A Natural History of Human Morality (2016) by Michael Tomasello

Categories: 2016, Books, and Non-Fiction.

For the vast majority of recorded human history, we humans have believed that morality comes from somewhere outside of us; from “above,” from the ether, from some kind of benevolent creator, etc. Even as we have learned more and more about how humans evolved from apes who evolved from “lower” animals who evolved from “lower” lifeforms who evolved from, essentially, “ooze” we have still maintained that human morality comes from outside of human beings. The idea is that morality has been bestowed on us by something, or existed before we did, and we access it. When I was growing up Read More

Confederation Part I: Confederation and Riel (part of The History of the Village of Small Huts) Live at Soulpepper Tuesday July 11, 2017

Categories: 2017 and Theatre.

This is the second staging of a 1988 set of two 1-act plays which are part of the 21 1-act play cycle, The History of the Village of Small Huts, performed by Video Cabaret, a troupe that uses tableau and total darkness to give essentially soundbite snippets of Canadian history. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it. Read More

The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) by Steven Pinker

Categories: 2011, Books, and Non-Fiction.

If you watch the news today, you will be told the world is awful. Even if, like me, you do not have cable, you can still get enough news of the awfulness of the world from your antenna or the internet. The news is an endless barrage of controversy and tragedy; controversy over the supposedly awful things that people do to each other, and the tragedy of yet another series of deaths, caused by human beings or natural disasters. Even if you’re a bit of an optimist, as I am, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that the world is Read More

The Quest for a Moral Compass (2014) by Kenan Malik

Categories: 2014, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I have been reading Malik’s blog for more than a few years at this point (I think), in part because I feel like he has much greater insight into the issues around jihadism than most of the people writing in North America (who I’ve had a chance to read). I find his approach not only measured – which is refreshing – but also imbued with a strong knowledge of the various cultures at play, and a knowledge of history. It is for this reason that I got this book. To be honest, I was initially quite disappointed. I am not Read More

A History of Rome – Second Edition (1991, 1994, 1996, 2001) by Marcel Le Glay, Jean-Louis Voisin, Yann Le Bohec, David Cherry

Categories: 1991, 1994, 1996, 2001, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is a general history of Rome meant, I believe, for use in schools as a textbook. It’s written that way anyway, so it’s rather dry. The strength of the book is in the early going when it provides a great deal of pre-history to the empire, pretty much all of which I was unfamiliar with. Another strength is that the authors mostly refuse to speculate, so this is likely an accurate, not one that thrives on biased ancient accounts or on inventing motives for historical actors. But the book has two major weaknesses, even though it has been updated Read More

Raptors Best Draft Picks

Categories: Basketball and Sports.

Earlier this season, a click-baity article was published on TSN about the “best” Raptors draft picks of all time, given that this was their 20th season and all. They were, according to the author: Bosh Mighty Mouse Mo Pete DeRozan T Mac No explanation was given for why Mo Pete is considered to be better than DeRozan or T Mac beyond the fact that he played way more games for the Raps. (Does that make him better?) There was also no explanation as to why Mighty Mouse was considered better than T Mac, beyond that the Raptors failed to retain Read More

Summer of 49 (1989) by David Halberstam

Categories: 1989, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I am not a Yankees fan or a Sox fan but I am a fan of The Breaks of the Game, probably the best book I have ever read about sports. This book is not on that level, but, for someone like me who was not alive during the summer of 1949, and who was unaware of what happened, Halberstam still manages to capture enough of interest for someone like me, who hates both teams, to make this engaging, interesting and even compelling by the end. There’s a host of interesting back-stories and some of the the most interesting information Read More

Adoration (2008, Atom Egoyan)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

Oh, Egoyan’s attempts to understand the past through contrivances and meta-narratives! Gotta love’em. Whereas with Ararat, Egoyan tried to get us to understand the Armenian genocide through making a movie about making a movie about it (yeesh), here he tries to get us to understand suicide bombing and terrorism, and the resulting prejudice, by making a movie about a kid who Spoiler Alert! lies about his dad being an infamous terrorist. I don’t know why Egoyan thinks this is a better or even a decent way of getting us closer to “truth”, whether it be factual or emotional. I find Read More

Rooftop Concerts and Reimagined Records

Categories: Music.

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the Beatles’ infamous rooftop concert, their last public performance and source from parts of their (sort of) last album Let it Be. Let it Be should have been Get Back (and released a year earlier), but Get Back was never released because the Beatles couldn’t agree on the mix, the sequencing and other important things. I have covered the weird nature of that album in my book, but now someone has resurrected Get Back, or something as close to what the Beatles may have intended as possible. It’s the original “back to basics” album. Read More

We Stand Alonge Together: The Men of Easy Company (2001, Mark Cowen)

Categories: 2001 and TV.

This is an affecting documentary about the real people behind Band of Brothers. It is literally just interviews and stock footage (with a couple of brief shots of the mean in the present day) and is not particularly creative in its presentation or anything like that. And it doesn’t aim for that – this is basically just an extended DVD extra (maybe it aired on HBO too) and it is well made and certainly the stories are affecting. 6/10 Read More

The West (1996, Stephen Ives)

Categories: 1996 and Movies.

This is a “Ken Burns” documentary series, but unlike his most famous works, he acted only as Executive Producer (or, perhaps, Show Runner, as we call it now days). The show is, at times, incredibly Burnsian, despite Burns’ relative lack of involvement. And this is the biggest problem with what is an informative and interesting (and at times, affecting, mini series). Some episodes are more in debt to Burns’ trademark style than others (some feel like carbon copies of The Civil War albeit with different subject matter). Burns’ remaking on myths is on full throttle here, and it feels as Read More

Civilization (2011) by Niall Ferguson

Categories: 2011, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This appears to me to be an attempt by Ferguson to provide a sort of sequel to Guns, Germs and Steel. I say that because both books begin the same way – the attempt to answer a question about Europe’s predominance over the last few hundred years and because Ferguson makes multiple reference’s to Diamond. I am guessing Ferguson was not entirely satisfied with Diamond’s explanation and sought to get more detailed about the rise of Europe. If you could get past the horribly self-congratulatory preface – if your edition is unfortunate to have it – I think he does Read More

The Book of Imaginary Lands (2013) by Umberto Eco

Categories: 2013, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is a history of human beings’ invented worlds, not specifically from fiction but rather (mostly) worlds which human beings invented to explain the unknown parts of the earth, which exploration and science hadn’t yet revealed. The chapters cover worlds such as Atlantis, Shangri La, and numerous other fabled lands. Each chapter is further supported by excerpts from many of the referenced texts. Eco isn’t always obvious in his purpose – though if you have read Foucault’s Pendulum, for example, you already know how he feels – at least in the first chapters but his intent is, rightly, to point Read More

The Civil War (1990, Ken Burns)

Categories: 1990 and TV.

I watched when I was 8 or 9 and never since. On watching it this time, I am amazed I still remember some of it; it obviously had a big impression on me. This documentary is an important landmark – kind of like the American version of Shoah – the first long-form American documentary about American history. And it’s also iconic – so much of what is contained in this film has become cliche but that’s not because it is cliche, just that Burns’ style has weaseled its way into American documentary storytelling, especially in the case of TV documentaries. Read More

The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980) by Bruce Chatwin

Categories: 1980, Books, and Fiction.

Is this mythology as history? Or maybe narrative journalism as history? I saw Cobra Verde ages ago and I didn’t know this was the source material. If memory serves, it was very liberally adapted. This is an absolutely crazy story, and at this remove I’m not sure if it matters what is true and what isn’t. It’s a fascinating and bizarre situation during a bizarre time and this kind of approach, well over a century removed, makes the whole story more alive, even if it maybe isn’t accurate. 8/10 Read More

In Patagonia (1977) by Bruce Chatwin

Categories: 1977, Books, and Non-Fiction.

Part travelog, part oral history, part amateur archaeological text, part memoir. Totally unique and a far cry from Theroux’s more traditional travel writing. Theroux takes the train, Chatwin hitchhikes – and perhaps that is why their experiences are so different. Chatwin is also much more concerned with local memory / mythology as history rather than his own personal observations of cultures and peoples. It’s a completely different approach but it is just as interesting. 8/10 Read More

Beyond the Edge (2013, Leanne Pooley)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

What could easily have been a bad TV documentary is saved by the rather brilliant idea of actually recreating Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s historic ascent 60 years later and, amazingly enough, the use of 3D. There are some really clunky, TV-movie worthy ideas here: calendar pages flipping over, altimeter gauges tracking the ascent, CGI bees… But the views are so spectacular, especially because of the 3D, that by the end of the film you don’t care that it needed a better director. No film I have ever seen has done a better job of establishing the absolute scale – Read More

The Port Chicago Mutiny (1989) by Robert L. Allen

Categories: 1989, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I was actually completely unaware of the occurrence of the Port Chicago explosion or subsequent “mutiny”, so this book was quite eye-opening. I don’t want to open this can of worms, but I think I have too: unfortunately this account is too focused on race and the individual, subjective experiences of the African American seamen who participated in the work stoppage. I say this because Allen has assembled a lot of damning information about Navy policies and actions that caused this explosion – and the successful blaming of the explosion on black sailors – but by focusing so much on Read More

Stillwell and the American Experience in China (1971) by Barbara Tuchman

Categories: 1971, Books, and Non-Fiction.

Tuchman appears to be attempting two disparate things with this book: to tell the story of Joseph Stillwell’s career in the military and to tell the story of US intervention in China from the (first) Chinese revolution to the expulsion of the Kuomintang. She succeeds at the former a lot more than the latter, in part because this book is just way too US-centric. Tuchman does a remarkable job of trying to understand Chinese culture, but at the end of the book one still feels like one is reading a history of China written by an American and primarily concerned Read More

Extraordinary Canadians: Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin (2010, Penguin) by John Raulston Saul

Categories: 2010, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I first learned about Robert Baldwin in grade 7, and I can’t say that particular bit of junior high history moved me much. I was far more interested in the war of 1812 at the time (because I was a boy and because I liked military history, not history). So I can’t say I thought much about it, and I’m sure most other students like me weren’t captivated either. In fact, the only reason it was interesting to me was that it just so happened that his descendant was dating my mother. So there was a surreal aspect to it, Read More

The Great Transformation (1944) by Karl Polanyi

Categories: 1944, Books, and Non-Fiction.

Despite two very serious flaws, this is a major, important, path-breaking and near-classic work. First Polanyi proves that capitalism is just historical contingency; something that probably desperately needed to be said back then, since even the biggest critic of capitalism thought it was necessary. More to that point, Polanyi destroys all notion that there is anything “natural” about capitalism and free markets; that is to say he removes any doubt that individual business and contracts were the natural state of man – as alleged by many classical economists – and that only government had been holding us back. The second Read More

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841) by Charles Mackay

Categories: 1840, Books, and Non-Fiction.

On the one hand this is an invaluable chronicle of many of the most ridiculous things human beings have got up to in European history. On the other hand it leaves a lot to be desired: Macky is interested only in describing. Though he does have the odd snide comment, he is not interested in “the why” at all, and perfectly willing to ascribe it to folly / original sin (or whatever you want to call it). If he published this today, he would get ripped to shreds for not trying to understand the nature of these things. Just describing Read More

The Hockey Hall of Fame Bias towards “Last time we won the cup was…”

Categories: Hall of Fame, Hockey, and Sports.

The more I went through previous Hockey Hall of Fame admissions for a previous blog entry, the more I became aware of a pattern: the sheer number of inductees who played for a franchise’s last cup winner. Memory is an extraordinarily powerful force and it seems like the memory of a franchise’s “last great team” is often enough to get guys inducted who otherwise don’t have enough of a resume. Today, I look at all the teams with post-Cup droughts over 20 years and see whether there is indeed a pattern. The Black Hawks 1938 Time between titles: 23 years Read More

The album isn’t dead…and if it is, that’s not a good thing

Categories: Music.

I reject the claim that the album is dead since I own hundreds and I know many who also own hundreds. Moreover, I live near multiple stores that sell albums. I bought one for my brother the other day. I intend to go by some this week for myself, as well. But if it is indeed dead, that is not a good thing. I’ll tell you why. Albums – whether 10″ LPs, 44 minute LPs or 78 minute CDs – imposed necessary limits on artists. Artists, producers and sometimes – for better or worse – labels, were forced to pick Read More

Bollywood

Categories: Movies.

Last night I went to a house warming party and drank a bit too much red wine (which is hilarious given that I haven’t gotten drunk off wine in what feels like years). Given the time of year the subject of TIFF naturally came up and we eventually got on to Slumdog, a film I do not like very much. This got me ranting on Bollywood and I am afraid I was not very eloquent (I believe the phrase “I don’t give a shit” occurred multiple times) and I chased the guy out of the room, as he did not Read More

RIP Gerald E. Tucker

Categories: 2011, Personal, and RIP.

Though he initially confounded me, as he did many first year students, Tucker became one of my favourite professors at Bishop’s while I was there – perhaps my favourite. He never finished the curriculum for any class I took with him (I’m not sure we ever made it 2/3rds of the way through any) and he usually strayed from the point, but no other professor at Bishop’s, or where I did my grad school, ever provoked me to think like Tucker did. He would say things – sometimes seriously but often jokingly – that would provoke my brain and / Read More

NHL Realignment

Categories: Hockey and Sports.

Provided the Thrashers are indeed moving to Winnipeg (and I have no reason to doubt this story because it originated in a paper owned by one of the Partners of True North) and provided no other teams move this off-season, the NHL will have to realign its divisions. How do they do that? Read More