Friday, November 23, 2012

Pete Townshend at bookstore signing

Last evening, I saw Pete Townshend, lead guitarist and principle songwriter for The Who, at the Indigo book store here in Toronto. There was a fairly large turnout to see the rock star as he promoted his new memoir, Who I Am.  The 67-year-old British musician, dressed in a sports jacket and tie, was in good humour.  He made references to Canadians and "ice hockey." as he spoke to the audience and responded to their questions.  He stated that he has done things he regrets because he didn't see "the big picture."

The truth is that Pete Townshend is very fortunate to be alive.  According to blurb on the jacket of his memoir, Townshend "followed Keith Moon (deceased drummer for The Who) into a pool and nearly died."  and "detached from his body in an airplane, on LSD, and nearly died."  It's a wonder that he and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones have been able to survive.

Townshend is partially deaf in his left air, probably due to his exposure to loud music.  One of his favourite hobbies is sailing, which he talked about at the Indigo book signing.  In his memoir, there is a 1973 photo of Pete aboard Babajan.  The caption reads, "I have always loved boats and the sea, and my time sailing was like a meditation."

Born in London on May 19, 1945, just as World War II was drawing to a close, Pete comes from a musical background.  His father, Clifford Townshend played the saxophone and clarinet in a band and his mother, Betty, was a singer.  Townshend told the crowd at Indigo that an artist's prime duty is to serve the people.  He spent about two hours at the book store, much of it autographing his book.

 By the way, Pete's signature is virtually illegible, at least the one he scrawled on my copy of his autobiography.  Only the letter "P" is clear but he had to write his name on a lot of books, however, so he was rushed.  I have already begun to read Who I Am and I am enjoying it immensely.  It was composed without the help of a ghost writer because the talented guitarist is also a reputable author and contributor of newspaper and magazine articles and book reviews.

Here are some other photos of Pete Townshend taken at Indigo last night.

- Joanne

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is the Tea Party over?

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Well that was the silliest tea party I ever went to!  I am never going back there again!

- Lewis Caroll
From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

The 2012 U.S. presidential race has ended, but is the Tea Party over?  The ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party is in control of the party and the hapless Mitt Romney was forced to do its bidding during the campaign.  That's why Romney chose libertarian Paul Ryan as his running mate and it' a major reason why he lost the election.  The Tea Party's reign of error has been disastrous for the Grand Old Party.

If the Partiers' views were not so dangerous, this large but misguided movement would be downright laughable.  Its members just don't realize how out of touch they are with the changing demographics of the United States.  They are not in sync with America's women, blacks, Latinos, immigrants, lower income families and young people.  They cannot comprehend why President Obama was re-elected.  They just don't get it.  They are living in some sort of time warp.  They're not in the 21st century.

Let's explore the roots of the American Tea Party movement, its background and its fundamental beliefs.  First and foremost, the Tea Party is virulently anti-government.  It stands for the reduction of the U.S. national debt and deficit.  It is anti-tax,.anti-immigrant and extremely jingoistic.  Tea Party members regard themselves as great patriots and defenders of the Constitution.  Their attitude is "my county right or wrong."  They regard anyone who criticizes or questions American policy or American military action as unpatriotic, a "lleft-wing pinko."

Although there were Tax Day protests throughout the United States during the 1990s,  grass-roots anti-government protests occurred even earlier when conservative activists began mailing tea bags to legislatures and government officials as a symbol of resistance. Since 2009,  the Tea Party has supported candidates and sponsored demonstrations.

The movement's Boston Tea Party theme, however, is based on a false premise and is, therefore, quite spurious.  Here's why.  On December 16, 1773, when  the Sons of Liberty, a group of American patriots, demonstrated against the tax policies the Tea Act which had been passed by the British Parliament, they were expressing their opposition  to the tax policy of the British government and the East India Company - not to taxation itself.  That's the reason why, when officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, several colonists jumped aboard the ships and threw the tea into Boston Harbor.

Although the Boston Tea Party has long been affiliated with anti-tax protests, this grand historical event was not a protest against taxation per se.  It was a protest against taxation without representation.  American colonists opposed the Tea Act because they believed that it infringed on their right to be taxed solely by their own representatives and not by the faraway British Parliament where they were not represented.  Republican stalwart, Newt Gingrich, who embraces the Tea Party's central tenet of cutting federal spending, ought to set them straight on this matter. Gingrich taught history at the University of West Georgia and he is quite aware of the facts.

As soon as  Barack Obama became president, the Tea Party began a relentless campaign to obstruct his actions and to prevent him from winning a second term in office.  On September 12, 2009, Tea Party protesters held a massive Taxpayer March on Washington.  Thousands of extreme conservatives converged on the Capital to express their opposition to President Obama's health care reform and what they perceived as excessive government spending.  They carried signs depicting Obama as Adolf Hitler and The Joker.  They chanted slogans such as "No big government" and "Obamacare" makes me sick."  It was a demonstration fuelled by fear, frustration and pure hatred.  The comparison between Hitler and Obama was particularly odious.

The Tea Party loathes Barack Obama.  Its adherents consider him to be the devil incarnate or at least come kind of radical socialist.  To them, he is a veritable Fidel Castro and a certifiable threat to their freedoms.  They should really take a deep breath and speak to some Canadians because if Obama were a Canadian politician he would be considered somewhat in the centre of the political spectrum, and definitely not a socialist.

If this were another era, Tea Party members would make blatant references to Obama's race. Now they must use code words instead.  They endeavour to characterize Obama as an outsider and not a "real American."  They question whether he was born in the United States and paint him as a foreigner because his father was a Muslim from Kenya.  They take great delight in emphasizing that his middle name is "Hussein."

It is probably more accurate to say that the Tea Party is more of a Mad Hatter's tea party than a Boston Tea Party.  Yet the movement and its impact cannot be summarily dismissed.  Many Americans still subscribe to the basic Tea Party creed that government is the problem and that taxation is bad, even taxation for the most affluent Americans.  This view is patently wrong.  Someone has to pay the piper.  Why should more hardship fall on those who can least afford it?  Why should the poor and  the middle class have to bear all the burden of cutbacks?

Severe austerity measures, especially during economic downturns, only serve to strangle an economy. Employers will not hire if they don't feel confident that people will buy their products or if they think the survival of their company is in jeopardy.  This is the time government must step in to save the economy as Obama did with his stimulus plan and Franklin Roosevelt did with his New Deal.

The Tea Party wears blinders.  It thinks Romney lost the election because he was not conservative enough.  It still believes in the discredited "trickle-down" theory that if taxes on the wealthy are reduced, jobs will immediately follow suit.  Perhaps this can happen in good times, but certainly not in bad times.  In bad times, jobs, not the deficit, must be the priority.  Sometimes government is needed.  Ask the people who suffered great losses in the Hurricane Stanley disaster if FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is not necessary.

Europe is in such an economic mess because the economies of countries such as Britain and Spain have been suffocated by austerity measures.  The continent will not extricate itself from this economic mess until it adopts a new course of action.  Unemployed people do not spend a great deal of money and they do not fill government coffers.  Yet conservatives continually warn that if deficits are not reduced, the fate of Greece awaits. They call for even stronger cuts in jobs and social programs that will cause severe hardships and further weaken economies.  This is truly the madness of the Hatter's tea party.

There is no doubt that The Tea Party is experiencing a downturn in its popularity.  In a recent Gallup Poll, only 28% of Americans held favourable views of the movement.whose popularity peaked in the spring of 2010.  So, is the Tea Party over?  Not yet, but if the Republicans hope to win the White House in 2016, the it will have to end sooner rather than later.  Thankfully, it appears that many Americans have come to realize that, like Alice in Wonderland, they've just been to "the silliest tea party" they ever went to and they "never want to go back there again!"

- Joanne

Friday, November 16, 2012

Helen Reddy: Pop Star of the 1970s

Helen Reddy in concert in 1974

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an' pretend
'Cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes, I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I've gained
If I have to
I can do anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman

From the song "I Am Woman"
:Lyrics by Helen Reddy

Recently I heard Helen Reddy's feminist anthem, "I Am Woman" on the radio.  I hadn't listened to the song in a very long time and I began to wonder about what happened to Helen, a woman who was at the forefront of the 1970s pop scene.  Reddy certainly cannot be discounted as a one-hit wonder.  She recorded  a number of popular songs such as "Delta Dawn," "Angie Baby," "Somewhere in the Night,"  "You're My World," "I Don't Know How To Love Him," and  "You and Me Against the World"  Yet, although she had 11 Top 20 Billboard hits, she will always be remembered for "I Am Woman."  It's the one that struck a chord.  It will always be her signature song.

During the '70s, Helen Reddy dominated the pop charts like no other female artist of that era. She was the first Australian to have three Number One hits in the United States during the same year and the first Aussie to win a Grammy Award.  On March 3, 1973, Helen received a Grammy in the category of "Best PopVocal Perormance, Female" for "I Am Woman,"  She raised eyebrows when she ended her acceptance speech by thanking God because "She makes everything  possible."

To watch a clip of Helen's Grammy acceptance speech, click on the link below.

Reddy also has the distinction of being the first Australian to host her own weekly one-hour prime time variety show on an American network.  The Helen Reddy Show aired as a 1973 summer series.on NBC.  The show included comedy skits and musical numbers and it always ended with a question and answer session with the questions coming from the people in the studio audience.  In 1973, Helen also became a semi-regular host of the NBC late night variety series, The Midnight Special, a position she held until 1975.

During Helen's heyday, according to her website, she "dined on her birthday with the Prince of Wales, danced in the White House with the President of the United States, and had a (reddish-violet) tulip named after her in Holland."  She was also the first western female performer invited to sing in the People's Republic of China.   It was quite a whirlwind ride for the woman from Down Under.

Helen Reddy was born on October 25, 1941 in Melbourne, Australia and recently celebrated her 71st birthday.  She was born into a prominent Australian show business family.  Her mother, Stella (nee Lamond), was an actress and her father, Max Reddy, was a writer, producer and actor.  As a child, Helen performed with her parents on the Australian vaudeville circuit.  She sang and danced on stage with them until 1948 when at the age of six, she began attending the Tintern Church of England Girls' Grammar Hawthorn.(a suburb of Melbourne).

As a teenager, Helen  joined a travelling theatrical company and later became a vocalist with a band in Melbourne.  She appeared regularly on a late-night variety program called Melbourne Tonight and had a guest role on a television series called Sunnyside Up.  She eventually hosted her own 15-minute television show, Helen Reddy Sings.

In 1961, when she was 20 years old, Helen wed Kenneth Claude Weate, a much-older musician and family friend..  The marriage was short-lived and Helen was left to raise their daughter, Traci (born  in 1963), on her own..  The singer continued to pursue a career in radio and television.  In 1966, she won a talent contest on an Australian pop music TV show called Bandstand and was awarded a trip to the United States and a recording contract with Mercury Records.

At the age of 25, Helen Reddy, along with Traci,, set off for New York City with big dreams and a determination to break into the American market.  Mercury Records, however, reneged on its offer, and Helen was forced to support herself with any singing job she could find.  By 1968, she was in such dire financial straits that her friends threw a fund-raising party for Greenwich Village.  It was at that party that the  struggling singer met her second husband, the man who was to accompany her on her journey to fame and fortune.  His name was Jeffrey Wald and he was a hot-blooded American from the Bronx.

Jeff Wald was a talent agent with the William Morris Agency.  The two moved in together and eventually married on May 25, 1968.  Prior to their marriage, Reddy converted to Judaism (Wald's religion).  Jeff adopted Traci and he also became his wife's business manager and producer.  The family lived in Chicago for a time but later moved to Los Angeles where Helen endeavoured to establish herself as a recording artist.  27 In 1970, she finally signed a contract with Capitol Records.  In 1971, she had her first Top 40 hit, a cover of "I Don't Know How To Love Him," am Andrew Lloyd Webber - Tim Rice composition from the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.  

On December 12, 1972, Helen and Jeff welcomed a son, Jordan, just days after "I Am Women" topped the U.S. charts.  Helen's career really took off, as did Jeff's. They made millions of dollars as Reddy recorded a string of hits and Wald represented celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone, Donna Summer and Tiny Tim.  They lived in a $3.5 million home in the exclusive Brentwood area of Los Angeles.

All was not well, though.  Jeff Wald was addicted to cocaine and his addiction was instrumental in the breakup of their marriage.  Reddy  filed for divorce in 1981 but withdrew her petition a day later on the understanding that her husband would discontinue his use of cocaine.  According to a May 16, 1983 article by Jeff Jarvis in People magazine, Wald had "confessed to - and sworn off - his decade-long, $100,000-a-year snowfall."

Although Jeff Wald underwent treatment at a  rehab facility in Los Angeles, he failed to kick the habit.  The couple separated in 1982 when Helen found evidence of his continued substance abuse.  In June of 1982, she initiated divorce proceedings again and fired Wald as her manager. The two then became embroiled in a bitter, tug-of-war custody battle over their son.  The dispute made the cover of People magazine and Wald was accused of punching Helen's boyfriend at the time, Milton Ruth, a drummer in her band.  He was also accused of attempting to run Ruth over with a Silver Maserati.  Helen and Jeff's divorce became final in January of 1983 and they agreed to joint custody of 10-year-old Jordan.  In June of 1983, Helen married Milon Ruth.  She and Ruth divorced in 1995.

In 1986, Jeff Wald was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after a drug overdose.  He ended up at the Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage, California and has apparently stayed clean ever since.  In 1990, he married photographer and photo editor Deborah Wald and they have a daughter named Sarah.  Jeff Wald is currently CEO of Aria Multimedia Entertainment which produces lush coffee table books on the artistic lifestyle such as Hip Hop: A Cultural Odyssey (photo edited by Deborah Wald) and The Official Michael Jackson OPUS.  Son Jordan, who goes by the name Jordan Sommers, is President and Editor-in-Chief of the company.

In the mid-1980s, Helen Reddy returned to her theatrical roots.  She appeared mainly  in musicals such as Anything Goes, and Call Me Madam, both in London's West End and on Broadway.  She also starred in four productions of the one-woman show, Shirley Valentine.

Helen Reddy retired from live performance in 2002.  She left her long-time residence in Santa Monica, California and returned to her native Australia where she has lived a frugal life in a high-rise apartment in Sydney.  During the past ten years, Helen has also become a qualified clinical hypnotherapist. and a motivational speaker.  Last July, however, she decided to come out of retirement after performing a duet with her sister at her sister's 80th birthday party.  Accordingly, she has scheduled a concert tour in March of 2013 that includes Palm Springs California, Newberry, South Carolina, Palm Coast, Florida and New York City.

Click the link below to watch a  November 24, 2011 interview with Helen on Australia's


* In 2006, Helen Reddy published her autobiography, The Woman I Am: A Memoir.

* For three years, Helen served as Commissioner of Parks and Recreation for the State of California.

* Alice Cooper once called Helen "the queen of housewife rock 'n' roll."

* Helen Reddy had a kidney removed when she was only 17 years old, so she turned to singing rather than dancing;.  In the 1970s, at the height of her singing career, Helen was diagnosed with Addison's Disease, a failure of the adrenal glands.  It is a rare disease for which she must receive constant treatment.  Note: John F. Kennedy and English novelist Jane Austen also had Addison's Disease.

* Helen has a feature role in the 2011 crime film, The Perfect Host. which stars David Hayde-Pierce.

- Joanne

EDITOR'S UPDATE (October 1, 2020):  Helen Reddy died on September 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.  She suffered from Addison's Disease and dementia.  At the time of her passing, she was 78 years old.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Attention: Undecided Voters of America

To my American readers:

Tomorrow is election day in the United States and this interminably long presidential campaign will mercifully come to an end.  If you are still undecided, you are going to have to make a decision soon.  The choice is clear.  President Barack Obama deserves to be re-elected and here are some logical reasons why he has earned a second term in office.  Before you go to the polls, I urge you to read them carefully and reflect on them.  I also implore you to pass this on to other undecided voters.

1.  President Obama rescued the American auto industry, saving more than one million jobs.
Although he now denies it, Mitt Romney, a native of Michigan, would have left the industry high and dry.  In 2008, Romney argued against the bailout of the auto industry in an article entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."  It's been over three years since the Obama administration bailed out General Motors and Chrysler and U.S. auto sales and profits are rising   The industry is hiring again.  Suddenly Mitt Romney thinks he deserves credit for the turnaround.

According to an article posted by CNNMoney, it is true, as Romney asserts, that the 2009 bankruptcy reorganizations of the automakers was instrumental in the improvement of their fortunes, allowing them to shed debts, workers and plants they could no longer afford.  Yet, Van Conway, CEO of Conway MacKenzie, a Detroit restructuring firm, argues that the billions of dollars of federal bailout expedited the bankruptcy process enormously.  It was done in about two months, sooner than many thought possible. It's a good thing President Obama did not take Romney's advice.

2.  "Obamacare" has provided assistance for 5.6 million seniors and people with disabilities who can better afford the cost of prescription drugs.  17 million children with pre-existing conditions will receive coverage.
Mitt Romney has declared that if elected, he will repeal "Obamacare" (the Affordable Care Act) on his first day in office.  This is the same Mitt Romney who introduced a similar health plan in Massachusetts when he served as governor of that state.  Don't let Tea Party types scare you into believing that the Affordable Care Act is some kind of radical socialism or a complete government takeover of healthcare.  It is nothing of the sort.

"Obamacare" forces employers to cover preventive health care for women such as breast cancer screening.  These are preventive measures that save the lives of women and save money in the long run.

3.  President Obama has fought hard to get woman equal pay for work of equal value.
This is simple justice.  That's why, just days after assuming office, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to prevent pay discrimination in the workplace.  It was the first bill he signed into law.

According to Ed Gillespie, a top adviser to Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate has no plans to get rid of it, now that it has passed.  Romney did not, however, support the bill while it made its way through Congress.  Gillespie told The Huffington Post that Romney "was opposed to it at the time" but "would not repeal it."  Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, voted against the bill.

4.  The American economy is on the road to recovery.
In 2008, after almost eight years of the policies of George W. Bush, the American economy went into a tailspin and a disastrous recession ensued.  This happened before President Obama took the oath of office in January of 2009.  A mess like that can not be cleaned up overnight.  It takes years but Obama is making it happen even though Republicans blocked his American Jobs Act.  Under the Obama administration, there has been 32 straight months of job growth and 5.4 million private sector jobs have been added to the labour force.

5. President Obama increased funding for Pell Grants and established a college tax credit which helped more than 9 million students and families save money for tuition last year.
Obama doubled funding for Pell Grants by increasing the maximum grant from $4,731 to $5,550, but reduced eligibility for the grants.  Last summer, he endorsed an extension of low interest rates on subsidized student loans.  Mitt Romney supports Paul Ryan's budget which would cut Pell Grant spending by capping the maximum grant and reducing eligibility.  Romney has stated that he would not expand the amount of federal money to students paying for college, nor would he be willing to cancel student debt.

In April of 2012, Romney advised students at Ohio University to borrow money from their parents if they need to start a business.  How out of touch can the man be!  He doesn't realize that many parents are struggling themselves and that not all parents have money to lend their offspring.

.  Barack Obama has passed Wall Street reform to ensure that consumers are able to hold big banks accountable.  
On July 22, 2010, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Bill, allowing the U.S. financial system to be more transparent and accountable.  Unfettered and unregulated capitalism leads to disasters such as the severe economic downturn of 2007-09 in which millions of jobs were lost, businesses failed and homes were foreclosed.  Regulation is needed or Wall Street will run amok.  Here in Canada, we were not hit as hard by the recession because our financial institutions were better-regulated.

.  President Obama plans to limit reductions and repeal tax cuts for families making over $250,000 per year.
Those making over $250,000 a year do not need tax cut.  Tax cuts to the wealthy are not necessary and will only increase the deficit further.  Mitt Romney claims that he will be able to balance the budget in eight to ten years.  No non-partisan study, however, has been able to confirm that Romney would be able to  implement his revenue-neutral tax plan without raising taxes on the middle class.

Mitt Romney would reverse defence spending cuts, and as Obama has pointed out, give the Pentagon money it doesn't need and hasn't requested.  Romney's military spending would increase the deficit further.

As a Canadian, I don't have a vote tomorrow.  The outcome of this election, however, is of great consequence to Canada and the world.  It's in your hands.

- Joanne

In Praise of Teachers

 A  teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. 
- Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918), American journalist, historian, academic and novelist,. From The Education of Henry Adams, first published in 1907

Teaching is a noble profession and yet those who practice it are often maligned.  They are criticized for having too many holidays, for not working hard enough and for their salaries and pensions.  There are bad teachers, of course, as there are in any occupation, but the miscreants and incompetents should not be allowed to tarnish the reputation of an entire profession.

Yes, teachers in Canada and the United States have holidays at Christmastime, spring break and in the summer - as they should.  Teachers are expected to update themselves.  They take courses to keep up with new teaching methods and new technology.  They also have a life outside of the classroom and family responsibilities.  As for students, they also need some time off and many have part-time jobs after school or in the summer.

The vast majority of teachers are dedicated and diligent.  They sincerely care about their students and want them to learn.  It must be emphasized that a teacher's work day does not end when classes finish.  Unlike some workers, they cannot just go home and leave their work behind.  They have to prepare tomorrow's lessons.  They have papers to grade and parents to contact.

It isn't easy to face a classroom of children or adolescents, some who are rude and disrespectful.  It isn't easy to deal with demanding parents, youthful rebelliousness, apathy, substance abuse, bullying and teenage angst - and those are just some of the issues teachers must face in modern society.

The impact of a teacher on a student can be enormous and powerful.  A good teacher can change the direction of a student's life.  He or she can provide that human connection.  Unfortunately, however, this is being threatened by technological advances and the proliferation of online education.

I am not a Luddite.  It is unrealistic to think that the tide of technological progress can be halted or turned back.  Computers and the Internet are not going to go away.  Nevertheless, I firmly believe that the human connection should never be eliminated.  Bill Gates, a man who knows a thing or two about technology, had this to say about teachers and technology:

Technology is just a tool.  In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.
          - Bill Gates, American computer entrepreneur
          in Independent on Sunday, October 12, 1997

Mr. Gates is right.  Technology is just a tool, albeit an important one.  It is the teacher is who motivates and inspires.  A computer cannot do that.  A computer cannot be a true mentor simply because it is not a human being.  An image on a screen or a robot does not have the capacity to provide that personal touch or the individual attention in the manner as a live teacher in the flesh.

A great teacher is an unforgettable treasure whose influence will forever remain with a student. Some of that greatness will be transferred to others and will sometimes be passed on from generation to generation.   In Ancient Greece, Socrates was Plato's mentor and he imparted great wisdom to his pupil.   Plato then taught Aristotle.  Aristotle, in turn, became a magnificent philosopher and a polymath who tutored Alexander the Great.  In the 4th century, B.C., he taught the child Alexander for three years at a school in Mieza, an Ancient Macedon village  Aristotle was hired by Alexander's father, Philip II of Macedon.  In return, Philip agreed to rebuild Aristotle's hometown of Stagira and to free its citizens.

bust of Aristotle

Let me conclude with a definition of a great teacher by operatic soprano, Maria Callas,

That is the difference between good teachers and great teachers: good teachers make the best of a pupil's means; great teachers foresee a pupil's ends.
- Maria Callas (1923-1977), American-born opera singer
From Kenneth Harris Talking To [1971] 'Maria Callas'

- Joanne