Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

America: “the family is broken.”

November 13, 2016

The arrogant and ignorant clown takes the reins as only 54.5% of the dumbed down electorate votes..


And on cue the humble Leonard Cohen exits this earth. With Trump at the helm, for Leonard, its Closing time. He’s seen enough. Cue one more time his prophetic homage to America, Democracy id Coming to the USA, “the cradle of the best and the worst

It’s coming to America first,
The cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
And it’s here the lonely say
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Not a sports bio

August 30, 2016

The late Protestant theologian Langdon Gilkey wrote a stirring memoir about his 2 years in a Japanese POW camp in China Shantung Compound: The Story of Men and Women Under Pressure.

The book makes for depressing reading about the brutality to which humans can sink to.

Gilkey’s book while interesting is doomed to be seen as a simple precursor to Duncan Hamilton’s For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr.


Long forgotten now Eric Liddell was the Scot who refused to run in the 100 yard dash in the 1924 Paris Olympic games .The reason—the race was scheduled on a Sunday and Liddell was a committed Scottish Congregational believer, the son of a China-hand missioner who simply refused to run on the sabbath.

Liddell probably would have won gold defeating his rather sour pussed rival Harold Abraham. Liddell switched gears and won gold in the 400 metre race gaining international fame.


Liddell then was off to the China mission like his father before him to serve in the new frontier of the Christian mission.

Hamilton’s brilliantly researched biography goes much deeper than most sports bios. The author catches the essence of this extraordinary human being—his sterling integrity, his compassion and deep rooted faith. Hamilton goes way beyond saccharine piety and mines with brilliant dexterity the evaluations of those who knew Liddell intimately in his life and indeed in his time of trial.

Former biographer Sally Magnusson had this to say about The Flying Scot:

There was surely a pair of clay feet there to be revealed; a few weaknesses to be exposed; perhaps, in such a strong minded man, a streak of spiritual pride, a “holier-than-thou” attitude. But was he really that good? I would ask people. The answer was invariably the same – sometimes apologetic, sometimes pained, sometimes indignant, but always the same: Yes, he was.

The aforementioned Gilkey says of the man he shared life in the Shantung Compound (Liddell worked himself to death never saying no to anybody and ultimately dying at 43 of a brain hemorrhage)

Eric never saw himself as a famous athlete—or rather didn’t look as if he though of himself as one.He was surely the most modest man who ever breathed.this was the secret of his amazing life.”

Liddell was resurrected in popular culture by the 1980 film Chariots of Fire which captures Liddell’s athletic life but utterly fails in its depiction of his extraordinary spiritual life. Well, it’s Hollywood and is probably more famous for its award winning theme by Vangelis.

Magnusson describes his life in these terms:

It is rare indeed when anyone has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he comes as close to it as anyone I have ever known.

This book should be read not as a sports story but rather as a spiritual classic. Hamilton is a well known UK sports journalist but here his brilliance lays in unpacking the interior life of a 20th century saint.

America the failed state

July 21, 2016

In the Land of the Free and exceptionalism—we’re talking america the Beautiful—there have been 1,000 mass shootings in 1,260 days

You want to know what a “failed state’ looks like, go no further than Ohio at the republican convention.

Also you could probably go to half of the USA and make the same analysis.


Ohio is an “open carry” state.Firearms legally permitted can be carried unconcealed by Ohio residents and visitors if they have an agreement with Ohio. So in the Event Zone around the convention it’s ‘open carry” season.So even assault rifles are just dandy.

Yes it’s where pro and anti Trump supporters jaw at each other.

Now look what is not permitted in the Event Zone


Yes, keep those pineapples, oranges, locks and lightbulbs out—and hey, watch those tennis balls.

England humiliated in Euro Cup. So what.

July 1, 2016

Quite a time to be in Yorkshire for 2 weeks.First BREXIT then England’s humiliating loss to Iceland in the Euro Cup.

Back home Jeremy, an ex-pat Brit said he had to reprogram himself after his hysterical reaction to the loss. His wife came into the room while he was screaming at the television.

The British papers and the talking heads all wrote a variant of the above:This is the worst thing to happen since…world war ll.People were literally beside themselves and the jocks were inconsolable.some of the papers went after the millionaires who let the side down.


This from the Daily Mail:

England team has now landed in Luton Airport with luggage including coffee machines, golf clubs and guitars
What does all of this mean?

In 1938 Bertolt Brecht wrote this truism:

Andrea: Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.
Galileo: No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.

Having lived in England for a year and closely watched its response to Sportsworld, I agree with Brecht. 40 years ago Jackie Charlton a legendary Manchester footballer hipped me to the role of “football” in English working class towns.He was managing a Division 2 club and actually said, “It’s very impoirtant that the lads win on Saturday or the whole town will get depressed for 3 days.”


Legendary soccer coach from Liverpool Bill Shankly put it this way:

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed … I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.

Really, Bill. Somebody should have told you that you were full of crap.But then e never speak to our idols like that.

People (read true citizens) should never surrender their agency to external forces or unworthy idols like athletic teams.They re simply idols which suborn our energy and our critical faculties.. Bread and circuses have always been the tools of the elite. They are simple diversions from more serious issues which should be attended to. appreciating the skill of athletes is fine but investing too much energy in sport and its clay figures demeans us.

Around 100 C. E. the satirist  Juvenal coined the expression “Panem et Circenses“, literally “bread and circuses”, a way in an increasingly corrupt Rome of diverting the common people from the truly important affairs of state. Give them public baths, gladiators, exotic animals, chariot races, sports (Go Leafs,Cavs, Jays!) and theatre. Things have not changed much particularly in the USA—where celebrity, entertainment and sports fill the void of civic engagement

Iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim 
already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties;

Continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses. 
everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses

The more alienated and disengaged one becomes from the heart of life the more one surrenders vital energies best used to build up the commons.

Listening to and watching the hysterical reaction to a football game reminds me of my years as a coach and my line: Do not call me coach, I am a teacher.

My friend Jeremy is to be congratulated. His conclusion to England;s defeat: I need to deprogram myself.


No more tears or apoplexy, Jeremy.


Sporting life

April 12, 2016

And it feels like
I’m seventeen again
Feels like I’m seventeen

So sings Annie Lennox.

Sometimes I am 12, my puer aeternus intact.

Forever Young as Dylan would say.

Always been like this.

But I guess I have nothing on my beautiful grandson John.

A day short of twelve he is playing for the whole Metro and environs minor-peewee championship. Resting for the big game? Are you kidding? He has his first ball hockey game in the morning, followed by his winter baseball practice in a gym, then at night, he scores 2 goals and an assist in a 3-1 victory.The kid is wearing me out.

JM33hoto 3

Grampa with the Thunder hat, John with his medal

True I am still hobbling from an injury at our annual Easter ball hockey game but this is too much. I still have my pride. And my memories.

Bball 56I watch the Thunder go wild as they throw their gloves and helmets in the air. It all comes back to me. I have been there and tried as a coach to help the young to appreciate those significant moments.Even losing with a kindred group can have lasting meaning.


Sport correctly understand as a true amateur (from the latin root of amare—to love) has the power to eternalize a moment when time stands still. Outside the rink, the diamond and the court it may be mean Greenwich time, but on the playing field it is eternity. Sacred ground may be anywhere people congregate. Here we can have transcendent experiences which go way beyond the winning side of a scoreboard.


Coaches may not plumb the mystery at work here.


That’s why we have grandparents nourished in a sacramental worldview.


Ah, to be twelve again.Or 3.

John and Gramps

Segregation in the maternity ward

April 8, 2016

Israel prides itself on its hospital system. Their “Arab” doctors, (you can never say “Palestinian”) treat Jewish patients and vice-versa. This on the surface is part of a universal Hippocratic code. Now meet the enlightened kippah wearing member of the Knesset (deputy speaker no less) Bezalel Smotrich.Real religious guy. Member of the religious Zionist party. His wife has a baby and he wants a racial segregation policy.It’s only natural, you see.

He tweets: It’s only natural my wife would not want to lie next to someone who just gave birth to a baby that might murder her baby in another 20 years,

He assures us “My wife isn’t a racist, but after giving birth, she wanted rest, not the mass parties that are common among the families of Arab women who give birth.”

You can’t make this stuff up.This pathetic racist has no shame in tweeting his despicable comments to a wider audience.
Quietly israeli hospitals are acceding to this bonehead request.

In a marriage made in heaven his wife Revital is all for this racial purity.She tells us she would never allow an Arab doctor or nurse to deliver her child, because such a “pure” and “Jewish” experience should not be “contaminated.”



Future terrorist-Palestinian baby

This latest firerstorm comes on the heels of the laughable “purity of arms” mantra Israel has paraded before a gullible world for decades. This was recently shattered by the cowardly murder by the 19 year old racist IDF soldier in Hebron. and the constant harrowing revelations of the soldiers of conscience Breaking the Silence.The IDF reflects the deep seated racism of contemporary Israel as does the stupid remarks of MK Smotrich.

Don Francks “Iron Buffalo” dies at 84

April 4, 2016

I know you have beliefs which are very dear to you—some are imposed,some were given at birth.There are some books which are precious to you,traditions as well. I hope that maybe  all of these things are appreciated by all of the trees, the birds and by all of the planets.

Don Francks intro at George’s Spaghetti House 1983


Entertainment ikon Jackie Gleason phrased it well when he commented on Don’s 1963 album, “There’s nobody quite like Don Francks.”
Uncle Donny as I called him passed on to the next phase of galactic resurrection Sunday morning.He surely was one of the most versatile and gifted entertainers ever seen on a Canadian stage. A decade ago I wrote Verve records and told them that indeed there was nobody like Don as a jazz singer but like the peerage of tin ears who turned down our nomination for him as a recipient of the Order of Canada in 2009 they took a pass.
This was part of my covering letter. His great fiend and pianist for 35 years Steve Hunter’s letter will also see the light of day in this space.

As a singer Francks started out in vaudeville at age ten and evolved into a superb interpreter of popular songs which culminated in his co-starring with Fred Astaire in the legend’s last singing and dancing role in Francis Ford Coppola’s Finian’s Rainbow (1968).
Today at age 77 Don Francks is without a doubt Canada’s greatest living male jazz singer still performing in clubs in the Toronto area. His musical career is long and distinguished and it is but a part of his entertainment curriculum vitae.
In 1962 Francks formed a jazz trio with Ian Henstridge and the extraordinary guitarist Lenny Breau, appearing in nightclubs in Toronto and New York (eg, at the Village Vanguard, where they made the aforementioned LP Jackie Gleason Says No One in This World Is Like Don Francks, Kapp KRS-4501, in 1963). Remaining in New York, he recorded Lost… and Alone (1965, Kapp KS-3417) and appeared on Broadway in the largest flop in Broadway history Kelly (1965). Gaining excellent reviews himself, Francks went on to work off Broadway in a program of theatre songs by Leonard Bernstein. All this prepared Don for his superb vocal work in the Toronto version of The Fantasticks. Since that time Franks has never stopped singing, His encyclopedic knowlwdge of the history of jazz music, his impeccable choice of material with its intricate thematic arrangements stamp him as an original. Musicians vie to play behind this jazz master.



After eighteen episodes of Jericho a TV series which had the misfortune to run beside Batman in 1966 and after Finian’s Rainbow, Don Francks with wife Lilly, retreated to the Red Pheasant reserve in Saskatchewan.The war in Vietnam and the consumer culture had become too much for the sensitive artist. It was here over several years on the reserve that he deepened his love for the natural world. It was here that he was given the name Iron Buffalo.



After this hiatus, Don and Lilly now with two children in tow returned to Toronto where he resumed his acting career. In the interim he had deeply internalized the deep ecological sensibilty of native peoples.



In 1979 he was among the first to join Greenpeace in alerting the world to environmental degradation.His jazz singing and nigtclub performances would never be the same.The dominant thread in this multi-talented troubador was his radical concern for the planet.His vocation was to proclaim the oneness of creation as a fellow “earthling.” He had found his “faith. His pulpit was the performing arts. It was his way to illuminate the questions of the late twentieth century. As a performer he simply refused to pursue a “career” while he perceived the planet to be burning down. He become an eloquent pursuer of social justice. As a singer, jazz and commitment to the planet were fused.


“All I have tried to do”, he said in an interview he did with  me for  (Nov 3, 1991) for the Catholic New Times in 1991 “was to get to something beyond argument-a glass of water, a leaf growing in the wind.get back to basics, universal truths.All of the world’s children should be able to meet and say: No pollution.Clean it up.Salvation for the animals and all living things.Have no more war—that’s another pollution. And no hunger.”

DON 2MG_6010

Uncle Donny at my 70th birthday


On Don Franck’s singing alone he is worthy of the highest accolades. His acting career which is included here is equally stellar and ongoing to this day. Forget the two consecutive ACTRA Awards (Drying Up the Streets,1980 and The Phoenix Team, 1981). These are but the tip of the iceberg.



Noah’s Great Rainbow (March 2009) a ground breaking, new Canadian play workshopped at the Jewish Cultural Centre examined the effects of genocide on different generations, races and cultures. Playing an old Holocaust survivor (Noah) Francks engages a young Rwandan nurse’s aide who suffered under the Rwandan genocide of 1994. School audiences were transfixed.

A list of his acting career follows. Canadian film director Don Shebib also submitted a letter.

Truth to Power: Jesus was no bomber

March 20, 2016

Matt Behrens, surely one of the great and insistent justice advocates in the Toronto area reminds us in NOW Magazine of a very gutsy Canadian who at the height of the Vietnam War told it like it was right to Richard Nixon’s face.

Carole Addesso (nee Feraci), a Cabbagetwoner sang in the bland Ray Connif’s hit making machine in the 60s and 70s. In January of 1972 as the bombs were falling on the Vietnamese people—over 1.5 million civilians would be killed —Feraci stepped out of line at the White House dinner and held up a sign which read STOP THE KILLING.

Now this was an unpaid gig and Addesso had initially turned it down with some logic “I didn’t want to sing for a man who’s killing people. But after thinking about it, I thought I should go and say something.”

As the singers in elegant gowns filed onto the stage, Addesso pulled a handwritten banner from her dress that read “Stop the Killing.”


She then said: “Mr. President, stop the bombing of human beings, animals and vegetation. You go to church on Sunday and pray to Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ were in this room tonight, you would not dare to drop another bomb. Bless the Berrigans and Daniel Ellsberg,” Addesso added, referring to two Catholic priests then in jail for destroying draft records and the whistle-blower who leaked the Pentagon Papers, the Edward Snowden of his day.

Behrens called Addesso now living in California and she rewminisced :

“I looked at him the whole time. Nixon was sitting there with a frozen smile, and he never bloody moved a muscle.”In the audience were well known war boosters Bob Hope,Norman Vincent peale ,the fascist chralers Lindbreg and the preacher who blessed all wars Billy Graham. addesso didn’t give a damn.

After the first song, Conniff apologized to the audience, saying to Nixon, “I guess I’ll have to make sure from now on that my singers listen to your speeches. They don’t seem to know what’s going on.”

It was Conniff of course who had no clue of the moral madness going on.

As cries of “Throw the bum out” filled the room, Martha Mitchell, the wife of U.S. attorney general John Mitchell, shouted out that Addesso should be torn “limb from limb.” Conniff asked Addesso to leave, and with typical Canadian politeness, she replied, “Certainly.”

She was taken downstairs to a room where secret service personnel, White House counsel John Dean and chief of staff H.R. Haldeman were waiting for her.

“Dean and Haldeman were just freaking out, and they kept saying, ‘It’s an incident, it’s an incident! We have to be careful how we handle this,’” she laughs. Both men would soon be facing their own questioning over -illegal actions in the Watergate scandal.

“Then they started questioning me. Is there [mental] illness in the family? Did I plan to kill the president? All kinds of dumb shit. I told them, ‘You didn’t hear a word I said.’”

The interrogation eventually ended and they called her a cab, even though that went against White House protocol.
“I was very calm throughout,” Addesso says. “I knew what I wanted to say, and nothing was going to stop me. I would do whatever I could to stop the war.”

Addesso became the subject of almost daily conversation at the White House, as we know since the release of the Nixon tapes.
“For the next three months, every day when they had their Oval Office meetings I was talked about. What is she doing? Is she going to sue us? They were worried I would start an even bigger problem.”

She found herself the target of the FBI and was constantly hounded by the press. Job offers dried up, and when she faced deportation to Canada, she received calls from the era’s leading civil rights lawyers, including Mark Lane and William Kunstler of Chicago 7 fame.

Today 45 years later Addesso has no regrets.

And why should she?

Another Stupor Bowl

February 8, 2016


Once again I boycotted the Stupor Bowl absolutely irrelevant to my life and to most people on the planet. Who won? Who cares? But hyped all over Canada and USA, the idol capitol of the world. Capitalism generates many idols and celebrity is one of them. Overall in Canada we seem to have a laidback attitude to a lot of the nonsense. Last night I went to my local movie house and the coach of the NBA Raptors walked out after the film Nobody recognized him and he went his merry way. I am sure he loved it.

My friend Bob a former athletic director at university told me he goes down to the old Maple Leaf Gardens where among other things there is a basketball court. And there you can watch every week Canada’s number 1 university team the Ryerson Rams. Bob told me he was down last week and they had a full house 1,000 spectators. Really, that many!

Now that’s my type of country! In the USA people would be shocked at such low numbers. We have found better things to do with our time than make idols of college athletes. Most US “colleges’ are fresh water joints where the football, basketball coach makes more than the President. So much for the priorities of universities.

Now the Stupor bowl with the cheapest ticket at $2500.
Ads cost about $4.5 million for 30 seconds to hype stuff you don’t really need.

I liked what Kutter Callaway of Fuller Theological Seminarywrote “The NFL is, in a real sense, our civic religion. It has Sunday worship services, mid-week Thursday celebrations, patron saints (Hall of Famers), and a liturgical calendar that begins with the NFL draft (in April) and ends with the Super Bowl (in February).”

Killing the King

January 27, 2016

Many in Israel and the Jewish diaspora are reading a new book Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel by Dan’s been 20 year since the assassination of the Israeli PM, Yitzhak Rabin.


The villain in the book is convicted assassin, Yigal Amir, who was a student of law at Bar-Ilan university near Tel aviv, a school with religious Zionist roots.

Though not strictly Orthodox in orientation, it attracts mainly conservative Jews to its campus. It has had a hard time living down its relationship to Amir, the fanatical true believer who is serving a life sentence for his ugly handiwork.

During the last war crime in Gaza (2014) Hanoch Sheinman, a philosophy professor at the law school sent an e-mail to his second year law students expressing sympathy for all victims in Gaza. On the surface a minimal act of concern. But not so fast,herr professor. The law school dean, Shachar Lifshits upbraided Sheinman whom he said “contravened the values of the university and the law faculty … This constitutes the inappropriate use of the power given to a lecturer to exploit the platform given to him as a law teacher … that … seriously offended the students and their families.”

Another take was that of Stanford prof Steven J. Zipperstein, who teaches Jewish Culture and History:
“There is no reason to doubt that Lifshits is telling the truth when he says that Sheinman’s e-mail offended. And that’s the problem. That he then goes on to say that the sentiments expressed in it conflict with the values of his university, an institution inspired by religious convictions, chills one’s bones. And this from an institution, indeed a law school, that ought to be keenly attuned to what an inability to empathize with basic human rights can result in. Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, was a law student in November 1995 at the time he murdered the prime minister.”

Zipperstein notes that, “Never before in an Israeli military conflict has the mere expression of empathy for Arab civilian dead and wounded been seen, beyond the political fringe, as akin to betrayal … Sheinman’s dean has asked him to apologize. But it’s Lifshits who ought to offer an apology …”

No comment need be made here other than witnessing the erosion of humanitarian impulses, the failure to see the Other as a human being