ideas through “leet” speak or the latest mobile phone vocabulary.

Why not cultivate as rich a way to express yourself as what you have to express?


Today’s Listening: (it’s been a while)

1. This Sporting Life by Godley and Creme fr: “L”
2. Call Any Vegetable by The Mothers of Invention fr: “Absolutely Free”
3. I’m an Old Cowhand by Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks fr: “Striking it Rich”
4. Spring to Come by John Butler Trio fr: “Flesh and Blood”
5. La Luna by Lucy Schwartz fr: “Life in Letters”

A Little Cat We Called Nimbus

Nimbus May 10 14_0006_resize

She came just after last winter’s ice storm. And she stayed.

We never knew where she came from and, at first, she was just another of the several feral cats we feed.

Soon, we had to give her a name like we do with all of them and we called her Nimbus because she was looked like a little black  cloud. That was not her nature, though. She was an endearing little cat who loved affection but also her independence.

Nimbus at door 40_resize

Every morning she’d be waiting at the back to door to greet me or would coming running up to me from somewhere in our back yard. All day long, she’d be on the deck in one of her favourite spots. When we went out, she’d always make herself present for rubs and food.

  CAM00521_resizeCAM00502_resize  Nimbus basket_00002_resize Nimbus Swing_0042 (1)_resize
  And she was likely the last thing I’d see when locking up the house for the night. She was a fixture.
She was becoming our cat now.

As the cold weather approached, we worried about how Nimbus would fare in the snow and below-freezing temperatures. We got her a house from the Toronto Street Cats Project and put it out for her in November.

 Nimbus in house nov 29 2014_resize

It turned out that she loved her house. Just after Christmas she started to spend more and more time in there. For the last few days, she hardly came out. When she did, she’d sometimes fall over. Enough. We took her to the vet’s last Friday and there didn’t seem to be any clear diagnosis. She got some shots for the more obvious symptoms and we’d keep an eye on her. Brought her home and she went right into her shelter.
Yesterday morning she came out one last time. I picked her up and she was gone in under a minute. At least she wasn’t alone.

We’re a little more alone now.
It seems we keep setting ourselves up for this kind of heartbreak, and, knowing this, keep on getting attached to these creatures.
Why do we do it?  To us, they’re just irresistible I guess.
That doesn’t make the heartbreak any less painful.

I hope we did what we could for Nimbus. There’s no end of missing her.


Nimbus close_resize

Today’s Listening:

1. I Do It For Your Love – Bills Evans and Toots Thielemans fr: “Affinity”

2. I Will – by Tony Furtado and Alison Krauss fr: “Bluegrass Goes to Town”

Rocks from the Moon – 20 Years’ Worth



This is one of those “gotta use words” moments.

Today marks a 20 year anniversary of not drinking. It’s a big milestone for  me (and I don’t know if I’ll get another quite so significant).

I’ve not been the best member of the group that helped me so much initially (A.A.) , but they’ve never left my consciousness. Every day, there is a chance to use what I heard and learned there.
I was fastidious about going to meetings the first five years. 3 a week, a weekly meeting with my sponsor every Saturday morning for breakfast.
Aside from taking a daily job out of town which all but prohibited attendance (excuses, excuses), I found myself drawn to another path, another life line. That was Tibetan Buddhism.

 Dzogchen tantra
I was surprised to find out how much A.A. and the basic, beginning, practices of Buddhism had in common.
There was a common surrendering or “taking refuge” decision that had to be made. And maintained.
When I asked my teacher at the Buddhist temple about what to do about a “higher power” (a necessity in A.A. which often takes the form of your version of God, Supreme Being, or just something bigger than yourself), he said “pray to your intuition”.
You have to keep in mind that teachings and guidance from a Buddhist teacher are very specific to the student and for someone else might have been quite different (maybe more concrete!?)

Over the last two decades, many aspects of my life rose and fell, went to hell and came back. I managed to stay off the drink, but found that was no guarantee everything was going to be smooth sailing.

I’m reminded of a documentary I saw about Ron Sexsmith  (“Love Shines”) in which Steve Earle says (snipped a bit):

“I think melancholy and despair are both components of the blues. You know, at the opposite, dark, deep end of the blues is despair. And, you know, you can’t stay there. Its just, we’re not constructed to stay there. Melancholy can be befriended and be tamed and can be harnessed. For artists, the advantage that we have is that beauty comes out of our melancholy and even our despair. But you have to be able to bring the rocks back from the moon… or nobody knows that you were there.”

The Loneliest Place on Earth

I think that if there was anything big to learn from 20 years of sobriety, it would be a sense of obligation to report honestly on the dark places you can get into – and then let others in the same boat know that there is a coming back. For those lucky enough to never have gone there, one can make an attempt to describe and explain what it’s like. In my experience, this is never completely achievable.

At this point, there’s not much in this world that really gets me going. This world has its laws and rules and mechanisms for “success.” There are only so many combinations of sinking balls on a pool table.

Success can be measured, reasoned out, and measured again. Your life’s report card may be money, status, power, love life, artistic acclaim. To me, they all seem like a distraction or a way to get high.
Which doesn’t mean to imply I that I don’t need a bit of those things to get by. Render unto Caesar and all that.
It’s just that I don’t put a lot of value on them. They’re impermanent and there is no solid ground, really.

I’ve got 20 years worth of moon rocks. Not all are fit for public consumption. It’s been a roller coaster ride. Neither the ups or the downs are to be taken too seriously.

So, I’ve been asked “how do I feel, 20 years on?” The answer: better.
Mostly, so very grateful to those who have always been around to support me. Thank you.


It’s the only game you win by giving up.

Today’s Listening:

1. On the Cool Side by Ben Sidran fr: “On the Cool Side”
2. Cotton by The Mountain Goats fr: “We Shall All Be Healed”
3. Wind by Circus Maximus fr: “Circus Maximus”
4. Ghost Town / Poem for Eva by Bill Frisell fr: “Ghost Town”

FIFA Flags – Watch THIS, Spot.


I had a chance to see the Argentina/Netherlands Word Cup football/soccer game last Wednesday. It was the first one I’d ever seen.

And what a great way for a non-sports fan like me to watch it. I was visiting a friend in the country, far away from the choked streets teeming with FIFA Galactic Cruisers and their horns and flags. Nightmare stuff for me.

 Fifa car traffic st clair

There were large glass doors beside the television where I could look out and take in a bucolic view of trees and fields and chickens and hummingbirds. Lovely evening.

The game itself didn’t hook me but I found it kind of useful.

It let me slip into some day-dreaming about the FIFA fans and their unabashed promotion of their favourite teams. All those whipping flags on all those little cars a-wavin’ in their exhaust. The horns honking as if their Honda Civics all had Tourrette’s Syndrome.

 Fifa car flag st clair

Let me tell you, I have no interest in football/soccer.
I do have an interest in other people being interested.

Fifa streetcar 

And here is the crux of the business: I was experiencing what Kenneth Burke called “Perspective by Incongruity”.

In brief: You put together two things that don’t normally belong together and you get an enriched perspective of the two elements

The Mona Lisa framed in potato peelings. Foreground and background.

So while the TV was blasting out the game, my attention was drifting out the window, just openly aware of nature on a summer afternoon. (Sky Meditation is possible during a televised football game, after all.)

I thought that, as much as I cannot tolerate sports, I have a love of books. When an author like Dennis Lehane writes a book such as “The Given Day“, I don’t even mind if a large part of the subject matter is sports.

I’ve come to think of book awards as sporting events. You’ve got your draft picks, your regular season, your play-offs, and your trophy. The only difference is that with, real sports, the players get to duke it out themselves. With book awards, you get the panels. Poor devils who don’t have the time to read all the entries anyways.

And there are the literary blog sites which could not exist without the word “award” on their pages. (Even if they are called “Shadow Awards”)
You may have gathered by now that I don’t give a damn about book awards. In fact, I think they have a backwards effect of making writers write for awards. Besides, the books that win are never books I admire are almost always awful. Where do they get those panelists from?

Not to be ruled out as a total crank, however, I would like to join in with the spirit of the World Cup fans and suggest the following:

Authors’ Flags!

Why don’t literature aficionados do what their ball-kicking brethren do and stick authors’ faces on flags?

We’d have pictures of poets and novelists attached to people’s cars and bundle buggies. Heck, stick them on dog coats as they drive, walk and shop around the Annex and Riverdale. Not just on the occasional postage stamp.

Why aren’t books as good as soccer? Why don’t people tip over cars and fight in the streets and bars over the Giller Awards?

FIFA fans vote with their Hondas.  And I will give sports one break – they may be the only unscripted media events going.
Sure, there are rules and uniforms but how the teams get to the ending is always uncertain. That’s why we have bookies.
In the meantime … 

richard w on dog coat 2 murakami on dog coat margaret and alice on chickens

Get the picture?

Today’s Listening:

1. Dear Diary by The Moody Blues fr: On the “Threshold of a Dream”
2. Mr. Apollo by The Bonzo Dog Band fr: “Tadpoles” (and various anthology albums)
3. Mad Men’s Season 7 Episode 6 “The Strategy” closing credits music originally composed by Jean Constantin for the Francois Truffault film: The 400 Blows. This version was arranged by David Carbonara (Mad Men’s incidental music composer).