Monday, December 16, 2013

One Ring to Adorn Us All

In our Western culture, jewellery hasn’t been a major male thing since the far-off times when we were barbarians. Better to have the metal on our body do something useful like protect us. Only princes of the church kept on wearing huge and ostentatious rings for their adherents to kiss and prove their fealty. 

Today in countries like Canada married men wear simple gold wedding rings.  In  Britain that may instead be a personal signet ring, a tradition that dates from the time not so long ago when a gentleman would press hot wax to prove his bona fides for a document or package. Everyday high-testosterone types may also have around their necks a small crucifix or other symbol.

Most of the time, when a man does have something shiny of value on his body, it has an emotional connection. It is not a thing to be put on just to match the outfit of the day.  While in my youth it could be a gold fob watch that belonged to a dead ancestor, these days it is most often a ring. For some it might be set with an exotic stone that perhaps even has a story to go with it. I have owned two such rings over my life. 

The first was a cats-eye from the Northwest Frontier of the British Raj.  Grandfather did something important in the army over there in those adventurous times.  It was set in plain gold, was of modest appearance and of unknown value, and I was very fond of it.  I loved it as a link to our robust Imperial past and to a grandparent I never met. I wore it everywhere. Sadly we eventually parted, the ring tumbling down into the soft snow below as I peeled off my mitts up on a moving ski lift.  I just hope the mountain troll now proudly flaunting it on his pinkie likes it as much as I did!

My present on-hand pointer-to-the-past is another grandparent ring, one with three diamonds set in gold. I have no story here as the exact provenance of this quiet beauty is unknown. But it twinkles up merrily at me whenever I am typing, and I think of it as my Faithful Keyboard Companion.  It has survived the ocean and many a ski run. I like to hope that even when they finally lower me into the long box, we will not part. After all, a Diamond is Forever, so surely three must be for all eternity?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Political Correctness as the Route to Tribalism

As the world mourns Nelson Mandela, one has to wonder how much it really understands his message. In this region black activists are angrily suing the major police forces in a class-action for $190 million total. In my backyard the school board has very publicly outed a high school vice-principal for blacking his face and dressing up like a popular rapper for Halloween.

How the 'Black Action Defence Committee' thinks that threatening to to put our police into bankruptcy helps the cause of social cohesion and respect for their contribution is beyond me. By naming him specifically in their suit they have chosen to ruin the retirement of our county's former police chief. The impact on future recruitment for such high-profile but essential jobs is likely dire.

That the kids at our high school may actually admire the rapper being featured for Halloween clearly seems not not occurred to our school administrators. The number of male teachers is in serious decline. Does anyone connect the dots?

In this country we use the term 'multiculturalism' for the politically-correct perspective that no mainstream political party today dares to deviate from. The trouble with the word is that no-one seems to know where its limits are.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Case for More Paranoia

"I..have multiple layers of encryption on a personal desktop at home which is now running Linux and not Windows anymore. I do this because I want to sort of  'thumb my nose' at the N.S.A. more than anything else. I actually have nothing to hide!....But foreign governments have no business in my business or personal life. So I guess this is just my own petty little protest and way of saying F you NSA. Childish? Probably, but hey, why not?" - a comment off the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) MyVoice website.

He's responding to a CIRA survey conducted early this year and which found that 49% of Canadians believe it is acceptable for government to monitor e-mail and other online activities. This rises to 77% when the prevention of future terrorist attacks is specified. Wow one might think, our public protectors have to get a search warrant to view our snail mail or tap our phone lines but the majority of us think it's OK somehow for them to read anything at all we put online!

For myself, I see the fundamental error in our accepting unrestricted universal surveillance is assuming that those in security bureaucracies are any different from the rest of us with regard how much they can be trusted to behave honourably. There is nothing in our history as a species that justifies such acquiescence. While it often seems we live at a very paranoiac time, there are huge gaps in this perception, and online surveillance is one of them.  I'd argue one should be paranoid, knowing what we now know about human nature.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dying On Time

In this mid-winter shopping season, with its Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays and their ilk going right through till Boxing Day, and beyond into January Sales, many's the message from advertisers  about what will best keep our physiological furnaces at high heat and our bodies looking sprightly. We are sure to be encouraged to reflect on how we measure up against the new norms for aging vigorously; the standards set by Sir Richard Branson and other hard-charging late-life high achievers.

Those folk really do seem to have cracked the code for 'aging-with-vigour'. Some of you readers may remember the time when just 'aging-with-grace' was considered admirable?  We older folk were expected to try to keep our lips in a smile and our grousing to our peers. Folk might tell us they could see our motor was running down but we should know that is just the way things have always been. A discrete visit to a home medical equipment store might be in order, but no need to draw attention to our aches and pains. Just suffer in silence.

Nowadays we have Sixty is the New Forty in which there is no justification for behaving like the aged of times past. Cars now last longer if serviced regularly, and so should we. Pilates and hot yoga, orienteering, daily swims and workouts in the gym, spinning, and botox when needed, are all part of the new deal on saving our bodies from the curses of our years.

The problem I have with all this is my body, which seems to get creakier by the month whether I buy some of these services or not. Some sort of genetic biological clock is ticking away in me to drive my physiology to malfunction in new ways. As  drugs often exist today to prevent at least some of this deterioration from actually doing me in, I'm probably going to stay a bit longer on this planet than those before me. But neither government medicine nor today's privately-delivered healthiness enhancements can make me feel again like I did in my forties. At best they are going to make the process of my dying more prolonged, and my death itself happen somewhat later than of old.

This outcome has recently been christened 'Dying After Your Time'.  In the extra years today's gungho technology can buy us before we croak do we get any wiser? Does our life become fuller? To my mind there's little chance for that when hearing is poor, knees ache much of the time, eyesight demands large print books, and memory plays tricks. When one can't read the keys on a cellphone to transmit whatever pearls of insight come with advanced years, it is probably high time to hit the trail!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Quality Public Broadcasting as a Thing of the Past

In social democracies it has been the norm for the entertainment airwaves to be controlled and utilized by the national government. First radio and then television broadcast over-the-air were, everywhere outside the USA, managed by a government-sponsored and publicly-funded broadcasting authority. Even when private broadcast networks became legal and began offering their own programming to owners of receiving equipment, public broadcasting continued. Thus the major Commonwealth countries all still have a public broadcaster - the BBC, ABC, CBC, and so on.

These state-managed broadcasting authorities were initially organized around what has often been called the Reith Doctrine, after Lord Reith, the first Director-General of the BBC. Reith summarized the BBC's purpose in three words: educate, inform, entertain; this remains part of that organization's mission statement to this day.  This credo has also been adopted by broadcasters throughout the world, notably the donation-funded Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States. The term 'Reithianism' speaks to equal consideration of all viewpoints, probity, universality and a commitment to public service. This contrasts with a free-market approach to broadcasting, where programming aims to attract the largest audiences or advertising revenues.

What we have had in Canada since the turn of this century is the worst of all broadcasting worlds, a publicly-funded national broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), that has been ruined by managers who have attempted by abandoning Reithianism to compete unsuccessfully with our nation's private broadcasters.  Recently control of the broadcasting of our national sport, ice hockey, whose professional teams were a mainstay of CBC television, has been lost to a private network. This has prompted a long overdue howl of outrage over how badly the CBC is being managed and how far from quality broadcasting it has strayed.

While, as in the links above, much of the current umbrage is focused around televised programming, the same sins are true for the radio programming of the CBC and Radio Canada (its French language operation). It can be argued that radio is still as or more influential than television in cementing a sense of national identity across such a vast country (one only exceeded in size by the Russian Federation).  On CBC broadcast radio, talk has been dumbed down and professionally knowledgeable presenters replaced by 'celebrities', many of whom are barely articulate. Quality music like classical and jazz, once the mainstay of public radio, has largely been sloughed off to a morass of cheap and unexplained internet channels. Advertising commercials, long a mainstay of CBC TV, are now also appearing on CBC radio broadcasts, which used to brag they were 'commercial-free'.

Locally here in Southern Ontario educational and commercial-free TV is available still through a provincial government and donation-funded channel (TV Ontario) and from a PBS broadcaster just across the US border, one that also provides commercial-free and well-curated classical music radio programming.  What a shame that Canada's largest urban region should have to rely solely on our province's government and a US-based station for material that doesn't treat us all as airheads with virtually no attention span!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Les Trappes de la Langue..or..Living Between Two Worlds

As one who is Mother Country-born, one of the things that still can get me into trouble after more than forty years in North America is what a teacher of French once identified for me as “les nuances de la langue”.  Although one might think she might have been referring to those problems that can be created by differing, even opposing, meanings, of the same word by geographically separated speakers of a single language (being ‘knocked up’ is one that most native English speakers know), her caution applied to the way we use verbal conventions and voice tone and emphasis in what we say.  Witness the habit of English-speaking North Americans, especially the young, to go up or lilt at the end of a standard sentence, versus the tendency of most native English speakers elsewhere to drop. 

Watch out also for the degree of verbal foreplay that goes with opening up spoken communication. A striking example that I came across during my business life is people phoning from Scandinavia. Right after directly identifying themselves they go straight into what they need. There is no “how’s the family?” or even a “how are you?" unless you have become very close.  They are not being unfeeling, but you would not know unless you had spent time there.

In contrast, upon meeting or connecting over here we almost always enquire after the other’s status, whether we know them or not. So much so that it is necessary to place emphasis if you actually want a true response to queries like: “how are you?” (answer: fine!) or “how’s it goin’?” (fine!) or “wassup?” (not much!).  It took me an age to learn I never need to expound on my state unless I have determined for sure that is what is really wanted; something I now know is quite a rare event since Canadians are an outwardly un-inquisitive people.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cognitive Dissonance

Taking umbrage at telecommunications providers is all too easy these days. Surveys show that they have long overtaken the likes of drug companies and used car lots as the public's favourite corporate nemesis. The telecoms don't seem to see the dissonance between their messaging and reality - what they crow about doesn't stand comparison with their real world behaviour.

In our household we have two of the three media majors in our lives, Rogers and Bell. Rogers has started running new and expensive adverts promoting something called "Share Everything Plan". This is great because everyone in your group can share 'everything' they have on their devices. Problem is it is only Father Rogers devices and airspace. Most families have a variety of wireless and cable-using equipment and may have more than one service provider. In past years whenever I periodically asked each telecom what they could do to improve cost if we consolidated all our phones onto them as a single provider, the answer was nowt. Now we can pay Rogers to link everything they can sell us but still not get a deal on multiple devices.

Reluctantly Ma Bell is stuck with still owning the phone wires around here. I recently dropped my business phone numbers that, as a retiree, I no longer find I use and this involved Bell shutting off the second line into our house. But for many months we have had a hum on both lines. This annoyance is called 'rural hum', and it is really too bad but that's what you get in the sticks if you use land-lines. But don't we hill-dwelling hicks also have problems with cellphone reception? Yep, but there are not enough of you to justify another tower. Anyway, now you only have one line to hum.

As I missed Bell's monthly billing anniversary by a day when they cut off the line, for another month I have to pay in full and wait for a credit. And if I don't make them what amounts to a month's interest free loan, their billing system will penalize me. So let me get this straight, Bell. Your TV commercials try to get me to buy lightening-fast connectivity and computational gizmos that dazzle, but you can't go into your billing system and set up a credit for me in real time? Heal thyself first, physician!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Governing Well

It seems that even the emperor of the world, Uncle Sam, is coming to believe he has no clothes. The last weekend edition in September of the New York Times newspaper boasted three headlines across the top of its cover page that, when read together, speak volumes about the state of America today. The first article is about their National Security Agency exploring the social networks of US citizens, the second about the gridlock and imminent shutdown of the American Government due to Republican intransigence, and the third on the real toll of childhood death due to accidents with guns.

While many of us offshore also believe that our own governments are not sufficiently accountable for their intrusions into our private lives, the last two crises are solely American and quite disturbing in the context of the USA as the moulder of our sensibilities through its control of most of our media options. We can probably look forward to a spate of potboiler paperbacks, TV dramas and movies centred around the day America went or nearly went bankrupt. However I predict we won't be seeing anything much about kids killing one another with loaded guns; the NRA will make sure of that.

Terror, Crime and Politics

The Somali Islamic terrorists who are perpetrating appalling crimes on neighbouring East African societies (Somali Militants Mixing Business and Terror) remind me of the IRA terrorists of my British youth.  They too were fund-raising from their countrymen in the diaspora and augmenting that with criminal business activities. This went on until quite recently. I love Celtic music and so was delighted when the Eire national folk music tour Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann had a show in nearby Buffalo. What I hadn't bargained for was standing at attention for the IRA 'anthem' in addition to the Irish Republic's national anthem. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised since some denizens of Buffalo in those days sported bumper stickers reading "Don't Buy From the British Bastards".

The IRA is remembered by many of the older generation in Great Britain for, amongst other great atrocities, killing Lord Louis Mountbatten, bombing several military barracks and parades with considerable loss of life, and trying to wipe out the Conservative Party's annual convention in Margaret Thatcher's time. There were however numerous small transgressions and assaults that don't figure in popular memory.  A young Irish lad, his Dublin accent and vocabulary still intact, joined my grammar school class one year. After the school's cadet corps armoury was cleaned out over a weekend, our Irish fellow student was never seen again. My father travelled several times a week up to London by train from our country town location to manage a second company plant. Unusually for such a punctual man he missed his regular train one day, the day the IRA bombed it.

Men with a fixation on major religious or political change proving to be violent criminals has been so common in history that it is puzzling that we continue to be surprised when it happens. In the Middle Ages, despite having once taken vows of chivalry, wandering 'hedge' knights became all too frequently little more than bandits. The Mafia began in Sicily at around the time of the Italian Risorgimento as an association of local businessmen keen to shift power away from the medieval aristocratic hegemony then still prevailing in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.  Lenin's Bolsheviks helped overthrow a cruel monarchy but afterwards took sole power, and spawned 'Uncle Joe' Stalin, arguably the greatest mass murderer in history.

All too often these criminals are allowed to morph into mainstream politicians, as with former IRA chieftains as Sinn Fein now holding posts in the current government of Northern Ireland, Irgun and Stern Gang terrorists in the early government of Israel, Yasser Arafat being given a Nobel prize, and former brutal commissars still making up much of the present government of Roumania. Should not these onetime violent zealots atone for their crimes like any other criminal who has been found out?  How is it that a lot of older Russians still regard Stalin's reign with nostalgia as do Chinese for Mao?  We still hunt Holocaust enablers but Japan has not been held to account for much of its savagery during its C20th empire. Murder is murder however much it is clothed in justification or considered as best overlooked. At least Argentina and Bangladesh have made a start at bringing to justice those citizens who in their troubled past murdered innocents, but much of the world continues to turn a blind eye to former killers in its midst.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Will The Future be Nice?

A high school-age American rap recording artist called Earl Sweatshirt recently interviewed for  The New York Times Magazine, when asked about his trip to Toronto opined that: "Canadians are weirdos..they are so nice - overbearing nice" and "Toronto is like a city of grandmas".  Apparently this young man's mother is a law prof at UCLA. That may explain why he recognizes our niceness. However that he equates it with folk of his grandparents age and finds it 'overbearing' speaks volumes about the current hip hop culture's take on life.

Rap as a form of black people's poetic social commentary with some rhythmic musical accompaniment, is not the first. Calypso preceded it by many years, as did blues. Calypso is softly ironic and the blues often melancholic. Neither however are abusive or rude and any misogyny in them is usually gentle.  Rap is often almost the antithesis. It's curt and tough, and very in-your-face.  Unlike calypso and blues, its practitioners are almost always young and so without much life experience. The gap between their world view and those of older popular music lovers seems to me greater than that between our generation's fathers who were brought up on swing and Frank Sinatra and ours on Bill Haley and the Comets, the Doors and the Grateful Dead.

It's fashionable to say that older people have always found the tastes of their young perplexing, but  the aggressive negativity and insulting innuendo of today's rappers is unmatched in  our Western history. Even the roughest punk or heaviest metal rock songs never matched the shear insolence of today's rap.

So what can we expect as the youths who listen to rap get older. Will they just end up like the once-rebel Pete Townsend of The Who?  The young Townsend sang that life after 30 wasn't worth living and yet now in his 60s is producing another version of his ever popular stage musical, Tommy and comes across as a nice polite English gent. Or is the protest in rap of a meaner and more sinister type than in the rock music of the 60s and 70s, and so as rappers age their staccato monologue style of speaking and frequently nihilistic viewpoints become the new normal for older folk?

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Little Spacecraft That Could

More often than I like to, I marvel at how few folk other than romantic old coots like me seem to believe any more that comprehending the universe beyond our planet is THE most compelling adventure of our era. Coming of age in the 60s and 70s when Sputnik, Apollo and moon landing were the uplifting stories of an otherwise largely bleak Cold War time, I am thrilled by anything that takes our understanding beyond the planet-bound. I am thrilled too that we're still here when many of us then thought we would have blown up the planet by now.

Voyager 1 passing out of the Solar System on August 25th was a epochal event, a fact recognized by a few quality journalists, although you'd never have known it from the limited attention it attracted from the mass media as a whole.  But think of it - a man-made device has LEFT our star system and is travelling into the Great Beyond!  In 40,000 years, all being well, Voyager One will meet another star.  Imagine time travelling back a hundred years and trying to get acceptance of a fact so far beyond the comprehension of any of our forbears.

Back in the late 1970s when the two Voyagers were launched many of us still thought that John Kennedy had it right in saying that entering space was the next great task for our civilization. Pundits like Arthur C Clarke in his Century stories assumed that well before today humans would be up there making fabulous discoveries. Yet somehow there was not nearly enough gas in the tank for that adventure.

Instead we find ourselves a half century on without any compelling vision of our future other than predictions that are highly dystopian, and where we overcrowd a warming and increasingly polluted world in which the social order is threatened to breaking point. The light has gone out above a picture where intrepid and optimistic humans sail away to see what lies beyond.

The way things are now, within our lifetimes we might see a few very expensive robotic space vehicles mining nearby asteroids for rare metals and one or two additional thinly-manned space stations operating, perhaps eventually even one on or around Mars. But the grand dream, so much beloved of SF writers, of 'generation star-ships' that travel bravely to found human colonies out on ‘The Final Frontier' seems to have died with Gene Roddenberry.

It is all the more important then for us to honour a little unmanned and primitive star-ship which is expected to continue sending us news from space even when I'm no longer. So sail on, brave Voyager, and keep the dream alive in your own small way

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Mother Ship Today

Forty-two years ago as a young married I left Liverpool on the last of the great Canadian Pacific liners taking migrants across to Her Majesty's Dominions in North America. Over the years since I have flown back across many times. Having just returned from yet another such trip, I'm pondering my reactions to Britain today through the mirror of my dual nationality.

With so many other nationalities coming to live in Canada these days, the image of the United Kingdom as our 'Mother Country' is a fading one. It still remains however the reference point for much of how we are governed, and think about our history.

With this in mind I am saddened that British today care so little for the countries overseas that they peopled.  Nostalgia for the old colonies is out; school curricula there treat the imperial era as an embarrassment. If you press people hard, there's some recognition that Canada is not the United States, but generally everything north of the Rio Grande is labelled 'America'. Anything they remember from TV or the movies from the actual America must of course therefore apply above the 49th Parallel (wherever that is).

London appalls me with its ever-increasing population of overseas rich parking their often ill-gotten gains. Chelsea, where long ago I was a graduate student, is today peopled by Russian mafia and their molls, mobs of Muslim wives armed with a Sheik's chequebook, and insolent super-rich Arab playboys roaring around in Maseratis and Ferraris. Well-dressed by Winners, I feel like a bum from nowhere..

Meanwhile the pattern of daily life for the resident English moneyed class remains fiercely separated from that of everyday working folk. The almost universal upper- and upper middle-class use of private 'prep(aratory)' and 'public' boarding schools serves to keep friendships above the common herd. Yes, dubious accents don't count against like they once did, but travel between the house in the Country, the house in Town and the hideout somewhere south in the sun ensure that engagement with local issues is limited only to the need to locate services and staff.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Sheer Bewilderment of Modern Life

A pal and I recently spent time in the cinema exacerbating our arthritis by gripping our armrests long and hard. Thanks to the magic of 3-D, our senior hearts also got a serious workout courtesy of JJ Abrams’ latest ferociously energetic take on the early days of the crew of the Starship Enterprise in ‘Star Trek, Into the Darkness. In all the excitement I mislaid my eyeglasses, and when I dropped my hearing aid as I put in my ear plugs, I had to ask for the house lights at the movie’s end.

Picking up the cinema's magazine on our eventual way out, I learned that this summer one can choose from about-to-be premiered ‘World War Z(ombie)’, yet another Superman film, Will Smith managing the end of the Earth, and ‘Monsters University’.  As premieres and monsters go, I had already marvelled that day at ‘The Beer Season Premiere, courtesy of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Your Beer Headquarters’, a huge newspaper pullout that gives the term ‘shouting’ a whole new meaning.  I had thought that The Beer Stores in every town were my beer headquarters, but clearly I’m misinformed.

Now that I mention that, I should say I feel a sense of confusion most days around all today’s facts-of-life in entertainment. The leisurely drinkable products of grape and barley, gentle artistic visuals on the big screen and the quiet pleasures of ink on paper between covers, all seem to have become overwhelmed by the blinding white noise of hyperbole. Louder, larger and faster is the norm at a time when many in a steadily aging population are losing the physiological capacity to keep up. The C19th farmer complaining about noisy locomotives spooking his stock, or an early C20th pony and trap owner lambasting the overtaking horseless carriage, would both be struck dumb by the sheer intensity of all that is visible and audible in today’s world. The near-constant sensory overload would soon lead to serious cognitive impairment in any time traveller from even our recent past.

In the near future a provider nearby will bring Google Glass to us all. This computerized eye-wear is already capable of shooting photos, filming video and surfing the internet. Just think, one day in a year or three my friend and I could be watching the Season’s Premiere in the corner of our eyes, as only one of us hangs onto the steering wheel. For once that could be a real advance in entertainment. Those specs should stay on my nose quite nicely…and no doubt Bluetooth the sound direct to my hearing aid.

Monday, June 3, 2013

E Pluribus Unum

All nations seem to have a founding myth.  Sometimes that myth is captured in a national motto. For example, for nations assembled from many tribes, 'Out of many, one people' does for Jamaica and its Latin version 'E pluribus unum', for the US of A. 

Today's Canada has a fairly recently formed national mythology, one created largely by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when in office. It is that we are a multicultural society. Multiculturalism can be defined as: 'The characteristics of a society, city etc. which has many different ethnic or national cultures mingling freely' or as 'political or social policies which support or encourage such coexistence'. A key phrase here is "mingling freely"

In pioneer times, each incoming religious and national group tended to congregate with others of their cohort to clear and farm the wilderness. They wanted to be near a church and later a school that they shared with others of like mind. Each new township contained pockets of one or more of these religious or nationality groups. In the hill country where I live today, it was Presbyterian Scottish Highlanders and Catholic Irish. Today's community names and church denominations often tell us which group settled where. Since these pioneer settlers came mostly from the British Isles or the USA, lifestyle expectations were similar, and, over several generations, formerly important differences in speech, dress and attitude disappeared enough that each group could feel comfortable in the others neighbourhoods. Indeed, they began to 'mingle freely'.
A generation ago it was folk from the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Portugal and Greece, who formed new communities in many of our larger urban centres. Their religion was Christian and, as is typical, these migrants most often came from humble backgrounds. Those that did well emulated the rich back home by building large houses in communities of their own kind. It could take them a lifetime to build and fully furnish their dream. Although their kids may have continued to live at home as grown-ups, as soon as they were married they left the family home, often to live in mainstream society.

In contrast, in our urban areas today most immigration comes from the developing world, especially South and East Asia. The gap between the cultural and religious beliefs of these newcomers and those of the faiths that are already here is much wider than in the settlement period and much of the 20th Century. Those fresh from South Asia usually like to live in multifamily dwellings, for both traditional and economic reasons. What differs from the past is that they often remain that way even when their incomes push them up into the middle-class. In many cases they are buying the over-large houses when the Mediterranean owners sell off, but in large visible minority areas like Brampton down the slope from here, developers are starting to build in multifamily occupancy size and features from the get-go. 

That, and the preference for cultural and religious reasons for these incomers to build and live near a temple of their faith, works against integration and multicultural intermingling with others, especially in non-working hours. Customs differ in more ways than has ever been the case before. Tolerance for littering and noise, differences in recreational and holiday preferences, definitions of what is neighbourly or not, tastes in house and garden decorating, clothing expectations and modes of interpersonal address are just a few. 

Significant cultural difference that endures past the first generation usually changes the surrounding retail environment to serve a customer base that can have needs markedly different from when European immigration was the norm. While Governments today spend a lot of money on integration programmes fostering understanding of Canadian life, at the same time they fund cultural meeting places and ethnic language classes for our many new nationalities. Because it is a relatively recent social policy approach, multiculturalism's success in creating 'one nation out of many' is still moot. We could eventually see 'one nation, many ghettos' where folk in general are not engaging in that intermingling and common viewpoint that would seem essential to the creation of E pluribus unum.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

‘War ina Babylon’ in the Summer of 64

War inna Babylon, tribal war inna Babylon

A wha' you seh, it sipple out deh

So wha' fe do? We slide out deh, oh yeah*

Like most young men of the 20th Century I wanted a motorbike. Shortly after I was born, Ferdinando Innocenti started up a factory in Milan to produce a type of modified motorcycle called a Lambretta motor scooter. By the 1960s the motor scooter had come to be the two-wheeled vehicle of choice for those of us ‘modernist’ European teenagers subscribing to the view of all things cool later typified by the album and film Quadraphenia. My Lambretta-riding buddies and I thought of ourselves as Mods. Mods were into fashion and the new Liverpool Sound, R&B and Soul, along with Ska from Jamaica. When riding we wore parkas with hoods trimmed in ‘wolf’ fur (from a coyote). The side panels of our metal steeds were dipped in silver paint and shiny chrome bars installed with a mass of gleaming mirrors.

This was all to look as different as possible from the other big youth tribe of that time, the much despised Rockers, with their traditional Triumph or BSA motorcycles, old-fashioned black leather outfits, and outdated love of 50s Rock ’n’ Roll. In stark contrast to his rivals’ greasy pompadour, a Mod male had his hair in the close cropped ‘Claude Francois’ style - a precise half inch at the front rising to two inches at the back. He dressed up in suits. His Dolly Bird wore the bowl-shaped coiffure and long dresses of Soul star Cilla Black from Liverpool.   

A good time for us Mods was a ride to one of the seaside towns to meet up with our fellow fashion hounds. I was working one summer at a night club in a popular rental trailer park on the coast at Hastings, when on the August Bank Holiday weekend Rockers chose that town to rendezvous. By late Friday night, bikes by the thousand were spread all across the hilly Downs behind. On the earlier May long weekend that same year, a giant rumble between Mods and Rockers in nearby Brighton had spilled east into what had found infamy as the ‘Second’ Battle of Hastings.

My hairdo and high-fashion clothes would be a dead giveaway. My brother on his Lambretta had barely dodged a pack of bikers determined to take him out. Though tall, I was weedy and so badly frightened. I rushed to hide my Model 150D in a thick hedge, and mussed my expensive coiffure when pulling pints in the bar. By ducking down whenever any longhairs hove into view, and skulking in my trailer when not at work, I managed somehow to stay incognito.

Though the ruckus in Babylon that Summer of 64 was truly scary, the craven among us made it safely through.

*War Ina Babylon by Max Romeo/Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry