Archive for February, 2009

Here Comes The Helicopter

February 18, 2009

You’ve got to kick at the darkness’til it bleeds daylight.

Bruce Cockburn

Lovers In A Dangerous Time

Suns up, mhmm, looks ok, the world survives into another day, and I’m thinking ’bout eternity, some kind of ecstasy’s got a hold on me. This is one of those nights when a good song fills the air, and I rock back and forth on my couch.  Is there anything else quite like a musical compostion?  Sound can influence emotion in rich and significant ways.  Although at various points of history larger compositions have been very popular, symphonies and concept albums being ready examples, the song as a unit has generally been the preferred form of music for people through the generations.  I mention all this because my good friend Dave, who has often been mentioned on the blgo and podcast has launched a new site he calls, The Song Review. Basically he takes a song that he enjoys and dissects its musical and thematic content.  He has a great passion for music, and his site is the perfect outlet for that.

I have quoted so many Bruce Cockburn songs as a way of encouraging Dave to take some time and pick one of his songs to write about. I’d also recommend some Simon & Garfunkel, The Band, and of course The Alder Fork.

Bad News

February 17, 2009

Lord, here comes the flood
Well say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again, the seas are silent
In any still alive
Itll be those who gave their island to survive
Drink up, dreamers, youre running dry.

Peter Gabriel

Here Comes the Flood

I’m afraid today’s post must be very short because of a broken water heater, and a small flood in the basement. I will have a more compelling entry tomorrow. In the meantime you could check out the podcast, or look back on some old posts. Hope you have a nice Tuesday, and that your family day was better than mine!

I’m Not The Only One

February 16, 2009

They are turning my head out.


Lovers In Japan

New podcast up tonight, this one is not the promised album review but an interesting use of the iTunes smart playlist function.  It also features music by The Mass Romantics because I love their stuff.The excitement of the mass influx of readers is over and things are pack to normal over here at The Alder Fork. It was a wild ride while it lasted.

Just to give you a quick rundown of the 5×7 playlist here it is:

Ebow the Letter – REM

Lovers In Japan – Coldplay

Captain – Dave Matthews Band

Please Stand Up – British Sea Power

Only Us – Peter Gabriel

Staring at the Sun – U2

Invisible Hands – Joseph Arthur

That is all for today on account of the podcast, give it a listen I guarantee you’ll like it!

Growing Up, Looking For A Place To Live

February 15, 2009

In your eyes, the light, the heat, in your eyes, I am complete.

Peter Gabriel

In Your Eyes

Before I break into today’s post I wanted to mention that I was watching some NBA All-Star action tonight and they had a band performing at one point.  The group had an MC along with their singer and all he really did was tell the crowd to put their hands up. It really seemed like a waste of time having him there since he didn’t really add anything to the performance.  He was pretty much there for the sake of being there.

So more great tape finds when I was out shopping in Guelph this weekend. I now have Peter Gabriel’s So and Dire Straits Brothers in Arms. The latter was apparently one of the first albums that was digitally recorded, because it was intended for the CD market. It’s a bit ironic that I own it on tape.

Peter Gabriel is one of my favourite songwriters.  He knows how to capture a feeling, an idea. a story, or a cause and manufacture that into an entertaining song.  In his early days with Genesis he was known for creating elaborate theatrical performances as part of the band’s stage show. This included a number of costume changes.  If you’ve caught any of his solo career tours then you know this hasn’t changed one bit. From the phone booth in Secret World to the giant bouncing orb in Up he continues to blur the line between theatre and rock concert.  I would recommend checking out either of his concert films (corresponding to the two toures lited above) or any of his albums. My personal favourites are So, Up, and the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ. In fact, this last album provides the listener with an ethereal sonic journey.

Vive Le France

February 14, 2009

The last couple of days have been wacky here at The Alder Fork as views have skyrocketed and a new blog was created. This means we can now get back to the usual business of this blog, Canadian culture, and other random thoughts that float through my head.  There is a book that sits open on top of my bookcase. It has been there since I moved into this room 5 years ago.  It is a collection of one man’s sketches and descriptions of Paris’ best architectural gems.  I periodically change the page so I can appreciate a new place for awhile. Currently I have the Musee d’Orsay and the Hotel de Salm (Palais de la Legion d’Honneur). The sketches are interesting not only for their detail but because limited space forces him to make a decision about which images to include. For example, the Musee d’Orsay is depicted as it appears from the Seine River, while there are 4 distinct views of the Hotel de Salm.  Like many people the thing I most loved about Paris is the coherence of architecture in the old part of the city. Although there are a number of styles represented, everything fits together like a well made quilt.  These two structures, which sit side by side on Quai Anatole-France, were originally constructed 100 years apart, under different prevailing architectural styles, yet neither looks out of place.  Most of old Paris is the same, even when old and new sit side by side.  I often wish that my city, Hamilton, had maintained more of its rich heritage.  It takes an uncompromising vision that outward beauty and complimentary facades create a more appealing living environment.  No one wants to live in an ugly building, sometimes we compromise because of what’s available.

I mention this because I want to be excited about proposed changes to downtown.  I’m not sure if the changes to City Hall, the Lister Block, the market/library and York Blvd. will really make a huge difference. But I am hopeful.

I just received the following email from James Clark about an upcoming show:

Just dropping by to announce a solo show that I have coming up next Tuesday February 17th. After your long Valentine weekend of romance, why not drop by The Free Times Cafe and hear some songs for the scorned and the forlorn?Depending on how your weekend goes you may need it. I’ll be playing solo versions of songs from “Sideshow Unattraction” as well as others.
I’ll be opening for singer/songwriter Joe Garant.
Here are the important details:
Tuesday February 17
The Free Times Cafe – 320 College Street (west of Spadina)
James Clark – 9 pm
Joe Garant – 10 pm
Cover – PWYC

Happy Valentine’s Day by the way. Created or not it’s a nice day for dating people to be more responsible to their partners. For you single people out there (whether by choice or not) make yourself a nice dinner and dessert tonight.

The Unassisted Play

February 13, 2009

My post yesterday proved to be quite popular yesterday thanks in large part to a mention on truehoop, arguably the number 1 source for daily NBA information on the web.  So thanks to Henry Abbott for that (and whoever tipped him off).  I want to do a quick follow up today to clarify and expand some points (also because I am preparing for a job interview so my mind is already going 100kph).  As I see it my idea of a semi pro/amateur regional basketball (or other sport) league rests on a few key conclusions.  They are:

1. That people naturally enjoy live sporting events because of the excitement and passion that is created.

2. That people generally love the city they live in more than other nearby ones, if only because they are inherently competitive

3. That local talent is more sympathetic than talent from elsewhere.

4. That although the level of play would be below that of any professional league, the low price point would overcome the talent deficiency.

5. That talent could come from those high school players who couldn’t go to college or university, and players who had used up their eligibility or were done school.

6. That civic leaders would openly support the idea of community building.

7. That national sport organizations would like the potential for grass roots development through academies, tournaments and coaching opportunities.

8. That families could find affordable entertainment that their children can relate to.

9. That by limiting player expenses, travel costs, and partnering with local government running a franchise is feasible with minimal sponsorship.

10. That by utilizing alternative media and the internet the league can be highly accesible to its fanbase.

11. That the owners are committed to growing the game and the community.

I don’t think these are unreasonable propositions.  This discussion is going to continue on a new blog I’m launching called The Unassisted Play. It will be a place for me to share lots of sports related thoughts and hopefully generate some discussion.  It will also allow me to focus The Alder Fork on the main topics it has always been about while scratching my sports itch. The Alder Fork will go on as usual.

From Downtown

February 12, 2009

In  a number of previous posts I have mentioned my love of sports.  I grew up playing baseball, basketball, football, and curling competitively and a number of other sports recreationally. They have always been a part of my life, whether I was clipping newspaper articles about hockey as a kid, or reading 5 sports blogs everyday. With the changing economic situation in North America there has been a lot of talk about the fate of the big 4 team sports.  It is pretty obvious that their revenues will suffer for a year or two thanks to fewer sponsorships and lower attendance.  As more people choose to get their sports through TV, many will miss out on the experience of attending a live game.  Already many people have been priced out of attending top caliber sports in their hometowns. There are also those who live in places without major sports teams.

I believe that regional leagues in a variety of sports and involving local athletes representing their hometowns has the potential to resurrect that live sports experience and to improve community cohesion.  There are already leagues like the CHL, and senior hockey programs, several semi pro football leagues, and a number of other examples.  So the concept has been tried and has succeeded with the right circumstances.  My idea is inspired by the way lower tier soccer leagues are organized in Europe, and the types of teams that could be found in the past.  These leagues don’t need to be large national organizations, even though there are advantages to that model.  The point is to form a team that can play games to small crowds with a low ticket price, with players who receive some pay for their time, but not enough to live on.  I would expect the players to have day jobs and for games to be played mostly on weekends.  Teams would play other cities in towns within a small radius, much like the 100mile diet plan for promoting eat local.  Although people are generally reluctant to pay large sums of money to watch second rate talent (just ask the AHL or D-League about that) it is likely that a small venue could be filled under the circumstances I am suggesting.  To summarize I will use a fictional basketball league centred in the area around Hamilton, Ontario.

* Teams would be composed of amateur athletes from the designated city or town they represent (local citizenship is an important component of this idea)

*This particular league would have teams that could be reached within an hour of so by car, so Hamilton, Cambridge, Kitchener-Waterloo, Burlington, St. Catherines, Niagara Falls, Guelph, Milton, and Oakville would be obvious choices

*Players would be paid a small stipend on a per game played basis to cover expenses and as a means to let them make a little money on it, but they would likely have day jobs, or possibly be university students who had used up their eligibility

*Team ownership could be handled by thte community or an individual who understands that the model is intended to break even at best. It is an opportunity to give back to the community and to create programs surrounding the team (like a basketball academy)

*Venues would have to be small gymnasiums at a community centre, fairground, university or college.

*The schedule could be of various lengths depending on the expected need, but would likely start out as 2-4 games against each other team followed by a playoff

*Per game ticket prices would be cheap, say $5-10, with discounts for children

*A major emphasis of a regional league is building community and fostering participation in the sport. This would likely help the developmental activities of national organizations

*Local government may be interested in contributing because of the potential for infrastructure upgrades

*A regional league is intended to be a lean operation, so most of the organizational work would be done by a small committee made up of owners or their representatives

*The teams could affiliate with existing club programs. The benefits of affiliation include increased exposure to high level play for the young players (through league organized tournaments) and by providing a feeder system for the league team.

*Team names would emphasis the uniqueness of the community they represent. For example, off the top of my head, the Hamilton Boilermakers, Kitchener-Waterloo Fighting Mennos, Guelph Galts, St. Catherines Steamers, Burlington Braves, Niagara Barreljumpers, Milton Quarrymen, and Oakville Wasps.

I think this is a feasible idea, but it needs some dedicated people to make it happen.  Obviously these types of league won’t replace the major sports, nor will they affect their bottom line.  They will provide the opportunity for people who don’t have access to live professional sports to follow and support a team in their own community. I’d love any feedback you have on my thoughts.

Thanks to the tremendous resonse to this post I have launched a new sports only blog called The Unassisted Play. Hope to see you there.

It Seems So Much Energy Gets Wasted

February 11, 2009

You teach yourselves the law. I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush, and if you survive, you’ll leave thinking like a lawyer.

Charles Kingsfield

The Paper Chase

After being encouraged, and nearly begged to watch The Paper Chase I took some time to do it.  Movies made in the 1970’s (and earlier) are more patient than those produced today.  This film takes its time establishing setting and events.  Many scenes in the film take place without music, and minimal action.  This style of film making echoes the reality of ordinary life. I associate the look and feel of 60’s-70’s films with the way existence ought to be.  Harvard in 1973 seems like the place to be.

As someone who has spent many years in post-secondary institutions, attending lectures and seminars, writing papers and exams, and dealing with professors and fellow students I’d like to share some thoughts about my own relationship to this film.  I did not attend law school, or an American university but there are several points from the film that I find fascinating.  The first is Hart’s understanding of the 3 levels of students in his classes.  The first are those who sit at the back, barely keep up with their work, and have given up on the program.  The second “echelon” includes engaged students, who desperately want to do well, but are afraid to raise their hand to answer a professor’s question. The third are those that Hart aspires to be. He calls them the volunteers because they have the courage to speak in front of the class. As a child and teenager I was always in the latter group. I was never afraid to answer a question because I assumed I was correct (usually I was). Once I reached university, however, I alternated between the second and third depending on the class.  It is interesting to me that I was intimidated by my peers and by seemingly superior academics.  If you consider that most of my classes were philosophical in nature, and I was as well read as anyone, there was no reason to hold back my thoughts and opinions. Of course the actual problem is fear of rejection and embarrassment.  Very few people enjoy being wrong, and the pressure to appear smart is enormous at any school.  What the film eventually shows is that that fear, along with the desire to impress our professors and peers is a ridiculous part of a self perpetuating ritual.  I won’t be the first to suggest that academic life creates exactly the type of environment that manifests those feelings.  I think it probably helps create harder working people, and inspires ideas that might not otherwise exist.

The second issue appears during a class discussion.  Professor Kingsfield berates one of his students for having a photographic memory without the ability to analyze the data.  I have had conversations with some educators who dislike the current Ontario curriculum because it seems to create students who are capable of adsorbing and dispensing large quantities of data without the maturity and creativity to analyze that information. For better or worse, university students, particularly in the arts, succeed by taking the information they are given and then expanding on it by making unexpected connections.  I’d like to think that our world rewards inspiration, and often it does.  I think creativity is rarely identified as an important quality in an academic.  Although this isn’t what Kingsfield was talking about, the imagination is a useful tool for advancing any field of thought.  Raising students who can think creatively helps to improve ever field of human endeavour rather than simply perpetuating the knowledge we already have.

The final idea I want to pull out of the movie is the central story of rational talk versus irrational action.  The movie insists that the law student is always interested in the rational while the free spirited daughter of the famous professor espects people to give in to their irrational beings.  Hart comes to embody both of these impulses as he works frantically to excel in his exams, but throws his grades into the ocean.  The interesting thing abu this to me is that in my field of study, religion, we are often confronted with applying rational thought processes to ideas that were created out of human passion.  As much as the social sciences attempt to quantify human society, thought, and activity, we sometimes rely on abstract and unorthodox terms to capture the truth. People’s actions are determined by a bizarre mix of instinct and rational thought. Finding the healthy balance, like Hart, is probably the way to go.  Although he threw his grades away, he likely continued his education.

I enjoyed this film for its mood, subject matter, and the conclusions it draws about life. The gumpy professor motif has been used in other films, perhaps never in such a rich and compelling way. Kingsfield is not just mean and demanding, he has several more layers.  I have never had a gruff teacher in my university career. They have always been friendly, encouraging, and kind, so I guess I’m lucky. At least is Hollywood is to be believed.

Make Me Out As A Villian

February 10, 2009

Or ti guarda, suora mia.

Il Bianco of Siena

Letter to Catherine of Siena

A new podcast has hit the internet today. This one features some preview tracks from The Alder Fork’s new album The Colour I Remember Most. I also talk at length about the process of putting each song together.  I’d like to remind everyone that you can be a guest on the podcast, and if you are a musician you can contribute to the recording of The Colour I Remember Most. If you are interested just drop me a line at I’d love to have you on the show and I’m always looking for fresh sounds in my music. Short post today because of the podcast, and the 8 or so hours of studio time I’ve put in today.  Check out the podcast over there–> and have a great evening! Thanks for all your support.

Six Things You Didn’t Know About Alberta

February 9, 2009

Culture diverse as it can be.
This is the land of opportunity.
Welcoming friends, night and day.
That’s the way I pray Alberta stays.

Alberta (Official Provincial Song)

Today is Part III of our lovely series of Canadian provincial information posts.  You can learn six things about Southern Ontario or the GTA by clicking on the links.

My good friend Kern is an Albertan through and through.  He doesn’t wear a cowboy hat, or work in the oil industry, but he’s spent more days at Drumheller than any young person should, and eats enough free Stampede breakfasts to feed a small country.  Kern grew up in Calgary and has returned there after 7 years in Ontario and BC.  He’s an earth scientist by trade, and a lover or fighter planes, dinosaurs, and yurts in his spare time.  Watch out ladies he’s also single and quite the catch. Without further ado, Six Things You Didn’t Know About Alberta!

Howdy! My name is Kern and I’m a buddy of Pete’s, as well as a proud Albertan. Pete’s asked me to write a guestblog regarding 6 things you didn’t know about Alberta. I’m glad he did, as during my periods of residence in other provinces, I have found a surprising lack of knowledge about Alberta even from fellow Canadians. So, I’m going to use this opportunity as an excuse to clear a few things up about both Alberta and Albertans in general, in addition to revealing other interesting tidbits about this wonderful province. So, here goes:

Not all of us are cowboys!
Believe it or not, not all of us subscribe to the cowboy culture that our province tries to promote so rabidly. Yes, I’ve gone to the Calgary Stampede a number of times but I’ve only limited my visits to the fairway rather than the cowboy-themed events that the stampede is known for. Nor do all Albertans wear skin-tight jeans and cowboy hats, or at least not in the big cities (I can’t speak for Okotoks or Cochrane…). People who dress like that are liable to be ridiculed, same as anywhere else in Canada. And, speaking of big cities…

Yes, we really do have BIG cities!!
This is plainly obvious to any Albertan, who are aware of the size of our two largest cities:  Calgary (population 1.16 million) and Edmonton (population 1.08 million), which together comprise the bulk of Alberta’s population. However, I found in the east that many aren’t aware of this fact. Some have even assumed that Calgary itself is home to less than half a million, and that the province of Alberta is largely rural. This is partially understandable as neither Calgary nor Edmonton (or both of them combined) come close to such eastern colossi as Toronto or Montreal, but they are still quite sizeable cities which are as dynamic and busy as any major metropolis.

All the colours of the rainbow…
While in the recent past Alberta has been much “whiter” than other provinces, today the province is host to quite a diverse population. Roughly 1 in 5 Albertans belong to a visible minority group, and a similar percentage of Albertans have a mother tongue other than English. This can be seen by a visit to any of Calgary’s large shopping malls, where a multitude of ethnicities and languages is plainly visible and/or heard. So yes, my fellow visible minorities, you have nothing to fear from Albertans. Come for a visit, and we promise that we’ll refrain from lynching you and/or exposing you to public ridicule of your exotic appearance and mannerisms.

Warm winters and annoying headaches
Yup, temperatures can increase into the double digits even in the midst of winter. This is due to an interesting phenomenon called a Chinook, whereby masses of warm air periodically blow in from the mountains and increase temperatures to springtime levels. As an example of what a Chinook can do, the temperature can be -15 degrees on one day but then increase to +10 within 24 hours. The result is a winter punctuated by periods of warmth that can last for weeks if Chinooks are frequent enough. This isn’t always pleasant, as many people suffer migraines due to the sudden pressure changes, and the large volume of melted snow result in rivers of sludge and water invading busy roads.

Home to the World’s/Canada’s largest….
Alberta is the proud home of the world’s largest pysanka, or Ukrainian easter egg. This is located in a small town named Vegreville, near Edmonton, and was built in 1974 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It’s also a symbol of the significant Ukrainian population that currently resides in Alberta. As well, Alberta is home to Baitunnur, the largest mosque in Canada. This Calgary building was completed in 2008, and it services the worshipping needs of the Ahmaddiya Muslim community in the city. So, yeah…long story short, apparently we like things BIG!

We’ve got heritage!
Finally, Alberta is home to Canada’s largest concentration of World Heritage Sites (5 out of 15 in all of Canada). These include the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, and Wood Buffalo National Park. All in all, a nice collection of sites which make Alberta a fairly interesting place to visit.

So grab a cowboy hat and your tightest pair of jeans, and come on down! My personal bias aside, Alberta really is a pretty cool place to visit with lots to see and do. Whether you’re interested in cowboys, native culture, Dinosaurs or f***ing big easter eggs, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the Wild Rose Province!