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On Arsene Wenger

Labenal's Blog

I’ve blogged about prejudice, racism, politics and the refugees. Now it’s time to take it down a notch and discuss a topic I am no less passionate about, but is (dare I admit it) less grave!

As anyone with any experience of social media knows, Arsenal fans simply rule. We outnumber pretty much everyone (@Arsenal has 6.6 million followers whereas some other random club’s official account, @spursofficial has a fewer than 1.3m followers).

Last night, we gloriously qualified for the knock-out stages of the Champions League for the gazillionth year in a row, and we sit nicely just off the top of he Premier League.

But not all is rosy in the red red garden that is North London. Many Gooners are less than 100% satisfied and have been expressing their feelings across social media.

Now I get that we have the most expensive season tickets. I get that we…

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Billie Jean King and Elton John’s Philadelphia Freedom

Let. First Serve.

this article appeared first at –

press play and listen to the song:

Philadelphia Freedom

In February 1975, Elton released Philadelphia Freedom – a song that was not available on any album, and would not be until its inclusion on Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 in 1977.

The stand-alone single, his second in a row followingLucy In The Sky With Diamonds, entered theBillboard Hot 100 charts at #53 on March 8. Five weeks later it reached the #1 position, where it stayed for two weeks, and spent a total of five months on the chart overall.

Written on the label of the vinyl 45 RPM single were the words, “with Love to B.J.K. and the sound of Philadelphia”. Fans who wanted to decipher the cryptic first part of this dedication would have to go back 17 months to when one of the world’s most popular…

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Procurement of Fruit



So exactly two weeks ago, after church class (RCIA), I went to the grocery store to pick up some last minute food items in order to complete my prep cook for the rest of the work week. I typically do this on Sundays, but I had a lazy Sunday after getting into some shenanigans the Saturday before and opted out of my normal prep cooking ritual. I recall being extremely tired as it was almost 9:30pm when I was walking into the local whack ass Food Lion (I was definitely too lazy to drive out of the way to Safeway or Wegmans). I skimmed my list as I darted thru the produce, meat, and frozen food sections. “I just want to get the hell home”, I thought repeatedly to myself. I spent all of 10/15 min gathering my necessities in that bad boy before heading to the checkout line. “Almost…

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The Time Is Now



In the late ’70s, I had a good friend and upstairs neighbor who was adventurous. Like many of us who’d grown up during the height of the Soul era, he was the type who wasn’t quite content with the Disco thing that had all the kids dancing, at the time, so he searched for more.

He listened to the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and Blondie, leaders of the Punk and New Wave movements, and began attending underground parties, in Queens and Manhattan, at unsanctioned and obscure locations that featured something called rapping. He had great stories. Seemed like he was having fun.

High school days ended all too quickly, and I went on to Boston, to college, to make new friends in the local dance, radio and record communities. In the summer of ’79, my classmate, Jay Dixon, the current PD of New York’s Hot 97, invited me to join…

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Melbourne Police Make Gambling Arrest for “Court-Siding”

Let. First Serve.

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“It’s certainly the first time it’s (legislation) been used in tennis in Victoria and I’m not aware of a (tennis) example anywhere in the world where courtsiding has been able to be dealt with in a criminal setting,” Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said.

Bob Larson

January 16, 2014 –  Not that long ago there was a bookmaker’s tent situated on the grounds of Melbourne Park and the on-line betting website Tab Sportsbet was one of the minor sponsors of the Australian Open.

tennisgamblerBut the hard line against gambling in tennis took more force as a British man accused of secretly transmitting scores from courtside in order to help gambling associates beat delays in TV coverage, appeared at Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Daniel Dobson was charged with ‘court-siding’ or illegally gambling from the bleacher seats, in what is believed to be the first prosecution of its…

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Who is Thomas Mulcair?

Tariq Jeeroburkhan

February 19, 2013 – A former Quebec provincial Liberal who seems to have danced with every partner at the ball, the latest story coming alleges that there were rumors of a cabinet post waiting for him had he crossed the bridge from Quebec provincial politics to join the Federal Conservatives in 2003.

li-mulcair-620-00614249Today, the whispered consensus in the halls of Canadian political circles seems to be that Mr. Mulcair would have been a much better fit with the Conservatives then with the NDP in 2003 when he jumped into federal politics – but the Tories simply wouldn’t let him in.

The National Post cites a “Tory source close to discussions” as saying Mr. Mulcair demanded a cabinet post as his price to join the Conservative party after leaving the Quebec provincial government, but the Tories refused.

Mr. Mulcair calls the claim “transparently false”, but did acknowledge that he spoke with all the political parties in Ottawa except the Bloc, before he joined the NDP – and this did include talking with the Conservatives.

As they heard of the allegations, NDPers, to their immense credit took the high road and defended Mr. Mulcair.

“I don’t question his loyalty,” said Nathan Cullen.

“I’ve known Tom for five years and let’s be clear – he is not a Conservative or a Liberal, he is a New Democrat; end of story,” said Paul Dewar.

Although Brian Topp made clear that he would prefer not to speculate about Mr. Mulcair’s past, in an email he did declare that “Tom and I have a legitimate difference of opinion on the direction of the (federal) party”. Brian Topp is now working with the BC NDP on their provincial team.

From my perspective, I never decided who I would endorse for leader of the NDP, but ended up voting for Nathan Cullen and Niki Ashton. But none of the campaigns I volunteered for in Quebec offered me a salary or made me feel like I was working with them – they seem to prefer having their volunteers work for them, just like the Old Liberals.

It’s not a question of whether I like or don’t like Tom Mulcair – personal feelings about another individual should have no standing whatsoever in politics at any level – especially when we are all supposed to be on the same team (just ask the Old Liberals how the Martin-Chretien battles turned out for their party)! As Mr. Mulcair did become the next leader, I would work as honestly with him as I would with any other.

What I am saying is that I am not sure that Mulcair has shown me that he is capable of treating those, within the party and without, who disagree with his personal views, with the adequate respect of a leader – especially when the majority of NDP members agree that the leader should be a “unifier” and not a “divider”.

Mulcair’s methods of organization, delegation and even his perspectives are exactly identical to the old Federal Liberals that Quebecers have walked away from. His strategy is to rally his volunteers AGAINST something, not for anything. A problem for the party was that I experienced the same close-mindedness from the staff responsible for other candidates’ Quebec leadership campaigns as well.

You can’t represent a centrist electorate with reactionary tactics, even if you are Tom Mulcair – because reactionaries can never lead, they can only oppose. If we wouldn’t accept it from the Old Liberals, why would we accept it from him?


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Gun Violence in the United States: The Frontier Mentality

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Sean Graham

AfgheartsandmindsFebuary 4, 2013 – On December 14, 2012, a man forced his way into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 26 people. In a scene re-played far too often, that unspeakable horror led to a fresh round of debate over the reasons for why the United States suffers from gun violence at such a disproportionate rate when compared to the rest of the industrialized world. Following the tragedy, President Obama pointed out that it is a complicated issue that needs to be examined in its entirety.

The debate, however, generally consists of people on the left screaming about the need for tighter gun control, while people on the right yell about a popular culture that has desensitized the nation’s youth to violence. At some level both sides are correct: guns are too easy to get in the United States and pop culture (including the news media) does glorify violent behaviour. One aspect that has been overlooked, however, is the influence of the nation’s founding mythology in promoting gun violence.  The American experience has been marked by a willingness to stand up and fight for the nation. In this context, violence is not presented as an unfortunate reality of nationhood and national defence, but rather as an expression of American strength and sovereignty. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

The most prominent identification of this narrative comes from Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis, which states that as the United States moved west, it brought freedom and democracy to the previously savage and inhospitable lands. Along the way, the frontiersman needed to be stripped of his European attitudes and re-built as a true American – a task usually achieved by taming the land (and people) through violence. Whether this came in the form of hunting or fighting indigenous people, the frontiersman’s identity came from his ability to assert his dominance on his surroundings. What is essential to point out, however, is that the violence was not forced on the frontiersman, but rather sought out as a means to redeem himself and declare his authority.

A-US-soldier-poses-with-d-007The frontier thesis is important because it permeates so many aspects of American life. It has been argued that American foreign policy is primarily guided by the frontier mentality. When the American frontier disappeared in the late 19th century, the United States used its foreign policy the same way it used western expansion. The acquisitions of Hawaii and Puerto Rico started this trend and through the course of the 20th century the frontier was replaced with South America, Korea, the Moon, Vietnam, and Iraq with the guiding principle being the same as it was in the American West: civilize the ‘savage’ lands and people with American ideals. Obviously each situation was different, but the basic pattern remained the same. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

The strength of this narrative has found its way into American films, the vast majority of which follow this basic plot of the frontier: the protagonist is introduced, reduced through some traumatic event, and re-built through a heroic act, usually involving violence. From Airplane to The Lion King to The King’s Speech, these basic tenets, popularized in 1930s Westerns, can be found in virtually everything coming out of Hollywood. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

PENTAX ImageTake The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), a film that closely adheres to the frontier thesis. The film follows Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart), a young lawyer who has followed Horace Greely’s advice to go west with the goal of using the law to bring order to the wild frontier. After arriving in the fictional town of Shinbone, Stoddard is confronted by the reality that the legal system has no place in the west. The local ‘good guy’ Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) tells a just-robbed Stoddard that he needs a gun in order to survive. When Stoddard resists, Doniphon continues by derisively saying that “I know those law books mean a lot to you, but not out here. Out here a man settles his own problems.” Undeterred, Stoddard sets up a school to teach literacy to local residents and starts a campaign for statehood. While some in the community support his cause, it is not until Stoddard is credited with the shooting of local villain Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) that he earns widespread support and, most importantly, legitimacy.

For the Stoddard character, killing another man (or at least being credited as the one who killed Valance) was the key to his success. He became so valued in the community that he was elected Senator. The violence was also redemptive to him personally as it was Valance who robbed him upon his arrival in Shinbone. Being seen as the man who killed Valance allowed the character to redeem himself and re-claim his masculinity in the eyes of the town. While the character himself struggles with this reality, the message is clear: redemptive violence is a pathway to success.

American history is filled with examples that reinforce that message. The Civil War is a perfect case of violence being celebrated as a rejuvenating force in American life. Remembered as the war that ended slavery, the Civil War is the pinnacle of redemptive violence. The horror on the battlefields and the 600,000 dead are held up as being secondary to the achievement of freedom. The death and violence of the war renewed the nation and gave a fresh appreciation of what it meant to be an American. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

The death of Osama Bin Laden can also be seen in this context. When the news started to filter out, people rushed to Times Square to celebrate. That night’s Philadelphia Phillies-New York Mets game was overshadowed by a chorus of U.S.A. chants. Again, the violence was redemptive and used as an opportunity to heal. Obviously Osama Bin Laden needed to be brought to justice and by no means do I intend to be critical of the decision to use lethal force, but we can use the reaction to his death to examine how redemptive violence has become a critical element of the American ethos. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Presidential politics is not immune to this either as, until recently, Presidents were expected – almost required – to have a background in military service. George Washington achieved heroic status by commanding the continental army. Andrew Jackson’s political career was built on his success as a General in the Battle of New Orleans. Seven Presidents served in the Civil War. Starting with Dwight Eisenhower, five consecutive Presidents served in World War II, while Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan served stateside. George W. Bush’s military record was a source of great controversy and John McCain’s failed campaign in 2008 centred on his status as a war hero. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

5-30-11On its own this is not an alarming trend, but when put into the context of the frontier in American history it is a sign that engaging in violence is a prerequisite to citizenship and a path to success in the United States. That violence has been seen as a redemptive force is dangerous because the message that emerges is that when a person is at their low point, violence can be the source of rejuvenation. Ransom Stoddard was at his lowest point when he picked up a gun – he then became a successful Senator. The American Union was at a breaking point when war began – it then became the bastion of freedom and liberty. Americans were scared and left in tears on that fall Tuesday in 2001 – they could again feel safe that Sunday night in 2011. Each time the recovery was triggered by violence. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

For 99.99% of the population, this will not lead them to pick up a gun when they reach a low point. But the danger comes from the 0.01% that see this and think that they can use violence as a viable solution to their problems. The common thread between the perpetrators of mass shootings – with the variable of mental illness – is that they tend to be withdrawn from their communities and generally have experienced some sort of hardship immediately preceding their crimes. They have been taught – even implicitly – through the nation’s history and dominate mythology that when you’re down, violence can be your way out. That is what makes it a remarkably dangerous narrative. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Clearly within this environment people should not have easy access to guns nor should the media fixate on those responsible for committing these crimes to the point where they achieve a level of notoriety. Trying to identify a singular motive for taking a gun to a school, mall, or movie theatre is a folly – the issue is too complex for that. But when thinking about ways to prevent these tragedies, it is instructive to look to the past to see how the national mythology can inform our attempts to understand the incomprehensible. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Sean Graham is a doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa where he is currently working on a project that examines the early years of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is also the host of the History Slam podcast on

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