An Afternoon with Mannlicher Caracno

My article on the LoK8Tr project took me to Guelph, Ont., last Saturday and live on the radio.

I met Porter Hall, the host of the Mannlicher Carcano Radio Hour, at the University of Guleph campus radio station. He arrived just after 3 p.m., a few minutes after the scheduled start time for his weekly show on CFRU. As the automated public-service announcements, commercials and eventually the show’s intro were being broadcast, Porter Hall hooked up a sound processor and unloaded his backpack. The bag held a bunch of cassettes, including a Musicworks compilation (No. 28); a Buddy Greene record called Praise Harmonica (”sappy Christian tunes,” Porter said); ukulele player Tiny Tim’s 2nd Album; CDs, some with spoken samples that Porter had compiled; and a collection of instruments, such as an electronic toy piano (Piano Fun!), a trumpet mouthpiece on a 1/4″ piece of PVC pipe, a McDonald’s Happy-Meal prize that went “boing” and other hose-y bits. There was an electric toothbrush in that bag, but Porter didn’t bring it out for the show.

“My bag of tricks changes over time,” Porter Hall said. The host, whose pseudonym is taken from Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, then added: “Sometimes it’s quite random.”

All these “tricks” were for the Mannlicher Carcano Radio Hour, an improvised sound-collage set. Once the gear was ready, Porter threw on a record, looped some spoken component from one of his CDs, and had whatever was on BBC World Service thrown on for good measure.

“What was that?” Porter asked when a sound caught his attention.

“Sometimes I don’t know what’s going on,” he admitted. Then the sound came through one of the myriad channels on the mixing board once again.

“Yeah. See? Where did that come from? Where did that come from?” he asked as he fiddled with the machines to try to catch and manipulate the sound.

The in-studio gizmos and media are only a part of the show. Porter Hall and his two long-time collaborators Really Happening and Gogo Godot form the core of Mannlicher Carcano (MC). Really, in L.A., and Gogo, in Winnipeg, call in most weeks, over the phone or Skype, and add their musical gestures to the mix. Porter looked on Skype for Rock Hill from Montreal. Some weeks there can be eight people in eight different cities. Pilot K9 in Peterborough, Ont., broadcasts the CHRU Web stream over Trent Radio and jams along with it too.

The three members of MC have known each other for years. Porter and Really have been friends since Grade 7. The trio started performing as MC with live, Fluxus-style, performance-art events that featured improvised audio collage around 1988 when all three were art-school students in Winnipeg. In 1990, Porter moved to San Diego, Calif., and in 1991, Really moved to L.A. The three collaborated occasionally following the moves, but it was in 1998, when Porter settled in Peterborough, that the group focused their artistic output to radio. Porter helmed the show at Trent Radio for four years. Then, in 2002, with Porter’s move to Guelph, the show came to CFRU.

I travelled to the university to learn more about Mannlicher Carcano because the radio show is going to mix in the LoK8Tr project when the latter is performed sometime in March 2010. I thought maybe MC could offer me some insights into the mysterious LoK8tr. At the very least, I could see how a musical/sound collaboration employs Skype, an application common to both endeavours.

But, the odd thing about Saturday’s show is that no one showed up to jam. Really Happening didn’t call. Neither did Gogo. Rocky Hill didn’t appear on Skype and there was some technical snafu that prevented Porter from streaming the Trent broadcast back into the Guelph broadcast for a kind of feedback jam.

At the start of the show, Porter generously invited me to join in with the audio collage. I was hesitant. Sure, the format was anything-goes, but still, I didn’t want to do anything that sounded dumb. About two thirds into the show, I felt comfortable enough to make some noise. I spun a record around with my hand, getting a slow-mo drone out of that devotional harmonica music. I couldn’t resist the Piano Fun! with notes that came out like electronic wheezes. I even shoved my voice recorder up to a mic and played what I had recorded from earlier in the show. Porter mixed and matched everything at the mixer. And, man, now I really get a kick out of hearing what came out of that session.

(To download the show, head to the archives at the CFRU site. Select Mannlicher Carcano from the drop-down menu, then click on the show with Saturday’s date. My contributions start at about minute 40.)

After the show had finished, we went to Porter Hall’s studio, where he works on his art installations, and discussed MC. (One installation, Robochorus, is now on at Gallery Lambton in Sarnia, Ont.)

The MC sound collages can be jarring at times, but they often enter the realms of trippy or hypnotic, especially when elements are looped and layered. Although the MC process is anarchic, there is an aesthetic operating.

“Various participants have favourite ways of processing sounds and there are favourite sounds that get mixed in different ways,” Porter said. “Also, we like to refer back to other times and events in our Mannlicher history. It’s like an extended, abstract conversation. I can reference some performance we did five years ago, something that had particular resonance, and just by dredging that up from our archives, it will send a recognizable link to the rest of Mannlicher. It’s a non-verbal means of communication. So, someone can bring in one thing and it will inspire the others to respond in kind, which is a way of saying ‘I get your reference.’”

For those who don’t share the MC vocabulary, I wondered if there were conventions or modes similar to those found in jazz improv.

“More formless kinds of jazz improvisation have to do with intense listening,” Porter said. “Whenever I hear jazz musicians speak of this type of improv, they all say the most important thing is to listen. It’s the same with Mannlicher and I don’t know if intense listening is work or a kind of meditative withdrawal. It always works best when the separation between yourself and the sound is lost. You become the sound.”

I admitted that my contribution to that day’s show felt a bit random even for a random process. I just made noise, not really sure how it fit into the existing sounds. I guess I was like a toddler just starting to babble. Porter, ever generous, said the studio set-up isn’t exactly conducive to proper collaboration, with me on one side of the table and him surrounded by players and computers. But I have a feeling I need to work on my listening if I were to jam with MC again (which I fully intend to do).

As for my mission to try and find out more about LoK8Tr, it wasn’t furthered along much. The person(s) behind LoK8Tr are as much of a mystery for Porter as he/she/they are for me. Months ago, Porter got an email from LoK8Tr asking if MC would be interested in participating in a project. Porter was receptive to the proposal even though, at the time, he had few details.

“I basically said that as long as we are allowed do anything with the sounds or samples we are given, then we’d be quite happy to use them,” Porter said.

I told Porter that at the beginning of my research, I had thought LoK8Tr was simply a new MC project. He, on the other hand, had thought I was the person behind LoK8tr coming to look into Mannlicher as part of my project.

“But I’m pretty sure you’re not,” he said.

The Word on LoK8Tr from CMC

Here’s what Jason van Eyk, Ontario regional director at the Canadian Music Centre, told me about LoK8Tr:

What I can tell you about LoK8Tr is that it’s a one-off project; it’s not an existing collective other than the fact that it is being formed as part of the Canadian Music Centre’s New Music in New Places series. This is a series that we’ve run nationally for five years now. It’s a series that allows Canadian composers and their collaborators to create projects to take their music out of the concert hall and out into the community where they work and live. One of the things we’ve been trying to do is encourage composers to consider the virtual environment as part of that—so to consider projects for the Web. The LoK8Tr is such a project. It is an online project that is going to be using a lot of social-networking tools to express its creative content. I understand that you are having some problems getting in touch with the artist(s) and that’s understandable. Anonymity is considered part of the concept for this project. And so we can certainly do our best to get you in touch with the lead creator in this collaboration for LoK8Tr. But we are going to have to find a way to do it so that the anonymity isn’t jeoporadized because they don’t really want to identify who the artists are in the collaboration and in the LoK8Tr project until the project has been completed. And that won’t be done until after it has actually been sent out and eventually stored on a website sometime in January 2010.

Why Blog an Article?

Really, I’m not totally comfortable about blogging a print article as I work on it. Magazine articles are always released as seemingly fully formed beings, the stitches removed, the gaps tightened and any false starts tucked away.  Only the writer and editor really see the pieces and connections; for the rest, the article is a lovely whole.

But with a blog, you let it all hang out—the dumb assumptions that you abandon, the head scratching, the raw data. Of course,  I could leave those bits out, but then, what’s left to keep a blog going?

In the case of the LoK8Tr project, my going Web is appropriate (so I’ve convinced myself) because I’m meeting the participants in their medium: the only place they operate right now. There you have it—I can blame them. Also, going meta on the article-writing process, another thing that makes me cringe, is justified because this project seems keen to go up that self-referential route. (”Self-referential”?! Crap. I haven’t used that since third year.)

Thank you LoK8Tr for sending me in this direction. Is it meta for you?


Searching for LoK8Tr

I’m after a composer or maybe a bunch of composers who don’t want to be found. They don’t want to be LoK8-ed, if you will.

The Canadian Music Centre (CMC) runs a program called New Music in New Spaces, which promotes the work of CMC’s associate composers by staging musical events in novel places, such as the Bonnechere Caves, Eganville, Ont. and in the trees in Toronto. An event coming up in January is called LoK8Tr. (I’m not sure what the ‘T’ is for. Doesn’t the numeral 8 imply a ‘T,’ à la Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi?”) A CMC press release describes LoK8Tr as:

a project inspired by and written directly for performance using Internet media and social networking tools. It will include music, poetry, graphics and video distributed via the Internet on a set performance date to those who sign up to receive the Twitter, Facebook, email and Skype messages that will make up the piece. LoK8Tr will be accessible via cellphone, computer and radio (with on-air presence as part of the Mannlicher Carcano radio remix program)….The artists for the LoK8Tr project will not be announced until after the conclusion of the performance date to emphasize the project themes of identity/self, location, loneliness/facelessness and virtual interconnections that can be amplified or obscured by the distortions and dissonances that mediated relations create.

It is that last part, about the artists not being announced until after the performance, that is a bit of a challenge. I’m working on an article on LoK8Tr for Musicworks magazine and so far all the details I have are, well, the press release above. If this were any other topic, I wouldn’t hesitate to find out all that I could on the subject and include it in the article, but who wants harsh on a project whose themes include the facelessness of virtual interconnections? It would be a little like spoiling the ending of a movie, no? But then again, movie critics do get to see the movie and are trusted to dole out the right amount of information.

I’ll see what I can LoK8. (I wonder how much mileage one can get out of that spelling?)

The Memorial Ride for Darcy Allan Sheppard

I joined the ride at about 5:10pm at Bay and Bloor. The ride went east, taking up the whole eastbound side of the road, to Yonge and then south to Queen. Riders rang bells constantly, but I opted for silence. The Toronto Star estimates that the event comprised about 1,000 cyclists.

At Dundas and Yonge a trumpeter was playing Taps. Yvonne Bambrick, executive director of the Toronto Cyclists Union, thanked pedestrians and motorists blocked by the ride for their patience and understanding. Going north on University, a woman shouted, “Our friend was murdered by the former attorney general of Ontario,” repeatedly. Tommy Toast and a friend opened a can of Grolsch, each took a swig and poured out beer for Sheppard. Later, a cyclist would make a similar offering at the Canada Post grey box on Bloor on which messages for Sheppard are attached. The cyclist would squat down beside the piece of street furniture that Sheppard collided with and break apart a cigarette.

When the ride got to Avenue and Bloor, at about 5:45pm, riders gathered around the site of Monday’s accident. Many raised their bikes up in salute. Friends of Sheppard put their bikes on the road and sat down. Stephanie Thompson, a friend who had seen Sheppard a few days before the accident held up a sign that read “Justice for Al.”

A man walking by the gathering said to his companion, “When you hang onto a car, that’s what you get.”

One cycle cop on the scene said to his co-worker, “You still with that beautiful broad?”

The reply: “Yup.”

A woman walking by said, “…and this ruined his political career.”

Around 6:15pm, the police, who had managed traffic around the protest, started corralling the remaining riders, either to bust up the event or open up an eastbound lane on Bloor. Some of the riders shouted at the police. Then they chanted, “Who’s streets? Our streets!” for a bit. But the crowd dwindled. By this time, I was on the north side of the street talking to some interested passersby.  We agreed that the best things that could come of this tragedy are more awareness and action for safe cycling in the city.

Click for pictures.

Options for Homes Article in the National Post

My story (also here) on Michel Labbé and Options for Homes appears in today’s National Post. The article came out of a longer one that I had written in March. Here is the more in-depth version.
The Revolution Will Not Be Subsidized
Can a Toronto non-profit housing organization save the city’s construction jobs? Its founder, Mike Labbé, thinks so.

The small basement room of the West Toronto Baptist Church is full with more than 40 people interested in buying condos on a Saturday morning in early March. Another such meeting will be held in the afternoon. These twice-a-month church-basement events are packed, strictly by word of mouth, amidst declining housing sales for the city; February’s sales were 32 per cent lower compared to the previous year. The attendees have mostly middle to lower-middle incomes and, if they decide to buy, they will probably take a second mortgage that the developer has to offer. This plan not only has the blessing of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), but the city as well.

As potential buyers look at floor plans on bristol boards, Michel Labbé, the president and founder of Options for Homes, sets up his laptop and projector near the front of the room and has a sip from a juice box he had taken from the refreshments counter. Then, with the lights down for his presentation, he explains why the two buildings his non-profit organization is developing on Keele Street, just north of Dundas Street West, had units for $250 to $280 per square foot while most developers in Toronto can’t sell for less than $360 per square foot, even with the troubled housing market. A 610 square-foot one-bedroom apartment, with the Options second mortgage, costs $161,920. Under the same plan, a 1,030 square-foot two-bedroom apartment runs $256,790. At $360 per square foot, the low-end of the condo market, those apartments would be $219,600 and $370,800 respectively. A foam-board model of a 24-floor tower, about 50 centimetres tall, sits on a table to Labbé’s right. The setup has more the feel of a Grade 6 science project than a condo sales presentation. During the session, a little girl scribbles furiously at the back of the room.

Labbé explains his model for developing cost-effective housing. Options finds not-yet-desirable sites in Toronto—the Distillery District in the late 90s and the Junction for the current project comprising a 19- and 24-story tower, totalling 643 units—for development. It spends little money on marketing, but doesn’t skimp on the buildings: its builder on Keele Street is Deltera, Tridel’s construction arm. The towers at the Junction site will have solar panels for heating water, carbon filters for air intake and there are plans for a car-sharing program for residents. Such amenities as a spa, gym or concierge are absent. Apart from the eco-features, the buildings, like their nearest grocery store, will be no frills. He explains how the second mortgage works. Labbé covers everything in detail, which is key to convincing some of the skeptics that the plan isn’t a scam.

At the end of these presentations, an average of 30 per cent of the attendees put down a $100 deposit on a unit. If they decide to buy, they will join the 1,500 households Options has housed since 1993. With multiple awards for its work, including one in 2002 from CHMC for finance and tenure, Options is a success in the field of cost-effective housing. Labbé sees solutions within his model for the construction slowdown that is coming for Toronto. Construction in the low-rise housing market has already been hammered, but it’s the condo market, what councillor Adam Vaughan calls the General Motors of the city, that will get hit next as the current batch of projects finish in the next eight to twelve months. The Options model could save 10,000 jobs.

Labbé’s philosophy for Options for Homes draws from an emerging field of business called social enterprise, which many of its practitioners feel is part of the next evolution of the economic system. Companies within this group, which are sometimes called “more-than-profits,” use business techniques to solve social problems. Revenue becomes a means to further the social-change component of an organization. And if these practices are the next evolutionary step for our economy, then what better time to propel these ideas to the fore as even G20 finance ministers and central bankers contemplate overhauls to the way we create capital?

* * *

While the market may be convulsing, Michel Labbé is pretty calm about going through his third recession since he’s been involved in the housing industry. His early forays into alternative housing models came in 1979 with Lantana Non-Profit Homes, an organization that helped groups take advantage of federally and provincially subsidized rental programs. It facilitated social housing in the classic sense, co-operatives and subsidized rental units. Labbé grew dissatisfied with this model. All the work that went into creating a co-op housing complex only benefitted the people who got in. Labbé wanted a way to extend that benefit beyond the lucky few. Also, throughout the 1980s, he saw government subsidies for social housing dry up until they simply disappeared soon after Mike Harris’ Conservatives came to power in 1995.

Out of this scenario, Labbé developed the Options for Homes model. At its core is the second mortgage that a buyer in an Options condo takes on. The purchaser only repays when he sells or rents the unit. The interest is a percentage of the unit’s increase in value. Both the buyer and Options, therefore, benefit from the equity that comes with homeownership. If the unit hasn’t increased in value at the time of sale, then only the principal is repaid. Options then takes the repayment and puts it into Home Ownership Alternatives, a non-profit corporation that will fund future cost-effective building projects. Since Options for Homes began in 1993, $12 million worth of mortgages have been repaid and $38 million are still being held. Labbé’s housing revolution does not have to be subsidized.

Options undertook its first major projects in the Distillery District. “Our first building in the Distillery District, St. Lawrence, was sold at the end of the down market in 1997-98,” Labbé says. “At that time when we put out flyers, we would get a two to three per cent response rate. A one per cent response rate is considered phenomenal. But during the recent peak of Toronto’s condo sales activity, we would get a 0.2 per cent response rate. Our percentage of the market increases as the market goes down.” He is keen to begin marketing Option’s next project, a 350 to 400-suite building near Bathurst and Lawrence. The recession looks bright for Options.

Labbé, who describes himself as a democratic capitalist, seems to be made up of equal parts idealism and pragmatism. These two qualities must reside in any social entrepreneur, but with Labbé, both are very strong. He can utter maxims that would get a No Logo-reading, anti-globalization anarchist nodding in agreement: “The ultimate goal is to have one person have it all: that’s the complete fruition of capitalism today.” He is also creative when it comes to solving business challenges. For example, when the CMHC and traditional banks wouldn’t help with the construction financing for the Junction project, Labbé brokered $97 million through a syndicate of seven credit unions, two based in Toronto and four from the western provinces. The two sides of Labbé come together in the idea of community. Homeowners want to live in a community—a Beach, Annex or Leaside—for a sense of place and feeling of security. But for Labbé, building and maintaining community is also a way to protect one’s investment. Options starts solidifying the investment before the ground is even broken for the building.

The closing date for the Junction buildings is almost two years away and their site is a deep pit crowded with construction vehicles and rebar. Yet, the co-operative board for the building has been meeting every six weeks for almost two years in the basement of the Runnymede United Church. More than a hundred plastic chairs are quickly occupied each meeting, leaving late comers to stand at the side and back. The purchasers vary in age: some are young first-time buyers getting help from their parents, others are long-time renters making the move to ownership. There’s a woman who works in HR for TD Canada Trust. Another purchaser, a fundraiser for a theatre company, hasn’t made it to one of these meetings yet, but follows the updates on Facebook. A man who often busks with his saxophone also keeps abreast of things online. These are Annex types who can’t afford the Annex. Other buyers have low incomes that require even more help than that of the second mortgage.

At a recent meeting in the church basement, the purchasers face a long plywood-top table for the five board members, who sit in front of a large wall hanging of a gold crucifix with pastel aqua, pink and purple rays emanating from it. This is a purely secular meeting, but the attendants are united in a collective vision. Labbé leads the meeting at a mic to the right of the table. He’s slim, of medium height and is almost always seen in tight dress pants and a loose dress shirt, tonight in dark and light grey respectively. He covers various items such as a city-parks levy and a bothersome hydro hook-up fee. The really timely questions come near the end of the session. One woman asks about the value of the units. In light of the troubled economy, she has some concerns. Labbé gives a thoughtful, nuanced answer. Since Options prices are about 30 to 40 per cent below regular market prices, even below the low end of the market, and since the remaining units are selling without active marketing and without a change in price, the value is at least staying the same. He couldn’t be sure if the units had increased in value because Options has no intention of raising the prices to see what the market could bear.

“Is that a good enough answer?” he asks.

“You said it’s not going down, so I’ll take that for now.” Her bluntness elicits laughter from everyone.
At a later date, Labbé adds more detail regarding the stable price of Options units. He says that Options isn’t about providing people with spectacular investments. They create quality buildings and communities. But the work condo dwellers do creating and maintaining their communities protects their investments. This emphasis on communities, as well as the second mortgage, deters flippers; Options buildings are 96 per cent owner occupied. Labbé says that his condos, with their absence of slick marketing and fancy amenities, are not about a life-style sell.

They are, of course, about life style; the sell just differs in kind.

* * *

While Labbé may have convinced purchasers that his plan is robust enough to withstand the recession, his larger challenge is convincing the city that Options is not only robust, but able to ease Toronto’s construction woes. In February, 28,000 construction jobs disappeared in Ontario. For the past five years, the city has come to depend on the yearly injection of more than 10,000 condo units built by developers and the accompanying development charges that help the city maintain its infrastructure. According to Labbé, the way to save 10,000 construction jobs and collect development charges—although at a later date—starts with the city.

At the end of January, Labbé sent a memo to the mayor and the Affordable Housing Office—which helps with the development of affordable housing in city—suggesting they designate 5,000 units worth of municipally controlled land for a one-time program. Labbé’s organization and other non-profits that could adopt the Options model would then develop these units with sale prices geared to households with incomes less than $75,000. There wouldn’t be any proposal calls, the means by which private developers gain building opportunities; the city would assign land to the various organizations. The non-profits, Labbé argues, would be more responsive than the traditional developers because maximizing profits requires careful, deliberate study. Selling at cost, which would be further lowered with the deferral of development charges, is more straightforward. The traditional developers and non-profits can also co-exist peacefully because the Options homes bring a different type of buyer into the condo market.

While Labbé’s plan is ambitious, many of its components have some kind of precedent. When the city developed the St. Lawrence Market area during the ’70s and early ’80s, it allocated land in the area to various non-profits, including Lantana, the organization for which Labbé worked. The Affordable Housing Office, which is a partner with Options on the Junction project, deferred $3 million worth of development charges for up to 10 years.

Options can deliver condos for well below market value; however, it can’t develop all 5,000 units. It needs other non-profits to adopt its model. Labbé has cited Artscape, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto and Habitat for Humanity Toronto as organizations that could undertake such projects. These groups may have experience in the development industry, but it is at a lower scale. Habitat for Humanity Toronto, for example, has built 100 homes in the last 19 years. It plans to build 100 homes in the next 19 months, which is still at a rate too slow to combat the effects of the troubled economy. On this last point, Labbé invokes a variation on the Field of Dreams dictum: “If you build it, he will come.”

“The interesting thing is that once you provide an opportunity,” Labbé says, “people will come along to take advantage of it. That’s a lesson we learned from the development of the St. Lawrence area. There were about five groups that were created just to deliver in St. Lawrence.”

Two months after the memo went to city hall, it was under cautious consideration. The mayor’s office had met with Labbé and was reviewing the plan. Sean Gadon, Director of the Affordable Housing Office, said he was encouraged that Labbé was putting his mind toward how affordable housing can provide jobs. He was anxious to see housing investments help the economy, so the plan was under review.

Councillor Adam Vaughan shares Labbé’s desire to create condominiums that are also neighbourhoods and is willing to experiment with the non-profit developer’s ideas. However, Vaughan has reservations about the idea of allocating city lands.

“The amount land that Labbé thinks the city has is not quite accurate,” Vaughan says. “It’s not quite as simple as he offers and handing over tracts of land to private hands at reduced rates…You know, if we start doing that, he won’t be the only practitioner in town and the next person won’t necessarily be quite so honourable as he is. I’m not sure how you control that.”

John Sewell, former mayor of Toronto and a housing activist who was involved with the development of the St. Lawrence Market area, also has some critiques of Labbé’s plan. While Sewell feels the Options model is good, his concern is that it is limited in its ability to reach households with lower incomes.

“The city can provide land at no cost, but land is a very limited subsidy,” Sewell says. “The land cost is maybe five per cent of the total cost of the development. Not a lot. You need a greater subsidy if you are going to reach people with low incomes. Also, the city does not have a lot of resources. It’s very difficult for the city to afford to give the land away without subsidies. The reason the city could make land available for the St. Lawrence project is we had subsidies available from the provincial and federal governments.”

A recession may be a time for new ideas, but the unfamiliar—building cost-effective housing without subsidies, creating opportunity for non-profit developers that don’t exist yet—brings understandable pause. The ideas are still relatively new and they come out of an emerging field of business. The practitioners of social enterprise are working in an area that has few mature models. Some such enterprises are more socially beneficial than profitable, such as a proposed program by Toronto’s Woodgreen Community Services that would provide employment opportunities for mostly homeless men. They would prepare homes with bedbug infestations for effective spraying. It’s not expected to make a profit. Labbé’s organization is really at the top of the social enterprise food chain. But whatever the organization’s focus—bedbug removal or condo development—the values come first.

Labbé sees the movement as quite significant. “Social enterprise is the next appropriate evolution of the economic system,” he says. “It’s a much easier argument to make these days having seen what unfettered greed can do. A greed-based system collapses onto itself.” To further the expansion of his own ideas on social enterprise, Labbé is preparing to give a talk in November at the Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise here in Toronto. It will have echoes of the ideas that have kept him busy the last few months.
“I’m pitching a global partnership to eliminate child poverty. I’m going to be looking for practitioners of social enterprises that work on the basis of community wealth funds, in which the equity created is preserved for continual community support. The objectives are broader than just housing. For me, it’s the ultimate comprehensive approach to restructuring the economic system for social good, instead of profit margins. I want to do a pitch to the people who care and see whether they are willing to alter what they do to fit into what I perceive to be a better pattern.”

Labbé then adds, “So it’s going to be a fun time.”

* * *

Toward the end of Labbé’s presentation in the West Toronto Baptist Church basement, some of the potential buyers shift in their seats. It’s a familiar sight. Units are limited. Those who want to reserve scope out the available Options for Homes personal advisors for questions about availability and copies of floor plans. If they decided they do want to live in one of the buildings going up in the Junction, they will place a deposit at the table at which the little girl scribbled during the presentation.

Labbé watches from the front of the room. For him, housing is everything. It represents jobs, quality of life, respect and pride. He knows homeowners vote more; their neighbourhoods are more secure and have less crime.

“Homeownership changes your way of thinking and makes you a better citizen,” he says.

He’s just changed the way some people think about housing. But there are still others to whom he wants to bring his ideas.

10 things I can do quicker than Lance Armstrong can

Watching the Tour de France is humbling. I like to think that I’m a pretty speedy cyclist and that the 40 minutes it takes me to bike roughly 13 kilometres up Yonge Street to work is a respectable time. Yet, on the first day of the race, each of the 180 cyclists in the Tour tore through 15.5 kilometres of Monaco in about 20 minutes. Damn.

So, as an exercise in ego resuscitation, here are a few things I can do faster than Lance Armstrong:

  • walk through a crowd at a cycling event (because I don’t have the burden of being recognized and having to sign autographs)
  • name all the provinces and territories of Canada
  • use the Toronto subway system to get from Bay station to St. Claire West station (Lance would probably make the newbie mistake of transferring at Spadina instead of St. George)
  • parse a sentence
  • buy a two-four of Lucky Lager from the Dupont Street Beer Store (Lance would probably ask the guy to send it up from the back. Sucker. I know the Lucky is always on the left slide of the open rack—Crap! Now Lance knows where it is too.)
  • copy edit
  • really dig an album by Vibracathedral Orchestra
  • vacuum my house (I already live there and have a key; right now, Lance would have to fly in from France and have someone let him in…and then find the vacuum)
  • get annoyed by one of Margaret Wente’s articles
  • buy the latest New Yorker from Book City on Bloor Street (Lance doesn’t know that the issue is usually…Nice try Lance. I’m not falling for that one again.)

We all know that much of Lance’s success comes from the support of his team during the race. I must acknowledge the help of Team Amadeus Patio for helping me to recognize some of the skills presented above.

Really though, now that I think of it, I could beat Lance Armstrong in a race from my home to my office, assuming he follows traffic laws like I do. Lance would probably take the designated bike routes through the city, which are never direct. Think about it. He always follows the prescribed routes. Those Tour de France organizers say, “You’re going to bike from here to here following these roads.” (Well, they say that, but in French, I guess.) And then he just rides where he’s told. Not me, man. I take whatever route is fastest.

First Bout of Twitter Guilt

I didn’t mean to dis The Agenda. Well, I did, but not to that extent.

I was jumping between three live blogs of Obama’s visit today, including The Agenda’s. (Holy. Lots of love for Cover It Live.) It seemed Mr. Paikin’s Web event was relying mostly on the #obamawa hash-tag feed. Disappointing I thought. I was so impressed with their AgendaCamp broadcast from Thunder Bay. They combined television and Web much better than CBC ever had. So I called The Agenda on rehashing a hash.

They replied, letting me know that they did have someone in Ottawa covering the event. Fair enough. But then I felt a twinge (twinger of guilt?) for having written the dis-tweet into the #obamawa feed, and thus into The Agenda’s live blog.

I do assuage the guilt a bit with the idea that there is no bad publicity. I did present all 23 of my followers with a link to The Agenda page.

Really Mr. Paikin, there’s no need to thank me.

Et tu, Malcolm Gladwell?

I fear the following observations will sound as if they are coming from an insecure backpacker with a maple leaf on his luggage. But really, The New Yorker has been picking on Canucks as of late. Last week’s issue featured a profile of Naomi Klein by Larissa MacFarquhar, who portrays the Toronto-based activist as a naive lefty Sisyphus. Canadian officers in Afghanistan don’t realize the post-colonial nitroglycerin they’re mixing in the form of Hazara police units based around Kandahar, according to Graeme Wood. Well, Wood does say it’s NATO that doesn’t realize that playing different ethnicities off each other could lead to problems down the road, but the Canadian Forces are in a lead role. On the issue of Klein, any close reader of The Shock Doctrine knows she is by no means above criticism. But these two articles make one a little protective. I can criticize a family member, but you, you might want to tone that down a bit.

But then we come to the words of Elmira, Ont.’s favourite son and US college football fan: “…and the last [of five quarterbacks drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999] was so awful that after failing out of the N.F.L. he ended up failing out of the Canadian Football League as well.” Whoa, three-down-football burn! Now, I’m pretty sure that Gladwell has watched more football than me, but I know the Bills/Dolphins game I saw from a Rogers Centre box was way more boring than any of the Ottawa Rough Riders games I used to see from the cheap seats at Lansdowne Park. The level of play was about the same in all cases.

Take that, bro.

Matmos with Leprechaun Catering, Music Gallery, Toronto

A Music Gallery show in the summer means a lot of sweat. Last night, the four fans on the vaulted ceiling of St. George the Martyr Church couldn’t do much against the humidity, the heat of roughly 130 people and myriad electronic gear of two Baltimore-based groups.

Leprechaun Catering played a three-song set of their transistor fist-fight musique concrète. Tom, the group’s theremin player, announced that they didn’t have songs, but they did have song titles. The night’s titles were acronyms of Toronto: Therefore Our Rap Opera Needs Tighter Oratorios and Thirty Odd Romulans On Nitrous Terrified Ohura [sic]— “that one is an inside joke.”

The bonus song—which Tom wasn’t sure if they should play as he feared it would offend the audience of Canadians—was a leftfield version of Rush’s Tom Sawyer on theremin, bass and some single-string or rubber-band instrument. Supposedly they had the Can-con classic well rehearsed months ago, but their latest performance was pretty raw.

Matmos’s set was indeed “a placid, psychedelic sit-down affair,” but sublimely so, with hints of their newer Norman McLaren-inspired work, their porn soundtrack material and Civil War-based tracks. Their final song started with Martin Schmidt of Matmos and Tom from Leprechaun Catering on two grand pianos and culminated with both bands working a dissonant freak-out.

With the show over, everyone could head out too cool off in the night air.