Thursday, October 04, 2018

Left-wing Essentializing: Guilt By Association

So, I guess the time has come for me to speak up about a phenomenon that I keep encountering on social media; one that I find troubling and potentially dangerous to the Left.  To my knowledge a term for this sort of activity hasn’t been coined yet, but it’s definitely entwined with the more extreme versions of “Call Out Culture and Identity Politics”.  And please believe me, I bring up this issue with great reluctance. It’s a messy, emotionally charged subject and I’m bound to irritate some people, but I feel enough is enough.

I’m going to call this phenomenon, “left-wing essentializing”, for lack of a better term.  I realize it’s not a particularly “sexy”, comprehensive, or even necessarily a technically accurate term.  But it’s the best I can come up with right now. 

And before I start, let me make something very clear.  Like everyone else, I too have racist and sexist tendencies and I’m not trying to claim otherwise.  I’m critiquing a specific political strategy here; I’m not trying to claim that I shouldn’t be examining my day-to-day behaviour and making improvements as required.  

I first encountered the phenomenon of left-wing essentializing in 2016, while looking at various friends’ posts on Facebook.  I came across an article that my friend (a white dude, let’s call him Jim), had shared.  The article was about the subtle forms of racism that white people might not be aware that they’re engaging in.  No problem with that.  In fact, potentially a great idea, as racism can be very subtle and it’s possible to engage in it without knowing it.  The problem I had with the article was the headline, “Don’t Kid Yourself, All White People Are Racists”.  It was a quote from a trans, person of colour, who was being interviewed in the article.

I found the second half of the headline disturbing and I said so.  My comment went like this:  All people are racist.  In other words; all people have racist tendencies.  The difference is that some folks acknowledge it, accept that it’s undesirable and work to change it, while others don’t—regardless of their race. I went on to say, that I don’t believe in what I called “racial essentialism”.  By racial essentialism, I meant the attributing of a wholly subjective, negative quality, to a particular race.  And I pointed out that this reminded me of early separatist feminism, when men in the Left were unequivocally told that “all men are rapists”.  I said it’s time to move beyond such unhelpful rhetoric.  

This led to a back and forth between Jim and I, with him finally asking for clarification on my comment.  I reiterated my points as best I could and went on to give him numerous examples showing how white people do not have a monopoly on racism. I argued that to state that white people are racist, without any qualification, is itself racist, as it is a negative generalization of a racial group. I went on to say, “If what you and others are trying to say is that the dominant power structure in the West, favours white people and tends to disenfranchise non-white people, then say that and I won’t argue with you”.   

Suddenly, one of Jim’s Facebook friends, a young, white woman (let’s call her Emily), wades into the discussion and says that I’m accusing a person of colour of racism and therefore, I deserve to be publicly insulted.  She goes on to call me an “old white dinosaur” and “a bigot”. Finally, she makes a very dramatic pronouncement: “I shall have to block you”.  And she then proceeds to do so, as though I’m some kind of stalker or something. This is part of the reason I’ve been reluctant to bring up this subject by the way.  Who the hell wants to be treated like that?

Now to be fair to Jim, he often posts great articles that I find interesting and insightful.  I believe his heart is generally in the right place and although he posted the article and debated me on a number of my points, his comments followed some sort of logic and he was quite civil.  He didn’t try to demonize me or ridicule me.  But he didn’t come to my defense even once, while Emily did her very best to portray me as some vile, old boys club racist, even though he knew that the accusation was unfounded.  Why did he remain  silent while Emily was “calling me out”?  I believe it was out of fear; fear of being called out himself and fear of being excommunicated from his peer group.  As we will see, it may be that his fear was well founded.

So over the next few years I see a growing number of progressives on social media, posting and sharing similar articles, tweets and comments.  But I say nothing.  I want to say something, or at least “like” the occasional comment I see challenging the posts, but I don’t.  I procrastinate.  I wasn’t quite ready for another onslaught like the one I got from Emily.

But eventually I come across a similar type of share on Facebook by another friend of mine (let’s call him Frank).  Now again, Frank is basically a decent person and often posts threads that I like a lot.  But this particular post reminded me even more of the “all men are rapists” essentializing of the early separatist feminists.  This one consisted of a shared Tweet posted by a person of colour (I’m not sure of their gender), in which he/she essentially claims, that men say that they don’t live in a pedophile culture.  He/she goes on to propose, that because men make fun of women with saggy boobs, are disgusted at body hair on women, only like women a lot younger than themselves, prey on minors and watch teen porn, that men are essentially pedophiles.

So I ask Frank if the author is talking about men in general, a lot of men, or some specific men in particular.  Frank responds by posting yet another article, which mocks the notion that one need be specific in calling out oppressors.  The article asserts that everyone knows that individuals who list the negative attributes of men, don’t mean all men, just like if you were to say, “dogs peed on my rose bushes”, one wouldn’t take it to mean every dog in the world peed on your rose bushes.  I responded by asking Frank that if I said, “Dogs are vicious”, would he take that to mean that I felt that dogs in general were vicious, or just the ones who killed my cat?  Or how about if someone said, “black people are lazy”, or “First Nations people are drunks”.  Would that be acceptable too?  I explained to him that I object to all subjective generalizations based on gender, race, language, ethnicity, nationality and sexual orientation, and that he should as well.

So this led to a back and forth between Frank and I.  Rather than actually answer my questions, he claimed that these generalizations are everywhere you look, for all sorts of people and that they’re commonly and harmlessly used for illustrative purposes.  I reiterated my point, that it wasn’t acceptable in the case of the target groups I had just mentioned—whether it was commonly done or not.  He went on to state that I was being disingenuous and repeatedly pointed out, that because of my objections, I sounded suspiciously like various anti-feminist men’s groups on Twitter—implying that I shared their views.  I explained that I never look at Twitter and my thoughts are my own.

At this point, a close friend of Frank’s (let’s call her Pam), posted the comment, “Keep a close eye on how people react to posts like this”.  I asked her if she could clarify her comment for me, but she refused to do so.  So I asked Frank if he could tell me what she was getting at.  He took a long time getting back to me, but finally, he explained to me that he learns something about people who object to this sort of post and that he judges them by their reactions.  He says that it’s like when white people cry, “oh my God, #NotAllWhitePeople”, or #NotAllMen.”  And then he says, “I find the defensiveness weird”.  I gave up at that point and that was the end of the exchange, but I’ve since discovered that Frank has unfriended me on Facebook.  I’ve known Frank and been on good terms with him for almost 40 years.  But apparently, questioning the doctrine of left-wing essentializing is a crime punishable by excommunication.

So it seems pretty clear that what Frank actually meant by, “I find their defensiveness weird”, is that when people challenge left-wing essentializing, he concludes that their politics are suspect.  In other words, though they may appear to be left-wing progressives or even radicals, the fact that they object to subjective, negative, generalizations of race, gender, or sexual orientation, suggests that they are in fact closet racists, sexists, or homophobes.   Of course—and this is the unacknowledged, rather large elephant in the room—this is only true when the generalizations are about white people, men and heterosexuals.  If someone were to make the same sort of generalizations about people of colour, women or gays, these same people who claim that these generalizations are just fine, would be up in arms.  And so they should be.   But I strongly believe in the saying, “What‘s good for the goose is good for the gander”.  Play by the rules you expect others to play by and be consistent.  If one wants to be truly progressive, one needs to set a good example and exhibit fairness, not just through their actions, but through their language as well.

And I believe that the reason Frank and Pam initially hesitated, and then were very coy about explaining to me what they meant by “keeping a close eye on how people react”, was because, perhaps, unlike the usual challenger, I brought a fair amount of “street cred” with me into the discussion.  It would be a lot harder to claim, in my case, that I was only raising objections to the post, because I was some kind of knuckle-dragging, sexist creep, worried that their generalizations were hitting too close to home.  Clearly, my history as an activist demonstrated otherwise.  So better to just keep the usual, more strident calling-out under wraps on this one.  

I also found it interesting, that no matter how many times I repeated my concerns about how this generalizing was a slippery slope and dangerous, no matter how many examples I gave Frank of how essentializing men was inappropriate for the same reasons that it would be to essentialize women, no matter how many times I tried to explain to him that it was totally unnecessary to essentialize in order to make his point, he remained totally fixated on the idea that I was objecting to it simply because I personally didn’t like being called sexist.  He had me neatly packed away in his  #NotAllMen box and all he seemed to hear were their voices, not mine.

Once this guilt by association process comes into play, real discussion becomes impossible.  If you say something like, “I don’t like the colour blue,” you’re immediately slotted under the #wedon’tlikethecolourblue social media group and nothing you say beyond that is heard.  It’s just assumed that you hold the exact same views as the people calling themselves #wedon’tlikethecolourblue and from that point on, you’ll be treated as such.  It seems there’s little room for nuance or independent thought in the left-wing essentializing/extreme Identity Politics camp.  Veering even slightly from the entrenched doctrine is seen as reactionary.  And I think we on the Left are kidding ourselves if we think this activity isn’t driving potential allies away—or even to the other side.  This isn’t building bridges, it’s burning them.

Also, I have to say; this activity seems more like performance, than a serious attempt at building a just and egalitarian society.  It actually looks a lot more like a somewhat desperate attempt to score points with one’s peers; as if to say, “Look, I’m way more woke than the rest of you.  I stand shoulder to shoulder with the oppressed”.  Sorry, but it seems to me that by standing off to one side, pointing your finger accusingly and loudly proclaiming that your gender or racial group is inherently oppressive, you’re actually, in a sense, loudly proclaiming that you are not. 

But this isn’t a game.  It’s not some competitive sport where the most woke progressive wins.   This is serious business.  Fascism is coming to a town near you—if it hasn’t already arrived there. Sitting in front of your computer with your thumbs in your ears, wiggling your fingers, shouting nah-nah-nah-nah-nah at your enemies—real or imagined— achieves nothing.  It isn’t going to stop human-driven climate change from flooding coastal cities and drying up most of the crops that you and others rely on for food.  Nor is it going to stop pension plans, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and education budgets from being clawed back or discontinued outright.  And it sure as hell isn’t going to stop gangs of black-shirted thugs from marching through your neighborhood, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at mosques, synagogues, abortion clinics and yes, your house.

So do we live in a patriarchy that benefits men at the expense of women?  You bet. Is that acceptable?  Not on your life. Does structural racism exist that benefits white people at the expense of people of colour?  Absolutely.  Is it acceptable?  Fuck no.  Do white men (in particular, but not exclusively), need to fully understand these truths and struggle against them?  Isn’t it obvious—of course!  It’s part of the holistic revolutionary process that many of us have been advocating for for years. But by making sweeping generalizations about race and gender, you’re not building the revolution, you’re endangering it; you’re using, bolstering and giving credibility to the very tools the Right has been using for years to keep women, people of colour—and the working class—oppressed.

Now is it possible that I’ve over reacted to these and other posts, or that I’m being too picky about language when it’s used in the service of political activism?  Sure, after all, I’m only human and completely capable of grand fuck-ups like everybody else.  But I don’t think so.  I think that left-wing essentializing, along with the reckless use of calling-out tactics and engaging in extreme Identity Politics, are all serving to split the Left at a moment in history when it’s absolutely crucial that we put forward a united front.  Now if you think I’m wrong, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong.  And if you think I’m right, please, stop posting and/or “liking” threads that essentialize.  Or, if you’re a brave soul, maybe even consider challenging the person that’s posting them.

Monday, October 12, 2015

On October 19th, Stop Harper!

Ok, enough about my "new" album Coming Home.  Let’s move on to something else more important for the time being.  And if what I’m about to say sounds overly alarmist to you, read my post from 2011 titled, "Harper Wins Majority (Yikes!) and see if my “alarmist” predictions back then didn’t pretty much all come to pass.

On Monday, October 19th, Canada will hold what may be the most important federal election in the history of this country.  On that day, Canadians will either elect a government that has, at least, some fleeting respect for honesty, justice and equality, (NDP, Liberal, or a coalition between the two) or a government that admires and emulates the worst aspects of American politics and is borderline fascist (the Conservatives).

Yes, I know fascist is a heavy word with heavy connotations and I know its an over used word as well, but if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is a duck.  Of course, Stephen Harper will claim that he believes in the lofty notions of democracy, diplomacy and human rights, but the facts tell quite a different story.

For instance, Stephen Harper is largely considered to be Israel’s strongest supporter in the West. While Israel is often touted by right-wingers as being the only democracy in the Middle East—an untrue assertion—its’ occupation of Palestine and it’s treatment of Palestinians is anything but democratic.  If you’re an Arab/Israeli (Palestinian) living in Israel you do not have the same rights as a Jew and if you’re a Palestinian living in the Occupied Territories (Palestine), you have virtually no rights at all.  You can be arbitrarily arrested at any time, imprisoned indefinitely without trial, you can have your home demolished, your land confiscated and you can be shot dead for protesting, all at the whim of the Israeli military—and all of these things happen on a regular basis. 

These are exactly the sorts of things that fascist countries like Nazi Germany, Italy under Mussolini, Spain under Franco, Guatemala under Rios Mont and Chile under Pinochet are famous for perpetrating against populations under their control.  Harper apparently has no problem with any of this and has never criticized Israel for either its’ continued occupation of Palestine or its’ oppressive policies toward the Palestinians.  

At the same time, Israel continues to break international law, refuses to end its’ illegal occupation of the West Bank, continues to blockade Gaza and routinely carries out massive military invasions of its’ neighbours.  Yes, the invasions are in response to small-scale attacks launched against Israel.  Many Arabs are pissed-off with Israel over its’ occupation of Palestine.  But the response to these attacks is always massively disproportionate on the part of Israel, with many civilian deaths and intensive destruction of infrastructure.  Again, Stephen Harper doesn’t seem to have a problem with this and often, even acts as a cheerleader for the Israelis during these intensely bloody campaigns.

In 2006, Hezbollah ambushed an Israeli patrol near the southern border of Lebanon.  Several Israeli soldiers were killed and two soldiers were captured and held by Hezbollah in the hopes that they could pressure Israel to do a prisoner exchange.  Israel responded by invading Lebanon by air, sea and land, unleashing an overwhelming and largely indiscriminate level of firepower against the Lebanese population.  Approximately 1200 Lebanese were killed, most of them civilians. Many, many more were horribly injured and/or made homeless.  Much of southern Lebanon’s infrastructure lay in smoldering ruins.  Meanwhile, 165 Israelis were killed in the invasion, most of them soldiers, and Israel’s infrastructure went largely unscathed.  Stephen Harper referred to this as “a measured response” by Israel.

Near the end of 2008, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip in an effort to stop rocket attacks originating from there. During that year, Palestinian militants protesting the continued blockade by Israel of the Gaza Strip had fired many rockets into Israel.  For the most part, the rockets were inaccurate and largely ineffectual, although over the course of the year they had killed four Israelis. 

Again, Israel’s response was disproportionate and indiscriminate.  At the end of the war, 1300 Palestinians had been killed, most of them civilians.  13 Israelis were killed, 10 of them soldiers.  Infrastructure was severely damaged by Israeli artillery and aircraft—including a UN food storage facility.  White phosphorus—a burning compound that is very difficult to extinguish—was fired directly into populated areas—including the UN compound—in contravention of international law.  Many Palestinians were horribly burned as a result—some of them to death.
  Lawrence Cannon, Harper’s Foreign Affairs Minister, speaking on behalf of the Conservative government stated that Israel had a “clear right to defend itself” and that “first and foremost those (Palestinian militants’) rocket attacks must stop”.  He didn’t say anything about Israel’s white phosphorus attacks.                                                                     

When Israel invaded Palestine again in 2014—again, in response to ineffectual rocket attacks as well as smuggling tunnels—they pretty much bombed Gaza into the Stone Age. Huge sections of most large communities in Gaza became absolutely uninhabitable.  520,000 Palestinians were made homeless.  Running water and electricity became almost nonexistent. Corpses, along with the wounded, lay on the street and under tons of debris for days, with no one able to get to them do to the constant Israeli barrage. In the end, 2200 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians, while 71 Israelis were killed, mostly soldiers. While most other world leaders were calling on both sides to cease hostilities, Harper’s only comment was "Canada is unequivocally behind Israel".

Stephen Harper likes to support and encourage other fascists too; when General Abdel Fattah el Sisi overthrew the democratically elected government of Egypt in a military coup, Stephen Harper’s only comment was that the coup had brought “stability” to Egypt.  Well, it didn’t bring stability to the over 800 protesters that were shot dead by el Sisi’s troops.

Nor did it bring stability to the thousands of political activists responsible for organizing the “Arab Spring”—a peaceful, pro-democracy revolt against dictatorship.  Instead the coup brought them lengthy prison sentences and in some cases, torture and death.  Nor did the coup bring stability to journalists in Egypt that tried to do their job and show what was actually happening in the streets.  After lengthy and ridiculous show trials, many of them also found themselves behind bars.

Most recently, Harper agreed to sell the Saudis $15 billion in military equipment.  He claims the Saudis are our “allies” and hence, deserve our support.  Saudi Arabia is probably the most authoritarian regime in the Middle East—certainly if you happen to be a woman.  It’s a dictatorship run by a royal family with zero tolerance for dissent, where executions in the form of beheadings are frequent and where one of the most extreme forms of fundamentalist Islam—Wahhabism—is the state religion.  Really, we want to be allies with a regime like this?  We want to sell a repressive dictatorship weapons so it can be even more repressive and maintain its’ dictatorship indefinitely?  Apparently Harper does.

Closer to home, Stephen Harper continues to demonstrate his affinity with things fascist by promising to set up a snitch line if he’s elected.  Citizens will be able to phone the RCMP and report “barbaric cultural practices” to them.
This is obviously just a crass attempt on Harper’s part to appeal to his hysterical, misinformed, Islamophobic base.  He really has hit rock bottom with this incredibly divisive, unworkable and pointless proposal. It would be funny, if it weren’t so chillingly Orwellian.  Citizens anonymously ratting on their neighbours to the government for behaving in some “un-Canadian manner”, really, that’s a page right out of the fascist handbook.

When I consider all of these things, it cinches it for me; Stephen Harper and his inner circle of ministers and aids, are so driven by their extreme right-wing ideology, their penchant for military might and violence and their psychopathic need to win elections, that they are damn near capable of anything.  Think about that word, “anything” and use your imagination.  Who knows where he will take us if he’s elected for another four years?  Lets not go there.  On October 19th, vote carefully, vote strategically, vote him out!

(PS, and I’m not even mentioning his muzzling of Canadian scientists, inaction on climate change, cutting of crucial social programs, privatizing the wheat board, poor management of the economy, uncritical support for oil-sands development, etc, etc, etc.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Coming Home new album by Gerry Hannah

Hey all,

It's been a really long time this time since I wrote a new post here.  It's not that I didn't have anything to say.  Those who know me know that's rarely the case.  It's because I've been really busy and haven't had a lot of time to say anything here.

The main thing I've been busy with, is working on a new solo album.  And it's finally done!  It's titled Coming Home and it consists of 14 original songs ranging in style from kind of country/folk, to folk/rock, to alternative.  It's not punk rock.  I want to make that perfectly clear so no one buys it hoping to hear new music from me in the vein of the Subhumans only to be disappointed.

I'm very happy with it overall.  I had a lot of really great musicians on it helping me out.  Some of them were friends and some of them were session players and they did a great job of making my rudimentary guitar playing and singing sound pretty good.  I also had 2 great recording engineers and a great mastering engineer help to get the sound I was after.

Of the 14 songs on Coming Home, 7 of them were originally recorded and released on a cassette tape I made while I was in prison.  (For those of you who don't know the story, I was sentenced in 1984 to ten years federal prison time for my involvement with the armed revolutionary group Direct Action, aka the Squamish Five).  The cassette tape was titled Songs From Underground.  While I always felt the songs were strong and a surprising number of people liked the tape, the recording and production qualities of Songs From Underground were pretty shoddy.  It was all recorded on a 4-track cassette recorder with crappy microphones, poor facilities (you can imagine) and not a whole lot of experienced studio musicians to choose from.  Ever since the tape's release, I was hoping for a chance to redo the songs.  With Coming Home I got that chance and I think it turned out great.  Huge improvement.

Of the other 7 songs, some of them were written while I was still in prison, but written after the release of Songs From Underground, and the rest were written since my release.  Most of the 14 songs somehow relate to my prison experiences, if not directly, then at lest in terms of my having to relearn how to navigate through the outside world with it's complex political and social realities.  I'm still learning and while I definitely have a lot of very strong opinions about many things, I realize as I get older that I actually know very little.  I think the album reflects this sentiment as well.

Besides encompassing diverse musical styles, this album also has huge mood swings ranging from very upbeat optimistic messages, to very dark pessimistic thoughts as well.  That's probably partly a result of trying to keep a brave face on while actually cowering in a prison cell.  But it's also because, although I believe we must keep on trying to make the world a better place through political activism, I've never been a terribly optimistic person.  I find I have a powerful need to express my negative feelings too and even if that becomes a bit odious from time to time, it's better than being in denial.

Coming Home will be available in digital download form and as a physical CD via CD Baby's distribution network on December 2/2014.  If you get the physical CD, you'll get a more in depth background to the album in the liner notes and short explanations of what each individual song is about.  It kind of reads like a little history book.  The album may also one day be available on vinyl (depending on whether or not some rich benefactor or crowd sourcing folks decide to help me out.  I'm not going to hold my breath!).  I do hope you'll check it out when you get a chance.  Keep on looking for and proclaiming the truth behind appearances.  Shout above the noise.  All the best.    

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Harper Wins Majority (Yikes!)

Well then, if that isn’t depressing I don’t know what is. On May 2nd, the Conservatives won a majority government here in Canada. Stephen Harper, drunk on his special brand of “fascism-lite” and having thrownoff his restraints (a minority government), is in the driver’s seat for the next four years with the pedal to the metal. I have to say that this is probably the single biggest and most dangerous setback for progressive politics (and indeed, democracy) in Canada that I’ve witnessed in my entire lifetime (and I’m 54 years old).

In four years time there is a very good chance that this country will be politically and socially unrecognizable as the country it once was, both to us, and the rest of the world. Get ready for a real US Republican style greed-fest, where facts are irrelevant, history is forgotten, hypocrisy runs rampant, morality only exists in that it is self serving, and debate--when it’s permitted, is neither based on reason nor logic. Autocracy and extreme ideology will rule the day. And of course, the poor will get poorer (and their number will grow) and the rich will get a lot richer.

Over the next few hours, days and months, we are likely to hear Stephen Harper claiming over and over again that he and the Conservative party have received a strong mandate from the Canadian people. He will argue that because he won a comfortable majority, Canadians have demonstrated their approval of the policies he and his party advocate. This will embolden him to push through some of the most right wing legislation that this country has ever seen.

In reality though, nothing could be further from the truth. Harper and the Conservatives did not receive a strong mandate from the Canadian people to push through their right wing agenda and to suggest otherwise is based either on ignorance, or deceit, or both. This is not just my opinion. This is a fact. A systematic and mathematical exploration of voter percentages across Canada proves my point.

If we divide all of the major political parties in Canada into 2 groups: Group #1 (those that inhabit the political spectrum from the centre to the right), and Group #2 (those that inhabit the political spectrum from the centre to the left), we see that in Group #1 we have the Conservatives, while in Group #2 we have the Liberals, the NDP, The Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party.

According to the CBC’s calculations, the Conservatives won 39.62% of the vote. While the Liberals won 18.91%, the NDP won 30.62%, The Bloc won 6.05% and the Greens won 3.91%. So, if we add up the total percentage of votes cast for Group #1 (the Conservatives), we get 39.62%. While if we add up the total percentage of votes cast for Group #2 (the Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc and the Greens), we get 59.49%.

This means that while 39.62% of Canadians voted for a centre right government, 59.49% voted for a centre left government. In other words, of the 61% of Canadians that actually voted, roughly two thirds of them voted for a government that would be likely to enact legislation ranging from centrist to leftist, while only one third of them voted for a government that would tend to enact legislation that ranged from centrist to rightwing. As I said earlier, the Conservatives did not receive a strong mandate from the Canadian people to push through their rightwing agenda. The majority of Canadians clearly prefer more of a middle of the road to leftwing approach.

Now some may argue that the Liberals are a purely centrist party and not leftwing at all. I disagree. In terms of economic policy, sure, the Liberals are pretty damn centrist, but in terms of social policy, foreign policy, the environment and respect for democratic process, they are clearly to the left of the Conservatives. And if you’re a Conservative supporter you’d better not be trying to argue now that the Liberals are a centrist party, because throughout the entire election campaign your party was arguing precisely the opposite. You can’t have it both ways.

And I know that the Green Party has at times, maintained that it is not a leftwing party, but come on, its stand on the environment, its stand on corporate taxes and regulation, its stand on the treatment of First Nations peoples all put the party pretty squarely in the leftwing camp. I think most Canadians would agree the Green Party is certainly to the left of the Conservatives.

So when Harper claims in the future that he’s dutifully expressing the will of the Canadian people as he pushes through some thoroughly regressive legislation on say increasing penalties for possessing pot or whittling away at public health care, or silencing political opponents, or promoting Islamophobia, or undermining any meaningful attempts at reducing green house gases, just remember, it’s bullshit. And he needs to be called on it every single time.

When I look at Stephen Harper I'm reminded of some lyrics from an old Leonard Cohen song, "...and one eye filled with blueprints and one eye filled with night".

Saturday, October 02, 2010


Hey all,

The Subhumans just got back from our Same Thoughts Different Day tour in central Canada. Things went pretty well for us this time around. We got to visit with some old friends and meet lots of cool new friends as well. And none of us got sick this time! The audiences weren't always big, but they were always very enthusiastic (especially in Montreal and Quebec and that was awesome. Merci)!

Mike already thanked a bunch of you that helped us out along the way on our website, but there are a few more I'd like to mention. Thanks to all the staff at Lee's Palace and Katacombes for being friendly and helpful. Thanks especially to Janick, Pete, Claudia and Belinda. Thanks to Michele (Wax from Hell) in Montreal and Ian in Quebec City. Thanks to the various media people that showed interest in us. Thanks to the many fans that made us feel welcome, loved, and appreciated. And thanks, one more time to James, Melanie, David, Nora and Marie (and thanks to Riccarda for driving across Toronto to have coffee with me). You guys are all great!

Looks like we have one more show to complete this tour. We'll be playing At the Rickshaw in Vancouver with Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine on Saturday, October 16th. We hope all of our fans in Vancouver will come on out to this one. It should be a very special show!


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Same Thoughts Different Day

Yes, I know it’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve written anything on this blog, but listen, for those of you that are serious Subhumans (Canada) fans, I have some news that may have been worth waiting for. We have a new album coming out in the next few weeks on Alternative Tentacles Records titled Same Thoughts Different Day. It includes re-recorded versions of all of our songs that originally appeared on our album Incorrect Thoughts, plus 6 bonus tracks from our early days that were never before properly recorded.

For many years now, Subhumans fans have been asking us to re-release our album Incorrect Thoughts. It seems that it’s been almost impossible to buy of late and when it is available, either the price is ridiculously high, or it’s a version of the album unauthorized by the band (yes, that does actually matter to some people!). Yet of all of our record releases to date, Incorrect Thoughts, first released in 1980, is probably the best known and seems to be many people’s favourite. It was our first full-length album, it was raw, passionate, reflected the spirit of the times and it was fairly well promoted and distributed in its day.

We wanted to re-release it some time ago, but there was just one little problem: ownership of the master tapes. While we had safety copies of the masters, we didn’t have the actual masters in our possession. Originally, the masters had been the property of Roy Atkinson of Friends Records. He had financed the recording and released it on his label. But several years later (after the original band had broken up in 1982), Incorrect Thoughts was re-released by a guy named Dave Ferguson in San Francisco on his label, CD Presents. As some of the individual tracks seemed to have been remixed on his re-release, clearly, Dave Ferguson had at that point, some how gained possession of the masters.

How exactly this had come about was and continues to be, a mystery. None of the original members of the band had ever been notified that the masters were being sold, given or lent to Dave Ferguson, nor was the band given the chance to buy back the masters at the time. Roy Atkinson swears that he didn’t sell the masters to Dave Ferguson. He actually gave Brian Goble a signed statement to that effect several years ago that we still have.

While we doubted that we had ever signed a document granting Atkinson ownership of the masters in perpetuity (we were young and dumb, but we don’t think we were that dumb!), we couldn’t be completely sure of the fact. We had no documents pertaining specifically to that matter. As a result, we couldn’t be sure that Ferguson hadn’t inherited some sort of document along with the masters that granted him the rights to those masters forever. Without such a document, Ferguson might well possess the masters, but he would have no legal claim to the rights to them (at least in Canadian copyright law). But if he actually did have a valid document in his possession, signed by the members of the band, granting the owner of the masters the rights to them in perpetuity and if he could prove that he was now the legitimate owner of the masters, we would not be able to legally re-release those recordings without his permission.

Consequently, we were initially convinced that there was no way Ferguson could or would make a claim to owning the rights to the masters. In fact, we had always felt that the CD Presents version of Incorrect Thoughts was little more than an unauthorized bootleg of the record. So we began to make plans to re-release the record from the safety copies that we had in our possession and we started to talk to various record labels in the alternative scene to see if anyone was interested in the project.

It was then that a number of people in the business warned us that Ferguson was both an experienced and energetic litigator. They cautioned us against re-releasing the album without checking with him first to see if he intended to claim the rights to the masters. It was pointed out, that while Ferguson may not have any valid claim to them, if he intended to claim that he did, it could be a royal pain in the ass for us and for the record label that released a record derived from those masters. While the odds might be against him actually winning a court case against us, if he had even the flimsiest case and decided to initiate legal proceedings, it could quite possibly be a long, exhausting and costly affair. As well, it might easily hold up the release of the record for years.

It was suggested that we have a lawyer draft and send a letter to Ferguson stating that we were claiming clear ownership to the masters and that we intended to re-release the record. So in March 2007, we did just that. Ferguson’s response to our letter was swift and came via his lawyer Tony Berman. Essentially, he told us that his client claimed sole ownership of the masters and that any re-release of the recording by us could result in legal action against us. He went on to say, “You are hereby ordered to cease and desist from engaging in any reproduction, distribution, use or other exploitation of the Masters”.

At that point, it was clear that Ferguson was indeed claiming ownership of the masters and it seemed likely that he would make trouble for us if we re-released the recording. As well, although our lawyer had requested some sort of proof of ownership from Ferguson should he intend to make a claim of ownership, no such proof was furnished. Nor was any explanation given as to how Ferguson had come to own the masters.

After a good deal of discussion we decided that rather than pushing the issue and potentially entering into a protracted legal battle, maybe the easiest thing to do at that point, was to see what it would take for Ferguson to wave his claim to the masters. We figured that after all, he must know that there wasn’t going to be much money generated from a re-release, so hopefully he wouldn’t ask for that much money to allow us to go ahead with the project unhindered. As well, because he had yet to offer any proof of ownership, we thought that there was a distinct possibility that he was bluffing about that and that he might be only too happy to receive some easy money without having to actually produce documentation to support his claim.

So in September 2007, we asked our lawyer to contact Ferguson’s lawyer and offer $1000 to Ferguson to waive his claim and allow us to re-release the album. We realized that this was a fairly small sum to be offering someone to forgo a legitimate claim to ownership of master tapes, but we still doubted that Ferguson’s claim was legitimate. As well, it was only intended to be an initial offer to start off negotiations.

We received a response the next day from Berman: “Thank you for your call yesterday. I have discussed your clients’ offer of $1000 with my client. The offer is rejected”. He went on to reiterate his warning that if we went ahead and re-released the recording we could face legal action. That was it. There was no counter offer. There wasn’t even any indication given as to whether or not they were willing to negotiate.

It was then that we fully realized that this was Ferguson’s game, he was a skilled player and we weren’t going to win it. It didn’t matter whether he actually had a legitimate claim to ownership or not. He had the power, we didn’t. It seemed obvious that to continue going down this path would be fruitless. The relatively inexpensive, fast and some would argue, more authentic process of re-releasing Incorrect Thoughts using the original masters was no longer an option for us.

It seemed we now had only two options left to us: abandon the project entirely and accept that these songs might never again be available to the public as a package, or re-record all the songs from scratch and release it as a brand new album. The first option would save us from spending a lot more time and money on a project that we weren’t even sure any label would be interested in. But it was a bitter pill to swallow; these songs seemed like too important a part of the band’s history to just turn our backs on and walk away from. As well, we felt that we needed to somehow regain control over these songs as recordings. So, after a few weeks of debate, we decided to go ahead with the second option and Same Thoughts, Different Day was the result.

Actually, we had a lot of fun making this new album and we think it turned out really, really well. In fact, in my opinion, it turned out much better than the original in terms of both performance and production. Re-recording these songs ended up providing us with an opportunity to improve on many of the things that we were never that happy with on the original recordings. As well, it gave us the chance to include some other songs of ours from that era that we’ve always loved and that we felt needed to be re-recorded and made available to our fans.

Anyways, I hope you check get a chance to check it out. Even if you’re a die-hard skeptic when it comes to re-recorded albums, I think there’s a real good chance you’ll dig this one. Enjoy! I should also mention that the opinions expressed here by me on this posting are solely my own and do not necessarily represent either the opinions of the Subhumans Canada or of Alternative Tentacles Records. Oh yeah, and for the record, we have yet to receive a single cent in mechanical royalties from Ferguson for all of the copies of Incorrect Thoughts he has sold. But then again, he’s only had twenty-five years to pay them to us. Maybe he needs a little more time….

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Rules For Rascals

Okay, new rules for posting on this blog:  personal attacks made against me that have nothing to do with current issues being discussed here, that are based on 30 year old information/disinformation and that are posted by anonymous individuals, will no longer be published.  Individuals who wish to engage in such attacks in the future, will have to use their real name and a real contact address (i.e. a blog spot, a website, an emailing address etc.).   Otherwise, your post will be deleted.  And I will be checking to make sure that the names and addresses are for real.

After all, if you are going to scrutinize my life for incongruities (real or imagined) and gleefully submit them as "evidence" that I am a total asshole, then it's only fair that I should be able to do the same to you. Individuals too cowardly to share with us their true identities, will not be permitted to use this blog as a vehicle from which to launch their personal vendettas.

If you still feel the overwhelming need to trash someone from the safety of anonymity, may I suggest that you get a paper bag and cut two eye holes out of it, put it over your head (make sure the eye holes are actually where your eyes are!), face a mirror and tell the person you see in the mirror what a mean-spirited coward they are.  This will serve two very useful purposes:  it will allow you to work out some of that bile that you pack around with you (it can't be very good for your health) and you'll be trashing someone who really deserves it.