Sunday, April 06, 2008


Not sure if anyone still stops by here, but it's now well into April and I can now confirm that I have lost all interest in blogging. This medium, while promising, requires a lot of work to "feed the beast" and I have other competing priorities.

So thanks for listening/reading/whatever.

See ya.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Innocent Question

I know it's been a while, but I have to ask ... what, pray tell, might have happened in 2003 that would have caused Iran to rethink its nuke program?

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Hi everyone.

About a month ago, I suggested that people check back here in about thirty days, at which time I expected I'd be back blogging on a more regular basis. I'm here to tell you that I won't be posting any time soon. Much like a musician would appreciate, I found that I need to put down my "instrument" for a while in order to re-charge my juices and find my muse once again. I'm the type of person who, when they do something that they consider important, likes to do that something well, and I consider voicing my thoughts and impressions of what's going on in the world around us to be something that deserves my best effort. Unfortunately, I've realized just how much time this takes, and have decided to focus my energies on a few other pursuits and hobbies instead of blogging. I'm confident that as the fall turns to winter, I will probably find myself posting regularly once again, but as for now, I'm still on hiatus.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

End of Summer Slowdown

Greetings, Hammerheads.

Regular readers will have noticed that my output as of late has been spotty, and the reason for this is a combination of a poor Internet connection, blogging fatigue, and other priorities that require attention around the house. I'm also going to be taking a vacation pretty soon so I won't have regular access to a computer even if I wanted it, so don't expect things to improve over the next month or so. I would urge everyone to bookmark the site and check back periodically as I may do the odd review or daily digest over the next few weeks, but not at a rate at which you might have become accustomed. With my batteries recharged, I am hoping that my mojo will return and I'll be back in full swing by the time the fall rolls around, which is sadly less than thirty days away.

In the meantime, check out some of the archives on the sidebar for some retro Road Hammer and be sure to take advantage of the links I've provided.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Book Review: "Time To Say Goodbye: Building a Better Canada Without Quebec" by Reed Scowen (2007)

Montrealer, former member of the Quebec legislature and long-time anglophone rights activist Reed Scowen makes the case here for a split between English Canada and Quebec. Normally, a book like this would have me recoiling as books concerning our navelgazing political culture are anthema to me - I have standards - but I grabbed this one at the airport Friday as it was a short read and nothing else really jumped out at me that I hadn't already read.

I had to put this book down at some points when I was reading it over the weekend because the basic unfairness of the Canadian federal arrangement, biased as it is towards Quebec, makes me so angry. On top of that, forty years of appeasement hasn't worked, André Boisclair's recent third-place showing aside. Scowen also makes a convincing case that Canada was not born as an agreement between two founding nations but rather one between four provinces that united for utilitarian reasons above all else, a point built on by Scowen as he delves further and argues that over time, Quebec as a political entity has not defined itself by the liberal constitutional framework that the rest of Canada does. In other words, there is a group of nine provinces which are bound by a common belief in pluralism and the freedom of individuals to pursue their own goals against the backdrop of a government that exists to facilitate those pursuits in a uniquely English Canadian way. On the other hand, for Scowen, Quebec, via its state apparatus, defines itself by the primacy of the French language and culture and is openly willing to cast pluralism aside in order to further entrench that belief. In so doing, he makes the case that the political worlds of the two sides are incompatible and so English Canada should offer Quebec terms upon which it can decide to stay within Canada or not.

Scowen's case is well written and well argued, and there are certain undeniable truths implicit within it - such as how much better off the rest of Canada would be economically if they didn't have to subsidize Quebec as they do - but I think he overstates the case by half. By virtue of my marriage, I am intimately connected to Quebec in such a way that many English Canadians are not, even though I don't, never have and probably never will live there as Scowen has. I also think that while the politicians in Quebec are a breed unto themselves, Quebecois are too busy working, raising kids and dealing with every day concerns to bother tuning out the voices in the entertainment world, in the press and coming from Quebec City to investigate just how dependent they are on the rest of Canada to subsidize their child care centres, universities and health care system (failing as it is). Moreover, when one casts a ballot for the PQ, they likely aren't thinking about the cost of establishing borders, a military or determining which currency to use in a sovereign Quebec of the future. Much more likely is that they are simply asserting themselves in a North America that is becoming increasingly integrated and a world that is becoming more complicated. So, for Scowen to assert that the political cultures are incompatible is a considerable exaggeration. Plainly speaking, one shouldn't confuse the chattering classes with the folks.

Also, Scowen is writing from the position of an aggrieved English Montrealer. He admits that he decided not to learn French until he was 41 years of age. To me, this is unacceptable because I am an assimilationist. Further, I am not one who has a lot of time for linguistic minorities who demand the same treatment and status as the majority, which partly explains why I have a lot of affection for franco-Ontarians since in my experience they, by and large, realize that Trudeaupian bilingualism was a nice idea rather than a practical possibility (notwithstanding coattail riding on the federal government's hiring practices, designed to make Quebec feel more part of the federal family by what is, in effect, the equivalent of racial preferences). By way of comparison, anglophones in Quebec angrily complain about the decision of their provincial government to ignore the Charter of Rights and Freedoms rather than dealing with the reality of the choice they have made, to stay in a province where a greater level of intolerance of "les autres" is just a fact of life that requires adjustment if you want to live there as a non-"pur laine". More broadly, as unjust as this is, does it present a fundamental contradiction on which Canada cannot sustain itself? I don't think so, as it should be seen as a farcical irritation more than anything else.

In sum, as aggravating as the entire national unity debate can be, and Scowen makes a good if unrealistic contribution to it, I am only somewhat on side with his thesis, even if, in my darker moments, I would be the first one to serve Quebec's political class with divorce papers.

Now if only leaders would lead, we might be able to get somewhere.

Overall rating: 7.25/10

Live Review: Kenny Chesney's Flip Flop Summer Tour - Ford Field, Detroit, MI, August 18, 2007

This summer's edition of the annual Redneck Roadtrip saw the fellas and I head down to Motown for a day-long event at the mind-blowing Ford Field. After flying to Toronto and checking out the Jays against the Orioles on Friday night with my brothers (and purchasing a very sweet old-school Lloyd Moseby uni in the process), I met my co-travellers David (owner of the barely-breathing Parking Lot) and Chris Farley's Ghost bright and early. After driving through the Sarnia/Port Huron border crossing and downing a hearty lunch at the Cracker Barrel, it was southward to Detroit Rock City, where we arrived to begin the tailgating festivities shortly after 2 PM. We put a healthy dent in a case of Bud Light, making friends from Toledo to Tennessee and enjoying the many sights, sounds and smells amidst an embarassing incident involving watersports in between parked cars before going in to the venue for the concert's 4:30 start.

First, Grammy nominee Pat Green kicked things off with an unremarkable half-hour set I'll mostly remember for complaints from the stage about the disinterested and sparse crowd, although he did interestingly segue into U2's "With Or Without You" at one point.

Next up was sweetheart Sara Evans who was given close to an hour to deliver her many hits. For being the second one up and playing on a massive stage, she was extremely confident and her vocals were pitch perfect, sounding better live than they do on record via tracks like "Suds In the Bucket", "Perfect", "Born to Fly" and "Always Be My Baby". I've always liked her a lot because she strikes me as extremely real, and the fact that she had her sisters doing background vocals and her brother on bass underlined that for me. (Oh, and she's stunningly beautiful.) By this time, the place was pretty much packed for Ms. Evans, numbering over 47,000 honkytonkers according to yesterday's news coverage. I also appreciated how she ended her set with Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way", an inside nod to those in the crowd familiar with why she left last fall's "Dancing with the Stars" competition.

The third act of the afternoon was the duo Sugarland, made famous by hits like "Baby Girl", "Settlin'" and "Something More", not to mention lead singer Jennifer Nettles' duet with New Jersey's favourite sons, the boys from Bon Jovi, on mega-smash "Who Says You Can't Go Home". Curiously, they entered to a cover of Pearl Jam's "Better Man" and also delivered a bluegrass version of Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable" during their set, which also included new single "Everyday America". I have never been a huge fan of Sugarland but I think that they will be a force to be to be reckoned with over the next few years in country music as they know how to give the fans what they want, which included a final number with Nettles donning a Detroit Lions jersey embossed with starting QB Jon Kitna's #8.

The second to last slot belonged to Brooks and Dunn who entered to a chorus of boos because their opening video was an advertisement for sponsor Toyota and their Tundra line of pick-up trucks. They should have known better than to pull that kind of stunt in the beleagured Motor City. However, the ill will was not to last, and how could it, really? These fellas are country music royalty, but I have to say that they didn't blow me away, especially compared when I saw them in 2001 as part of their Wild West and Neon Circus Sideshow, a tour which also featured Keith Urban, Montgomery Gentry and Toby Keith. Kix Brooks in particular was much less energetic tonight than he was on that occasion, and the newer material released since then by the boys like "Believe", "Building Bridges", "Play Something Country" and "Hillbilly Deluxe" doesn't compare to their older hits, of which there were understandably less. That said, latest single "Proud Of The House We Built" sounded quite good. Set closer, the flag-waving anthem "Only In America", was the highlight even though the crowd was not as enthusiastic as I had expected them to be. Half of us were already on our feet and the other half only got up when a corps of troops came out on to the stage about halfway through the song which concluded with a pair of boots, a helmet and a bayonet left on the stage in tribute to the fallen. It was extremely moving.

Finally, headliner Kenny Chesney delivered a high-octane hour and forty-five minute show that did not disappoint. Opening with "Beer In Mexico", the laid-back, Caribbean theme that Chesney has appropriated for himself and parlayed into a massively successful career was on big-time display tonight, and on a tour sponsored by Cruzan Rum, I would hope so. Other party tunes like "Keg In the Closet", "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem", "When the Sun Goes Down" (featuring a guest appearance by homeboy Uncle Kracker), and "Summertime" were delivered alongside ballads like "Anything But Mine" and "The Good Stuff", odes to home and family like "Back Where I Come From" and "I Go Back", and the obligatory classic rock cover, which on this evening was "Honky Tonk Women", featuring Brooks and (I think) a sunglasses-wearing Pat Green. The only disappointment was that he didn't play "There Goes My Life", one of my favourite country songs ever. (Oh, and I would have preferred an appearance by Kid Rock rather than Kracker, but that's OK.) This guy loves what he does and is very fan-friendly (how many other shows have you been to at an NFL-sized stadium where the headliner doesn't run off while the band plays things out, but instead, stands at the lip of the stage signing autographs?) and knows how to deliver the goods. Now, if only he'd come to Ottawa, a trip for which he is long overdue.

Unfortunately, we had to return to Toronto early on Sunday afternoon as the rain in Detroit was too heavy to run the scheduled NASCAR race for which we had tickets, but this just gives us another experience to look forward to some other time.

Overall ratings:

Kenny Chesney: 9.5/10
Brooks and Dunn: 6.75/10
Sugarland: 7/10
Sara Evans: 8.75/10
Pat Green: 5/10

Overall rating: 9.25/10

Friday, August 17, 2007

Book Review: "The Assassin's Gate" by George Packer (paperback version released 2006)

Well, it looks like Michael Ignatieff now has some company as he's not the only public intellectual now reconsidering his support for the Iraq war. Yes, yours truly, quite possibly the most fervent believer in the Administration's efforts to remove Saddam Hussein living north of the 49th parallel, is having a little trouble supporting the whole thing the way I once did ,and it's largely due to material like "The Assassin's Gate" by New Yorker reporter George Packer.

Not a piece of advocacy but refreshingly, journalism in its truest and most authentic sense, Packer begins by weaving the work of Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya who authored the expose "Republic of Fear" in 1989. His sermonizing about the horrors of the butcher of Baghdad soon found a captive audience in certain Washington circles, mostly among the Wolfowitz-Feith-Kristol crowd, who found their champion in Donald Rumsfeld. To his credit (as we all know what happens next), familar arguments about exaggerated intel, selective hearing by the White House, and facile sloganeering like "Bush Lied - Thousands Died" and "No Blood for Oil" are eschewed. Instead, Packer offers an illustration of the extremely troubling extent to which there was absolutely no foresight when it came to post-Saddam planning. As Packer illustrates, the crowd mentioned above seemed uninterested, and at times, proudly so, in alternative views concerning how Iraqis (a mythical term if there ever was one) would respond to a power vacuum. The looting, gangsterism and religious extremism that filled the void after Hussein's downfall, and the honourable yet nearly vain efforts of American men and women in their mid-twenties to try and install some order after their political leadership let them down as masterfully portrayed by Packer left me with a sense of broken faith in the righteousness of the whole endeavour.

After reading this and other accounts, I remain staunchly in favour of the removal of Saddam from power, but although I am an optimist by nature, I view grand schemes with skepticism largely because they fail to incorporate the foibles and shortcomings of human beings laid over top of the intricacies and delicacies that culture and history inflict upon every individual on the face of the Earth.

By ignoring these fundamental realities via their management of the war after Hussein's fall and deludedly holding on to their expectation that modern Western civilization would replicate itself over a period of one thousand days in a place that has never known anything resembling it, Wolfowitz et al. should be ashamed of themselves.

The question the reader is left with after completing Packer's work is thus this: how can one define success in Iraq?

I don't think anyone knows the answer to that question at this point.

Overall rating: 9.5/10

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wednesday digest

- After a lifetime of paying taxes, one blue-collar family of modest means tells of their experience with the Canadian health care system, here. Those of us who have been fortunate enough not to have to make the choice that the couple in the above clip had to ought to be sensitive to stories from real people who would have been sentenced to essentially death had they relied only on government-provided care, or for that matter, penthouse-dwelling, limousine liberal "documentarians" to draw attention to their plight.

- Pulpit socialism out of the Netherlands, where a Roman Catholic bishop wants to reach out to Muslims by having members of his faith pray to "Allah" instead of God during Mass. Predictably, the Council on American-Islamic Relations is in favour of the idea, but no word on whether or not - in a move which would clearly demonstrate goodwill - American Muslims are considering incorporating the names "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" during Friday prayers.

In other news from the cultural affirmation and dialogue front, doctors working in Scotland's hospitals have been asked not to eat at their desks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this year so as not to tempt their colleagues who might be fasting.

- This happens so regularly, it's starting to become a bit of a yawner: a federal Quebec Liberal is facing criminal charges because he misused taxpayers' dollars for his own personal gain.

- The debate over reasonable accomodation in Quebec is heating up again. I'm an assimilationist, but in Quebec the slope from that position towards outright ethnocentrism is much slippier (see Parizeau, Jacques and Landry, Bernard) than it is in the rest of Canada. In other words, this could get ugly.

- Democrats under fire: last week, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) said that progress towards victory in Iraq could pose a problem for Democrats who want an immediate troop withdrawal. This week, Senator Barack Obama suggested that the only thing American troops are doing in Afghanistan is conducting air raids and killing civilians.

Keep in mind that these are not just average members of that party.

- Proof that university professors are overwhelmingly and almost uniformly left-wing, here.

- A look at the income tax burden faced by middle-class American families, here.

- Quiz time:

On what date did the following headline run in the Washington Post: "Arctic Ocean Getting Warm: Seals Vanish and Icebergs Melt"?

1. May 9, 2006
2. June 2, 1989
3. September 29, 1974
4. November 2, 1922

Answer here. By the way, I'm still waiting on the 24-hour news channels to report on NASA's massive screw-up that took 1998 out of the top spot for hottest year on record.