Meet Mendelson Joe

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Musician, painter, environmental activist, co-founder of Artists Against Racism and all round stirrer of the merde. After thirty years at it, Mendelson Joe can lay claim to being Toronto’s most prolific and durable iconoclast.

He still averages four letters a week to editors and politicians, speaking out against what he calls “the lost civilization.”

Here’s Joe on some things that irk him and should trouble you.


Populist or Radical? Neither. I’m a Jew from Mars — an avowed sceptic but not a cynic.

Leftism in Canada Lost and stumbling badly. The NDP is lost and leaderless, in a race to see if it can get its act together before the rightwing Alliance does. Possibly the most effective left-leaning body is the Council Of Canadians, and it doesn’t as yet have access to real power.

Osama bin Laden Militant flavour of the month. He’s just the catalyst for Islam’s lunatic fringe. He goes, there’ll be another.

George W. Bush We’re dealing with a moron on the scale of Homer Simpson. He has no sense of humanity or decency. Greed is his purpose, all I see from him is a lot more suffering for ordinary people. Bush says he doesn’t believe in the Greenhouse effect, as if that changes the facts.

Dubya Post-September 11 I stand by everything I said . [MJ’s initial rabble interview happened in the summer]. His ratings have nothing to do with anything. The American people would rally around Homer Simpson, which is what they have with Bush. The Americans are reacting with panic to their first real experience with war in the homeland.

The War So Far The Americans are doing everything wrong. Killing civilians with bombs only creates more fanatics. We need to spend some time studying assassination in the Mossad camps, as they are the only ones who know how to deal with terrorism.

Humans Lazy and stupid creatures that will happily kill to prove one kind of God is better than another. Meanwhile, they poison the food and water they consume, the very air they breathe and see nothing wrong with buying the biggest gas-guzzler they can find.

Government At every level, the psychopaths are in charge of the world. A psychopath is a person devoid of all empathy for fellow humans, who cares only how people can be intimidated or manipulated.

Canadian Government We lost democracy the day Chrétien got away with his actions at the APEC conference in Vancouver. The Canadian government has no interest in its people, and too much in the corporate-greed agenda. The populace tolerates all this because they’re lost and lazy. So we’re getting the government we deserve.

The mantra of download, privatize, deregulate is another way of putting more resources into fewer corporate hands. Don’t expect these people to be concerned about quality healthcare or education. The return on their dollar in the short term is too small.

Jean Chrétien The Friendly Dictator. He has no opposition and no vision for Canada. He just walks around doing what the Americans tell him to do. There’s no sense in his actions that Canada has any say in dealing with the terrorist situation.

Mike Harris Smug and glib to the end. Nothing is as it seems with this guy. He destroyed the infrastructure of Ontario at every level to help the rich get richer, and now he’s getting out when the getting’s good. Now that Stockwell Day’s is a national joke, Harris could be angling to be the next rightist leader.

Native Rights We exploited and raped the Native peoples every which way. We shouldn’t be surprised when they demand compensation and the enactment of land claims that our governments agreed on.

Whether or not you were born here, all Canadian must share that responsibility. The good life new immigrants come here for is built on the backs on the Native peoples. When it comes time to make amends for that, then the newcomers have to take up that responsibility too. They can’t just come for the good stuff; they have to take the whole package.

Globalization I thought it might not be a bad thing as I’m for openness on principal. It’s unfolded as another greed-driven corporate manoeuvre to put all the resources in a few hands. Somewhere I’m sure some ordinary people’s lives are better because of free trade, but they appear to be outnumbered by those whose lives have been made worse.

People benefiting in those countries are the same corporate vampires who’ve always prospered. It’s about commerce, about the rape of the environment and the exploitation of all resources. All Chrétien did was carry on the Mulroney agenda, which is about selling off the Canada we grew up in.

Protestors I’m proud of them, that the kids get it and are willing to put themselves on the line for democracy. Unfortunately, the violence is inevitable. The forces of greed aren’t about to give in to reason anytime soon, and — given any confrontation — almost always overreact. I believe 95 per cent of the protestors have no intention to be violent. On their part, it’s a reaction to the official violence unleashed upon them.

Racism Progress is still one step forward and two steps back. Anti-Semitism and discrimination against visible minorities is still active. Toronto has been able to keep a lid on racial violence because the economy has still not hit rock bottom. When that happens, and it will, you will see race wars in the streets of Toronto.

Energy The only environmentally correct thing to do is cut back on its use. Nuclear power is insane. Pollution from Chernobyl went around the world. We don’t even know how to get rid of its toxic waste. To continue to produce more would be utter madness

Genetically Modified Food That’s going to take us to some very bad places. Nothing will be done until someone opens up a tomato and a lobster crawls out.

Napster The idea of free music strikes a positive chord with me. As long as it’s for personal use, I feel that’s okay to download my music for free. If it’s being downloaded for commercial gain, then the artist must have a share in that gain. I’ve been signed to enough record companies — both large and small — and my experience is, people will always steal from the artist. My opinion may stand a little apart because, for me, music is a sacred thing, it’s not greed-driven.

The Arts in Canada It’s the cloning of America. There are very few originals in Canada, and fewer still make it to mainstream attention. All the rest are pale copies of the American model. The administrators of art in Canada are a humourless bunch, with no sense of self.

In painting, we’re behind the times, still stuck in worship of abstract caca-ism and installations. In music, can’t think of an original since Glenn Gould. Possibly Ashley MacIsaac and Carlos del Junco, who’s carried the harmonica to new levels.

Newspapers I still consider NOW the best newspaper in the land for its coverage of environmental and political issue from angles not seen in the mainstream papers. But they haven’t published any of my letters in quite some time. I think they have a problem with the fact that, on some issues I’m on the left, on others I’m on the right.

The Supreme Act of Democracy You’re concerned about something, write a letter to the person responsible in that area. Not a phone call, not an e-mail — those are easily ignored. It’s hard to ignore letters piling up on your desk or floor. Letter-writing is the most important part of participatory democracy. I average four a week, but get little publication from Toronto media. The last letter published there, in The Globe and Mail, championed Matthew Coon Come for prime minister. He’s the only intelligent voice with vision and a sense of history that’s out there.Up here in the country, I’m moderately famous so they print everything I write.

The Future He may not say it for publication but I’m sure if you ask a guy in the know like David Suzuki, he’ll tell you there’s almost no hope.

Further Reading

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