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Archive for July, 2016

July 30, 2016: a new episode of The Anatomy Lesson at 11pm EST on CFRC 101.9 FM (cfrcradio​). Inspired by listening to Steve Buscemi reading cut-ups (with music by Elliott Sharp) of the writing of William S. Burroughs. Music by Laurie Anderson, gelnailsnoise​, Reed Ghazala, 2 Kilos ?, Joy Division, A Vengeance , Duchess Says, Master/Slave Relationship, and more. It’s gonna be a weirder than usual one. Check out the whole setlist in the comments below, tune in at 101.9 on your FM dial, stream at http://audio.cfrc.ca:8000/listen.pls or download the finished show at cfrc.ca.

MJ Guider – “Former Future Beings” Precious Systems
Gel Nails – “American Dream” The Smell of Detritus (2013)
Reed Ghazala – “Maelstrom in the Dust of Ages” Burning Suns of Shadow Worlds (1993)
Joy Division – “Shadowplay” Les Bain Douches, 1979 (1980)
Una Lasemé – “Issue Number” Details (from koreaundokgroup)
Steve Buscemi + Elliott Sharp – “The Human Virus” Rub Out The Word

A Vengeance – “Prophecy” Antennae
Master/Slave Relationship – “Moments Like These” Anti White Bastards (1991 compilation)
The Mekons – “Teeth” Teeth 7" (1980)
Duchess Says – “Cut Up” Duchess Says (2006)
2 Kilos ? – “Feels So Good” Vision of Paradise (1991)
Philip Johnson – “Radio City” Radio City (1983)
Laurie Anderson – "Sharkey’s Night” Mister Heartbreak (1984)

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“We have juvenile courts because it has long been understood that children are less culpable for their actions than adults; they are immature, products of influences and environments over which they have little control. That commonsense notion has been backed up by research showing juveniles have underdeveloped brains, which impacts decision-making and impulse control.

In this case, the record suggests that, due to mental illness, the girls had significantly less control of their actions than the average preteen. Morgan Geyser, who wielded the knife, has since been diagnosed with early-onset schizophrenia. Most people with schizophrenia are not violent, but an undiagnosed Geyser believed she would get to go live at Slender Man’s mansion if she killed her friend, and that he’d harm her family if she didn’t go through with it. Experts diagnosed her fellow plotter, Anissa Weier, with a delusional disorder and schizotypy, essentially “a diminished ability to determine what is real and what is not real.” After the two stabbed their friend, they set off to find Slender Man in a forest 300 miles away – on foot. Mental health professionals testified that Geyser still believes Slender Man is real.

But irrespective of these girls’ mental illnesses, criminally prosecuting 12-year-olds as adults is unjustifiable. The basic justifications for incarcerating criminals – rehabilitation, incapacitation, deterrence, and retribution – apply differently to juveniles. Most juvenile offenders don’t need to be incapacitated because they grow out of their offending behaviors rather than becoming ongoing threats to public safety. Deterring someone who isn’t in control of his or her actions or doesn’t recognize their consequences isn’t really possible. And most importantly, you can’t justify retribution against someone you’ve determined isn’t culpable by virtue of their immaturity.”

– Bridgette Dunlap, “’Slender Man’ Trial: Why Trying These Girls As Adults Is Absurd.” Rolling Stone, July 29, 2016. 

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“The federal-provincial review panel’s report on Site C found the 1,100 megawatt dam will result in significant and irreversible adverse impacts on Treaty 8 First Nations.

Caleb Behn, who is from West Moberly First Nation, one of the nations taking the federal government to court, says Trudeau has broken his promise.

“It’s 19th century technology being permitted with 19th century thinking and I expected more from the Trudeau government,” he said. “These permits were our last best hope to resolve this.”

“These permits suggest very strongly that, at least these ministries, if not Trudeau’s entire cabinet, are unwilling to engage in reconciliation with indigenous peoples. I thought this country could be more.”

Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay and NDP critic for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, echoed those sentiments.  

“I think this was a real test of the Trudeau government and they failed the test,” Angus said.

“The Liberals seem to be thinking that if they say the right things, it’s somehow the same as doing the right things.”

Trudeau has emphasized building a new relationship with indigenous peoples since taking office in October. He included the following paragraph in every ministerial mandate letter:

“No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.”

But with the issuing of the Site C permits, doubts have been cast on that promise.”

– Emma Gilchrist, “Trudeau Just Broke His Promise to Canada’s First Nations,” Desmogcanada. July 29, 2016.

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“ ‘Conscription of wealth’ rhetoric was a useful instrument in the constitution of hegemony because it was an expression of what I term political modernism . The rhetoric parliamentarians used in the debates on the Income War Tax reflected a self-conscious urge to modernize politics on the part of elites as well as opposition groups. Comments on the war and taxation during 1917 were coloured by a sense of what David Harvey has called ‘a radical break with the past,’ an awareness of radical novelty.  Political modernism was concerned with ‘unblocking energies and releasing flows’ by overturning established and ossified political practices through a process of creative destruction and, as such, has gone unnoticed by historians of Canada, who have insistently underlined the sharpening left–right opposition in this period.

‘Conscription of wealth’ reflected a shared aesthetic that ran across the more obvious political and economic divisions.  The rhetoric’s vagueness and lack of coherence allowed it to proliferate and resonate with widely felt resentment of war profiteering, clarifying widespread disapproval of profit-making and high incomes more generally. The rhetoric of ‘conscription of wealth’ was powerful precisely because it was politically promiscuous, less a watchword than a spectrum of meanings.

This spectrum of meanings can be traced clearly in the use of ‘conscription of wealth’ rhetoric by a range of speakers of differing political positions, from the speeches and writings of Liberals and Conservatives to the Industrial Banner, the organ of the moderate labour organization The Trades and Labour Council, in the period leading up to the parliamentary debate on the Income War Tax. These expressions clearly indicate that a more powerful income tax (one that taxed high incomes at higher rates) that proponents described as radical and progressive, held political appeal across deepening political divides. At the same time, the parliamentary record makes it clear that rhetoric that appeared to undermine the economic and political orthodoxies of the war effort, as did ‘conscription of wealth,’ was a matter of concern. The risks in voicing ‘conscription of wealth’ rhetoric were justified by its obvious political value in appealing to critics of conscription and war finance and its more subtle expression of a modernist desire for a ‘radical break with the past.’ All of these rhetorical gestures made sense, of course, only in a political-economic context in which the cost of the war, financially and otherwise, was steep and regressive, falling more sharply on the poor than the rich. The enormous and unequal cost of the war in terms of displacement, debt, and death gave rise to a rapidly polarizing political culture and one of the most controversial parliamentary sessions in the history of the dominion.

The Military Service Act, which saw men conscripted for military service overseas for the first time in Canada’s history, and which was debated at precisely the same time as the Income War Tax, was at the centre of this political controversy. In order to pass conscription, Robert Borden’s government took unprecedented measures: it negotiated a coalition with pro-conscription Liberals, called the Union government; it enfranchised women who were either in the armed forces or had relatives serving, and disenfranchised recent immigrants. The Income War Tax, similarly, was the first dominion income tax, and, along with the Business War Profits Tax of 1916, represented the overturning of a long tradition of resistance to direct taxation by the federal government. It was a ‘break with the past’ that, like the Union government and the enfranchisement of women, was a political gesture by the government to enlist support for conscription and had little to do with paying for the war.

The Income War Tax was introduced by Thomas White, a minister of finance who had entered politics at the top, following the 1911 election. The dominion tariff, which was the major source of dominion revenue and the primary instrument in the protectionist National Policy, was a central issue in that election. The Liberals under the leadership of Wilfrid Laurier had negotiated an agreement with the United States for partial reciprocity or free trade. The defection of eighteen prominent Liberal-identified businessmen to the anti-reciprocity cause had been a key contributing factor in the Liberals’ defeat. Borden, the Conservative party leader, was a bitter opponent of party politics and welcomed the defectors as a symbol of his commitment to non-partisan elite rule.  Although Borden was keen to include the ‘Toronto 18’ in his government, only one, White, the vice-president of the National Trust Company, agreed to take a safe seat and a seat at the Cabinet table, as minister of finance, after the election. White encountered serious problems shortly after becoming finance minister. The long economic boom that had been identified with Laurier and the delayed success of the National Policy in the 1890s came to an end in 1913, with the result that Canada’s credit dried up and its revenue from trade tariffs fell just as railways and other major public projects turned desperately to the dominion government for financial support.

White spent most of year before the war anxiously assessing the extent of the damage to the country’s financial reputation while endeavouring to appear unconcerned. The crisis illustrated the core problem with the pre-war fiscal model, as R.T. Naylor has demonstrated: government operations were financed with loans that were paid with revenue from tariffs; in a depression, when trade slowed down, revenues fell, and credit dried up precisely when the state most needed it.  A traditional resistance to the imposition of direct taxation by the federal government (in part because provinces – and hence their creatures, the municipalities – could only levy direct taxes) had forced the dominion to rely on tariff revenues, leaving the Borden government with no alternative but to wait for trade conditions to improve so revenues could revive.

When the war began in the summer of 1914, White’s chief concern was that interruptions in trade would cut even further into dominion revenues.  Although he was advised in Parliament and by correspondents that an income tax would be both possible and perhaps necessary, White refused to adopt what he called a ‘minor’ measure and repeatedly emphasized the government’s intention to rely on the tariff for revenue. Within a year of the start of the war, in fact, munitions production had revitalized the Canadian economy, and employment and trade conditions improved. But the war economy also made a regressive system of finance all the more regressive: war loans, a central financing instrument that provided income in the form of interest payments to banks and wealthy individuals, and that ultimately had to be paid in revenue raised through the tariff, were essentially an income transfer from the poor to the rich.

Added to this was the impact of the boom on the cost of living, which increased dramatically in the middle of the war, causing further hardship to low-income people who were already suffering from unfair taxation. That wealthy Canadians were actively encouraged to profit from the war by investing in war bonds muddied the distinction between the anti-social war profiteer and patriotic investor that the government was keen on emphasizing, and underlined the deep inequity of the government’s approach to war finance.  By reviving industrial production and increasing the cost of living, the war boom strengthened and revitalized organized labour. The economic crisis of 1913–15 had reversed many of the gains the labour movement had made during the Laurier boom. Massive unemployment gutted unions; labour struggled to maintain basic rights with a severely weakened bargaining position and became conciliatory. The advent of war and munitions contracts, Myer Siemiatycki argues, ‘revived sagging trade union fortunes by turning the flooded labour market of 1914 into a dire manpower shortage by 1916.’

Organized labour was a rising power, particularly in Ontario and Quebec, where workers threatened strikes that would have seriously undermined imperial war production. The introduction of national registration, which implicitly subjected industrial labour to the same power of compulsion as military service, created further resentment among workers, and the introduction of conscription, in the form of the Military Service Act, further inflamed class resentment toward a government that compelled military service while it invited the rich to contribute voluntarily to finance the war – for a profit. Calls for the ‘conscription of wealth,’ as articulated by labour, drew on a moral opposition to the further enrichment of wealthy Canadians, especially as viewed against the conscription of other Canadians. The introduction of the Income War Tax in the summer of 1917, which constituted a reversal of the government’s previous position, was a response to these criticisms. It was not the expression of a changed attitude by White on the value of income taxation. It was a political solution to a political.”

– David Tough, ‘The rich … should give to such an extent that it will hurt’: ‘Conscription of Wealth’ and Political Modernism in the Parliamentary Debate on the 1917 Income War Tax.” The Canadian Historical Review, Volume 93, Number 3, September 2012, pp.385-390.

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Nancy Beaton photographed by Cecil Beaton, c. 1932.  Source.

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“On Blackwell’s Island, the Fourth of July began like every other day – with the prison bell bawling before sunrise. Frank Tannenbaum – a young Wobbly who had been arrested while leading a march of the city’s homeless into the churches to demand lodging – stirred on the cot in his blank cell. Three months inside had hardened him to the raspy, unwashed clothes, the stench from the toilet bucket, the bedbugs and lice. Approaching in the corridor, he heard clanking keys, and then the keeper arrived, beating the walls with his baton, and calling everybody up. The doors opened and the prisoners hustled out, jostling to get toward the front of a ragged column for the washroom, and then breakfast. It was Saturday, the least pleasant period in the penitentiary. Toiling in the trade shops was tedious, routine work, but at least it passed the time. On the weekend, with no exercise or recreation, the hours spanned out interminably. The toilet pails would not be emptied till Monday, and the air would be befouled, unbearable, long before then.

At other jails, some special provisions were being made for the Fourth. Inside the Tombs, guards played a phonograph for the male inmates, and even allowed the women to dance in the corridors. On Blackwell’s Island, in former years, the prisoners had been allowed to celebrate the holiday with parades and parties. But Commissioner Katherine B. Davis, the first female appointee to the post, had cancelled that tradition. The men felt wronged. All day, their frustrations grew; restive complaints came from all sides, scuffles erupted in the suffocating cells.

But Frank, at least, was grateful for the long, quiet hours, and the chance to pursue his reading. Having begun with books strictly related to anarchism, he had since graduated to a more general course of study; literature, history, sociology – voraciously consuming everything he could. Carlyle’s French Revolution, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Herbert Spencer’s Education, the novels of Tolstoy, whatever his supporters could send him. He spent so many hours squinting over the pages – with only a flickering light bulb for illumination – that his sight had begun to fail. Comrades had seen too many imprisoned Wobblies go through this same ordeal. “Giovanetti’s eyes were ruined in prison,” an I.W.W. leader had written him in late May, “and I do not mean the same thing to happen to you.”

With the new glasses that supporters had sent him, Tannenbaum was better able to read his daily letters. Unemployment was not so bad as it had been during the winter months, but many people remained out of work, and even his most optimistic correspondents could report only that “industriany imprisoned Wobblies go through this same ordeal. “Giovanetti’s eyes were ruined in prison,” an I.W.W. leader had written him in late May, “and I do not mean the same thing to happen to you.”

al conditions are slightly improving.” News of the movement arrived in snippets and asides; through his mail, Frank heard of the Ludlow massacre, and the protests against the Rockefellers. Since his incarceration, the Wobblies themselves had been eclipsed by the anarchists. And though the daily press was heedless of the distinction, the activists themselves were acutely alive to sectarian splits. “I hope that you will bear in mind that the I.W.W. is not an anarchist group but an organization,” wrote Jane Roulston, a school teacher and Wobbly with pronounced doctrinaire views. “I.W.W. principles have kept us from taking part in the not very scientific actions which have taken place in New York City, and vicinity, since you left,” Roulston continued. “But we feel much sympathy for the actors in those affairs – knowing them to be driven desperate by the horrors of the capitalist regime.”

Supper passed without incident that evening – though inmates were still smarting from the injustice of missing the holiday. When the lights were put out at nine p.m., Tannenbaum and the others in his ward bedded down. But in a different wing the day’s anger finally broke through. There the prisoners could hear the sounds of the “Safe and Sane” holiday; music and cheering drifted out across the East River, a teasing reminder of their own exile. The men responded with a concert of their own – whistling, calling out, rapping the bars – and didn’t quiet down until Warden Hayes appeared. Typically, one or two ring leaders might have been given a reprimand, but this time every single person in the cellblock was punished, their privileges stopped indefinitely: no mail, no visitors, no tobacco.

The next week was tense and tetchy. Attendants and prisoners eyed each other, waiting for the next confrontation. It was nearly supper time a few days later, and Tannenbaum was marching toward the mess hall, when he heard the sounds of riot. Meals were supposed to be taken in total silence, anyone who spoke risked a thrashing from the guards who patrolled the tables. A few moments earlier, a keeper had moved to punish a whispering inmate. He had raised his baton to strike, but before he could land his blow, a metal dish flew at his head. Loosed after so much pent up fury, dinner plates began to volley in from everywhere. By the time Tannenbaum arrived with the second supper shift, the battle was at its climax. From outside, he watched the pandemonium unfold. Hundreds of prisoners, in their gray work clothes, were standing on the tables, shouting down at their oppressors, cursing and skimming their bowls into the air. The officers were in open rout, running for the doors, shielding their faces as best they could from the flying projectiles, tripping over themselves in their panicked rush to escape.

Panicked guards scrambled out to where Tannenbaum stood, and locked the doors behind them. One aimed his gun at Frank – hand shaking wildly – threatening to level him if he moved. Others fired their revolvers in the air, until the defiance wilted, and the quieted men filed out and returned to their cells. For this disturbance, the warden again retaliated with an extreme decision – putting every one in the mess hall on lock down. The measure was too harsh; prisoners throughout the penitentiary worried they would be the next to receive an unreasonable punishment. At breakfast the next day, a whisper passed between the men: if the others were not let out, then no one would work. “It was going to be one for all and all for one,” decided Tannenbaum. The inmates at Blackwell’s Island were about to go on strike.

Frank seated himself at the machine in the brush shop, where, typically, he would have spent the next eight to ten hours assembling bristle heads. But this time he just sat there. The others, who had elected him spokesman, followed his lead. Attendants rushed out to inform their superiors. The penitentiary’s industrial production totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. With this revenue under threat, it took just a few minutes for the warden to appear.

“Why, what’s the matter with you boys,” he said. “Why don’t you work? I didn’t do you anything. You have no grievance.”

Tannenbaum started to explain to him the meaning of solidarity, but the prison chief had no intention of arguing politics with him. He turned to a nervous youth sitting nearby, who explained that he was brother to one of the men under punishment.

“Warden,” Frank interjected. “He has got one brother locked up and I have got a hundred brothers locked up. And every one of them must be given a chance to wash and something to eat before we will do a stroke of work.”

With that, he stood and walked out of the shop. The others followed, and then the rest of the manufacturing gangs – who had been watching to see what Tannenbaum would do – abandoned their posts, as well. But, first they avenged themselves on the machines – cutting the belts, smashing the apparatuses. Fires started up in the shoe shop, the paint shop, the bed shop. “The boys,” said Tannenbaum, “simply avenged themselves on the system.” Seeing the striking workers marching out, the men on lock down joined the insurrection; “they broke every window in sight. Everything they could lay their hands on was destroyed.” The noise of their rioting could be heard in Manhattan.

After the keepers had finally regained some control, Frank was taken by guards down to the punishment ward, known as the cooler. While they took his coat, shoes, and tobacco, he could hear voices of those who were already there begging the keepers to let them out. The barred door locked behind him. He stood in a tiny cell without a bed or a window, equipped with only a dirty blanket and an open bucket. Nothing in his previous captivity had inured him to this degree of squalor. The toilet pail was never emptied, it took days just to stop gagging from the reek. Ten-inch rats skulked through at night. Sleeping on the stone floor was uncomfortable, but the blanket was worse. Every movement raised “a cloud of dust” so vile to Frank that he would lie as still as he could, until his whole side had gone numb, before turning over. For sustenance, he received a slice of bread and a drink of water every twenty-four hours.

On July 10th, Commissioner Davis arrived on the Island, trailing a gang of reporters, and determined to settle the strike. Of the 1,400 inmates, nearly half had been confined to their cells and put on reduced rations. The eighteen chambers of the cooler were filled with ringleaders. Touring the facility, she defended the warden, and took a stern, scolding tone with the sullen men. “It’s true, quite true that I am a woman,” she told an audience in the mess hall. “But while I wish to be human, and even a little more than human, I am not soft and don’t propose to be soft. I’ll have order over here if I have to call out the militia, and not one of you will get a personal hearing until the whole lot of you make up your minds to be orderly.”

Passing through the punishment ward, she paused in front of Frank’s cell.

“Why don’t you, for once,” asked the commissioner, “take the side of law and order?”

“I will,” Tannenbaum snapped back, “just as soon as law and order happens to be on the side of justice.”

For four days, the strike in prison halted all production. But, at last, hunger drove the men back to work. Davis had spoken of instituting a “kindness plan” once resistance ended, but if anyone had hoped for sweeping changes, they were disappointed. As one of her ameliorations, she ordered that the men in the cooler be served bread twice a day – instead of once – so from then on the daily allotment was sliced in half and distributed morning and night. But the portion remained the same.

After seven days in isolation, Tannenbaum had finally accustomed himself to the smell. But, he could tell from the way the guards flinched when they approached him, that he had become as fetid as his surroundings. When he finally returned to the general cellblock he was so starved that he could hardly stand. To the other inmates he had proven his status as a good comrade. But his correspondents on the outside – who had picked up vague, distorted accounts of his actions from the newspapers – offered only qualified support. “Remember that our real activity must be at the ‘point of production’ and not in prison,” an I.W.W. colleague wrote him. “I trust you will do nothing rash.””

– Thai Jones, More Powerful Than Dynamite: Radicals, Plutocrats, Progressives, and New York’s Year of Anarchy. Walker: New York, 2012. pp 242-247.

Top photo is New York Times; middle photograph is Jacob Riss, Blackwell’s Island. Prisoners Breaking Stone. Ca. 1890. Stereoscope of a gelatin silver transparency. Bottom is: Welfare Island – New York County Penitentiary – Cell blocks. 1929. New York Public Library.

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Katharine Cornell. Photograph by

Bain News Service, N.Y.C.. July 27, 1927. Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-67722.  

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“La Femme A La Plage,” Le Canada, July 26, Page 04.

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Nancy Beaton as a shooting star by Cecil Beaton, c. 1929. Source.

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“Unemployed and Communist Come To Blows In Oshawa,” Toronto Star, July 24, 1932. Pages 1 & 2.

“Former Resents Red Prediction of ‘Bloody Revolution’ on August 1. 

Police Stop Fight.

A feud between the Oshawa unemployed and Communist party flared up in Memorial Park to-day when ‘Eddie’ MacDonald, leader of the unemployed, accepted a challenge from John Farkas, head of the Communists, and a stern fight was waged.  When police arrived MacDonald was apparently getting the best of the scrap and both men were taken by Detective-Sergeant Flintoff in police car to the police station.  They were allowed to go, but charges will be laid, police stated.

MacDonald said literature had been handed him by the Communists yesterday announcing a revolution to sweep across Canada on Aug. 1, headed ‘Sweep God from Skies and Cut the Throats of the Capitalists.’ This literature is now in the hands of the police.

To-day the Communists discovered that they did not have the sympathy of the Oshawa unemployed association.  At Memorial Park this morning, MacDonald stated he was surrounded by a large group of foreigners while Farkas challenged him saying ‘Come and fight, you are an English faker.” MacDonald summoned a group of the unemployed, who held the other ‘Reds’ at bay, while the pair went at it hammer and tongs.

A crowd gathered outside the police station while the two men were being detained and when Farkas was allowed to go, police protection was afforded him. 

“Come through the fire hall with me.  Farkas, or those fellows outside will lynch you,” Detective-Sergeant Flintoff said.

Both men were covered with blood when brought into the police station, while most of their clothes were ripped from their backs.”

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https://bandcamp.com/stream_redirect?enc=mp3-128&track_id=1034106822&ts=1544984935&t=9ec252be8ba4fad65a2b85584b7fde4d7e9f8797?plead=please-dont-download-this-or-our-lawyers-wont-let-us-host-audio

July 23, 2016: a new episode of The Anatomy Lesson at 11pm EST on CFRC 101.9 FM ( @cfrcradio) . Long week edition. New music by Old Girl, Happy Meals, Lake Daggers, Anna Zaradny, Jane Weaver and local n//k. Plus some SPK, Iron Curtain, Bernard Bonnier, and more. Check out the whole setlist in the comments below, tune in at 101.9 on your FM dial, stream at http://audio.cfrc.ca:8000/listen.pls or download the finished show at cfrc.ca.

N//K – “Nesting” Baby Teeth
Bernard Bonnier – “La demoiselle au corsage vert” Casse-tête (1984)
Happy Meals – “Run Round” Fruit Juice
Jane Weaver – “I Need A Connection” The Amber Light (2015)
Anna Zaradny – “Theurgy One” Go Go Theurgy
Old Girl – “Jouissance” Object A

Peter Kris – “Recognized Face” Labrador
Lake Daggers – “Rite II” Split with Golden Donna (2015)
Boothman – “Becoming A God” Boothman Cometh
SPK – “Machine Age Voodoo” Machine Age Voodoo (1984)
Iron Curtain – “The Condos” Tarantula Scream (1984)
Gerstein – “Trapped in My Own Frequency” The Death Posture (1987)

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“Austin “Rob” Reed was born a freedman in Rochester sometime between 1823 and 1827, soon before the death of his father, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor, in 1828. Burrell Reed’s death is the first event in Haunted Convict, and his memory has a violent effect on the book whenever it’s invoked. “His last look” and “his last dying advice” to his son—“that I might be kept from all the snares and temptations of the world, and that I might grow up and become a useful man, that I might be a help meet to my mother when she should be bowing down between the weight of old age”—gave Reed a standard with which he could measure his grim eventual circumstances against the early promise that was his fragile birthright as a freeman. Throughout Haunted Convict, the name of Reed’s father becomes both the son’s religious consciousness, reducing him to tears whenever he hears it out of the mouths of prison chaplains, and his guilty conscience. “No sooner had the clods covered the remains of my father before I forgot his last blessing and dying prayer,” Reed confesses on the book’s second page. “I soon broke through the restraints of my mother and fell a victim to vice and crime.”

The lurid tone of that last sentence is neither incidental nor atypical. In the titles of the nineteenth-century crime pamphlets and prison exposés Smith mentions in his introduction to Reed’s memoir—“Black Jacob,” A Monument of Grace; Secrets of the Mount-Pleasant State Prison; A Voice from Prison; The Question, What Did You Do To Get There? Answered—you recognize a genre of popular American literature mostly lost to history, a body of works designed at once to titillate, moralize, and advocate for reform. Confessional crime pamphlets published under the names of black authors were, according to Smith, “usually written, or heavily edited, by the white ministers and lawyers who ran the penal system.” Even in later reformist autobiographies, the author’s crimes and vices were mined as heavily for shock value as the punishments he received.

We are rediscovering Reed’s book at a moment when much effort is made to distinguish sensationalistic advertisements for the prison system (Lockup) from serious testimonies about its cruelty (among other recent examples, the collection Hell Is a Very Small Place, an anthology of essays on solitary confinement). No distinction so firm held in Reed’s own time, and since he clearly intended his book for a general audience—he punctuates the narration with frequent appeals addressed to an unnamed “reader”—he took what opportunities he could to shock and seduce. It’s hard to know how else to account for the pivotal scene in which a merciless warden chooses to whip Reed and one of his fellow prisoners based on the false testimony of a third inmate—a “thick lip nigger” whose “infernal” blackness Reed contrasts unfavorably with his friend’s innocent whiteness. (“I did not care so much about myself as I did about poor Strongman, whose skin only an hour before was clean from stripes and as white as milk.”) The duplicitous boy ends up mortally injured soon after, and Reed relishes describing how he tormented the dying inmate with images of his damnation. Haunted Convict leaves itself unusually open to the intrusion of new tones and vocabularies, and Reed employed those of the minstrel show as readily as the sermon or the gothic novel.

By the time of that incident, Reed had been imprisoned as a juvenile for roughly a year. One night, in 1833, when Reed couldn’t have been older than eleven, he had disguised himself in one of his sister’s dresses, taken a gun, and stolen at night to the house of a white farmer to whom he’d been indentured after his father’s death. This was a revenge mission. He was justifiably enraged over having been “tied up like a slave and thrash [sic] by the rough hand of a farmer who had no business nor no right nor authority to lay a hand on me”—a memory strong enough, in Reed’s telling, to spur him on even while “in loud peals of thunder I heard my father’s prayer, playing in the flashes of lightning from beneath the ground where he laid.” Reed shot at the farmer, missed, and lit a fire in one of the landowner’s houses.

His sentence was ten years’ confinement in a youth reformatory euphemistically named the House of Refuge. In Reed’s picture, the prison’s supervisors, Mr. Heart and Mr. Wood, come off as reluctant disciplinarians, eager to mentor, educate and Christianize their charges. It’s disquieting to read the generous adjectives Reed piles on Mr. Heart—“a fine venerable old gentlemen”—when the gentleman in question is preparing to give him twenty-five lashes for having escaped and been recaptured. This is Reed in a conciliatory mood. Elsewhere, he didn’t shrink from describing his captors less forgivingly: Heart and Wood’s eventual replacement, “an old Presbyterian minister” named Mr. Terry, turns out to be a petty, tyrannical sadist. His religious pretensions inspire one of Reed’s most uninhibited screeds:

Oh, ye leaders of the blind, be careful while you are on your knees and uttering those sacred words and imploring blessing from above on behalf of those afflicted people whom you are praying for, that the brittle thread of life don’t snap and send you away to take up your portion with hypocrites and unbelievers. Then, with solemn and mournful prayers, you’ll cry for the solid rocks and the firm mountains to fall and crumble down upon your defenseless pates.

Years after his imprisonment, according to a letter he wrote to the House of Refuge in 1895 asking for access to his old records, Reed went “all over the union and telling sinners the troubles and trials that I Have been through and How I came to be a Christian man.” And yet he was already capable of similar speeches in the 1850s, when most of Haunted Convict was probably composed. One way to look at the book is as an anthology of homilies and warnings, from directives not to persecute the Irish (“Oh, you dare devil Yankees, who run down the poor Irishmen as they land upon your docks … ”) to long discourses on the evils of alcohol, which Reed twice personifies as a malevolent king (“Beware of me, for lo, I come in a moment when you think not, with my glittering sword which you see in my hand stained with red … I only make one dash, and you are gone”).”

– Max Nelson, “Haunted Convict: The rediscovered prison memoir of a nineteenth-century black man.Paris Review blog, February 25, 2016

The image is the inside cover and first page of Reed’s manuscript, found on the blog entry.

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Master/Slave Relationship, “Moments Like These.” Anti White Bastards (PBK/Korm Plastics, 1991).

Great song by Deborah Jaffe from an anti-fascist, anti-white supremacy US/South African experimental & noise cassette.  Some détourned hate speech in this song, fyi. 

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“Farmers Haul Water To Save Cattle and Crops,” Toronto Daily Star, July 22, 1936. Page Nine.

‘Twenty-four days of drought with no immediate prospect of rain have scorched crops and pasture in many parts of the Toronto district and many farmers have started to draw water in stone-boats to save cattle and some garden crops.  Trucks were used yesterday to haul water from a carefully damned hole in the dried-up Etobicoke creek to market gardens along Queen St. To illustrate how many farmers have to haul water long distances over parched land in York county, L. Chapman, near Nobleton, is shown filling up a barrel on a stone-boat.”

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