Bonne fête, Canada

June 30, 2006

Today is July 1: the 139th birthday of the Dominion of Canada. Here in Ottawa, that means that there is a massive street party in the vicinity of Parliament Hill, together with a couple hundred thousand of your closest friends. At some point in the day, everyone is going to get completely drenched by rain. (This has not failed to happen in my memory.) Finally, the day ends with a spectacular fireworks display over the Ottawa River and a long wait for a ride home on the bus with a few dozen of your drunk best friends.

It has my custom on Canada Day to introduce my readers (particularly my non-Canadian ones) to a Canadian patriotic song. I am a sixth-generation Canadian, and although I am Ontario born and raised, my generation is practically the first to live outside of Nova Scotia. It seems fitting, therefore, to showcase the traditional Nova Scotian folk song, “Farewell to Nova Scotia” this year. When I attended the McClare/McClair family reunion in Nova Scotia in 2000, this was one of the songs we sang around the campfire. It was ironic that so many McClares from all over the continent gathered at our point of origin and sang this song.

My recording is by the Irish Rovers (who, ironically, are based in the West); the lyrics as recorded by them are:


Farewell to Nova Scotia, the sea-bound coast

Let your mountains dark and dreary be

When I am far away on the briny ocean tossed

Will you ever heave a sigh or a wish for me?

The sun was setting in the west

The birds were singing on every tree

All nature seemed to be at rest

But alas there was no rest for me.


I grieve to leave my native home

I grieve to leave my comrades all

And my parents whom I hold so dear

And the bonnie, bonnie lass I do adore.


The drums do beat and the wars do alarm

My captain calls, I must obey

Farewell, farewell to Nova Scotia’s charms

For it’s early in the morning I am bound far away.


I have two brothers and they are at rest

Their arms are folded on their chest

But a poor simple sailor just like me

Must be tossed and turned in the deep dark sea.


(If you’d like to sing along, naturally the Net has a MIDI accompaniment.)

The authorship of “Farewell to Nova Scotia” is unknown. Likely it was written in the early part of the 20th century, before or during World War I. In those days, Canada was still a colony of England, and when she went to war, so did we. The song is about resentment at being shipped across the world to fight (and perhaps die) overseas without seeing the homeland again. A century later it takes on a new significance, given the migration away from the economically depressed Maritimes for the more prosperous climes of Ontario and the West.

Virtually every East Coast musician of note has recorded this song, from Anne Murray to Great Big Sea. It is said that the best recording is that of the late folk singer Stan Rogers, although I have not heard it.

Previous songs from previous Canada Days:


Jim Baen (1943-2006)

June 29, 2006

Influential editor Jim Baen, co-founder of the independent SF/fantasy publisher Baen Books, died yesterday at the age of 63. He suffered a massive stroke on June 12, and never regained consciousness.

Any serious science-fiction reader doubtless has a few books from Baen on the shelf: authors in their catalogue include Ben Bova, C. J. Cherryh, Frederik Pohl, Lois McMaster Bujold, Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Timothy Zahn.

Baen was also a leader in Web publishing, starting a subscription service called, then later a free library of dozens of novels. Science-fiction publishers have been among the first to pick up on the benefits of free and unencrypted distribution of their material on the Net, realizing that since there is no market for “teaser” excerpts and DRM-crippled books, giving away a few novels for free doesn’t hurt profits in the long run; indeed, it helps improve them since people will buy what they like. Public libraries are good for business, in other words.

Jim Baen turned out some quality SF, not to mention some plain good yarns. His presence in the publishing world will be missed.

Killer irony

June 29, 2006

Mark Driscoll’s take on gay Episcopalian bishop Vicky Gene Robinson is a wonderfully subtle bit of ironic commentary:

First the Episcopalians gave us V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the openly gay bishop who left his wife and kids to have sex with a man and later revealed that he had been a closet alcoholic for years. He was the obvious choice because he is just like Jesus with the minor exceptions of his beliefs and life. (Emphasis added)

The remainder of the article, by the way, is a good commentary on the sad state of American Anglicanism (which Doug Wilson terms the “Episcopalian death spiral”).


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Road rage

June 26, 2006

The short story has hit upon hard times in recent years as a literary form. Now basically the property of “serious” authors, it survives in the mainstream almost exclusively in the imaginative genres of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. (I suspect that at least part of the reason is plain old laziness: it takes work to compact a whole story into ten or so pages and still have it cohesive and well-formed. I’m not slamming novelists, it’s just that they don’t have to work with quite the same limitations.)

Mind you, you can’t get much more mainstream than Stephen King, reputedly history’s bestselling author. Throughout his career, he has continuously published collections of short fiction. I’ve said before that I regard him as the reigning master of the form.

So who influences the influencers? King is known as an aficionado of the seminal horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, another short story master; indeed, he is largely responsible for a revival in Lovecraft’s popularity. But another influence is Richard Matheson, whose work I was recently introduced to through his 2003 collection of stories, Duel.

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On the subject of Google Maps wonkiness . . .

June 21, 2006

. . . what’s casting the shadow of the Stratosphere Tower on the Las Vegas Strip, since it appears that the actual tower has evaporated?

Good one, Google

June 21, 2006

It’s part of my job to occasionally look up specific addresses and directions, which sometimes involves taking advantage of Google Maps for its intended purpose, not merely virtual tourism. So I noticed right off the bat that something was different: the aerial view of Ottawa has changed.

Tourists interested in visiting our beautiful nation’s capital will be thrilled with the wonderful new view of Parliament Hill, the War Memorial, Majors Hill Park, and the Byward Market. Also, friends and family trying to figure out how to get to my place will love the new view.

Whose idea was this, anyway?

Lady [still] be good

June 15, 2006

There are “Sarah” people, “Billie” people, and “Ella” people. You can mark me down as a committed Ella person.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald, known as the First Lady of Song, and one of the great performers of the so-called “Great American Songbook,” the repetoire of the period from 1930-50 that is widely considered the zenith of popular music composition.

A teenage runaway, Fitzgerald was singing whenever she could to make ends meet when she was discovered by bandleader Chick Webb in 1935. Her first hit was a recording of the nursery rhyme “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” in 1938. Following Webb’s death in 1939, she took over as bandleader of his orchestra, pursuing a solo career a few years later. When the Verve jazz label was founded by Norman Granz in 1956, Ella was his flagship artist. Her most notable work was the eight “Songbook” albums recorded from the mid-50s to mid-60s, each showcasing the music of a notable American composer, including George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter.

Fitzgerald died of complications arising from diabetes on June 15, 1996, at the age of 79.

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