Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Time's 100 Best Albums of All-Time

Best of lists tend to float through the air this time of year like confetti at a wedding, with everyone pitching in. Time Magazine has offered their own version of the best of list, but rather than going with the year in review, they want to span "all time."

The short-lived Gear Magazine did such a thing back in early 1999, as if to offer a perspective on twentieth century popular music. There is no readily apparent rationale for Time choosing 2006 as a year of retrospection. Furthermore, the Gear list also acknowledged that the idea of the "album" only existed since the mid-1940s, and with all practicality, only began in the 1950s. The only real recognition that Time gives in this direction is through it's selection of a Hank Williams Best of Compilation, an artist who largely recorded singles only. However, the Time list is viewwed sort of a-historically, even though its arranged by decade. Rather than suggesting the most important/influtential albums of the decade, the Time list is comes off as more a recommendation of what to buy. Rather than trying to decide which album or album's of Elvis Presley are "important" why not just buy Elvis: 30 No.1 Hits, or Sunrise, ditto for Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, or Phil Spector. It's like saying the Immaculate Collection is somehow more important than Like a Prayer in the larger scheme of Madonna's career and popular culture in general. We don't think anyone is out there hiding copies of Elvis: 30 No. 1 Hits under their mattress afraid of it being found by their parents.

So what does one get then in Time's 100? Given the amount of overlap between the two despite the seven year gap, there seems to be a consensus growing as to a musical "canon" for popular culture. The Beatles top the list with five albums, six (or maybe a half) if you throw in the Plastic Ono Band. Dylan's down for three and a host of groups have two: James Brown, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Radiohead, U2, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, aretha Franklin, and Prince. Hard Rockers aghast that the Stones only have two entries and Zeppelin and the Who only have one apiece (and it ain't Tommy) can take some comfort in the fact that Black Sabbath finally makes it onto such a list. Also surprising is the inclusion of Dj Shadow's Entroducing, an album that is still a perennial fave at The Daily Office. More baffling than surprising is the exclusion of the Smiths in favour of The Stone Roses. Most people would have this the otherway around.

Such lists though are often notable more for what is not on the list than on it. The compilers make much of the fact that they give Pink Floyd the snub, as they do the Grateful Dead, but more troubling perhaps is the omission of a single electronic or dance album. Jazz is represented by Miles Davis and John Coltrane, while the Ella Fitzerald Songbook is absent. Clearly Time is not a lover of jazz. Meanwhile, is one to assume that that the naming of Garth Brooks as the lone country album of the last twenty years is to agree that Time also wants to avoid the morass that is New Country? While punk is represented by The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Clash, one could argue for the inclusion of Iggy Pop's Raw Power or the Buzzcocks, but one has to wonder if Green Day's American Idiot would show up if the pollsters were five years younger.

Finally, 1971, a year that saw famed rock critic Lester Bangs lament the death of rock, has nine albums from it alone . . .

Wheat Kings

Stephen Harper's turbulent relationship with the Canadian Wheat Board has given us an excuse to delve into the nebulous world of economic theory. Like any good Albertan, the Canadian Prime Minister believes that a free and open economy is beneficial to all, and that free trade in farm products will inevitably create a better agricultural industry. Perhaps he is taking a longer view, but it is not one shared by many farmers, particularly those in the West, outside of Alberta. In recent Wheat Board elections, farmers outside of Alberta chose to elect candidates who believed in upholding the Board's current policies. The sacking of the head of the Wheat Board for failing to introduce open market reforms provided a politically infused backdrop to the elctions.

What is at stake here is conflicting beliefs in the directions that the Wheat Board should go. Currently, farmers across Canada sell their wheat to the board, who then market it internationally. A small coterie of Albertan farmers have found that they can individually negotiate better deals with buyers than the price they receive through the Wheat Board. This may be true, and we at The Daily Wenzel do not pretend to understand fully how the Wheat Board arrives at its prices. However, we consider that by pooling wheat nationally, the Wheat Board limits the size of contracts that it would consider, a sort of minimum purchase requirement. This is in turn creates a scarcity and demand for wheat among small to medium-sized consumers. Under this model, indivudal farmers with much smaller stock sizes, would be able to meet the artifically high demand for wheat among this smaller class of consumer. Thus, evidence from the Alberta farmers' group would indicate they are correct in saying that laws requiring the sale of wheat directly to the Wheat Board prevent them from maximizing their profit.

However, as is typical perhaps in a conservative viewpoint, a wider perspective is traded for a much narrow individual focus. These few farmers are benefiting from the gaps created by a system they hope to abolish. Higher prices from small-to-medium sized consumers exist only as long as the Wheat Board is unable or unwilling to meet their demand while satisfying the demand of large-scale consumers. In the absence of the Wheat Board, the purchasing power would shift to the large-scale consumers, forcing small-to-medium sized producers into the reverse situation, competing against one another to fulfill large orders, giving the large-scale consumers the ability to drive prices down.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Knowledge is the new Capital

It was an interesting story that we read in Wallpaper Magazine #94 about the changes occurring in the luxury goods market. In "The New Luxe", Nick Compton quotes Dutch designer Hella Jongerius as saying "The stories behind products are the luxuries" and this reminded us of David Brooks' 2000 book, Bourgeois Bohemians, and the importance placed on the details surrounding household items.

What we find interesting is the possibiltiy that we are in the midst of change in metaphors and guiding principles. Cultural ages tend to have "big ideas"that provide a frame of reference for much of their thinking. During the feudal era, God and religion provided that arch, whereas the economy, and capital, have proved to be the guiding framework for the last few centuries. While new ideas can co-exist with old ones for awhile, each metaphor tends to back different social groups, and requires alternate mobilization of resources in society. Once a new idea reaches a critical mass, it can no longer peacefully co-exist and a struggle for society will ensue.

We are clearly not at this point yet, but it will be interesting to see where this develops as more and more aspects of society adjust to the flood of information, facts, and knowledge that are readily available.

A Word of Christmas Cheer

Granted, we do not want to gloat or make good at another's misfortune, but a rumour reported in a tiny news article in the Calgary Sun a few days ago suggested that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be re-shuffling a few of his cabinet minisiters, starting with Minister of the Environment, Rona Ambrose. Ambrose's performance has been less than even lacklustre and given the prominence that Liberal leader Stephane Dion is expected to place on the portfolio in the coming election, her presence in the ministry could no longer be tolerated. It is suggested that Harper will move from Jim Prentice, our very own MP for Calgary Centre North, head of the operations committee and Minister for Native Affairs, to the Environment. Harper is then expected to place another minister in Prentice's former position, with Ambrose being relegated to a more junior position.

Podtastic!

No, this isn't a posting about podcasting, though it is something the boys and girls here at The Daily Wenzel are considering adding in the New Year. Instead, we are testing out Illy's P.O.D. system of espresso delivery. The results are, quite frankly, amazing. Yes, it does take some of the artisanal flair out of coaxing the perfect cup of coffee from your machine, but boy it tastes good.

In deciding to try the new system out (which only works well with Nancy, our Rancillio - it's a horrible mess with Guido, our Gran Gaggia), the office quickly became a buzz with the art vs. science debate of espresso making. As we have said in earlier posts, making the perfect cup of espresso requires the correct proportioning of coffee grounds, water, pressure, temperature, and for some, sugar. Dissolved substances in your water can affect taste, as can freshness of the beans or fineness of grinds. To get all of these variables consistently correct takes quite a bit of craftsmanship, and some people justifiably take a small degree of pride in doing so. However, as our science camp argues, surely there must be a way to make the process simpler and easier to accomplish. Better engineering and better understanding of the physics and chemistry of coffee-making ought to take some of the luck out of it. The creation of the pod seems to move in this direction.

As good as the pod is though, we have not found a way to use it to make double espressos, or multiple cups, a common occurrence at The Daily Wenzel, but this is a step in the right direction!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Comes Early For Alberta Liberals

Newly chosen party leader and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach chose a cabinet last week that left many observers surprised. Under the Klein government, urban critics often complained that rural districts were over-represented in the legislature, having ridings that average several thousand people fewer than urban areas. If Edmonton and Calgary ridings had the same population size as rural ones, they would say, both cities would gain two more MLAs each. The government, however, would point out the number of urban cabinet ministers as a way that the urban dominance of province that's three-quarters urban manifested itself. With Stelmach's new cabinet however, each city was given one cabinet minister. Furthermore, female ministers were reduced down to two, from at one point nine under Klein, and no visible minorities were given appointments.

The Liberal tendencies of the major urban areas in Alberta has been steadily increasing, even under Klein, with seemingly staunchly conservative Calgary electing Liberal MLAs in the last election. If Stelmach's new cabinet does not express some kind of provincial vision capable of speaking to urban moderate conservatives, the Liberal Party could see big gains in the next election.

Friday, December 15, 2006

We ain't got no class

Our Marxist friends may shrug and play coy, sheepishly refusing to let go of their cherished notion of class altogether, we at thet Daily Wenzel, are under no such compulsions. We do not believe in class. Or at least, we do not believe that economics plays as great a role in group identity formation as our Red friends would have us believe. While much has been written about the formation of group identities and the shifting and ovelapping nature these identities may have with one person feeling they belong to several different social groups at once, the primary basis for social cohesion has always been common experience. The explosion in multiple social identities in recent years has been in large part because of the continued fragmentation of daily life.

In feudal societies, social groups were divided in large part due to status; rights and privelleges gained or purchased from the state and recorded in law. While most of us are familiar with the three basic divisions (first, second, and third estate to borrow from the French usuage). These were not monolithic blocks however, as each one was intensely sub-divided and at various times, the boundaries were somewhat porous. It was only after the French Revolution wiped away many feudal distinctions, that class began to develop as a social construct. In many ways, this was due to the decline of the journeyman craftsmen under the emerging industrial system. Rather than functioning in part as independent owner/operators, journeymen who could not afford to open their own shop, or eventually convert their shop into a factory, found themselves working in factories with other labourers.

When we recall that throughout much of the nineteenth century factory workers tended to spend anywhere from ten to sixteen hours at work, would often eat meals together, and spend a few hours at a pub together, the idea of a shared experience forming group identity becomes apparent, with work becoming the single biggest element. Add to this the fact that until late in the nineteenth century, many workers in the same occupation or trade lived in the same basic neighbourhoods. This was especially true in the emerging factory and company towns common in North America. However, the explosion of the suburbs following the Second World War dramatically reduced the amount of common experiences that particular workers would have.

Rather than place emphasis on class then, we would suggest that experience forms a particular outlook or mentalite (to borrow a term from Francois Furet). Classes exists where workers have enough commonalities, be it experiences, greivances, or future goals, to bring them together. Experience can include the same past-times or shopping patterns. Witness the Canadian coffee divide by comparing location and clientele of Tim Horton's and Starbucks. Aspirations and self-image play as large a role as basic economic background.

We are quite intrigued with this notion, so look for more updates in the future.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Truthiness, or, The Post-Modern Condition

Stephen Colbert's tongue-in-cheek "truthiness", loosely defined by the satirical talk show comedian as "truth unencumbered by facts" and "truth that comes from the gut, not books", was recently named word of the year by Merriam-Webster, the dictionary people. The award is to recognize words that manage to capture a sense of the passing year. At The Daily Wenzel we feel that truthiness speaks to a much larger social phenomena at work in today's society. The abundance of infromation, as well as the proliferation of "Research Institutes" backed by corporate interests, as led to a situation where individuals are awash in information, rich in detail and "facts", often contradictory and at cross-purposes. While these individuals may choose a particular argument and its encompassing rational structures, ultimately their choices are made based on what resonates strongest with their personal experiences and beliefs, or in Colbert's terms "gut."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Music Update (Musical Nostalgia)

Aside from watching the Serge Gainsbourg collection Serge Gainsbourg: D'autres nouvelles des etoiles, compiling vintage televised performances from the famed French chanteur. As with our attraction to Gainsbourg, who became noted for his Left Bank Beatnik jazz sense of wordplay, and later as something of a bad boy ladies' man, most of our musical selections this week seem decidely focused on the past.

First off, we After Our Misspent Youth by Ontario's The Machines. Like the Strokes on Is This It?, the Machines are in love with the early 1970s New York sound with guitar work echoing that of Johnny Thunders, albeit with far more polish. The band even goes so far as plucking a song title ("Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory") from a chapter heading out of Punk journalist Legs McNeil's account of the New York scene, Please Kill Me. Unfortunately, whereas the Strokes managed to make their highly studied approach seem fresh, the Machines are very much like their namesake and one gets the feeling of going through the motions.

The Thermals meanwhile, have are well-positioned to have a critical hit on their hands with The Body, The Blood, The Machine. While the Portland, Oregon band's sound may be more Chapell Hill than East Village, the rambling, chaotic, lurching noise that the band conjures up easily evokes the earnest energy of the early punk scene. Appearing on numerous Best of 2006 lists, we picked this up last week and it's been on the stereo nearly non-stop.

Speaking of the East Village, we are in the midst of a two-part retrospective on the New York Dolls. Having recently acquired two DVD documentaries on the subject, we have watched the first, All Dolled Up, filmed by Bob Gruen during the 1970s, and are looking forward to viewing New York Doll, about the quiet Arthur Kane. Watch this space for our emerging thoughts.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Murderball

It’s funny where we draw our inspiration from, but a recent column in Sports Illustrated about the decline of recess in the United States, brought about in part from fear of liability and bullying, has prompted us the revisit a conversation about one of our childhood games; Murderball. Originally cloaked in the nostalgia of youth, our new conversation centred around the construction of self-identity and the development of peer conflict-resolution strategies in children. As a side topic, there were also some musings on the relative prevalence of violence, or the threat of violence, experienced during childhood.

Firstly, Murderball. We did not invent, nor name this game, but learnt it from older kids at school, and were most enthralled by it around age 10. In Murderball, small groups of children throw a ball, usually a tennis ball, against a wall. It is allowed to bounce once and then is caught by another child to be thrown again. There are two pivotal moments in Murderball, the first being when someone catches the ball before it has bounced once. When this happens the original thrower races to tag the wall as the catcher hurls the ball back. If the ball hits the wall before the runner, then the runner must assume “the position”. Typically, “the position” meant standing facing the wall, as your compatriots lined about some ten feet away and proceeded to throw the ball at you. As we got older, variations were introduced to moderate the number of people who could participate in throwing of the ball. Furthermore, one could choose to face the crowd, with the option of attempting to dodge the ball and earn the opportunity to turn the table on an individual thrower. The other moment is when someone drops the ball. If another player catches the ball before it bounces, then all is fine, but if the ball is dropped and allowed to bounce, then the chase is on.

To us, it would seem that Murderball is a form on consensual violence. Participants often emerge from recess with welts and bruises. Even the name oozes violence. Many other games played by children also seem to contain a certain element of violence, such as early forms of unrefereed football, hockey, and soccer. In fact, during the turn of the last century, authorities in England attempted to ban unorganized soccer because it was perceived as too violent. Violence, it seems is never too far in childhood, at least that was our experience growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. There were always groups of older children who we could identify as physical threats to our well-being. Similarly, this view was reinforced by older images in popular culture.

With the recent attempts to eliminate bullying, we are curious whether this perceived level of violence still exists. Do children in fact feel safer from each other? Do children still participate in, invent, and play games such as Murderball? In our own time Murderball enjoyed an on-again, off-again relationship to the authorities, at times being actively routed out and tennis balls confiscated, while a blind eye was turned at others. We can easily see Murderball being proscribed as part of an anti-bullying campaign. However, we also feel that such activities help to form identity and conflict resolution strategies. The key point in Murderball not being the violence, but rather the unsupervised nature of the activity as it was a competitive activity in which all participants had no recourse to a higher authority. Any dispute that arose in Murderball could only be resolved by those playing in the Murderball session.

We are not saying that these skills are absent from today’s children, but rather we are curious as to how these skills are being developed in a climate that dramatically increased the role of adult supervision while simultaneously decreases the opportunity for non-technological play.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Post-Gutenberg Galaxy

We here at The Daily Wenzel are sometimes invited to discussions with Barb Brown, of the Barb Brown Technology blog. Usually these discussions centre around the use and adoption of new technologies and have got us re-visiting the work of Marshall McLuhan, particularly The Gutenberg Galaxy. Surprisingly while you can access Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle, one of our favourite and most influential books, as an e-text, McLuhan's work is nowhere to be found.

At any rate, the line that resonates with us most was that technology was not just a tool that man invents, but also a tool by which man is re-invented. This is especially true when we consider how we have a tendency to reshape our lives in the context of a new technology - Time Magazine's article awarding YouTube the Invention of the Year award is perhaps a prime example. Most notoriously, in our minds, is the example of Frederick Taylor, the turn-if-the-century efficiency expert who exported the assembly line model to various craft industries. In the process he destroyed centuries of craft traditions, eliminated much worker control over the nature and rate of output, and also directly contributed to the relative de-skilling of many occupations as the complex jobs performed by a single artisan were reduced to a series of repetitive movements for a several workers.

In another work, Understanding Media, McLuhan suggested that electricity would take us back to a pre-print oral culture. In print cultures, McLuhan argued, meaning was fixed and static as books could last a long, long time. The oral tradition however, was susceptible to subtle shifts and changes, with the stories slowly evolving over time. In all likelihood, McLuhan was thinking of radio and television at the time, but the ephemeral nature of most blogs and websites only adds to his thinking.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Professional Society vs. the Populist Society

A recent story from the CBC about patients rating their doctors has brought to fore what we consider to be an ongoing tension in contemporary society. The website, which is run by the same people who started ratemyteacher.com and ratemyprof.com allows users to post anonymous comments and rank their doctor, teacher, prof, out of five (five being the highest). Many doctors, like teachers and profs before them, appear annoyed at the service, while the websites argue that they are providing information about the professionals they rank.

The problem rests in the belief of the website owners and users that the users themselves have enough background information into what makes an effective doctor, teacher, or prof. These professionals meanwhile, argue that they contain sophisticated training and education that is not apparent, understood, or perhaps appreciated by their clients. They may explain that the client is not in the proper emotional state, or that they are acting in a manner most conducive to getting the client to perform a certain action that is in the best interest of their client, but for which the client has little motivation to perform. Thus, the professionals feel that what is being ranked is not their competence, but solely their interpersonal skills.

However, as Michel Foucault would argue, what is at stake here is the ability of professional groups, any professional group, to position itself as the possessors of some arcane skill set and the sole interpreters of the uses of those skills. On the otherhand, we have a group that believes contemporary society, regardless of its inherent complexity, is nevertheless egalitarian in that all people, and their opinions, are of equal value, despite their inequal experiences and knowledge in certain areas.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

And another has gone

Some people have asked us why we haven't posted anything on the Alberta provincial election. Since we've been appeared to be so keen on who gets elected as Liberal Leader, why haven't we been so concerned who ends up leader of the Alberta Conservatives. It's a good question, especially when asked by people who live outside of Alberta. The simple answer is that we are not convinced that "Honest" Ed Stelmach, viewed by many of our colleagues as the best possible choice, will offer any improvement over the buddy-buddy populism of Ralph Klein. Just as Klein allowed himself to be used by various elements and interests, nothing about "Steady" Eddie gives us an impression that he would somehow be different, except of cours that he is a farmer, salt-of-the-earth, downhome and practical. Our experiences in the dusty Stampede parking lots have not endeared us to farmers and they won't endear us to Stelmach.

We are reserving our judgement on Stelmach and are hoping to be surprised, but in a province that has voted Conservative for the past 35 years, largely on the strength of the rural vote, Stelmach's victory may best be hoped for a return to "normalcy" now that the debt crisis of the 1990s is over.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

One race down, another to go

Earlier today the Liberal Party of Canada elected their eleventh leader in Party history. Since early summer, we here at the Daily Wenzel had thought that Ignatief would take it - while the unfolding drama surrounding Dion caught us by surprise, we did mention in an earlier post that Quebec would be a turning point for the leadership campaign and the federal election that can now only be months away. What will be interesting to discover is the extent that this is true. Leading into the convention, it was felt that Dion was actually less well received inside Québec than elsewhere in Canada, though there were many questions asked regarding Ignatief's appeal in la belle province as well.


0f course, Dion's victory made it apparent to us that we should have picked him at a much earlier date, based soles on the Liloerals penchant for historical patterns:

Dion-French
Martin-English
Chrétien - French
Turner - English
Trudeau - French
Pearson - English
St. Laurent - French


Who knew?

A Good Cup Deserves Another

The stars were magically aligned last night as our Nancy brought forth, not one, nor two, but four perfect cups of espresso. Thick crema and sweet taste, not a hint of bitterness. In an interview with Wallpaper magazine some years ago, the head of Illy commented that there are several hundred flavour ingredients in a coffee, making it difficult to have them all aligned and each cup rather unique. Thus, our surprise (this is not to say the Nancy spits out inferior coffee as a rule).

Our bean of choice this week? Big Mountain Coffee Classic French Roast, and recalling the words of Ewan MacGregor in Black Hawk Down, "The secret's in the grind."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Recent additions

You've probably noticed a few changes to The Daily Wenzel, largely as a result of reader comments (your text is burning into my eyes!) to change the background colour. We are currently looking for a masthead and logo and would welcome submissions (elvisbonaparte@canada.com).

Please note, an RSS feed is now available so you can repost The Daily Wenzel or else simply stop worrying that you'll miss something.

Again, we're very keen to here more comments.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Music Update

It's been one of those rare periods of time where the new music has been slow and somewhat lacklustre, fairly typical of the period just before Christmas. It's kind of a no man's land between Hallowe'en and and American Thanksgiving, as nobody wants to release and album that can be "forgotten" before the Chrsitmas rush. However, this has given us the oppotunity to go back into our extensive supplies of musical material.

First off, we've been quite happy with the Woodpigeon CD, Songbook. "Death by Ninja (a love song)", is simultaneously one of the funniest and saddest stories of heart ache we've heard in a long time. Our friend at But She's on Fire! agrees. "A Hymn for 2 Walks in Different Cities" carries with it a delightful nineteenth century pop architecture, right up until the cacophonic crescendo, when you're reminded of why these people draw comparisons to Belle & Sebastian and Arcade Fire.

Speaking of sonic sprawls, the Red Sparowes first full-length, Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun is another spacey instrumental album, equal parts Tortoise and Zeppelin. Built around Chinese iconography from the Great Leap Forward, the Red Sparowes invite us to question our views of the world, our choices, and the impact of the decisions we make, through heavy, introspective tracks spanning the five, six, and even ten minute marks.

Our other new releases, Henrik Schwarz's DJ Kicks venture and Wired All Wrong's Break Out the Battle Tapes, are something of a disappointment. While Schwarz mixes together some very good moments, ranging from "Bird's Lament" to James Brown, through Afro-funk, world music and R&B, the many sparks it throws nevertheless fail to spark. Wired All Wrong meanwhile, blend heavy buzzsaw guitars with a hiphop aesthetic (in fact we thought that maybe it was a DJ compilation from the title), in a manner that many have done before - most critically Atari Teenage Riot, most successfully by Rage Against the Machine. Whereas these bands were most noted for their political stances, Wired All Wrong echoes the pop fascination of Whale - as it should since the two members of WAW are from sELF and God Lives Underwater.

As mentioned earlier, this relative dryspell has allowed us to go back and renew our appreciation for Kentucky's sorely missed Slint, whome Red Sparowes cite as an influence, as well as Grandaddy, a group that manages to capture that quirky, eclectic, fuzzy pop sound that WAW seems to dally with.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Such a Dreary Landscape

What strikes us most about the recent cold snap is how completely desolate everything looks. The windswept snow, strewn about the streets and sidewalks, has obliterated the distinction between the two, revealing just how wide the avenues are. With few pedestrians braving the minus thirty (minus forty with windchill) the city looks like a post-apocalyptic ghost town. Driving back from Cafe Koi Saturday night at 2 a.m., we saw a lot of lonely, desperate people, waiting on street corners for taxis or rides in a city short on cabs and buses.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Nixon vs. Harper

Canadian Prime Minister Harper's recent move to recognize les Quebecois as a nation has sponsored some curious debate here in the Wenzel offices. Given our earlier post, "I Stand Not By My Country . . ." it would seem that this issue might not even surface on our radar. It is true, some of us feel that the quest for nationhood is a step backwards, or made meaningless in an era of increasing government decentralization and devolution. We recognize though, that speaking from the priveleged position of having your nationalist demands overly satisfied, it is quite easy to renounce them. We also recognize that our opinions on nationalism are not shared by the majority of Canadians.

Thus, let us grant that national identity is still a meaningful construct; where does that leave us? Bassano del Grappa cheerfully pointed out that the tension between English and French Canadians is precisely what defines us to the outside world. Where other ethnic groups would have long ago resorted to armed bloodshed, French Canadians maintain that they must leave, English Canadians argue that they want them to stay, but neither side appears to move much in either direction. With a smile and a toast, del Grappa concluded by saying that if we were ever to resolve this relationship we would cease to be Canadians, regardless of whether Quebec seceded.
The consensus however, appears that Trudeau's vision of a Canada containing no priveleged groups must prevail. If Quebec's identity is based on some two hundred years of being treated as English Canada's hinterland, how much different might this be from the views of Western or Atlantic Canada? Of course, Quebec would argue that it has a history of suffering cultural, linguistic, and religious discrimination at the hands of English Candians. True, but Trudeau neatly dealt with these issues in the Charter of Rights and Freedom.

Furthermore, we can think of know claim to nation-status that has not ultimately led to a territorial one. Thus, Harper's decision to recognize les Quebecois only grants legitimacy in the long run to the seperatists. That it was a political decision, borne out of the need to make inroads in Quebec, to cut support for both the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals, without a view to Canada as a whole in the long term, reveals the fundamentally short-sightedness of Canadian conservatism.

Enter the ghost of Richard Mulhouse Nixon, who fragmented electoral voters in the United States, first by alienating specific social groups and then playing them off one another. The American voting public is perhaps only now recovering from Nixon. In the last year and a half, we have seen Harper aim directly at the Canadian middle-class, appealing to its basic self-interest, and now it is doing the same with Quebec. In each case Harper makes little to no argument for the consideration of Canada as a nation. Is Harper our Nixon?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Environmental Awareness Week?

A lot of environmental news has come our way today, beginning with the publication of Fast Forward's annual winter guide, which looks at the impact of climate change on Alberta sport. As a follow-up to an earlier posting "Killing Us Softly", the Ontario government announced measures to label carcinogens on products, with an ultimate eye to having them all banned outright. Elsewhere, measures are being adopted to evaluate the level of pollution and environmental in Canada, which unfortunately reveal that water quality in Canada is on the decline. Similarly, a British group is offering businesses the opportunity to measure their "carbon footprint" in an effort to reduce emissions and usuage.

Most problematic however, were plans announced here in Alberta calling for the wide spread use of carbon dioxide storage. On one hand, this strategy of piping carbon dioxide emissions from their source of emissions to underground storage wells (from abandoned oil reservoirs) in the Edmonton area gains support from such stainch climate changers' as George Monbiot, it comes with several reservations. First is the perception that the carbon dioxide will somehow "leak out". Monbiot's research suggests that the gas can be safely kept underground for up to a thousand years - unless the surrounding rocks contain carbonate compounds (such as limestone) that can combine with carbon dioxide to form carbonic acid. While carbonic acid is naturally occuring, in the underground reservoir the fear is that the surrounding would dissolve under conversion to carbonic acid, allowing the acid to escape to the surface. Once above ground, the reduced pressure enables the carbonic acid to break down into water and carbon dioxide. In addition, the limestone has been destroyed and the stuctural integrity of the well compromised. Furthermore, carbon storage of this kind is often linked to enhanced oil recovery, promoting the consumption of more oil.

Kino Update

Lots of celluid have past through the reels of the Wenzel office these past few weeks, beginning with an aborted attempt to watch the 1950s French classic Les Diaboliques. Unfortunately, twenty minutes into the suspensful boarding school murder, the DVD refused to play. However, plenty of other cinematic opportunities have presented themselves, some high, some low.

Beginning with an excursion to our local theatre, we viewed Stranger than Fiction with Will Farrell and Emma Thompson. Thompson plays a writer, narrating the death of her main character, played by Farrell. Unfortunately, Farrell's character is an actual person quite taken aback by the news of his impending doom. Reprising a character similar to his role in I Heart Huckabees, Dennis Hoffman provides some memorable insight into the nature of literature and the quiet heroism demanded by everyday life. Douglas Adams is probably smiling.

Endgame, a political murder mystery starring Cuba Gooding, JR and James Woods left us somewhat cold. Since seeing Scorsese's The Departed, it takes a lot of work to keep us guessing.

Bassano del Grappa was very pleased to have tracked down a DVD version of Carlo Levi's Christ Stopped at Eboli, a look at the internment of a northern Jew in Southern Italy during the Second World War. The carefree, almost whimsy of his imprisonment is in stark contrast to that of Life is Beautiful which takes place later in the war. In Christ Stopped at Eboli, Levi's character is permitted to roam about the small town almost at will. Of course, to be any sort of outsider in rural Italy is to be under constant surveillance as it is. Furthermore to be a professional, let alone a doctor, is to be vaulted into a very public position. The movie is filled with the tensions of contemporary Italy - North vs. South, urban vs. rural, modern vs. pre-modern, scientific vs. religious/folk tradition, middle-class vs. peasant, etc. Many of us had read the book in high school, and a few of us have crossed through it's Calabrian locale on the train to Brindisi, via Rome, making this one something of a nostalgic venture.

Fateless, which also dealt with the Jewish experience during WWII, looked at the experiences of a Hungarian boy who is sent to Auschwitz, and the strategies he and his compatriots must emply to survive, including sleeping next to his bunkmate's corpse so that he can gain an extra ration of food for two days. Interestingly, the film also follows his release from the camp and attempts to re-integrate into Hungarian society.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

That Cagey Harper

We were all somewhat shocked by the announcement today that the Harper government wants to recognize Quebec as a nation within a united Canada. We haven't decided exactly what this means, and no doubt will consume more than a few espressos and early morning cappuccinos in the course of our debates. One thing appears certain however, that Harper has finally conceived of an idea that can draw him closer to Quebec. It also appears that Ignatieff, widely believed to emerge victorious in the Liberal Party's leadership elections next week, thought of it first, though Harper will beat him to the punch. Harper has done very little to win the potential votes of Quebec, while the Liberals are looking to regain seats lost to the block. In our minds, and a few pundits seem to agree, that in the last election the Paul Martin Liberals lost Quebec to the Bloc Quebecois, and in doing so lost Canada to the Conservatives.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I stand not by my country . . .

My country right or wrong - a mantra for a bygone era of unbridled nationalism. We at Wenzel have been much more partial to "I stand not by my country but by the fate of the whole world." Always uncomfortable at expressions of nationalist jingoism (whether hockey-related or not), we have traditionally viewed ourselves as nominally Canadian (excepting Bassano del Grappa) but more or less global citizens. Recent stresses in the environmental movement have only brought this more out into the open. Having said that however, even we are not immune to the shame that the CBC's Heather Mallick speaks of in regards to Rona Ambrose's antics at the Nairobi climate change conference. In our own conversations with British author George Monbiot he seems to agree with France's Nelly Olin, that the international community wants to believe that the Canadian government is out of snyc with Canadians.

For more coverage of the conference wrap up, check out the BBC.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Killing us softly

It struck us as somewhat odd this morning, when we came across the following news item, that the Canadian government has announced the first steps towards labelling on cosmetics. Odd, because it was mostly the men in the Wenzel offices who seemed most intereted in finding out what was inside those delicately packaged creams and cleansers. Perhaps because of our relative unfamiliarly with women's products, make-up sort of being a vast unknown, or because the chemistry of things like self-heating masks fascinate us. Or, as the case may be, we have long suspected make-up as a source of bodily chemical intake, as made plain by the Toxic Nation report.

The government proposal, while allowing the use of blanket terms, such as "parfum" used here to describe any fragance used to mask an odour, instead of the specific fragrant ingredients, is still an important first step in a legislative area that has not seen movement in some thirty years.

Hopefully, the government will promote the development of education and awareness issues so that consumers can begin to make informed decisions. When we at Wenzel feel compelled to buy cosmetic products to deal with particular skin issues, we tend to go to all-natural, or mostly natural, companies like the international Lush (where we are big fans of their Veganese conditioner and Ambrosia shaving cream), or the more local Rocky Mountain Soap Company. Both of these companies take steps to label all of their ingredients, so at least we can be informed about what we're slapping on our skin.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

We're 51st!

Congratulations Rona, your stewardship has guided us past such environmental stalwarts as Australia, Kazakhstan, our southern neighbours, the US, China, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia. Way to go!

http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2006/11/13/climate-fossil.html

http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2006/11/13/climate.html

Pavlov would love us.

There are few things as visually appealling to us Wenzel staffers than a shot of espresso surrounded lovingly by the white porcelain of an Illy style cup. Designed and proportioned for espresso these images immediately start us salivating. To see the crema crawl up the sides, whether it be a full cup or an emptied one, it's all we can do not to turn around and place an order, even if we've just received our morning cappuccino .

Monday, November 13, 2006

Krazy Kino Adaptations

This week saw two classic features as part of our afternoon Kino series, both of which noted for their fantastical and surrealistic nature. Our series started off with the sensational Korean slowboiler Oldboy, about a man imprisoned in an apartment building for fifteen years without any apparent meaning. On the surface, this felt like a modern retelling of Franz Kafka's The Trial, but in reverse, with Oh Dae Su filling in for Josef K as Everyman. Whereas The Trial starts with the accumulation of evidence, as K tries to find out the nature of his crimes and moving towards his eventual judgement, Oldboy begins with the judgement, leaving Oh Dae Su to find out the nature of his crime upon his release. Of course, his investigation would not be complete with a swearing of revenge for his imprisonment and vengeance for his murdered wife, and missing daughter. Along the way, the increasingly byzantine plot touches on other favoured Kafka themes, such as incest and the nature of memory and language, display with generous portions of the grotesque.

Combining similar themes of sex and violence, David Lynch's Wild at Heart proved to be a surprisingly endearing love story, built around the mediveal notion of l'amour fou. Featuring a stunning performance from Willem DaFoe, Wild at Heart follows the story of Sailor and Lula, played by Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern, as they must overcome both the law and Lula's mother. During their cross-country flight from various hitmen employed by her mom, the two encounter a myriad of twisted, smalltown characters, such as DaFoe and Isabella Rossellini, who alternately attempt to befriend and betray them.

The week ahead?

As Canadian Environmental Minister Rona Ambrose prepares to touch down in Kenya for this week's Global Environment summit amid international criticism of her personal role as head of the organization, and Canada's lucklustre commitment to the Kyoto protocol, the environment is looking like it could play a considerably larger role in any upcoming federal election. Last week, the CBC released the results of a survey showing the environment was now the second biggest issue amongst voters. With over seventy percent of Canadians feeling that the Harper government was not working hard enough on climate change, how will Canadians react if they feel that Harper is damaging the country's international credibility?

Furthermore, as the Liberals are preparing for the leadership convention at the end of the month, and Jack Layton already prepared to use the NDP to either extract concessions or topple the government, can the Conservatives hold out past the New Year? Paul Martin earned himself no favours by calling a winter election, will Harper do the same?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lavazza earns top honours

With our love of espresso, and general enjoyment of Lavazza's d'Oro beans, we were pleasantly surprised to hear that Time Magazine had listed Lavazza's solid espresso confection, the espesso, one of it's top culinary innovations of 2006. While espesso has been around since last year, it entered the US market in only recently, and has yet to make an appearance in our own fair city of Calgary. Perhaps a trip abroad is in order?

For more information about espesso you can visist Lavazza's website where you can also view their current calender for 2007. Feedback from their kitschy, Varga pin-up girl flight attendant series was so strong, that they have created a slightly more conceptual, science-fictionalized superheroine themed one.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Kino Update

We gathered around ye old dvd player for the first of our Anime Evenings featuring Katsuhiro Otomo’s Steamboy, a cautionary tale of technology’s double-edged promise. A thinly veiled allegory to nuclear energy, Steamboy tells the story of a young boy Ray, whose father and grandfather have together invented a small spherical device (bearing much resemblance to The Transformers' "creation matrix") capable of creating tremendous amounts of steam power. Set in nineteenth century England, as London prepares for the opening of the Victoria and Albert Exhibition of the Sciences, the occasion becomes the site for a battle between two leading British arms manufacturer's, both of whom are grappling for control of the device. Gorgeously animated, Otomo, whose other work includes Akira, is a little short on storytelling as he borrows liberally from movies such as Star Wars (the scenes involving the infamous Steam Tower bear an uncanny resemblance to the interior of the Death Star), The Last Crusade, and of course Kubrick's 2001. Ray's steam powered high speed mechanized wheel device found it's way onto an episode of South Park, and it proved difficult not to think of Mr. Garritson's infamous ride while we watched Steamboy.

Other movies from the Matinee series over the past few weeks have helped make this a Kino Update in a very Germanic sense, as we viewed the German Big Girls Don't Cry, a sort of up-dated Heathers or Mean Girls, but without the comedy, more like the coming of age drama Thirteen. The Spanish Killing Words also put in a somewhat lacklustre appearance, while the highly accaimed Chinese The World, gave us much to consider. Not that the movie, set inside a Chinese theme park along the lines of Epcot Center was deeply profound, but its naturalistic style and seemingly self-contained nature, continuously left us wondering whether we were watching a documentary at all. Having spent a considerable amount of time working at Calgary's major theme park, The Stampede, many us experienced flashbacks throughout the film. Rounding out the foreign films was the Paris-based Look at Me, about the difficult relationships brought about by success, or lack thereof, between a successful author in decline and his daughter, his second wife, one of his leading admirer's, who happens to be his university-aged daughter's vocal coach, and whose husband, a struggling author, appears set to replace him as the "new voice of a generation". Complex and emotionally intense, like a good espresso.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

An (enviromental) pause that refreshes . . .

Surprisingly, a few of us from Wenzel found ourselves in Edmonton this weekend for the Alberta Sciencce and Technology Gala Awards. Of interest to us was Alberta Ingenuity's prize-winning Centre for Machine Intelligence, but also recent oilfield developments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The plan, nominated for best scientific development, involved pumping carbon dioxide emissions into oil reservoirs where they can react, in a process similar to the smelting of metallic ores, to produce methane gas and, we assume, lower mass carbon chains. British journalist George Monbiot discusses the idea in his latest book, Heat, and we look forward to talking to him about it next week.

In other news, the Kenya Round of Climate Change discussions kicks off this week, and did so in humourous fashion. Canadian delegates, highlighting their disappoinment with Federal Enivromnetal Minister, and current President of the UN Commission on Climate Change, Rona Ambrose, dismissing her simply as having "nice hair". Ambrose has been rather lacklustre in her duties as President, as the group estimates she has spent less than 24 hours in meetings with the commission in the past year. We feel that is accurately reflects our own impressions of Ambrose and the Conservative portfolio for the enviroment as largely irrelevant and counter-productive. Elsewhere, remours are beginning to circulate that the Conservatives are planning some form of carbon exchange, though it appears too early to offer much details.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

His chops are so righteous!

Perhaps it was the recent reading of David Gemmell's Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow, but some how that got us here at Wenzel chatting about Homer's Odyssey, which in turn quickly led to a discussion of James Joyce and Ulysses. Only the esteemed Sean Marchetto can lay claim to having read that particular book cover to cover (though we also suspect Marchetto of having read the phone book cover to cover too), but most of us have taken turns at parts of it, and the biopic Nora being a pre-Daily Wenzel afternoon Kino feature. The flow of our conversation however quickly traded literary talk for a more cinematic one, and the various adaptions of the Odyssey that have graced recent screens, most notably George Clooney's O Brother, Where Art Thou, adapted by the fabulous Coen Brothers. Later that evening though, we all received phone calls from a rather ecstatic Elvis Bonaparte. The grand pooh-bah himself told us to tune in to a broadcast of The Sponge Bob Squarepants Movie, that surprising revealed a fair number of Homeric elements.

In talks of other covers and adaptations, Bassano del Grappa is of the firm opinion that Cake's "Long Line of Cars" is a cleverly updated version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky", basing his thinking on the line "We must keep this traffic moving and accept a little sin", suggesting a theme of penance, in keeping with the classic cowboy's driving the Devil's cattle across the sky in payment for their earthly transgressions.

Friday, November 03, 2006

On the Nature of Government

Wenzel would like to take an opportunity to explain our thoughts on the nature of government, as brought out by the recent income trust situation.

While we agree with Liberal leadership hopeful Michael Ignatieff that a government should not break campaign promises, we also appreciate that the Harper government managed to avoid the leakage aspect that dogged Martin administration financial reforms.

However, we do not shed a tear for the income trust exemptions. In a democracy, the people are sovereign, though the range of democracies equals the limits of sovereignty. A government exists to serve and benefit the sovereign. Taxes, as a chief source of government revenue, ought to be used primarily to fund services to benefit the sovereign, namely the people. When taxes are diverted from the public purse, through loopholes and such, we are depriving ourselves of benefits. Despite how the Harper Government went about closing the loops of income trusts, they acted correctly. Business interests should align with the interests of the people, which in turn should guide the interests of the state.

Finally, the Harper Government has done something we can applaud it for.

From Betrayal to Forgotten in 24 Hours

The highly concentrated nature of media ownership in Canada often leads to some pretty interesting occurrences. For example, as our staff was researching and preparing the tone and theme of this entry, the national media was by and large reacting with shock to the Harper government's announcement that income trusts would come under new tax regulations that would staunch the flow of taxable revenues into private pockets. As long as the stock exchanges in Toronto were tumbling, the nation was interested in this story. Now, as the market begins to subside, the headlines are relegated to the back pages of the business section. Local papers, taking their cues from their corporate owners, are shifting emphasis too, and perhaps by Monday this story will be over.

However, is that really the case? Yesterday news outlets were quick to visit the Alberta energy sector where some analysts are predicting that energy trust unit holders stand to lose between $10 and $20 billion dollars. There are reports of Conservative Alberta tearing up membership cards, recalling donations, and demanding the resignation of their MPs. As of yesterday evening, the scene brought to mind images of the Albertan reaction to the Liberal National Energy Policy of the early 1980s. It took almost twenty-five years for a Federal Liberal to be elected in Alberta, the venemous reaction ran so deep.

Is this a new NEP? Any honest political analyst in Alberta will tell you that provincial voters are a conservative bunch, but do not come between us and our money. The problem with the NEP was not that it crippled the energy sector, global conditions took care of that, but rather our initial frustration was that Ottawa had the gall to attempt to limit the amount of profit Albertan energy companies could make. Few expected the coming collapse, or that the NEP would play a role in it. We were simply angry that the Liberals were "stealing" money from us.

At the time though, media ownership patterns allowed provincial media to devote more page space to provincial voices. If provincial news outlets let this story die on the vine, as it were, will the anger directed at the Harper government's seeming betrayal of an election promise and bleeding of portfolio value be able to generate a groundswell of political reaction? Will this encourage the Liberals to swing with the NDP in there attempts to topple the Conservatives in the coming weeks?

As usual, we are riveted.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Layton Update

Preliminary reports are suggesting that Layton has scored a half victory, drawing out a promise from Harper to take his Clean Air Bill to an all-party committee. Layton is downplaying this, since it allows Liberals to moderate and reduce the role of the NDP. From our perspective however, it nevertheless raises the chances of meaningful legislation emerging.

Introducing Jack Layton, Kingmaker?

It would be interesting to crawl inside Jack Layton's head these days. Perhaps he is feeling the weight of the NDP's historical legacy; confined to being the counterweight in a minority government, the NDP gave Canada it's greatest gift, universal health care. With an environmental crisis looming, is Layton attempting another such manouver? Or perhaps Layton is looking over his shoulder and growing support for the Green Party eroding his own support base. Or maybe, this is a case of 'cometh the hour, cometh the man'. It is too early to tell, but we here at Wenzel would love several of the possible outcomes, either a new, more practical and effective environmental policy, or the collapse of the Harper government. Of course, nothing at all could come from this episode - it is quite possible that Layton's moves are too premature. Harper will likely reject Layton and gamble on a non-confidence vote that is unlikely to go anywhere with a headless Liberal party still waiting to elect a leader.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Woodpigeon CD Release Party

It is quite an experience to show up to an event of say, two hundred people, and realize that you are friends with at least half of them. Last night's Woodpigeon CD Release party at the Engineered Air Theatre was one of those elusive gatherings, made all the more poignant by the fact that it was a tiny little intimate affair, set amidst the much larger, anonymos, Halloween festivities of Saturday night. Not only was the show a coming out party for indie rock critics' darlings, Woodpigeon, but it was also a homecoming of sorts for Aaron Booth, who has spent the last five years living in Toronto, and recently moved back home to Calgary. Furthermore, while we missed their opening performance, the night was also the debut of local duo Jane Vain, as well as being an unofficial closing to the CJSW Annual Funding Drive, to whom Woodpigeon was donating all proceeds.

Watching Aaron Booth take the stage, assisted at times by his former bandmate Chris Vail, ex-of XL Birdsuit, and Vailhalen, it made us appreciate how special a moment in time Vail and Booth occupied as members of the short-lived and awkwardly named Shecky Forme. Considering that both Vail and Booth have firmly established themselves artisticly, as has Shecky drummer Dan Gaucher (as part of a Vancouver-based jazz band), the music that they made seems filled with the promises that each member is now makin good on.

In a similar fashion, Woodpigeon enters the scene. The brainchild of Mark Hamilton, a former CJSW DJ, and regular writer for FFWD Weekly, Hamilton started composing music to serve as backdrops to lyrics written a few years back during a post-university global sojourn, one that was often as lonely and dreary as it was eye-opening and exciting. "Who knew he could write such good songs", Aaron Booth offered by way of introduction last night. Not only has Mark Hamilton demonstrated himself to be a gifted songwriter, but the vast expansive sound of Woodpigeon is made capable by the players he as chosen to surround himself with, notably University of Calgary Faculty of Music grad, Kenna Burima, and the inestimable Darren Powell, who, we think, has been playing in rock and roll bands almost as long as any of member of Woodpigeon has been alive. These two no doubt go a long way in helping Mark flesh out his musical ideas.

Who knows how long the fragile beauty of this sometimes nine piece, sometimes twelve, sometimes three, sometimes one will last? We suggest that you enjoy it quickly and warmly.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It's a question of perspective really . . .

Canadian Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski is coming under fire for "stalling" debate on the Clean Air Bill. Lukiwski claims that his move was intended to derail debate on Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez' Private Member's Bill to revisit Kyoto. In doing so, Lukiwski claimed “We felt very strongly about the fact that what Mr. Rodriguez was trying to do was fast-track an obsolete and out-of-date plan which most experts, quite frankly, have discredited, and that’s called the Kyoto plan.”

It would be interesting to see just how Lukiwski feels that Kyoto has been discredited, when many of the world's nations are moving towards new targets set for 2012. Little mention of these new targets appear in Conservative rhetoric, as one of Enviromental Minister Rona Ambrose's first acts as chair of this year's earlier enviromental conference was to declare ALL Kyoto targets unreachble. This touched off heavy speculation that the Harper Government is taking their enviromental cues from George W. Bush. Unfortunately, Lukiwski's actions are being viewed as an attempt to undermine his government's own enviromental policy.

The Harper Government's image problem continues, as it fails to establish some form of common ground with the disenchanted Liberals who helped put him into power.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bejar vs. Reed vs. Cohen

So, not everyone in our office reacted as positively to our Destroyer posting yesterday, with our tongue-in-cheek "Bejar's doin' Bowie doin' Lou do, so really, Bejar's still doin' Bowie" comment. Bassano del Grappa, our 'foreign affairs' expert, once again brings his outsider's perspective to the debate. Feeling that we are selling ourselves short as a nation, del Grappa argues that while musically Dan Bejar is perhaps consistent with David Bowie and Lou Reed rock n' roll forumulations, lyrically Destroyer's Rubies is much more aligned with the sprawling poetry of mid-1970s Leonard Cohen. Quite passionately, he argues.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Reaching into the Stacks

There's been a temporarily lull in the new releases sweeping through the Wenzel offices of late. In many ways, this is a welcome respite, as it has allowed us to revisit certain albums and artists in greater depth. When you are cosntantly bombarded with new music, you can typically only spend a week or so "exploring" the album, but some ideas only reveal themselves with time and reflection.

The Sixties have helped create the expectation that music will reflect turbulent times. The war in Iraq has led us to keep our ears open for what may be this generation's Blood on the Tracks. Currently, the leading candidate is Green Day's American Idiot, but Ben Harper's Both Sides of the Gun double album may be an attempt to wrestle that crown from the West Coast trio. Unfortunately, despite heavy rotation this weak, we fear that Harper's message might be spread out too thinly in this magnum opus.

If Harper is trying to be Dylan, then Vancouver's Destroyer is entering is Lou Reed period with his latest album, Destroyer's Rubies. Of course, this may be slightly off-the-mark, as Dan Bejar drew many David Bowie comparisons when he first appeared. Perhaps Destroyer's Rubies is simply Bejar doing Bowie doing Lou. Long, labrynthine lyrics, carried along by baroque melodies. Much was made of this album earlier this year by people who enjoyed Sufjan Steven's Diamond Dogs-tribute, Illinois.

Perhaps the most enjoyable discovery, aside from our deep descent into the Flaming Lips back-catalog, was finally getting around to listening to When Pigs Fly, by the Canadian hiphop outfit, Chicharrones. Perhaps about as far removed from the seriousness of say, Ben Harper, the focus here is on fun, sarcasm, and a little bit of poking the bear.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Mountain of Conscience

Having recently been given a bag of Big Mountain Organic Costa Rica coffee as a gift, we decided to test out the drip coffee function of our Rancillio. The result? Uncertain. Switching from the dark roast Moak espresso of Sicily to the lighter Costa Rican roast of this Banff, AB based company has given us cups thinner on taste than we are accustomed too. In our own bookish fashion, we have a debate brewing over how we should go about improving the taste. The suggestions are as follows:

1. Grind the beans down and use them as espresso anyways. This will allow us to compare Big Mountain as we are used to drinking coffee.

2. Continue to experiment with the drip function of the Nancy. We used her now for three years, but this is the only time we've ever tried drip coffee.

3. Borrow a drip coffee machine.


There has also been talk about switching glasses, the proper amount of coffee per cup, sugar to coffee ratios, and many others. Big Mountain offers an espresso roast that we are also considering.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Tale of Two Policies

Okay, perhaps to call on of these a policy is stretching a bit, but it is more than a little revealing that the Canadian Federal Government and the European Union both released the details of their enivonmental action plan today. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is focusing on cleaning up Canada's air, hoping to reduce emissions by 2020, eight years after the next proposed Kyoto deadline. Furthermore, the actual targets are to be determined in consultation with industry groups, a tactic that the Liberal government used to delay progress on Kyoto as well.

In Europe meanwhile, the focus is on energy awareness and reduction, something that Mr. Harper's government recently eliminated funding for. The European approach is two-pronged: first by increasing consumer awareness of the energy demands of various consumer goods, the hope is that they will opt for the item with lower consumption, second, measures are being introduced through tax incentives for manufacturers to switch to more energy efficient processes. The crude simplification here is that the less energy used, the heat-trapping emissions produced.

One the surface, the difference with the Canadian approach may appear to be one of semantics. After all, aren't emissions bad, and so cleaning the air will remove them? Some heat trapping gases, like nitrogen dioxide give smog its brown haze, but others, like carbon dioxide cannot be seen. The proposed Clean Air Bill will make no impact on carbon dioxide levels. In fact, there's a small irony here: the Harper government is trying to imply that it's Clean Air Bill is a more practical approach to global warming than Kyoto, when it actually barely addresses the same concerns, the cynical smile comes in that many of the visible particulates that "dirty" the air actually reflect light and heat, contributing to global cooling . . .

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Audrey Gunther

It is with a heavy heart that the staff of Wenzel announce the death of our friend and one-time colleague Audrey Gunther. Last night as Audrey and a friend were crossing the street at a Bow Bottom Trail intersection, they were struck by a car. Audrey was killed instantly. A longtime choirmaster, many of us had first crossed paths were her through St. Mary's High School and our various alumni duties there. Sean Marchetto taught with her there during his brief stint at the school. Her death comes as a shock to all of us, and we at Wenzel are somewhat stunned, coming as it did so close to our musings on Calgary's needless sprawl, worsening traffic, and low vehicle occupancy rates.


Kind and warm, Audrey spent many hours with her choir and our thoughts are with her family and the staff and students of St. Mary's who she loved so very much.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ontario cools down while Alberta heats up

The slipping US economy appears to be dragging to the predominantly manufacturing-oriented Southern Ontario economy, where a high dollar reduces demand for Canadian goods. In an effort to prevent a recession in Ontario, the Bank of Canada is widely expected to keep interest rates the same, but if the province does not respond, then a rate reduction in the next quarter is not out of the question. Of course, lowering interest rates, or even keeping them the level, benefits the Alberta economy and encourages more development.

But what does this mean for Albertans. First of all, service industry woes are likely to continure. There is talk of attracted a further 8,600 workers a year to the province, but even this appears to fall short of the current demand. The extent of the service industry crunch has yet to be measured, but it has translated into a 33% jump in business complaints to the Better Business Bureau over last year alone.

Similarly, the traditional migrant to Alberta is young and single, so recent news headlines claiming that Calgary now has the most vehicles on the road in its history are likely to be true. At the last comprehesive measure, in the early 1990s, vehicle occupancy rates were 1.1, so Calgary is clearly not a carpooling city. In many areas of the city, "rush hour" traffic starts to accumulate by mid-afternoon, 14:30 -15:00, and on certain roads, Glenmore Trail or 16th Avenue North, it never really stops.

Furthermore, all of this traffic is just second-fiddle to the oil and gas industry which is awash in new project developments. Recent measures announceed by the government to deal with Clean Air, are unlikely to help reduce Alberta's claim to worst provincial polluter.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bookin' It

Sure we at Wenzel catch a lot of flicks and go throuh a lot of tunes, but we also turn quite a few pages. George Monbiot's Heat is not the only thing being read around here lately. Other books that have passed our way include Gautaum Malkani's Londonstani, and Simon Reynold's Rip It Up And Start Again, Postpunk 1978-1984. Some of us have been on a bit of a historical fiction kick, devouring Dennis Bock's chronicle of the life of Canadian icon Norman Bethune in The Communist's Daughter, as well as Canadian author Jack Whyte's new trilogy centring on the Knights Templar, Knights of the Black and White, and finally David Gemmell's Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow.

In depth reviews to come.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Week In Harper's Headlines

Perhaps this one should be called snatching defeat from the jaws of victory . . .

It has been an interesting week for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. If we had access to the polling numbers we would be very intrigued to see who reacted to precisely which headline.

The week started off with the unveiling of the Conservative Party's much advertised Clean Air Bill, aiming to reduce smog in major urban centres. In theory, this is more directed at Southern Ontario where smog warnings are frequent in the summer. It will all be warmly received in Alberta, since it does look to police the powerful oil and gas industry, a big relief from the days of Kyoto. The Clean Air Bill has been a central plank in the Conservative Party's environmental platform. When Wenzel staffer Bassano del Grappa asked sometime contributor Sean Marchetto his views on the Tory Environmental Policy, Marchetto shook his head, replying that "A Clean Air Bill does not replace a holistic Environmental policy." Marchetto is currently reading George Monbiot's Heat: How to Stop The Planet From Burning, and points out that our own environmental record is far less than stellar.

Harper followed this with an announcement that over half a billion dollars will be spent on the West Coast to enticie more trans-Pacific shipping to use Vancouver-area harbours as their North American point of entry. No reference was made as to how the Clean Air Bill will seek to alleviate the extra tonnage of shipping exhaust.

Than came Wednesday, a day that should have had Conservative election strategists wringing their hands in glee. Liberal party leadership front-runner Michael Ignatieff was caught voicing his opinion that Israel perhaps committed war crimes during their recent conflict with Lebanon. As Ignatieff tied to backpedal saying that "uwarranted human tragedies occurred on both sides" amid calls that he was anti-Israel, Prime Minister Harper entered the fray at the end of the week stating that the Liberal Party of Canada was also the Anti-Israel Party of Canada. Liberal leadership co-hopeful Bob Rae and his Jewish wife, took to a podium and denouced the Canadian Prime Minister as being divisive and hurtful.

While many commentators are claiming that Ignatieff's comments will hurt his leadership chances, we at Wenzel take a slightly more measured look. Yes, pro-Israel factions within the Liberal party are likely to be alienated by his comments, but there is also a somewhat sizeable group of Liberals who have been uncomfortable of Ignatieff's endorsement of Bush's immediate post-9/11 actions and have always felt Ignatieff too be to hawkish. These comments ma have the unintended consequence of demonstrating that Ignatieff's feelings toward the war are more nuanced than jingoistic, and draw him closer to those party members.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Moak Makes A Mark

We have enjoyed our initial 100% Arabica Moak coffee in our Nancy, that we bought their Gusto Dolce for use in our Gran Gaggia. Very good, mellow, and yes, somewhat sweet without the sugar.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Expectations run high

How could we forget? The Departed also came with a trailer for Zack Snyder's adaptation of Frank Miller's Thermopolyae epic, 300. It looks completely fantastical in every sense of the word!

Weekend Kino Update

As Satuday Night Live banks on Adam Samber and a reduced cast pulling in higher ratings this season, Wenzel sits down to catch up on some movie watching this Thanksgiving weekend.

First off, Battle for Algiers played during our Friday matinee sessions, and the office audience was enthralled. Perhaps it is because we are all more cynical than we'd like to believe, but after seeing this fictionalized account of the French battle to quash the Algerian revolution, we find ourselves giving credence to rumours that it is shown as the "How to find a modern, urban, guerrilla war" film. Very disturbing how it matches up with our expectations and images of American involvement in the Middle East.

Once more, we find ourselves admitting our bookish tendencies. Long have we admired Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai but only recently have we sat down to watch the cowboy classic, The Magnificent Seven, the American homage to the Japanese master. Steve McQueen and Yul Brenner are excellent, though the drama was undermined by one Wenzel stafferr inadvertently blurting out, "Hey this is just A Bug's Life!".

Perhaps the highlight of the weekend however, was the office outing to Martin Scorsese's The Departed, which opened this weekend. After The Aviator and Gangs of New York we were all looking forward to Scorsese getting back to basics, although The Departed centres around Boston cops and corruption. Almost Shakespearean in its twists and turns, unblemishing in its violence, the film draws stellar performances from sources as unlikely as Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin. Jack Nicholson is fantastic as he finally escapes the fetters of his recent romantic comedy roles and gives full rein to his darker side.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Cafe Spotlight

A few years ago, the Joshua Tree, located just off of Edmonton Trail and Eighth Avenue NE, was a quintessential college cafe, located far away from the University of Calgary. Drawing heavily on the student population renting in the nearby neighbourhoods of Bridgeland, Renfrew, and Crescent Heights, its eclectic second-hand decor hosted a young and vibrant clientele. As rents increased and more and more families moved into the areas, driving out the students, the cafe became more the domain of stay-at-home moms. While the menu, which features small breakfast and lunch items, is still the same. New owners have taken over and recently begun slowly updating the furnishings.

Music Update

There's no point in trying to deny that the Wenzel office staff sit around in argyle sweaters and glasses, discussing Proust and other bookish things, as we recount our grad school days. But sometimes, even for us, some things are just to academic. Squarepusher crosses that line with his latest album Hello Everything. Although he still manages to conjure up some danceable moments, the songs are permeated with a sense that he is offering us a lesson in the technical performance capabilities of various pieces of old school technology. There comes a point when, if we wanted to be lectured at, we'll put some Chomsky on the stereo.

At the complete other end of the spectrum meanwhile, 65daysofstatic have made good on their reputation as merchants of noise. Nine straight cacaphonous songs, capturing the atmosphere of DJ Shadow's opening salvo to Introducing. . . while building on the "we're just a dance band" cheek of Surrender to the Night-era Trans Am. Melding pianowork with distorted guitars, and sparing use of feedback, One Time For All Time, tastes like honey.

Elsewhere, Wenzel has reached into the archives and is currently enjoying Vancouver-based punk band D.O.A.'s best of compilation, Bloodied But Unbowed, a collection of music from 1978-1983 when the band was helping to create the politicized West Coast hard-core sound with the Dead Kennedys, rather than their later stage travelling legend status. If you ever wondered what the fuss was about, this is your introduction. Similarly,

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Running a Moak

Granted, we don't know if it can actually be pronounced like "amok", but we do know that this Sicilian brand of coffee has given us quite a smooth and mellow cup of espresso. We are almost tempted to follow their advertising dictum, "Sweet without sugar" next time around. While the people at Moak apparently have been around for quite some time, they have recently launched an international rebranding campaign to capture a share of the young, sophisiticated Wallpaper-reading set. One look at their interactive website, complete with modernist furniture and casual pictures of people in crisp suits certainly helps to create a distinct sense of style around their coffee. We are very much intrigued.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Harper's budget reveals much

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government revealed a series of government cuts designed to save $1 billion. It was announced that these savings will come from a reduction or elimination of programmes found to be wasteful, inefficient, better done by non-government agencies, or represented poor value for money.

Much is being made of the $4 million cut for research to medical marijuana, but the government's rationale, "We don't want to tell researches what they should be looking into" coupled with cuts to policy research, foreign policy research, and industrial technology research, creates an image of a government that does not have a research vision. To depend on private industry for research skews research to commerical interests. University research is often too underfunded or subject to too many personal whims. Only the federal government can set a national research agenda on something like climate change. Where would the American's be today without Kennedy's nebulous declaration that the US would set foot on the moon by the end of the decade.

Similarly, for all his talk of supporting children with his childcare and tax-based sports incentives, cuts to youth employment programmes, international internship programs, and the equality-driven legal reforms, his commitment to youth issues is somewhat questionable. In the same manner, the elimination of the visitor GST rebate, consolidation of various missions, reduction of monies for foreign affairs policy research, combine with the elimination of the international internships signal a slight retraction from international affairs.

These are just a few of the images the Harper's budget announcement reveals. Have a look for yourself.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Moment of Our Youth, Gone Forever

Film maker Lock Fulton to the stage last night to introduce his film. "I started off filming it because it was what I was doing at the time. When I was done I was proud of it, because it captured an image of a Calgary that no longer exists."

One might excuse Fulton for a moment of poetic license - except in the case of is documentary, Breakfast at Rock Central, the director was speaking literal truth. Rock Central, the flophouse located at 322 12th Avenue, two blocks east of the parking lot that inspired Sean Marchetto's acclaimed late-night radio program, The 12th Ave Paylot, and across the street from our very own Wenzel lot, successfully held and defended ten annual Stampede Breakfasts, starting at high noon and featured anywhere from four to a dozen bands, all playing in the backyard. The Wenzel lot was the first to go, being the proposed construction site for the new Stampede Convention Centre, while Rock Central fell prey to Stampede bulldozers a few weeks ago. Only the 12th Ave Paylot remains, having doubled in size and now devoid of much of its character.

But character was what a Rock Central Breakfast had in abundance, from the bands and the hipsters, to the denizens of Victoria Park, Calgary's most destitute neighbourhood, to the Dude Bomb himself. The Breakfast had music, dancing, hay-wrestling, balloons, sing-a-longs, and one year, even a towering inferno. Most of all, it had pancakes.

Those of us at Wenzel, either having been to high school with the various members The Dudes, The A-Team, and the Infernos, the prime movers of the Breakfast, or simply by virtue of working across the street, would often wander over during a workshift to enjoy some flapjacks and music. Yes, the Breakfasts at Rock Central were wild. Hedonism mixed with nilism. Despite the drunkenness, however, they somehow managed to pull off a spirit of community that almost seemed to make the Stampede worthwhile again.

Last night, Lock Fulton gave all that a fitting send off.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Movie Update

With recent viewings of Poseidon and Take the Lead, the Wenzel offices haven't exactly been your local art house theatre, lately. However we did manage an excursion to go see The Last Kiss, a movie about relationships that questions the very feasibility of relationships in late twentysomethings (or more specifically, twentysomething men). Zach Braff's acting shows up as two-dimensional, but Casey Affleck steals it for the younger set. The real gem here is the work between Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner, who appear as the parents of Baff's girlfriend, played by Jacinda Barrett and are having marital problems of there own. Many of us found The Last Kiss is a difficult film to watch, and not necessarily because the acting was bad, but rather it hit too close to the bone. It does not help matters that the movie offers no firm resolution, nor a happy ending. Some characters resolve to get back together, others don't, and some we're not sure about. We're currently attempting to track down the original Italian film, L'Ultimo Baccio, to see how these character types manifest.

Another film that we are trying to track down is The Proposition, written by Nick Cave and starring Guy Pearce. Yet another film delving it the myths an archetypes of Australian history, Cave as earned some praise for himself as a screenwriter with this gritty western.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Stephen Harper, Boy Wonder

Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper spoke in front of the UN yesterday, using his alotted fifteen minutes to make his inaugural address. For many in the Canadian media, this was a shining moment for the PM, as if the entire day's session in the General Assembly was building towards it, rather than a parade a delegates on a host of disparate subjects. Harper's speech didn't even earn a mention in the BBC's UN Round-Up.

So what did Harper talk about? Afganistan, using words that sounded remarkably like "stay the course". Prior to his speech, Canadian media asked him what he saw as the biggest threat to the international scene, and he replied "Iran" - even though European members of the Atomic Energy Commission recently published an open letter stating that the US is exaggerating Iran's development, threat-level, and non-compliance. Furthermore, Harper called on Canada to take a leadership role intenationally, even though one of his first international moves was to have his minister sink the Kyoto-related International Environmental Conference Canada hosted.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

TD Comes Onside

TD Bank analysts have recently come onside in regards to Canada's economic forecast for the upcoming year, following thinking published earlier this summer here at Wenzel. While this suprises us, as we do not pretend to be the deepest economic thinkers on the block, our only goal is to be in touch with the spirit of our times, economic, political, cultural, what have you.

To read their forecast, click here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Music update

Another busy week seeing a lot of music pass through the Wenzel offices.

Starting with perhaps the best of the bunch, The Ghost is Dancing five song EP, features more of the orchestral Canadian indie pop so popular with bands like the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene. However, these kids manage to combine a wide-eyed sense of innocence and cosmic wonder with their jangling guitars. Re-released for global (alright, North American) distribution by Sonic Unyon, The Ghost is Dancing is prepping for the release of a full-length in January of 2007.

Ubiquity Records has done it again with two solid releases. The first being the party-friendly, dancefloor filling Spanky Wilson and the Quantic Soul Orchestra's soon to be classic "I'm Thankful". We don't know where Will Holland found her, as Spanky's been plying her trade in every lounge, club, stage from Hoboken to Holland, Los Angeles to Glastonbury, since the 1960s. Regardless, "I'm Thankful" merges 21st century style with 20th century soul. Meanwhile for those enjoying the more electronic funk offerings, the label has made available TM Juke's "Forward". According to rumour, Al Cowan had recorded an entire album's worth of material last year and then scrapped it in favour of this. Diverse, challenging, yet butt-shaking, Foward makes us wonder - if the songs Cowan chucked are half as good as these let's bring'em on!

For those quieter moments of the night, Wenzel has been favouring the organic blues-folk sounds of Bob Egan's "The Glorious Decline". Fans of Baudelaire, decadence, nighthawks, and cigarettes will enjoy this third album from a guitarist who's been in Freakwater, Wilco, and Blue Rodeo. Some may say don't judge me by the company I keep, but by that measure Egan turns out well.

Leeds' based quartet iLIKETRAIN's took some growing, but their ambient space-rock debut "Progress Reform" mixes equal parts Joy Division, Interpol, and Arab Strap to yield songs about chess, trains, and doomed voyages to the Artic Circle.

Why espresso?

People often ask us why espresso? Many people understand our love of coffee culture, but why not a latte or cappuccino they often ask, or god forbid, the ubiquitous Canadian double-double, which will soon rank right up there with the beaver, the maple leaf, and poutine as enduring symbols of Canadiana (if it's good enough for Peter MacKay and Condoleeza Rice it's good enough for you). More than anything else though, we here at Wenzel follow a philosophy of humanism and prefer things that are sized relative to human needs. We find the towering silos of coffee as unthinkable as the milkshake, coffee-laced confections used to lure children into the caffiene soaked world.

. . . and we're not alone in our thinking. Ever wonder about the nutritional value of that five dollar cup in your hand? Check out this report, Good Coffee, Bad Coffee: How to surivive in latte land.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Game On, eh!

Parliament returns this week for fall action and political pundits are lining up to watch! The Harper government, a minority strutting like a majority, is out to jockey for position leading up to an anticipated spring election. The Liberals meanwhile are still trying to sort their house out, with a long-delayed leadership race finally coming to a head in Novemember, barely enough time to introduce the chief in the House of Commons before the Christmas break. Jack Layton meanwhile must be sniffing blood in the water as the Conservatives move more towards the right and the Liberals are no where to be found in the Centre. It will be interesting to see how the NDP attempts to lure voters away from the Liberals. The Conservatives on the other hand, have one eye on the re-emerging affluent middle-class looking to consolidate real estate and energy wealth and the other eye on Quebec, long predicted to be the main battleground in the next election. A side question's no one's asking here: if Harper's strength rests on Ontario sharing in the economic bonanza of the West, what happens if the dollar stays high but Central Canadian exports dry up as the US slides ever more slowly into recession?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Cafe Spotlight

From time to time, Wenzel will be posting spotlights on various coffeeshops around Calgary, since we're rarely in our offices anyways. To begin our series, we've chosen one of the old grand dames of the Calgary Coffee Scene, Higher Ground. Located in the coffeeshop dense Kensington, Higher Ground is located across the street from the art house Plaza Theatre and this proximity has given Higher Ground part of its mystique. During the day the crowd is a healthy mix of business people, NGO-types, college students, artists and trendjumpers, nestled among its quiet corners. At night, crowds crossing the street from the Plaza stop by for a pre-or-post discussion and coffee. The arrival of Starbucks in Calgary in the mid-1990s precipitated a coffee crash, seeing the death of many independent shops, Higher Ground however was able to withstand not just Starbucks in Calgary, but the opening of one two doors down. In fact, Higher Ground has been able to renovate exensively, replacing it's old Victorian floorboards for tiles and a more modern colour scheme, adding a growing selection of wines to their coffee and tea list.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Maybe it's just a showmance?

Local media outlets are in a tizzy over a suspected romance between American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and broken-hearted Conservative bachelor and Foreign Affairs minister Peter MacKay after the two were observed going into a Tim Horton's in Atlantic Canada. The some media even called in "body language" experts to confirm that a Fall Romance was in the offing. Of course, no talk of the political implications of the meeting was discussed, the likelihood that Rice and MacKay were talking about the Canadian military presence in the Middle-East, a subject that seems to have other parts of the world talking too - the BBC has been running special coverage of the debate on their Americas website.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Marcello di Cintio

Sometime Wenzel contributor Sean Marchetto had a brief chat with Calgarian autor Marcello di Cintio at the Higher Ground coffee shop in Kensington. Di Cintio has just released his book Poets and Pahlevans, recounting his travels through Iran to explore its history, poetry, and wrestling. The official launch of Poets will be Monday and Di Cintio will also be appearing at Wordfest. During their talk, di Cintio mentioned that he is a fan of the classic Battle for Algiers, a look at the Algerian struggle for independence and rumoured to be required viewing on coutner-insurgency fighting for American troops headed to the Middle-East. Marchetto was surprised as the film is currently slated as part of Wenzel's office matinee series.