Featured post

Why I’m asking for money

It may seem odd to hear me ask for contributions to this website, given that I’m also a columnist for the National Post and a contributor to CFRA radio and The Rebel. But here’s the truth: I’m not an employee of any media company. I don’t get a salary from the National Post or CFRA or The Rebel. I freelance for them and get paid for each piece I produce. In a typical week all three combined bring me $600. It’s barely $30,000 a year, and that’s if I never take any time off, and there are no benefits. It’s not enough to feed my family.

As for the University of Ottawa, they pay me sessional rates when they give me a course at all. They often don’t. So yes, I love teaching. But it doesn’t pay enough to live on. Not remotely.

What does keep me going are the documentaries we crowdfund, and contributions to this website. The book and DVD sales help a little, as do the speaking engagements. But the bulk of what we live on comes from my readers, viewers and supporters.

That’s why I keep asking for contributions. We need your support. If enough people find my work worthwhile, chip in a dollar or two a month, and step up with $25, $50 or $100 on the documentaries, then I’ll be able to continue doing it.

If you’re not already a backer, please visit www.patreon.com/johnrobson and make a pledge (please note pledges are in US dollars). It’s what keeps us in business.


This site is patron-supported. Please click here to make a contribution.

Can satire keep up?

In today’s National Post Rex Murphy quotes Malcolm Muggeridge, like Chesterton a prophetic voice about the modern age, that

“We live in an age in which it is no longer possible to be funny. There is nothing you can imagine, no matter how ludicrous, that will not promptly be enacted before your very eyes, probably by someone well known.”

Murphy goes on to describe artist Tracey Emin marrying a rock in France last summer, and a group of philosophy students in California marrying the ocean a few days ago. Not as satire but as what passes for sober reality. Murphy concludes the piece “As Wordsworth said of Milton, of Muggeridge we can also pray: Malcolm thou shoulds’t be living at this hour. Or, may be not.”
What, indeed, would Muggeridge make of Emin, a Royal Academician of the Royal Academy of Arts who Wikipedia calls “a paragon for women artists in today’s art world” who “does not overtly appear as a feminist artist” because she says “she is a feminist, but not a feminist artist” and “discusses sexism from the viewpoint of the being a female victim” and was a Turner Prize nominee for the predictably filthy, in both senses, “My Bed”? Or the notion, discussed by Murphy, of obtaining consent from the ocean for sex?

Well, I’m no Muggeridge. But I’m not letting satire go down without a fight. Because I’ve heard of getting your rocks off, but this is ridiculous. And if you get the ocean pregnant, does it need a sea section?

See. We can still laugh. Through our tears. Salty tears. Like the ocean. Say, I think I’ll marry my face. If it says yes.


This site is patron-supported. Please click here to make a contribution.

Can you spot the difference?

Two headlines side-by-side in my “NBC News Top Stories” feed yesterday:

Muslim Mob Attacks Christians, Parades Naked Elderly Woman

Transgender Pageant Unites Christians, Muslims, Jews

One is in Israel. One is not. So where is the BDS movement on trendy campuses with respect to Egypt which, the first story gets around to mentioning casually at about paragraph 13, “Christian men cannot marry Muslim women in Egypt unless they convert to Islam first, but Muslim men can marry Christian women.”

Suppose Israel had a law where Christians couldn’t marry Jews without converting, or Muslims couldn’t? There’s be an outcry. But when it’s in a Muslim-majority Arab nation, the reaction is yeah yeah now back to how Israel oppresses whoever.

Now to be fair the activists do see a difference. They just see it backwards.


This site is patron-supported. Please click here to make a contribution.

It happened today – May 28, 2016

A big shout-out to Bluebottle, Mad Dan Eccles, Henry, Min, Grytpype, Dennis Blodnok and the whole crew on the anniversary of the May 28, 1951 launch of the BBC radio comedy The Goon Show featuring Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. And the impeccable upper-crust accent of announcer Wallace Greenslade, trying to keep his poise amid the lunacy.

If you’re familiar with the Goon Show, nothing more need be said. But it will be anyway, including the fact that the legendary “Fifth Beatle,” producer George Michaels, was involved in recording Goon Show records before meeting the Fab Four who were, as boys, all devotees of the show. In fact, he introduced Sellers and the Beatles which is why, among many other things, you can laugh so hard you cry watching Sellers do the lyrics to “A Hard Day’s Night” in overwrought 1950s BBC Shakespeare style.

If you’re not familiar with the Goon Show, you really need to listen to it. For nine brilliant years it ruled the airwaves, making household names of the stars, and also of Greenslade (who only got the job because a more senior announcer, Andrew Timothy, felt it would impair his dignity) and musician Ray Ellington, who turned out to have considerable comic genius. And musician Max Geldray who, well, didn’t.

My own parents listened to it while studying in Britain in the 1950s. And when it was brought to Toronto radio in 1972, they started playing it for us, and I was astounded and hooked instantly.

It had the same effect in its original run on the future Monty Python troupe. But IMHO the Goon Show holds up much better than Monty Python despite being decades older.

It’s a technologically different world, of course, where there were no computers and no smart phones and TV was a novelty. But Milligan’s genius as the main writer, and that of all three and the bit players as radio actors, is genuinely immortal, from Sellers’ lecherous and cowardly Major Bloodnok to Milligan’s idiot Eccles to Secombe’s hapless protagonist Ned Seagoon. Sellers could even turn the arch-villain Grytpype’s dry “Please… don’t do that” into a catchphrase, while only Milligan could have created such a name as “Hercules Grytpype-Thynne” and made it work.

The good men do is oft interred with their bones. But in the case of these three, all now passed on to that great studio in the sky, the frequently astonished laughter has never stopped.

If you haven’t listened to the madcap brilliance that invariably followed Greenslade’s staid straight-man “This is the BBC”, you absolutely owe it to yourself. If you have, listen again.


This site is patron-supported. Please click here to make a contribution.

Dred Free

My latest from The Rebel:

On May 26, 1857, Dred Scott got his freedom. Yes, the plaintiff in the all time worst piece of judicial activism, Dred Scott v Sandford, was actually freed shortly after the Supreme Court essentially ruled that there were no free states in the U.S., precipitating the Civil War. And it happened because where law failed, some human hearts succeeded, with some former owners funding his court challenge and another, after he lost, making sure he was freed. It’s a humbling reminder that we can always do the right thing in our own time even if the world is wrong or indifferent.

You can find the audio-only version here:

Robson Rebel, May 26 - Download This Episode


This site is patron-supported. Please click here to make a contribution.

Trumping the headbanging

Amid all the sound and fury in the American presidential election, with the latter being on the whole more justified than the former, a remarkable voice of sanity emerges in the form of an open letter (yes, a much overused format, but justified this time). It’s from two women, both mothers, about the central issue in the apparent unraveling of America: the unraveling of the family.

They ask Donald Trump what he might do about it, especially given his own example. And it’s an entirely appropriate question for the man who would be Republican nominee and apparently will be. But it could also be asked of almost anyone aspiring to office, as a reproach in some cases including Hillary Clinton’s and merely an urgent policy question in others.

Nothing matters more than intact families in making America “great” again. Nothing matters more in making it whole, in making it free, in preserving limited government, decentralization and vigorous citizens able to tackle problems both public and private instead of passively waiting for incompetent overbearing government to barge in and make things worse. And nothing matters more in people’s private lives.

So what has anyone to say about it? The problem is by no means unique to the United States. Whether you are American, Canadian, Australian or any other nationality, I strongly urge you to read the letter, to ponder it, to see what answer you might give as well as what answer any candidates do American or otherwise.


This site is patron-supported. Please click here to make a contribution.

It happened today – May 27, 2016

Ford assembly line, 1913 (Wikipedia)

May 27 is an odd date in the history of the modern world. It’s the day they stopped making the Model T. It was hugely successful so… it had to go. As Marx and Engels complained in the Communist Manifesto, under capitalism, as they mislabeled modernity, “all that is solid melts into air.” Here today, gone tomorrow.

The Model T was certainly here today. First produced on Oct. 1, 1908, it was the first affordable car, the one that put the middle class on wheels in the United States which is, despite what some commentary would lead you to believe, the most modern nation in the world, as well as the most conservative in a constructive sense.

Incredibly, the Model T was still 8th in all time car sales as of 2012, with 16.5 million units sold. And of course if you rank it by percentage of all cars sold during its production run, it’s headlights, bumper and hood ahead of everything else; 57% of all cars made worldwide in 1927 were Model Ts. And incidentally in 1925 Americans owned over 17 million cars; Britain, France, Italy and Germany combined had just 1.6 car owners, and Japan a mere 25,000.

Henry Ford did a lot of things right, including the moving assembly line. The Model T cost $825 in 1908, $290 in 1927. But of course it was imitated, design advanced, and the Model T had to go.

It’s tempting to call the end of that amazing run a harbinger of the end of the boom times of the 1920s and a warning about the Great Depression to come. And it’s disconcerting to learn that the industrial production index did dip that year, primarily because… Ford shut down production for six months to start making the Model A. But then the party resumed.

By 1929 half of American families owned a car, a thing essentially unheard of 30 years earlier. Britain didn’t reach that figure until, believe it or not, the Thatcher years. 1980. And don’t overlook the fact that especially as roads improved, automobiles reduced the isolation of rural life and the backbreaking nature of farm work; surprisingly often farmers would put the thing up on blocks, put a belt on the axle and use it to pump water, drive a grinding wheel, run a saw and otherwise get jobs done in a hurry.

The Model A went on sale on December 2 1927, and by February 1929 a million had been sold. By late July, two million. By March 1930, three million. And when it was discontinued in March 1932, very nearly five million. In four colours, with nine body styles. BTW the famous story that you could have a Model T in any colour you liked, as long as it was black, is only partly true; it was originally available in several hues not including black, but in 1913 as part of his cost-cutting Ford went to monochrome. But modernity requires change, and so the Model A had varieties. Then came the Model B and the Model 18 with new and better engines.

The Model T continued to inspire affection. It may not have been elegant or powerful or even especially reliable by later standards. But it was a breakthrough machine. And you could tinker with it, unlike modern cars.

In fact, it may have disappeared from showrooms and by and large from highways as time went by. But you could still find it in Riverdale.

Yes, that’s right. Archie Andrews’ jalopy was a Model T, despite at one point being called a Model A in Archie double digest #192. Don’t worry. I did have to look that up. I didn’t know it.

Of course kids today probably have no more idea about his jalopy than an actual Model T. Wikipedia says in issue #238 of Life With Archie, published in 1983, the jalopy was destroyed and he switched to a mid-1960s Ford Mustang.

All that is solid indeed.


This site is patron-supported. Please click here to make a contribution.