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.