Saturday, November 29, 2003

Canadian Blog Wars! (As if...)

The most important thing that Professor Desmond Morton imparted to me at McGill was that the idea that Canadians are peacekeepers is more myth than anything else.
Nonetheless, it can't be denied that there is some truth to the stereotype of Canadians as quiet, polite compromisers.

To wit: the recent Blog battle between Macleans back-pager Paul Wells and National Post columnist Colby Cosh. Here's how it went:

Round 1: Wells writes a blog entry about how the nuts and bolts of public service, legislation, etc. "has vanished from the Press Gallery’s priority list." He blames (in part) his old paper The National Post, which he says has diminished in quality steadily over the past few years.

Round 2: Colby Cosh responds: "[Wells'] self-interested claim that the Post was so much better when he was there has now grown too noxious though incessant repetition to be tolerated, even if true, and sits uneasily alongside a self-conscious attempt to clamber up to a moral summit of media criticism. "

Round 3: Wells refutes Cosh, writing that "Colby's snide assertion that I have criticized the Post only since I left is at odds with the record, which I would demonstrate if I could get any access to Infomart around here." [Note: Does anyone else find it dubious that Wells would ever be incapable of accessing Infomart, but was capable of posting to his blog?]

Round 4: An infuriated Colby Cosh fires back by... agreeing with Wells' original points? Saying that his "original point was stoopid"?

What? Are there no fun feuds here in Canada? Not even in the blogosphere?

Come on boys! Duke it out! Sigh...

Post-script

- Alternate headers for this entry:
"Osh-Kosh, B'Gosh, Cosh!"
"Well, Inkwell, It sure is swell that All's Wells that ends Well."
"Fuck you, you Canadian journalist motherfucker!"
- I wasn't the only one who was hoping for a real dust-up.
- Maybe I should pick a fight with someone. Like, I dunno, Warren "Kick-ass" Kinsella?

Friday, November 28, 2003

Ong, Ong-Ong, Ong, Ong

Being a writer and a fan of Neil Postman, I've always been skeptical of the displacement of the rational written word by the emotional irrational medium of television earlier last century. What I haven't considered as much is the oral culture that writing supplanted. Thanks to colleague Jeet Heer, who writes for the Boston Globe as well as the Post, for introducing me to the work of Father Walter J. Ong, close intellectual ally of Marshall McLuhan, in a recent article.
Heer writes:
"[To Ong,] written language was a mixed blessing. Societies governed by primary orality were incapable of ornate syntax and abstraction, but they were rich with personal interaction. By contrast, writing was "voiceless, immobile, devoid of all warmth, not interactive but isolated, not part of the human lifeworld but utterly above and beyond it.'' Ever since Plato, the written word has detached the speaker from the audience. The invention of movable type in the 15th century, along with the Protestant Reformation that followed, privileged the rigours of individual introspection over the riches of communal experience."
Ong also wrote about the shift to new technologies like television, in which he saw similarities to the older oral traditions, Heer explains. "In his examinations of popular culture, enlivened by the teaching he did in St. Louis' inner-city schools, Ong was impressed by the parallels between traditional oral societies and the media-rich environment of young Americans. He noted there were similarities between Homer's oral world, where warriors prove themselves not just by their physical strength but also by their rhetorical prowess, and contemporary pseudo-sports such as professional wrestling and the African-American street game of "the dozens,'' with its competitive insults and yo mammas."
Must read more of this Ong character.

Speaking Ill of the Long-Dead?

Who's the most-overrated president of all time? Asked this in one of my U.S. History classes a few years ago, I replied John F. Kennedy. Is the 40th anniversay of his assassination a good time to bring this up? Well, Christopher Hitchens thinks so. He really thinks so.

Post-script

- Yes, the title of the post is a gratuitous and inappropriate Reference to Sisqo's 'The Thong Song.' I admit it.
- Apparently, onthefence.blogspot.com is "a place where people of all sexualities can come and learn that they are not alone in many aspects." No, my site is not connected, but thanks for asking.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

New York City

In the Big Apple for a series of movie junkets for my employer. In the interest of keeping my job, I won't say anything about the absurdity of junkets or the obnoxious whores/sycophants that comprise 33% of junket journalists.
In the interest of increasing my hit count, however, I will mention the three movies I was here for, and all the stars I "interviewed". (I put it in quotation marks because for most of these it was me, the star and 30 other journalists all fighting to ask questions.) The movies: Big Fish, Something's Gotta Give and Stuck on You.
The stars: Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet, Ewan McGregor, Alison Lohman, Steve Buscemi, Danny Devito, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Eva Mendez, Bobby Farrelly and Cher.
Ha ha! I can feel my hit count increasing my the second. Wait! People I didn't interview include: Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and XXX.

Post-script

Post-junket now, still in New York tracking a couple of stories. No longer in the care of the Hollywood studios, I am now staying with a fine young multimedia artist who goes by the name of Vivianne Hedgehog. Check out her stuff.
Remember Boy George? Of course you do. He's still an icon and a brilliant musician, but don't expect anything Taboo from his Broadway musical. More on this later.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Memories of Shish Taouk

Went back to Montreal this weekend and ate at Boustan twice. Man, there just ain't nothing like a Boustan Shish Taouk plate at 3 in the morning.
I'm glad they remembered me. When I lived on Mackay St in my last year at McGill, I ordered from Boustan an average of twice a week. And when I was passing by, I'd often drop in, just to look at that picture of Trudeau eating a falafel there.
I hate to link to The McGill Tribune -- the archrival of the McGill paper I wrote at -- but this article is quite good. Learn the story behind Mr. Boustan. Also, shocking evidence of two-tier healthcare in Quebec: one tier for falafel vendors and another for the hoi polloi.

Post-script

So why is there no Shish Taouk in Toronto? All there seems to be is the inferior twirling Middle Eastern meat chicken Shawarma/Shwarma.
The woman at my local schwarma (god knows how you spell it) shop says it's because Shish Taouk is Lebanese and there are few Lebanese in Toronto, whereas Montreal has lots of Lebanese.
Anyone who can confirm that out there?

Monday, November 17, 2003

Sarah Kane

I'd like to recommend whole-heartedly Crave, the Sarah Kane play currently playing at the Monument Nationale in Montreal. Directed by Kate Bligh, a Temenos production. It runs for another week, so if you're in Montreal, I say go see it.

I went to see it on Saturday night, after having written this article about Kane and the popularity of her work in Montreal for The Post.

Here's Matt Radz's rave review from The Montreal Gazette. I'd like to echo his rave. It's one of the most affecting theatre experiences I've been privy to. And, like the best theatre I've seen, it keeps resonating more and more, the longer I think about it.

Post-script

- Maintained by Iain Fisher, this page is a great web resource for info about playwright Sarah Kane.

- Some have disagreed with the artistic merits of the Temenos production of Crave, notably the Hour's theatre critic Jason Whiting. In the interest of balance, here's his review.
It should be noted, however, that Whiting, who replaced the excellent Gaetan Charlebois as the Hour's critic, has personal issues with the director Kate Bligh, which I think have severely hampered his judgement here. If you know the situation, you can really read the bitter subtext here. Since he's the only critic for The Hour, I guess there was no choice but to have him review it. I hope given the bad blood, he will opt out of discussions of this play when the Montreal English Critics Circle meets next year to discuss the MECCA awards.
-In the interest of exposing all biases, it should also be noted that I have known Kate for a number of years now and have worked with her in the past. Which makes me all the more happier that this production is so good. There's nothing better than seeing a friend succeed.
The Strange Google Connection Between Goatse and Scientology

Okay, first of all, for those of you who are unfamiliar with "goatse", let me explain. There's a popular internet picture of a man's bumhole that is affectionately known as goatse: Guy Opening Ass To Show Everyone. (Check out a thorough definition at Urban Dictionary.)

Silly morons everywhere on the web link to this picture on message boards, but disguise the links. It's a sophomoric joke that has turned into a horrible trend. Now when surfing the web you never know when what you click on will take you to goatse. (Unless you're smart, of course, and check to see what is being linked to before clicking on it.)

Anyway, so while looking into the goatse phenomenon I searched for "goatse" in Google. Try it yourself.

Now, see what's at the top? It's a link to the Google Directory entry on Society - Religion and Spirituality - Opposing Views - Scientology .

What's going on here?

Well, if I were to wager, I'd say it's a practical joke, either by some clever hacker or by the folks at Google themselves.

My guess is with Google. Google, you may have heard, was in a fight with the Scientologists back in 2002. The Scientologists didn't like that when you searched for Scientology on the Internet, a lot of anti-Scientology sites popped up. So they asked Google to no longer link to one site (www.xenu.net), threatening to take them to court under the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copywright Act).

The Scientologists' reasoning was this: The anti-scientology sites Google linked to contained passages from copyrighted texts. Therefore, Google -- by linking to these sites -- was spreading copyrighted texts.

This is absurd. That's like the recording industry suing Google because it links to sites at which you can download mp3s.

The Scientology-Google case is not only absurd: It's chilling and a blow against freedom of expression. Linking is not a crime. Thankfully, it seems that xenu.net is once again in the search results for "Scientology".

My guess: the fine folks at Google connected "Goatse" and "Scientology" as a sort of mini-revenge.

Wonder how long that'll last?

Post-script

I see at least someone else has noticed the Google joke. It's mentioned in a discussion at slashdot. Frankly, I'm surprised no one has made a bigger noise about it.

For more information about the battles between the DMCA and freedom of expression on the Web, check out www.chillingeffects.org.
An article on the Google/Scientology case.
The Church of Scientology has waged many electronic campaigns against anti-Scientologists. They hadan anti-scientology page www.xenu.net removed from archive.org, aka the WayBackMachine. See discussion here. Also, search at www.chillingeffects.org for Scientology, like this.
Also, a good recent article on Google in The Guardian.