Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Music Update

A couple of things have been Floating On the airwaves here at the Daily Wenzel the last few weeks, not least of which have been Arcade Fire's Funeral, or Modest Mouse's Good News For People Who Like Bad News, as well their respective singles as we gear up for the new albums. Blonde Redhead's 2004 release, the hauntingly beautiful, yet surprisingly fragile (for a former Touch & Go band) Misery is a Butterfly has perhaps been getting the most play.

In between, Chumbawamba's latest polemic, A Singsong and a Scrap, a collection of pro-worker songs of resistance and rebellion, including the Clash' "Bankrobber", has been finding it's own airspace as well. With all the songs being performed either a capella, or acoustically, the band seems to have completed its metamorphosis from piss and vinegar youthful punks, to thoughtful rootsy hippies. Also making the office charts are two new K7! albums, Appendix, a collection of solid, yet somewhat dissonant remixes from Funkstorung, and the one that we're quite interested in, as it seems a return to more organic, rock-based samples, Joakim's Monster's and Silly Songs.

To be fair, Blood Stained Love Story, from Saliva, a Memphis-based Creed/Nickelback band with serious adult contemporary religious rock tendencies got one play in the office, but has not been back since.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

March Madness

No, we're not talking about college basketball.

March is shaping up to be quite the music month. The release of the new Bloc Party album , and the new Damon Albarn side project, The Good, The Bad, and the Queen, have only served to whet our appetite for major releases by the likes of The Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse. That Blonde Redhead have a new set for March doesn't hurt, nor does the slate of new music being released in advance of the spring festival circuit which kicks off with Austin's industry orgy known as South by Southwest, something we at the Daily Wenzel are desperately trying to wrangle our way into.

Monday, February 19, 2007

In the beginning . . .

A decree went out from Harper Augustus. According to the decree every man was to go to his own city to be passported. (Adapted from the Book of Luke)

Granted our neighbours to the south may have a bit more of a role to play in the sudden passport requirements of Canadians, however, Harper must ultimately be front in centre in what could be a very personal experience for most Canadians with the federal government.

Some of us went to the Harry Hays building last week, the Federal outpost in downtown Calgary to renew our passports. Typically such a visit might take half an hour with a return trip ten days later to pick up passports. On New Year's we noticed the new requirements for visiting the United States on travel websites, and thought it best to wait a awhile, expecting a passport rush leading up to the Jan. 23 deadline. A month later we decided to go in.

From all accounts, ours was a typical day and the people lining up around us were somewhat resigned to fact that they would be waiting at minimum two hours before getting to the passport office with their papers. Two and a half hours later, we arrived at the pre-screening desk and were told that it would be an hour from this point. Officials had been moving throughout the line checking for signatures of guarantors, but it was at this second pre-screening station that people really started to be weeded out. Three of the seven people ahead of us had their photos turned away, most commonly for glare, but occassionally for size or too much smile on the face of a four year old. Luckily, the pre-screeners informed everyone, they still had an hour before their pre-drawn number was up, so they could hurry to one of the photoshops and get new pictures taken. After we made it into the Passport Office Proper, the security guard announced to everyone that from this point it would be at least an hour before we could approach the wicket for processing. He recommended that we all leave and get something to eat to prevent fainting.

Scanning the room, we saw that there were twelve wickets, only half of which were open. While we left to grab a bite, we discussed the Attorney General's press release stating that the Harper government had yet to act of any of her 2005 recommendations to fix security breaches and processing flaws within the Passport Office. We found it odd that a government so concerned over terrorism would be so blaise about security gaps at such a sensitive location. We also found it highly annoying, and somewhat arrogant, that the Harper government would allow the Passport Office to be half-staffed. Either they were unprepared for the numbers of passport applicants or else cared very little for the trouble to average citizens.

Our passports were finally processed after four and half hours of waiting. Instead of ten days, we were told it would be four to five weeks.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Egad. . .

Late night internet surfing always yields the strangest things.

Literally mouth-watering photos of espresso shots from - we admit we have a problem.

Similarly, we find this altogether too fascinating.

Valentine’s Day Is Over

Yes, Billy Bragg’s “Valentine’s Day is Over” has always been one of our favourite post-Valentine’s songs, with it’s cheerful lyric, “the bicycle chain fell off my bike today, it’s now wrapped ‘round my heart”. In an era of personal playlists, we here at the Daily Wenzel would like to suggest a few easy listening pieces for post-Valentine’s.

Should I Stay or Should I Go - The Clash hover on the edge of a dillema and we're never quite sure if it's personal or political, but the result is a bass hook and a refrain that lives on.

Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division write one for the ages. It was FFWD publisher, Ian Chiclo, who introduced this song as a "Valentine's Day song" one year during his CJSW radio show, "The 2 1/2 Hour Coffee Break". It's always struck with us, again, one of those moments in a relationship where, looking back things could go either way.

Technicolour Girls - Speaking of going either way, Death Cab for Cutie's torch song get's to the essence of post-Valentine's relationship's when they sing about the leather jacket "proving to be on temporary loan".

Butterfly - from a concept album devoted to the rise and fall of relationships, Rivers Cuomo concludes Pinkerton with this image-laden gem.

Miss Otis Regrets/Just One of Those Things - We freely admit that we have a thing for Cole Porter, and nothing sums up both ends of the morning after spectrum from the despair of Kirsty MacColl voice on "Miss Otis Regrets", nor the head-pounding of nighttime revelry encapsulated by Shane MacGowan in "Just One of Those Things".

Ice of Boston - legend has it that this is the song that got the Dismemberment Plan signed, and all you have to do is listen to the bit about Gladys Knight to capture the vision that we have. Even if it's about New Year's.

Feel free to suggest others.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Jam-packed environmental action

sEven in this tech heavy era, it seems like we can't stay as informed as we would like, as fast as we would like. With all of the enviro-debates occurring this week we almost wish we could have several direct video feeds set-up to monitor everything. For starters, there seems to be some talk of a post-Kyoto protocol in the works amongst the G8 nations, but whether this turns out to be a Kyoto II, or some kind of watered down Kyoto, or even anything at all, although given recent political developments in Britain it seems likely that something positive will result.

The Canadian federal government meanwhile is gearing up to debate a private members' bill calling on the Harper government to hold itself to the Canada's commitments under the Kyoto Accord. While some view the bill as mostly meaningless, since it lacks any effective measures to hold the government accountable, it gives the political parties another chance to posture on their environmental platforms in advance of a general election.

A little closer to home, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach is arguing for greater Clean Air funding for Alberta. Although this is most likely a political attempt to take advantage of federal money since a common complaint among Alberta premiers is the inequality among transfer payments, however there is an element of truth to Stelmach's position. Currently, federal funding is being released on a per capita basis, where Alberta would be entitled to roughly a tenth of the funds, but as the province is home to the pil and gas industry, it is responsible for a third of all the country's emissions and air borne pollutants.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Kino Update

As one might suspect form our sporadic postings, we here at The Daily Wenzel have found ourselves pulled in several different directions, but managed to settle down to watch the lovingly filmed documentary New York Doll, about Arthur “Killer” Kane, the bass player for the legendary New York Dolls. In 1974 the Dolls suffered through a drug induced break-up, with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan eventually dying of drug overdoses, and David JoHansen and Sylvain Sylvain cleaning up and finding other musical outlets. Arthur Kane however was stuck in somewhere in the middle. Having bottomed out into alcoholism and fallen through a window, he discovered God in the form of the Book of Mormon, and took up a job at the L.A. Temple.

When Morrissey had the idea of having the Dolls reform for his 2004 Meltdown, Arthur had not seriously performed in over twenty years. What follows is a bittersweet story of his return and sudden departure from a musical stage that has haunted him since 1974.

As a side note, watching David JoHansen relaxing and smoking cigarettes, one wonders if he was the inspiration for the Gorillaz’ Murdoc Nicchols.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Marxism, Post-Marxists, and a slow realization that after everything you've just ended up back at the starting point . . .

Quite a while ago, most of us at The Daily Wenzel would have considered ourselves non-Marxists. While we sympathized with the plight of working classes and riled against the rich and the status quo, our Maxists friends seemed altogether too stuffy and intent on bringing about a paradigm that was outdated and historically flawed. If you keep insisting on asking the same questions, we thought, you were always going to arrive at the same answers. How do you come up with new answers? we wondered. Obviously, asking new questions was they key, but how do we know if the questions are really new and not just different by degree instead of kind? A change in context, we argued, would yield a new perspective with new questions, but what could create a new context we then asked?

Well, we paused and thought. Quite a few mid-morning cappucinnos were consumed, and eventually we felt that a real change in context could only come about by a change in the daily living conditions of people. People constructed context based on how they lived their lives, and so if they somehow changed the way they lived, they could change the questions they thought to ask. What enabled people to change their daily lives, mainly technology, but what fuelled technological change? The economy.

In that moment the image of our laughing Marxist friends loomed large overhead.

That was a few years ago and the technological development of society has continued to increase rapidily. People now commonly speak of living in an Information Age and we find ourselves coming back to our thought on what causes a change in daily life. Our original answer of the economy does not seem so powerful now, as we are coming to the realization that context is dependent on meaning, and the question we should have been asking is what gives daily life meaning? The answer to that varies by time and place. In the feudal age that Marx describes, it was religion. The industrial revolution enabled the economy to envelop all of society. In this so-called Information Age, it is not so much the information that is important, but the manipulation of it. What gives our lives meaning is the lives and meaning we see reflected back to us in the media.

Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle seems more relevant now than ever before.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Modest Mouse single released

Just how big has been the impact of Montreal's Arcade Fire? One piece of evidence is a new single that has crept out of the Modest Mouse music camp (and we're quite smitten with it). The new single "Dashboard" retains some of the fast-paced guitar work characteristic of early Modest Mouse, it also includes a lush orchestral backdrop and choral harmonies - demonstrating that Isaac Brock has learned a thing or two from some of his former students.

The new album, We were dead before the ship even sank is due out in March.

Education - the Alberta Advantage?

Speaking of education, the Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has recently announced that he will be returning over $1 billion of education taxes to municipalities. Prior to the Klein government changes in education funding starting in 1994, local schoolboards acting in conjunction with the muncipalities set a portion of civic property taxes to be used to fund schools. The schoolboard operating budgets came directly out of this levy. Under the Klein government, the province collected this money from the municipalities and then returned to the schoolboards in the form of per pupil grants, with additional monies granted for capital and special projects. Critics of this plan have long argued that under the new system the large urban boards of Calgary and Edmonton have seen their funding levels decrease, inhibiting their ability to meet the specialized needs of at-risk, special needs, and ESL students who tend to migrate to the urban boards. Furthermore, this has put negotiations between local schoolboards and locals of the teachers' union in an awkward place since the schoolboards do not have control over their income, but the union locals cannot negotiate with the province who actually holds the purse strings. Is it any wonder then that labour relations have reached some of their highest tensions in the last thirty years?

At any rate, the education is still underfunded. Urban schools are in various stages of disrepair and the provincial teachers' pension plan has an unfunded liability over the $6 billion mark. Somehow though, Premier Stelmach feels comfortable refunding money to the muncipalities to be used for municipal projects like road construction and repair.

All Quiet on the Western Front

While we would like to say that things have been quiet here at the Daily Wenzel since we've all been off in Paris at the climate change meetings, the truth is somewhat (alright much) more mundane. Readers waiting patiently for pronouncements or opinions on the recent parliamentery debates between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Opposition leader Stephane Dion over the environment will have to wait a while longer. Given the reporting in the media these energetic exchanges signify the jockeying for political positioning that accompanies and imminent election. Unfortunately an explanation, exploration, and evaluation of these different proposals has been sorely lacking. Readers familiar with the ideas of Guy Debord contained in his book The Society of the Spectacle (available at right) may recognize this as all-too-characteristic of corporate media coverage.

While we are attempting to find out more about these positions, we were surprised at the various levels of coverage presented to the Paris Climate Change conference report that human activitiy is "likely" (meaning 90% causal) to be the prime influence on global warming and climate change. What surprised us is that while it is difficult to find out information of Canadian political responses through the media, most major media include a direct link to the conference's 21 page report. Putting information in the hands of people is one of the most productive strategies to change opinions on climate change. Educating them however, is also a necessary next step. . .