Enslaving the Internet

There was a time when television was the grand horizon, the magical future, the focus of mystical wishes about community, education, enlightenment, and the global village.

That was before NBC, CBS, and ABC got a hold of it, of course. That was when television was just an exciting technology.

One of the greatest deceptions of modern times is the myth that television is a conduit for “free expression”. Yes, no matter how different your opinions may be, they are represented somewhere on television.


Actually, one of the most remarkable things about television, especially in the past twenty years, has been the amazing uniformity of the programming on all the networks. Check out the news. Which television station presented the viewpoint that the Lewinsky scandal was no big deal and everyone should get over it? Right– nobody. Tell me, which television station or network can be identified with a pro-union/labour point of view? There must be one, somewhere. And which television station espouses the view that life is more meaningful when we have turned our backs on acquisitiveness and materialism and learned to appreciate the finer things in life, like friendship, nature, and charitable works? Which television station gives extensive coverage to environmental causes? Which tv commentator consistently advocates for the poor and dispossessed?

Well, we’re lucky up here in Canada: we have the CBC. But in the U.S., the so-called cradle of democracy, the uniformity of public opinion as expressed in the mainstream media is positively nauseating. And, sad to say, the religious channels are no better. In fact, in many ways they are worse. Their glib solutions to social problems and patriotic conservatism are merely the mainstream opinions of 50 years ago.

Well, why is that? The government doesn’t control television. How come television never questions authority?

There are three reasons.

Firstly, television is owned by large corporations. In the U.S., that is the real government: Congress is bought and sold by vast donations to re-election campaigns.

Secondly, television is governed by commercial interests: these corporations don’t want to offend the majority of viewers by presenting any minority opinions.

Third: the “self-regulating” nature of the television industry serves the government’s interest by treating consent in the same way obscenity is treated– television licensees are empowered to preserve good order and decency by preventing us from seeing a naked breast, or opinions that it deems to be “radical”.

Adbusters recently tried to buy time on commercial television to show “anti-ads”, little one-minute fables about consumerism and waste. The networks were able to refuse these ads because they would offend their regular advertisers.

Think about that. I am deeply offended by ads which try to use sex to sell cars, but no television station is going to pull Ford ads off the air for any reason whatsoever. He who has the gold makes the rules.

Which brings me to the Internet. What is happening on the Internet right now is remarkable: dissent is being heard. Alternative view-points are being presented. The unusual, the exotic, the idiosyncratic, is available for your perusal. Because nobody, no networks, no CBS, no Microsoft, no FCC, controls it. Do a search for the word “Clinton” and you will be presented will all manner of opinion.

So what does the government, and the big corporations think about this? Well, they’re not as dumb as they act sometimes. The music industry, for one, has suddenly realized that if the Internet really takes hold, and people begin to have access at speeds of 64K or better, nobody is going to need their slime-ball managerial skills anymore. Artists will have their own web sites through which you can download samples of their work and order the complete CD. The music industry, which presently controls artists by controlling the distribution of music, goes: “Hey! Where’s our cut?” They took one look at MP3, which allows people to freely and easily distribute musical recordings through the Internet, and they screamed bloody murder.

What galls me is the way they go around whining about the poor artists who are going to lose all their royalties. Well, artists don’t get royalties from the music industry because the record companies manipulate the expenses of recording and promotion to make it look like they’re hardly making any money at all.

Thatcher Hatchet

See the nice picture? The happy, elegant man is Augusto Pinochet, dictator, murderer, torturer, and heart patient. The woman on the right, so solemn and supportive, is former British Prime Minister, Maggie Thatcher. About the time this picture was taken, the government of Spain was requesting that Britain extradite Mr. Pinochet so that he could be tried for the torture and murder of a Spanish student in Chile in 1973.

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Does Maggie Thatcher have any children? I don’t know. It’s hard to picture her reading “Winnie the Pooh” to a cuddly little child, and then going off to have dinner with a man who believes that no one has the right to tell him not to have students tortured and murdered.

Margaret Thatcher is the former prime-minister of Great Britain, a nation which tirelessly brags of itself as the birthplace of the Magna Carta, a document which ensured that the subsequent rulers of England could not govern without the consent of at least some of the governed. Thatcher is a good friend of Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Pinochet was a general in the Chilean national army in 1973 when, with the help of the CIA, he decided to put an end to Salvador Allende’s democratically-elected socialist government. Allende was murdered in the presidential palace and Pinochet took control of the government.

After seizing power, Mr. Pinochet decided to destroy any possible opposition to his new government by arresting anyone who was ever likely to have supported Mr. Allende and socialism, or democracy, or unions, or free speech, or human rights. Once they were arrested, the army tortured many of them to try to get the names of more people to arrest. They used electric shock, torches, rubber hoses, and lots of other devices. Then thousands of them were cold-bloodedly murdered. All of this was done at the direction of General Pinochet.

Mrs. Thatcher happens to like Mr. Pinochet and thinks it is an awful shame and a travesty that the British House of Lords has ruled that Mr. Pinochet can be extradited to Spain to face charges of murder and torture. Why, it’s as if he were just an ordinary man, like you and me! What is the world coming to when dictators are arrested and held accountable for all the people they murdered!

Chile was an object lesson in the real meaning of democracy in the Western hemisphere: people are free to elect any government they want, so long as it is the “right” government. The Americans like to portray Cuba as a dictatorship because they don’t have free and open elections and Castro likes to put dissidents in prison. Of course Nicaragua and the Honduras and El Salvador also had un-elected governments that were far more repressive than Castro during the 1970’s, but the U.S. didn’t call them “dictatorships”. The U.S. called them “democracies” and proceeded to introduce their leaders to our own banana and coffee growers.

So what they really mean when they say that Cuba is a dictatorship is that they have the “wrong” government, and that is why so many conservatives go crazy at the very mention of Fidel Castro.

What does it mean that Margaret Thatcher, the former prime-minister of Great Britain, poses for a picture with the former dictator of Chile? Doesn’t it bother you? Isn’t it strange that the leader of a “free” country considers herself a good friend of an enemy of freedom? How would you feel if you saw a similar picture of Reverend Billy Graham standing beside Gypsy Rose Lee? Would Billy Graham say something like, “Yes, in an ideal world, I prefer virtuous women, but sometimes you just have to have a slut around.”

So, for all the blather in the U.S. and the U.K. about freedom and democracy and rights, the truth is that those principles don’t seem to matter very much when it comes to foreign policy.

And that is why Kissinger and Nixon and the CIA went crazy when Chile elected socialist Salvador Allende. And that is why they helped Pinochet over-throw the government. And that is why Margaret Thatcher proudly poses for pictures with a torturer and murderer today.


If you were really sick, do you think it would help if someone cut open one of your veins and drained about a quart of blood out of you?

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This was the preferred remedy of the medical establishment for at least 300 years. According to my history books, even the ancient Greeks may have practised it. They thought that sickness was caused by some kind of poison that got into your blood. The solution was to drain some of the blood out, so that new poison-free blood could take its place and dilute the effects of the poisons.

Now, you may wonder, how could so many people have been so stupid for so long? This remedy persisted well into the 19th century, in spite of absolutely no scientific proof that worked.

Now, I didn’t say there was no “proof” of any kind, that it worked. They did have proof. And it makes for an interesting object lesson in the meaning of “proof”.

This was the proof. Let’s say fifty people got seriously sick, from some kind of virus. Doctor Bloodpan comes to visit his fifty patients, one by one. If it’s a serious virus, given the circumstances of life in the 18th century, it wasn’t unlikely that more than a few of these fifty were going to die. And people knew that. They were petrified of all diseases in a way that people nowadays are petrified of AIDS.

So Doctor Bloodpan goes around to all his patients and drains a quart of blood from each and tells the family that it’s very serious and they must all pray. The family knows that a miracle is about as likely as a cure, so they do, fervently.

Well, Doctor Bloodpan is an incompetent idiot, so half his patients die. Does he go around announcing to all his patients that he is an incompetent idiot? No, of course not. He goes around and announces that he is a brilliant success: he has saved 25 lives! God be praised! And so he is.

Now, some skeptic comes along and says, “hey, what kind of idiot is this Doctor Bloodpan? If he would have just left most of these people alone, at least forty would have lived instead of just twenty-five.” And the families of the survivors go, “What, are you nuts? Doctor Bloodpan is a genius! He saved my husband!” And the families of the dead go, “Well, life is tough.”

Do you think it would be hard, under the circumstances, to convince people that Dr. Bloodpan is a hero? I don’t think so. Human nature is funny. When someone dies, we instinctively think we might have been responsible. We don’t often want to even raise the question, let alone make a public issue out of it. Would George Twentykids have lived if Dr. Bloodpan hadn’t drained the life out of him? Mrs. Twentykids, who screamed at him and called him a worthless fool on the very day he became ill, says, “oh no. It was God’s will.”

We think we’re so much smarter today. Well, consider this:

Many people, even today, are reluctant to call a doctor, probably for good reason. So when a person gets a virus, he waits and waits before seeking help. Inside his body, the virus is strongest in the first few days. Soon, his body’s built-in defenses take over and anti-bodies form, attacking the virus. This is about the time the person feels worst, so he makes an appointment to see the doctor. The appointment is in a day or two. By the time he goes to the doctor, he is already getting better. Does the doctor say, “Hey, you’re already getting better. Go home and have a nice nap.”? Oh no. The doctor, thinking back fondly upon that excursion to the Bahamas paid for by some big pharmaceutical company, happily prescribes some drugs. The patient takes the drugs but his anti-bodies have already pretty well defeated the virus. A few days later, he feels great. He says, “boy, those drugs work fast!”.

I have a feeling that a few hundred years from now, we will look upon surgery and drugs the way we look upon blood-letting today. As some absurd relic of superstition and ignorance.

Frank the Hacker

I used to buy computers from salesmen. I shopped at MicroAge, way back in the 1980’s. A salesman convinced me that the IBM PS/2 Model 80, at $13,000, was better than state of the art. It was cutting edge. And, best of all, it used the new MicroChannel Architecture, so our I/O devices would be fast and easily configured. He rhapsodized about how IBM’s reliability and stability were in a class unto themselves. That’s why, when he offered a service contract at about $3,000 a year, I told him no. I said, “if it’s so reliable, we won’t need one.”

Well, as we all know now, MicroChannel died a quick, obscure death. When did I first realize I had been duped? When I tried to get a tape back-up drive for it and found out it cost $700 for the interface card alone.

Even better, I wanted an IBM keyboard for one of our other computers: $675.

It slowly dawned on me that this salesman, Wally, didn’t know a thing about computers, didn’t love computers, didn’t even know how to work a computer. I began to realize this when he wrote out my invoice, by hand, on one of those old metal boxes with the triplicate forms in them.

The next time I went shopping for computers, I went to a little shop in a decrepit little storefront on Queen Street. “Frank” sold me IBM clones for about $3,000 a piece. They were faster, better, more reliable, and more compatible (obviously) than anything MicroAge was offering at the time. I bought a Northgate keyboard from a company in Minnesota for about $150 after hearing Jerry Pournelle in Byte Magazine rave about it. It was better than the IBM keyboard– had the same nice click that I like, but it was lighter and more responsive. I had it for seven years before dropping a big heavy computer manual on it. I am not kidding. It was the manual for Word Perfect 5.0. It cracked the circuit board inside. I tried to re-solder it, but it was beyond me. I ordered a new one from Northgate. (Northgate’s keyboard division has since been bought out by their employees.)

Frank was a hacker. He dressed like a hacker. He looked like a hacker. I think he smelled like a hacker too, though I never got close enough to find out. His shop was a mess. He had a troll in the back room assembling motherboards and CPU’s and installing cards. But I loved Frank. He sold me computers and computer parts at a fair price. He loved computers. When a new device came out that was cheaper and better, he always recommended it, even if his profit margin was smaller. He couldn’t stand to sell you a piece of outdated, stupid technology, like parallel port tape drives or thermal printers.

Wally always wore a suit and tie. He looked frazzled for a while– I heard he went through an unpleasant divorce. He probably sold his wife one of those pathetic P/S 2 Model 50’s which were still based on the 286 processor and came out at the time the 386 was already getting old. It had a slick case, but the pathetic little power supply was capable of about 2 watts and it was impossible to upgrade.

The MicroAge store was slick and expensively decorated and went through a redesign every few months. I’ll bet their staff went on “retreats” and developed “strategic plans” and “mission statements”. They’re mission statement back then was something like: “We will fleece the customer for as much money as we can by deceiving him into believing he will be more productive with an empty hypocritical slogan than he will be with a functional computer”.

Frank’s mission statement was, “Where the hell did I leave that IDE cable? It was here a minute ago.” His strategic plan was to find his desk. His code of customer service was to try to remember to send out an invoice, and he gave you credit only if he remembered your name.

The world could do with a lot more Franks. We already know where all the Wallys are.


Even Northgate, by the way, puts the “\” in an idiotic place. Anyone who still uses the dos prompt has to reach his pinky way over to the right, to below the <enter> key to get to it. Meanwhile, the “}” is right up there in easy reach. Yeah, and how often do you use the “}”?

It’s pretty easy to make a list of all the important American politicians I have admired over the years. Here it is:

John Kennedy
Bobby Kennedy
Eugene McCarthy

There. That was easy. In spite of the fact that I think the Lewinsky scandal is a partisan farce, I really don’t like Clinton. I don’t think he really does have any principles. And just to make sure we don’t have a misunderstanding here: neither does Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson or James Dobson or the entire heavenly host of impeachers, prevaricators, big-spending tax-cutting welfare-reforming conservatives.

Conventional wisdom suggests that John Kennedy remains one of the most admired presidents ever because he didn’t really have a chance to screw things up too badly. He died while he was still young and beautiful. He died before Viet Nam became a festering sore. He died before the 1960’s turned ugly with confrontation and riots and inflation and drugs. He died before Watergate revealed just how ugly government had become. Kennedy, it was observed, was quite capable of the brutal back-stabbing politics practiced by all politicians of his era, including the powerful Senate leader, Lyndon Baines Johnson. So, had he remained in office long enough, some scandal or another would have tarnished his luster.

I don’t agree. John Kennedy had one thing going for him that no other politician of the modern era has had going for him: he was a rationalist.

Let me clarify. Eisenhower was a conservative manager. He had no vision, no grand scheme, no particular passion for where the country was headed. Everything was hunky-dory. Let’s just make sure the bills get paid on time and stay out of trouble. Let’s assassinate or overthrow those pesky dictators in Latin America before they get a chance to destabilize the region. Let’s let the corporations ravish our natural resources, but increase the minimum wage occasionally, so people have enough money to buy their products. Race problems? What’s that?

Nixon, of course, was a megalomaniacal crook. The man was so delusional and Machiavellian that it boggles the mind. The scary thing is that he was, in some ways, like Kennedy. Few people are aware of the fact that Nixon took on the CIA and the FBI. It was such a strange battle that, to this day, nobody knows who won. A DC-10 carrying Howard Hunt’s wife with an attaché case full of documents crashed as it was trying to land at O’Hare airport in Chicago, and scores of FBI agents just happened to have been hanging around together nearby and rushed to the scene to poke through the wreckage. Top officials “committed suicide” or were killed in “hunting accidents”. Nixon was impeached. J. Edgar Hoover died.

Ford was a caretaker bimbo who never belonged in the Oval Office and clearly had no idea of how to manage the machinery of the executive branch. Did you know he served on the Warren Commission? Maybe he wasn’t that dumb after all. Maybe he didn’t mind people thinking he was a bit dumb. By the way, his wife was a stunning beauty in her youth, and was a divorced ex-dancer when he married her on October 15, 1948

Carter was a failure. He was genuinely virtuous, the type of politician electors turn to after a major scandal (Watergate), and he was disadvantaged by the inflationary pressures left by Nixon and the Viet Nam War. He made a fatal mistake: he was elected for his virtue, but tried to be re-elected for his vice. He allowed the Shah of Iran to fall, which was probably the right thing to do, but then he welcomed the Shah to the U.S. for medical treatment– a major blunder. You have to give some of the blame to American intelligence here– were they really that stupid? Or was this another example of the intelligence services wagging the dog? He was also apparently guilty of trying to micro-manage the presidency, at one point even personally approving schedules for the White House tennis courts. I think he was a decent man who was elected, partly, by accident.

Reagan was not very bright. He simply brought in his ideological allies and let them run things and then covered for them. He is sometimes credited with bringing the Soviet Empire down by threatening to outspend them to death on military hardware, but this argument is given as if Democratic presidents have been any less hawkish on defense than Republican presidents. If Clinton or Carter are examples (and they are the only ones), this is obviously untrue. Furthermore, Gorbachaev is obviously the man who really brought down the Soviet Empire. Reagan’s supporters always act as if Reagan talked him into it.

Bush never did get a grasp on leadership. What did he stand for in the end? Pragmatism, with a hall-pass to the right-wingers.

So we’re back to Kennedy. Kennedy used his devious political skills and his father’s money to get into office. Once he was elected, however, he seemed to rise above partisan political measures more than any president since Franklin Roosevelt. His progression on Viet Nam is fascinating, because we all know about the disaster that followed. He initially supported U.S. involvement, but as it became more and more clear that South Viet Nam was not politically stable, nor organized on sound cultural or economic foundations, he expressed growing skepticism. It was clear that he was contemplating a significant change in policy in the weeks leading up to his assassination.

Perhaps his boldest stroke was the controversial appointment of his brother, Bobby Kennedy, as attorney-general. Bobby didn’t want it. The New York Times lambasted the move as nepotism. Jack insisted because, he said, he wanted someone in his cabinet who would not be afraid to give him the unvarnished truth about any issue. Then he joked about giving Bobby some experience before he goes into private practice.

Bobby Kennedy, whatever you think of his politics or personality, was, without a doubt, the most incorruptible politician of the 1960’s. This became clear almost immediately when he set about indicting, prosecuting, and convicting a family friend with connections to the mob. John wasn’t completely sold on the idea, but did not interfere, which tells you a wealth of things about John’s character as well.

Bobby Kennedy found out that Sam Giancalana, a known mobster, was being recruited by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro. He was so outraged, he personally undertook the prosecution and conviction of Giancalana for offenses connected with his casino operations in Las Vegas. Then he cancelled Jack’s visit to Frank Sinatra’s spread because Sinatra had hosted another mob associate just a few months before the scheduled visit. He personally broke the back of organized crime in the U.S., while J. Edgar Hoover sat in his little pleasure palace in Washington and solemnly declared that there was no organized crime in the U.S., while tapping Martin Luther King Jr.’s telephones.

In fairness, some critics believe that Bobby initially approved of the plans to assassinate Castro. I’m not sure that’s not true, but almost everybody agrees that he and John both had misgivings about the idea.

I’m not a conspiracy “buff” in reference to John Kennedy’s assassination. Too many of the books on the subject start to sound hysterically paranoid after a while. The ones that propose that the conspirators somehow altered the body before the autopsy, or that four, five, or more shooters were present in Dealy Plaza, or that there was a duplicate Oswald, and so on and so on, evoke the term “crackpot”.

But I find it really difficult to believe that the complex web of relationships between Oswald and various CIA, Cuban, and underworld figures was merely coincidental.

Defenders of the Warren Report want it both ways. They want to argue that Oswald was a “lone nut” who just happened to have the inclination and opportunity at the same time. Then they want you to believe that this particular “lone nut”– this random confluence of willfulness, egotism, and psychosis– just happened to be be acquainted with David Ferrie and George de Mohrenschildt.

And is it a coincidence that the wounding of George Wallace during another assassination attempt benefited Nixon enormously? I doubt that Nixon himself was involved in any kind of murder plot, but he didn’t have to be. He merely had to make clear his pro-military, pro-intelligence community, pro-business political views.

It is also hard to believe that the Warren Commission had any purpose other than to convince Americans that everything in Washington was hunky-dory now and you can all just calm down and go back to sleep for another ten years. When their explanation of a single, lone, “crazed” gunman ran into a minor obstacle– the physical evidence pointed to at least one other gunman– they simply revised the evidence. They weren’t investigating the facts. They were constructing a case for a pre-ordained conclusion.

Anyone aware of Bobby Kennedy’s tenure as Attorney General would have reason to think that President Robert Kennedy would have represented a grave threat to various powerful, vested interests in Washington, including the intelligence communities and organized crime. His assassination did not, as it appears on the surface, merely guarantee the election of Hubert Humphrey as the Democratic candidate for president in 1968. It guaranteed the election of Richard Nixon as President, for Kennedy, or possibly Eugene McCarthy, were the only Democrats who could have beat him.

Look who followed: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton. A pretty pathetic lot, all of them.

Clinton’s Welfare Mothers

If you have read some of my rants on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, you would quickly realize that I don’t like most of the Republican leaders. You might even think that I do like President Clinton. Well, I don’t. Much. Never have and never will.

Bill Clinton is a gutless pragmatist who got himself elected by out-flanking the Republicans on issues like welfare reform and balanced budgets. I don’t think he is a bad president. He may well be regarded, some day, as a successful administrator who was bitterly harassed by a bunch of Lilliputian partisans. He is certainly a better president than Reagan was: he is more competent, more astute, and a better leader. But he is also in favour of capital punishment, and he signed legislation dumping hundreds of thousands of welfare recipients into the dustbin of economic Darwinism.

Whatever happened to those welfare mothers? They all found jobs, right? Well, some of them probably did, but not because of welfare reform. Has anybody noticed that this problem is waiting for the next recession to explode? And it will explode. If (or when) the economy finally does go into even a minor recession, and unemployment rises, we will see poverty on a scale unimagined since the Great Depression. And Clinton, and the Republicans who drafted the legislation, won’t even get blamed. You know who will get blamed? President Dole or President Quayle or President Gore, or whomever.

Tape Accompaniement

As a former teacher, I remember meeting the word in all it’s awful dimensions: a student hands in an essay of exceptional, uncharacteristic clarity and eloquence, with a newly discovered gift for metaphor, and becomes defensive when questioned about sources.

It takes a while, but eventually I do locate the source: whole paragraphs copied verbatim from a youth magazine in the library. Confronted with irrefutable evidence, the student, far from being apologetic, looks me in the eye and says, “So? Who cares about a stupid essay anyway.”

Even the guilty find it easy to define cheating: passing someone else’s work as your own, “borrowing” from others, taking shortcuts when everyone else has to take the long route. We probably shouldn’t be so shocked to discover it: in most quarters of this society, taking the shortcut when everyone else is taking the long way is considered smart, shrewd, macho. It’s a sure way to prosperity and success. Donald Trump and Ivan Boesky may be vilified on the editorial page, but on the society pages, they’re kings. Oliver North may have lied to Congress and the public, and conspired to break the law, but he is growing rich peddling his Machiavellian politics to banquet halls filled with envious arm-chair rogues. Cheating is first and foremost lying.

Do we, as a Christian community, have a clear idea of what cheating is? We probably think so. We never tire of warning our children about cheating at games, or our young people about cheating at school or work, or our married couples about cheating on each other. As a Christian school teacher, I certainly thought I knew what it was. But recent experience has caused me to think twice about whether or not there is a consensus in our community about what cheating is. My question is, is taped accompaniment cheating?

Most of us have probably experienced this new approach to music by now. We attend a concert put on by school or church or club, and wonder where the sound of violins and trumpets is coming from. Soon we realize there is no orchestra: there is a tape. It sounds wonderful: musicians far more gifted and well-trained than anybody we know, playing along with familiar faces and voices from the congregation and community. The sound is clearer, better balanced, completely free of feedback and static. No flubs, except for the singers, occasionally. Nobody out of tune, except for the singers occasionally. Nobody misses their cues, except for the singers occasionally. I confess a secret wish that a fuse would blow, or that the tape would get snarled in the drive mechanism.

My first question is, why even bother with the singers? And in fact, at a recent Christian elementary school production, taped background voices were indeed added to the performance– just to make it sound a little better than it really was. “They needed a little help for that part,” so I heard. So why not go one step further, and have the students mime the lyrics, and use professional voices instead. It would certainly sound even better.

“Ah,” you say, “but then what’s the point? You could stay at home and listen to music like that anytime you want to. The important thing about a performance is… ” Well, what is it? That it’s real? That it’s live? That it’s people we know displaying their true talents?

Our society already suffers from an oversized respect for “celebrities” and “professionals”. It is in the interest of big corporations– music publishers and broadcasters– that we care as little as possible for local talent and as much as possible for famous people who live in mansions in New York or Los Angeles and never perform except when surrounded by 50 body-guards and an equal number of scantily clad dancers. Now even the Christian community sometimes prefers a tape made in Los Angeles or Nashville to the musicians in our own community. If we follow this path, we will someday have no local musicians left, for who want to compete with a multi-million dollar recording studio?

It may sound strange but I thank God everyday that the Canadian Government passed it’s Canadian content rules, requiring radio stations to play at least 33% Canadian music. If it were not for this law, we would never have heard of Spirit of the West, Bryan Adams, Crash Test Dummies, Blue Rodeo, Colin James, or dozens of other Canadian artists.

It surprises me that schools and churches– along with Karaoke bars!–are the worst culprits for this artistic shortcut. Whenever I can, I ask the people involved why they used it. Most often the reason given is expediency: it’s just too difficult to get live musicians to come out for practice and performances. People promised, but didn’t show up. It’s more convenient to use a tape. The microphones and PA equipment are a big head-ache.

Most musicians I talk to say, “If I had known that they were going to use a tape instead, I would gladly have played.”

One director was pleased to report a new minister’s opinion that the music was far superior to a live performance he had recently heard, with a real band. But what did he expect? And why should the director feel flattered by this opinion? The fact is that background tapes, because they are produced in a studio and because they are edited and mixed and enhanced in innumerable electronic ways, will always sound better than even the same musicians playing live. There is no question that for pure technical quality, nobody will ever beat a good studio recording, including the studio artists themselves.

It is an entirely different question as to whether or not technical quality is what really matters. There has always been a sizeable number of music lovers who prefer to hear live music, warts and all, because of its immediacy, it’s honesty and emotion, and the dynamic rapport between audience and performer.

But it is more convenient to use a tape, and I have some sympathy for the harassed choir director who feels she or he just can’t put up with even one more aggravation and decides to take a shortcut. I have the same sympathy for that student of mine who just couldn’t put up with the mental agony of writing and re-writing and revising and evaluating another essay, and decided to take the easy way out. She took the trouble to rewrite everything in her own hand, and even to reconstruct an outline and a rough draft, since they were required. For all that effort, she received a zero.

When the audience at one of these performances applauds at the end of the evening, I wonder if the organizers have the honesty to ask themselves if they have earned it honestly? I am reluctant to applaud even the singers, though I know most of them probably didn’t choose to be accompanied by a machine. It feels silly.

And it’s wrong, most of all, because just as most of our students are honest– even if they know they’re not perfect– most of our musicians are honest– even if they know that they are not perfect. And I will always rejoice to hear an honest musician up there in front of the crowd giving it his or her best shot, because while most of us are honest about what we actually say to people, very few of us are honest enough to show so much of ourselves to so many at once.

I wish our music directors and choir leaders would take a stand, speak up, and educate the Christian community about artistic ethics. Our community needs to know that, yeah, sure, it could sound better, and bigger, and slicker, but it wouldn’t be honest. It’s somebody else’ work.

Arrested Development: The RCMP Get Their Gas

I am not making this up.

The RCMP got called in by the Alberta Energy Co. to try to put an end to sabotage of its gas and oil wells in Northern Alberta.

Now, first of all, you must be aware of the fact that these wells stink mightily and emit noxious fumes over a large area. People live in this area. But when the police were called in to put an end to the noxious fumes, they did nothing. You see, clean air doesn’t make a profit.

Then some of the citizens of this region, understandably frustrated, took matters into their own hands. They began to commit acts of vandalism, damaging the wells and drilling equipment owned by the Alberta Energy Co. The Alberta Energy Co. then called the police. They were there lickety-spit.

So, there you go. The Alberta Energy Co. damaged the environment and possibly the health of a large number of farmers, and the police shrugged and ignored the problem. The farmers damage some equipment, and before you can say “Dudley Dooright”, they are out there doing an investigation.

They tried and tried to find the culprits but they could not. However, they did happen to know that this farmer named Wiebo Ludwig (isn’t that a great name?) and his friend Richard Boonstra had been loudly complaining about the pollution from the wells for many years. So they arrested him. So not only did the police not enforce the law protecting the environment and people’s health, but they tried to punish the victims.

Unfortunately for the RCMP, the courts in Canada still do require evidence occasionally and they had none. Worse than that, they discovered that nobody would testify against the two men. So they had to release them. I must congratulate the police on their integrity here. Standard procedure, it sometimes seems, is to lock the suspect into the same cell as an informant serving a long sentence for something or another.

Then you offer the informant an early release if he happens to overhear the suspect confessing in full to his crime.

Well they adopted the next best solution. They would blow up one of the wells themselves. Then they would report that the saboteurs were more dangerous than they had originally thought. Won’t you fink on them now?

How surprised they must be at the uproar. They are so surprised that they pretty well ‘fessed up right away. We didn’t think you’d mind. At least we didn’t strip search anybody. And we didn’t actually charge the suspect with blowing up the well that we blew up.

Technicalities. Support your local constabulary. And all those people in Elmira complaining about the pollution from Uniroyal…. watch your step!

I Want a New Drug

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, a new drug named Paxil (paroxetine) alters the personalities of people, making them more “easy-going and cooperative”.

Psychopharmaceuticals is what they call them.

Specific serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Don’t like your personality? It can be fixed. But remember, we are against drug abuse.

This drug is now available to doctors everywhere. They will probably be receiving colorful brochures advertising its virtues shortly. Maybe they will receive an invitation to take a free cruise to Latin America where the excellent effects of the drug can be described in luxurious detail. They will be given free samples of the drug to “try out” on patients. The drug will be expensive to prescribe. But that’s okay. Don’t worry– be happy: the American Psychological Association will be pressured to include it in DSM VI or VII or VIII or whatever, as a recommended treatment for “unhappiness”. That way, it will be covered by the real pimps of our drug culture: health insurance plans.

How far are we really from the idea that we should drug everyone in our society into placid, carefree submission? How long before we officially acknowledge that our dope laws are really concerned with stamping out competition, and not with eradicating “bad” behaviours?

It all stinks.