Category Archives: Arts & culture

Pre-order your copy of our Magna Carta documentary today


It’s coming! Our Magna Carta documentary will be released to the public on Monday, and made available for free viewing on YouTube. But if you want a higher-res version, digital or DVD, or just want to support our ongoing efforts and new projects, we’re pleased to announce that we are now accepting orders for DVDs, and the high-res digital version will be available for $5 as of Monday.

We’re also offering our previous documentary, The Great War Remembered. DVDs can be preordered and the digital download is available now.

A list of books for aspiring voters and politicians

Recently a reader asked me what books I’d suggest “every young person should read before they consider themselves informed enough to vote”. I’m happy to oblige… but I don’t limit it to young people. And if they’re important to read before you vote they’re surely important to read before you run for office.

You can download it for free. However, if you think it worthwhile, please consider paying for your copy ($1, please see the PayPal “Buy Now” button below). Alternatively, you could become a monthly sponsor (pledges start at $1/month) via Patreon or PayPal and get a direct link to these special publications before they are posted to the website. See the options on the right.

Download (PDF, 852KB)

My list of 100 books everyone should read

Reader Shawn Abigail asked me if I could run a list of books “every young person should read before they consider themselves informed enough to vote.” Great idea, and I’ll double it. In a few days I will have a list of 20 books for aspiring voters (and politicians) in Canada, but first here is a list of 100 books everyone should read, which I first published in 1999. I consider it just as relevant today.

You can download the PDF here. It is free to download and share. However, if you think it worthwhile, please consider making a donation. I suggest $0.50, but you can enter any amount you wish by using the PayPal button below. I intend to publish longer documents and e-books from time to time, and folks who already support my website via monthly subscriptions get all those for free, and earlier than they are posted here on this website. See the subscription options on the right.

Download (PDF, 401KB)

Update: Sponsor Bill McCutcheon very helpfully compiled a list of free electronic sources for these books and offered to share his list with you. You can see it here (Microsoft Excel format). Thanks, Bill!

It happened today – June 11, 2015

Hank Williams Sr
On June 11 back in 1949, country legend Hank Williams Sr. had his debut at the Grand Old Opry, so wildly successful that the crowd called him back for six encores of the same song, “Lovesick Blues,” before organizers asked them to stop so the rest of the show could go on. Now you may not cherish real old-tyme country music enough even to know the Opry was the premiere live country-music venue, broadcast weekly from 1925. If not you should. But even if you don’t the story is remarkable… and not in a good way.

Williams’ debut was so successful that he became a regular on the Opry for the next three years, at which point they fired him for drinking so heavily he was entirely unreliable. As early as 1942 he had been fired from an earlier radio gig for “habitual drunkenness”. By 1952 he lost his marriage for the same reason, and less than six months after the Opry fired him he died of alcohol-induced heart failure at 29 on Jan. 1 1953, a truly remarkable accomplishment in a very bad way.

He left behind a slim legacy in one sense. There just aren’t that many songs. But in another sense his legacy is enormous. The songs he produced and recorded in just four years are powerful musically and emotionally and they profoundly influenced music. Indeed I once heard an interview with his grandson Hank Williams III (who looks disconcertingly like his grandfather) in which he argued that the “first” rock song, Rock Around the Clock, is in fact simply Hank Williams Sr.’s “Move it on over” with different lyrics. And rock music, the fusion of white country with black R&B (which profoundly influenced Williams; he learned guitar from a black street performer in Georgiana, Alabama), was enormously important to American and world culture from the 1950s on including in the field of race relations.

In a third sense, on a human level, his legacy is moving and problematic. The music is wonderful, the lyrics frequently compelling, including the revealing self-portrait in “Lost Highway” (remember Franklin’s observation that he who’s aground knows where the shoal lies) and sometimes funny. And his life story, beginning with the poor kid who made good despite being essentially unable to read or write music, was a terrible tragedy. Indeed, the Opry had initially refused to have him on, even after his breakthrough with “Move It On Over” in 1947 and his first recording contract. But competition with The Louisiana Hayride show forced them to relent.

Now as Williams himself said in “Move It On Over,” warnings had no effect on him because “I don’t take no one’s advice.” Winston Churchill once said he got more out of alcohol than it got out of him, and indeed he died at 90 a famous statesman and author. Williams sacrificed everything to alcohol. Including all the music he might have given us had he lived a normal life extending, say, to 1978 if he’d reached 75.

The weird thing is that, except when absolutely inebriated, he was a magnificent musician the whole way to his sordid demise. There are some “high function” alcoholics who exhibit remarkable talent and energy throughout a long life marred by disastrous personal relationships. Others succumb to the bottle and squander their talents as well as the love in their lives and perish forgotten. But Williams is in this to me odd third category of someone whose life was falling apart, from his family to his health, in catastrophic fashion, and yet whose talent seems to have been unimpaired until the moment he died. His last hit, the enduring classic “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” was recorded so late, in September 1952, that it wasn’t released until after he died; that same final recording session also produced the hilarious yet strangely compelling “Kaw-Liga” about a wooden cigar-store Indian who never spoke his love for the carved maiden across the way and now “wishes he was still an old pine tree”. How can the man have been such a ruin and his talent still so intact?

Finally and most importantly Williams is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a sobering reminder that worldly success and personal success are entirely different categories. Many achieve great things on the world stage yet are miserable human beings, both inside and to their family and friends, while others whose lives appear unremarkable are great successes in what really matters.

Williams, briefly and tragically, was in the first category as he rolled too fast down the Lost Highway. It may make for great art. But if you know anyone on it, do what you can to get them off.

A road to nowhere

My latest National Post column takes aim at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for buying into a false historical account that undermines its otherwise commendable effort to get from truth to reconciliation.

My criticisms of unrealism in aboriginal policy have opened me to predictable accusations of bigotry. But the reverse is true. Nowhere is frank talk more desperately needed because nowhere in Canada is policy a worse mess and it is aboriginals who suffer most even from well-meaning nonsense.