In the News

Chris Turner on Christiania’s Fate

Christiania (here’s its Wikipedia entry), the sort-of-self-governing neighbourhood located in Copenhagen, Denmark is one of those places I’d been meaning to visit (along with the rest of Copenhagen, of course). It was created in 1971 when a group of hippie-types took over an area that housed abandoned military barracks. What resulted over the following three decades was an social experiment: a citizen-run self-organizing “autonomous zone” with a large creative class, a simple set of laws and avoidance of taxes that libertarians would enjoy, and a large “creative class” of the sort of which Richard Florida speaks.

Unfortunately, Christiania’s days are numbered: the current Danish government — a centre-right one, which contrasts with the past five decades of their tending to be social democrats — is putting the squeeze on Christiania. My friend and fellow DJ from Crazy Go Nuts University, Chris “Turner” Turner, reports in today’s Globe and Mail’s Focus section in an article titled Where freedom is another word for a whole lot left to lose. The stuff that didn’t make it into the piece, as well as a number of his own photos, can be found on his blog, Planet Simpson, in this entry: Attention, Hippies!

Come Out Peacefully So We Can Smash Your Drug Mill And All Your Worldly Possessions!


Chanukah, Night Six: The Dreidel

I don’t know how many current computer games have this feature, but back in the dark ages of DOS, many IBM PC games featured a “the boss is coming!” key. This key, when pressed in mid-game, quickly suspended the game and hid it with a screen that looked like a  word processor or spreadsheet. Once the boss was out of sight, you could press the key again and resume the game. This feature has found its way into blogs: a number feature this “web fire escape” icon, which if clicked, takes you to a web page that looks more work-related:

Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!.

(By default, that web fire escape should take you to Google. You can set the escape destination on this page.)

Dreidels once served a purpose similar to the “boss is coming” key and the “web fire escape” — but in reverse: they were used to make it look as if you were slacking off. In the time of Emperor Antiochus IV, study of the Torah and Jewish prayers were forbidden. When Jews gathered to study or pray, they had a dreidel handy just in case the “cops” or any “snitches” were passing by: if one did, they’d break out the dreidel and pretend to be playing a game of chance, which was legal. These days, the dreidel is a children’s game played at Chanukah, often using chocolate for “bets”.

I could write about the rules here, but it’s more fun to learn by playing. You can try out’s JavaScript-based game, but those craving a much flashier version (using Flash, no less!) should give’s Dreidel 6000 a spin.

It Happened to Me

Chrismukkah Dinner

A Christmas tradition at our house is the extended family Christmas dinner in which my aunts, uncles and cousins as well as friends of the family get together for a big dinner party, exchange Christmas gifts and often gather around the piano and sing. As our family gains new members, we add their traditions to the mix. Although Wendy was at last year’s party, she’s a full-fledged family member this year, and since Chanukah and Christmas are close to each other (and even overlap this year), we added Jewish traditions to the mix.

“Where can we put the menorah, Mom?” I asked, unpacking the stuff we brought to the party.

“Make some room for it on the mantel,” she said.

I moved a couple of items aside and placed the menorah in the newly-created space.

“What do you think?” I asked Wendy.

She examined the new arrnagement of objects on the mantel and smiled.

“A menorah, placed between a nativity scene and a giant statue of the Virgin Mary. That’s excellent!” and made the “thumbs up” sign.

Prior to dinner, we gathered in the living room to say a quick Grace, which was then followed by the menorah lighting. Wendy lit the candles, and both she and Jessie (a friend of the family, and the other Jewish woman married to an Asian man at the party) recited the prayers.

Dinner, like my family, came from all over. Among the dishes were:

  • Latkes, prepared by me and Wendy following Wendy’s mom’s recipe. This was the first year that Latkes appeared at the Christmas party, and it was the first dish to be completely eaten up.
  • Philippine-style ham, slow-roasted in a sweet and sour beer-based sauce, cooked by Mrs. Patricio, a long-time friend of the family and wife of one of the principal sponsors (a Filipino tradition) at our wedding.
  • Shrimp egg rolls, cooked by Jamie, my cousin by way of common-law marriage, who is Vietnamese.
  • Lengua, a Filipino stew made of ox or beef tongue in a savoury mushroom sauce, prepared by Uncle Mars and Auntie Patty.
  • Chocolate cheesecake made by my Aunt Kaye, who is of Scots descent.

I mentioned that at next year’s party, my cousin Kara will have already married her Irish fiance Ryan (who’ll move here) and that I’ll make sure we have some Guinness on hand. I also got a nice Christmas card from my Korean in-laws and mentioned that  my cousin Barb in Ohio — who’s from the Irish-American branch of the family (we’re related through my great-grandfather, James O’Hara) — was asking for some information so she could complete her family tree research. Late that evening after everthing wound down, we got a long-distance call from Glasgow with a woman who spoke with a thick Scottish brogue. It was Aunt Reenie, who was asking to speak to Aunt Kaye, who had already left.

If variety is the spice of life, our family is one hot tamale.


Chanukah, Night Five: And the Dreidel Will Rock!

Okay, I’ll admit it — we Filipinos don’t rock the airwaves that much. As far as rock and pop music in North America goes, I can think of only two Pinoys: Joey Santiago from the Pixies and (a.k.a. Allen Lindo) from the Black Eyed Peas.

However, Wendy’s people have been bringing the noise from almost the very beginning. From DJ Alan Freed who popularized the term “rock and roll” (and later, “payola”) to the Beastie Boys, the Jewish contribution to rock music is documented online at Big thanks to the wife for pointing out this site!

Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

The Boxing Day Shooting

A Little Background

Boxing Day,

for those of you not familiar with it, is a statutory holiday in Canada

(as well as the UK, Australia and New Zealand) that takes place on

December 26th. While folklorists have debated its origins for years,

it’s associated with post-Christmas bargain sales these days. Stores

typically open early and sell their wares at sale prices, often at

drastic markdown. Most stores keep the sales going all week, but Boxing

Day marks the start of the bargains — and the crowds. Sales-wise, what

the day after Thanksgiving is to Americans, the day after Christmas is to Canadians.

The Yonge/Dundas intersection

has been big hangout for Accordion City teens since I was one. It’s

right on top of a subway station, which makes it very accessible.

There’s an H&M, a Gap, and an Old Navy all within falling distance

of this intersection, and if you walk a block south, you’ll also hit a

Roots, Urban Outfitters and the entire Eaton Centre shopping mall.

Walk a block north to Yonge and Gould,

and you’ll be at the an intersection featuring HMV, Sam the Record Man

and Sunrise Records, a Foot Locker, Pizza Pizza, Future Shop and a

number of other clothing and electronics shops. For a teenager who’s

flush with a little extra Christmas gift cash, this is one of the go-to

spots downtown (the other being my old neighbourhood, Queen Street


Needless to say, this intersection is always jam-packed

with people on Boxing Day. During the unemployed Christmas of 2002, I

busked the corner on Boxing Day and made $250 in about five hours.

The Shooting


the afternoon of boxing day, a drive-by shooting took place at Yonge

and Gould. Witness reports say that two men in a BMW were seen leaning

out the windows and firing towards the sidewalk on the west side of the

street. Although they were apparently firing at members of a rival gang,

a number of innocent bystanders, including an off-duty police officer

(who didn’t have his sidearm with him, since he was off-duty), were

injured. Worse still, a fifteen-year old girl, Jane Creba, was killed. She is the 78th homicide victim this year, 52 of which were shootings.

The two men who are believed to have been in the BMW were arrested some distance away from the shootings at Castle Frank station. One of them is 17 years old and under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, cannot be named. The other is 20-year old Andre Thompson, whose background reads like a character from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas:

Mr. Thompson, who remains in custody until his next court

appearance, was released just before Christmas from Maplehurst prison

near Milton, Ont.

He had served 30 days for his role in a convenience-store robbery.

For most of the past two years he had been staying with his cousin,

Marsha Grant, 27, who has two young children and lives in a public

housing complex in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood.

Mr. Thompson, the father of a one-year-old boy, had been working at a nearby restaurant as a chef.

Fresh from the joint, there’s a “baby mama” somewhere in the picture, of no fixed address and couch-surfing in one of Toronto’s most notorious ‘hoods. This bodes ill.


end of the article would be laughable if the story behind it weren’t so

tragic. Thompson’s cousin, with whom he was staying, can’t quite bring

herself to believe that he was involved…

Ms. Grant said she was shocked to learn that he was caught up in the

events on Yonge Street on Boxing Day, but she strongly doubts that he

was the shooter.

“Andre would not be so stupid as to fire a gun into a crowd like that,” she said.

…but at the same time, was kicking him out because the cops were keeping an eye on him.

She last saw him on Christmas Eve, when she told him he was no

longer welcome to stay with her because of the constant police interest

in his movements.


lady, I know that sometimes one gets undue heat simply for not being

white, but your cousin just finished 30 days for robbery and has been

released into the community. It’s the police’s job to keep tabs on him.

An Inspiring Rant


I know got started on a rather long-winded rant about the recent spate

of shootings here in Accordion City, how immigrants were just taking

advantage of our open society and how unsafe he felt since coming back

from New York.

The “immigrants were just here to take advantage”

remark was easy to tackle in his case. The reason he’d come back here

from NYC was that he’d been deported.

After living there illegally for the better part of a decade, he was

stopped at the border after a quick visit here, unable to provide any

sort of proof that his primary residence was here in Canada. (If you’re

wondering about what this person was like, I can summarize him without

compromising his identity: caucasian of Anglo descent, works in

marketing — not the sort of person who gets charged with “flying while

brown”). He may not have entered the country hidden in the back of

cargo truck or started the work day by waiting for a truck to pick him

up to take him to a below-minimum-wage odd job, but he was an illegal

immigrant, there to take advantage just the same. In debate clubs

everywhere, this sort of self-contradiction on the part of your

debating opponent is called a “gift”.

He did me a favour by ranting, however: he inspired me to go and dig deeper.

The Numbers

I’d been looking up homicide statistics for Toronto when my acquaintance began his rant, so I decided to expand my search to include New York City. At the same time, Wendy, who’s from Boston, was remarking that her hometown experiencing a record number of homicides,

so I began to look up Boston’s numbers. Then, in order to get a better

comparison, I decided to look up the same stats for an American city

that is often said to be comparable to Toronto in terms of area and

population: Chicago. The table below shows the data I was able to gather:

Homicides (1998 – 2005)

(Sources are listed at the end of this entry.)

Year Boston Chicago New York Toronto
1998 34 704 924 56
1999 31 641 903 49
2000 39 631 952 61
2001 66 665 646 61
2002 60 648 575 60
2003 41 599 596 61
2004 64 448 572 65
2005 (so far) 71 444 515 78


Calculus prof used to always say that many math problems become much

simpler if you “draw a pretty picture”. I concur, so here’s the tabular

data above, plotted as a scatter graph with lines (click the graph to

see it at full size):


New York and Chicago in the picture, the y-axis scale which counts the

number of homicides) is so large that the Boston and Toronto graphs

look almost flat. To better visualize the data, I’ve made another

scatter graph showing only the Boston and Toronto data (once again,

click it to see it at full size):


numbers took some time to gather. It seems as though many police

departments are reticent when it comes to posting crime and especially

violent crime stats online. In the end, I found that Googling newspaper

articles for end-of-year crime tallies turned out to be my best


Quick Analysis

I’ll probably go over the

numbers and would like some discussion over the next little while, but

here’s a quick analysis based on the numbers and a day or two’s

thinking about them.

New York has remarkably improved over the

past 8 years. As you can see in the graph, there’s a steady downward

trend in the numbers. In the period covered by the graph, the number of

homicides there has dropped by 44%. If you were to go back to 1990,

this drop becomes way more dramatic: the drop from 1990’s homicide

count of 2,254 represents a decline in murders by over three-quarters.

Chicago has also improved, with 37% fewer homicides between 1998 and


Toronto and Boston are experiencing the opposite: both

cities are showing an upward trend in homicides. Over the same period,

Toronto’s murders have increased by 39% and Boston’s by 108%.


course, these numbers would be more meaningful if applied as a ratio of

homicides to population. Murder rates are most often measured in terms

of murders per 100,000 population. Based on metropolitan populations

(taken from Wikipedia), Toronto’s 2005 murder rate to date is 1.5,

while Boston’s is 1.2. In the meantime, Chicago’s is 4.8 and New York’s

is 2.3.

So far, we have the “what” behind the story. The “why”, and more importantly, what I like to call the “Gideon Strauss Question” — “what is to be done?”

is going to take more time. I’ll post more thoughts later, but in the

meantime, if you have any opinions or even better, data, please feel

free to put in your two cents in the comments.

Appendix: Where the Numbers Came From



New York



Chanukah, Night Four: The Chanukah Song, Part II

It’s rather odd that Eight Crazy Nights, Adam Sandler’s animated film about Chanukah, has been translated into the languages of two out of three Axis powers, but it shows how far the world has come in sixty years. Well, that and the fact that the biggest Axis fans probably live in Montana and Saudi Arabia now.

I hear that the film isn’t terribly good, but being good isn’t necessarily what gets a work dubbed into other languages: I believe that Baywatch is still the number syndicated show worldwide.

More than one version of The Chanukah Song exists, each with a new set of celebrities who are at least part Jewish. Part III was written for the movie, but I unfortunately don’t have it. What I do have and now pass on to you is The Chanukah Song Part II [3.7MB, MP3]. Here are its lyrics (which I found online and fixed for bad spelling and ee cummings damage)…

The Chanukah Song Part II

Put on your yarmulke

Its time for Chanukah

So much fun-akah
To celebrate Chanukah

Chanukah is the festival of lights

Instead of one day of presents

We get eight crazy nights

When you feel like the only kid in town

Without a Christmas tree

Here’s a new list of people who are Jewish

Just like you and me

Winona Ryder,

Drinks Manischewitz wine

Then spins a dreidel with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein

Guess who gives and receives

Loads of Chanukah toys

The girls from Veruca Salt and all three Beastie Boys

Lenny Kravitz is half Jewish,

Courtney Love is half too

Put them together

What a funky bad ass Jew

We got Harvey Keitel

And Flashdance-r Jennifer Beals

Yasmine Bleeth from Baywatch is Jewish

And yes her boobs are real

Put on that yarmulke

Its time for Chanukah

2 time Ocsar winning Dustin Hoffman-akah

celebrates Chanukah

O.J. Simpson:

Still not a Jew

But guess who is,

The guy who does the voice for Scooby-Doo

Bob Dylan was born a Jew

Then he wasn’t

but now he’s back,

Mary Tyler Moore’s husband is Jewish

‘Cause we’re pretty good in the sack.

Guess who got bar-mitzvahed

On the PGA tour

No I’m not talking about Tiger Woods

I’m talkin’ about Mr. Happy Gilmore.

So many Jews are in the show biz

Bruce Springsteen isn’t Jewish

But my mother thinks he is.

Tell the world-amanaka

It’s time to celebrate Chanukah

It’s not pronounced Chah-nakah

The C is silent in Chanukah

So read your Hooked on Phonic-kah

Get drunk in Tijuana-kah

If you really really wanna-kah

Have a happy happy happy happy Chanukah!


Chanukah, Night Three: The Chanukah Song

Adam Sandler first performed The Chanukah Song [3.3MB, MP3] on Saturday Night Live. Written to make Jewish children feel less isolated during Christmas season, The Chanukah Song  is essentially a laundry list of famous Jewish people, and it’s my gift to you for the third night of Chanukah.  Enjoy!

It took me a while to find a lyrics page for the song that wasn’t rife with ridiculous spelling mistakes or that stupid ee cummings non-capitalization (acceptable for poetry and programming only). For the greater benefit of the Internet, I present the lyrics with proper spelling, capitalization and hyperlinks.

The Chanukah Song

Put on your yarmulke

Here comes Chanukah

So much fun-ukah

To celebrate Chanukah

Chanukah is the festival of lights

Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights

When you feel like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree

Here’s a list of people who are Jewish just like you and me

David Lee Roth Lights the menorah

So do James Caan, Kirk Douglas, and the late Dinah Shore-ah

Guess who eats together at the Carnegie Deli

Bowser from Sha Na Na and Arthur Fonzerelli

Paul Newman’s
half Jewish, Goldie Hawn’s half too

Put them together…what a fine lookin’ Jew!
You don’t need Deck the Halls or Jingle Bell Rock

’Cause you can spin a dreidel with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock (both Jewish!)

Put on your yarmulke

It’s time for Chanukah

The owner of the Seattle Supersonic-ahs

Celebrates Chanukah

O.J. Simpson: not a Jew

But guess who is? Hall of famer Rod Carew (he converted)

We got Ann Landers and her sister Dear Abby

Harrison Ford’s a quarter Jewish — not too shabby

Some people think that Ebenezer Scrooge is

Well he’s not, but guess who is: all Three Stooges

So many Jews are in showbiz

Tom Cruise isn’t, but I heard his agent is

Tell your friend Veronica

It’s time to celebrate Chanukah

I hope I get a harmonica

Oh this lovely, lovely Chanukah

So drink your gin and tonic-ah

And smoke your marijuana-kah

If you really, really wanna-kah

Have a happy, happy, happy, happy Chanukah