Friday, December 24, 2004

happyholidaysfinal
All right, so my family has staged an intervention and they are demanding that I cease blogging until the New Year.
Sounds like a smart idea to me. If I don't stop this silly holiday blogging soon, I'm going to totally post the cat. See you all in 2005.

The Year in Bevilacqua

- Spotlight on 'Acquaman.
- Maurizio Bevilacqua: Master of his own Domain!
- Federal Government Begins Investigation Of [a different] Bevilacqua.

Memoirs of a Cannon Doll


In honour of this festive time, here is my article about appearing in the Nutcracker, from last week's National Post.

When I was asked to be a Cannon Doll in the National Ballet
of Canada's production of The Nutcracker, I was tickled pink. I
figured it was a distinct honour to follow in the footsteps of
Pierre Berton, former mayor Barbara Hall and the National Post's
founding editor-in-chief, Ken Whyte, to name just a few of the
grandees who have appeared in the two-minute cameo.

But then, glancing at this year's guests, it became apparent to me
that -- other than Rick Mercer and Doug Gilmour -- the list was
composed entirely of Toronto arts and entertainment reporters.
Hacks! All of them!

"It's clear that it wasn't my dancing ability they picked me for --
it was because I work in the media," I wrote in a crestfallen e-mail
to Post news reporter Siri Agrell, whom I had asked to accompany me
onstage. "Shock! I feel used!"

But Siri's enthusiasm was undampened. "I want to be a Sugar Plum
Fairy," she wrote back.

Backstage at the Hummingbird Centre last Sunday afternoon, any
qualms I have about making a fool of myself in front of a sold-out
matinee have been replaced by a yearning for that place all
performers (and journalists who have put aside theatrical ambitions
for the lucrative arts-reporting industry) lust for: The Spotlight.
"We're going to be stars," I tell Siri as we wait to be briefed by
Peter Ottmann, the ballet master.

Ottmann, who looks a lot like the guy who played Q on Star Trek:
The Next Generation, shows us a short instructional video: Siri and
I are to walk onstage with dancer Nathaniel Kozlow, who will wheel a
cannon in front of him. Siri will act frightened and try to stop
Nathaniel from firing streamers into the audience, while I will
gleefully urge him on in his pre-emptive strike against the
bourgeoisie. Then we'll turn the cannon on the Evil Rat Czar,
assassinate him and redistribute all the farmland in Nutcrackonia.

Or something like that. I'm a little shaky on the plot.

Back in the dressing room, I have many questions for wardrobe
assistant Grant Heaps as he shows Siri and me our costumes: Did
hockey star Gilmour wear the same pair of clown pants I am now
slipping into? And were they cleaned afterward? Really, thoroughly
dry-cleaned or, preferably, soaked in bleach?

Being backstage with half-dressed ballerinas isn't quite the
titillating thrill I had expected. First of all, there are about 60
children involved in James Kudelka's production. And since it's
sometimes hard to tell them apart from petite, flat-chested
ballerinas, it's best to play it safe and avert your eyes at all
times.

Besides, dancers have a reputation for being bad girlfriend
material. I'm about to ask Nathaniel if he's dated any crazy
ballerinas, when it occurs to me I'm being incredibly presumptuous.
Better to just phrase the question in a sexuality-neutral way in
case he's gay.

"So," I say casually, "I hear that women dancers are ca-raaaazy!"

"My wife used to be a dancer," Kozlow says. Oops.

Luckily, we're about to go onstage. "You know, they don't wash
those costumes, eh?" a stagehand cracks, breaking my concentration.
Thanks. Now all I can think of are Dougie Gilmour's privates.

But these sweaty thoughts evaporate upon contact with The
Spotlight. It's every bit as blissful as I remember from my McGill
Savoy Society days. That moment when you lose yourself in in the
music. The moment: you own it. You better never let it go. You only
get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity
comes once in a lifetime, yo.

It occurs to me that I am audibly rapping that Eminem song from 8
Mile. Thankfully, the orchestra is loud.

After Nathaniel, Siri and I send the Rat Czar scurrying with mime
and karate chops, we reluctantly leave the stage and return to the
dressing room. High-fives all around.

There's only one person whose approval I really need, though. And
there he is.

Ernie Abugov, the company's much-loved stage manager, who has
abided through nearly 30 years of pseudo-celebrity cameos, pops his
head in the door and gives Siri and me the thumbs-up.

"You were great," he says in his favourite-uncle sort of way.

Mission: accomplished. Nuts: cracked!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Nice work if you can get it...

Guests stars are common, but guest writers? Ricky Gervais to pen an entire episode of The Simpsons next season.
'The Perfect Storm' Dying Down

New York Times: Toronto's film and television production fading to black. Looks like it's going to get a lot worse in the new year for a lot of local actors and techies. Hollywood headed back south; Canadian productions headed to Winnipeg...

I wonder why the NYT cares? I guess this is a "good news" story for American film and television production...

(Hey -- that's a National Post picture accompanying the NYT story...)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Untie the Right

Boy, they're really posting the cat over at the Western Standard's Shotgun blog, where theocon Kathy Shaidle and retrocon Norman Spector have been duking it out like two kids in a playground. (Colby Cosh has the background.)

Can't the different colours of the Canadian conservative rainbow debate each other in a friendly fashion like The American Scene kids currently dishing on Andrew Sullivan's blog? Nope. They can't. And that, folks, is the so-called problem with Canadian Conservatism. (Not necessarily one that I am eager to solve or see solved.)

But this flame war is old news in the incestuous CanConBlogosphere... I'm a couple of days behind because I packed up my things and took the VIA train that starts near the glowing Redpath Sugar sign in Toronto and ends near the glowing Farine Five Roses sign in Montreal. Now I can bake a nice holiday cake. (Which I might wash down with the giant Guarantee milk bottle.)

As the holidays are here, I'm trying to post lightly and post light thoughts until 2005 shows its ugly mug. So no deep thoughts for the next couple of weeks, k?
Taking the Christ back out of Christmas...

Russell Smith has a nice (though, as always, a little too much) column about how unChristian Christmas is in today's Globe.

The debate over the word "Christmas" is somewhat similar to that over the word "marriage," I feel. Both are words that mean different things to different people depending on how secular or religious they are. For my historically-Christian family, "Christmas" has always (in my lifetime) meant "the time of year when we have a big meal and decorate a tree and listen to Nat King Cole and exchange gifts with the family." Someone may raise a glass to baby Jesus and wish him a happy birthday, but that's about it.

Usually the different definitions of "Christmas" or "marriage" co-exist peacefully. But then some smart guy draws attention to the discrepancies or launches a court case and everyone gets up in arms, their own personal definitions threatened.

So here's the question: Do religious Christians really want non-religious people to say "Merry Christmas, if what they mean is "Happy holidays!" and not "Enjoy your celebration of the birth of Christ!"? Why not see "Happy Holidays" as "civil unions" to "Christmas"'s "marriage"? Encouraging non-religious or ambiguously-religious people to say "Merry Christmas" is totally gonna backfire...

How about this: You can EITHER complain about Christ being left out of Christmas OR complain about people saying the "politicially correct" Happy Holidays. Anyone caught doing both these things must realise the contradiction and skip Christmas altogether.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Posting the Cat

So, this weekend, I was tooling around the blogosphere, when I landed on Pogge's site and saw that he had put up a picture of a couple of kittens. "Oh no," I thought. "I can't believe Pogge's posted the cat."

And then the little neologism lightbulb in my head went off.

I hereby propose a new expression for that moment when a great blog goes off the tracks: Posting the cat. (Cat bloggers, of course, are excluded from the expression.) It could be the blogosphere's very own Jump the shark.

Here are a couple of usage examples:

- "Man, Andrew Sullivan totally posted the cat after Kerry lost the election and he started droning on about his sleep apnea."
- "Wonkette’s book deal is a sure sign that she’s posted the cat."

And when a blogger abandons his or her blog without saying goodbye, I suggest the expression “eaten by the cats.” For instance:

- "Andrew Coyne had a fine blog until he was eaten by the cats."

Oh, and when someone eats a hamburger too quickly and gets sick, we'll call that a "regurgiburger."

Somebody stop me!

Post-script

While Pogge has literally posted the cat, he has not metaphorically posted the cat. In fact, he probably has some new readers thanks to a prominent shout-out from media critic Antonia Zerbisias in her Sunday Toronto Star column. Torontoist, the fine group blog where I post about local theatre, got a mention in that article, too.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Haines: Her Way.

haineserLast night, I went to see a solo concert by Emily Haines, the lead singer of Metric. What I love about Haines is that detached voice of hers that encourages listeners to fill in the blanks: P_IN, L__S, S__NES_, _EAL_US_, DE__ES_I__, M__ _A_ LO__, J_Y, D__IR_, AN__R.
In her band Metric, these spaces are filled with a constant beat from the bass, which keeps you going like a clock ticking towards deadline. Any anxiety is plugged with rawk.
When it’s just her and a grand piano and bits of Guy Maddin’s films projected on a screen, however – as it was last night at at the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto -- the blanks are all you think about. It’s unsettling. You listen to the gap between her voice and the piano and try to decipher her emotions and, in the process, your own emotions. It’s like trying to see an object behind a column, but you can’t walk around to the other side. It’s like peering over police tape, trying to figure out what happened to that neighbour you knew only in passing, and silently hoping that you don’t end up eaten by your cats, too.
It didn’t soothe any nerves that Haines didn’t say a single word during the show. No hellos, no banter, no goodbyes. A quick bow at the end and that’s it.
Not particularly satisfying or emotionally cathartic, which is what rock concerts and cabarets are supposed to be. It was more like a hollowing out, like we were half a cantaloupe and she was eating us with a spoon.
As an evening of theatre or art or experience, though, it was worthwhile. It wasn’t a smoothly paved road; it was a speedbump. It’s one of those events that your mind wanders during and you have ambiguous feelings about at the end, but the next morning you wake up and feel like that was really something.

The feeling leaving last night was a little bit like the feeling you get after meeting an ex-girlfriend for coffee. An ex-girlfriend with whom you supposedly had a “mutual break-up,” but really it was her that left.
She was as fun as you remembered, but her laughs weren’t as full and her charm was contained. And your conversation was a little bit more about her job and her family and your job and your family and a little less about her or you. And the stories you told her were a little more about the stories and a little less about the way you told them. And you got a warm hug at the end, but you remember warmer warms, different shades of warmth entirely.
She seemed less beautiful, but somehow more real.
And you wonder who this person is, who you thought you knew so well.
Is she seeing someone else? You think: I just want to know. I don’t care. I just want to know.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Another National Post Blogger

Yep. Rock 'n' Roll Nigga now sits 15 feet away from On the Fence.

A question: If Popwherry does indeed sit 50 feet away from Rock 'n' Roll Nigga and the angle formed by the line PW --> RNRN --> OTF is approximately 120 degrees, what is the distance between Popwherry's and On the Fence's cubicles in metres?

First person to answer this mathematical question correctly gets this On The Fence prize: A copy of Lights, Camera, Democracy! Selected essays by Lewis Lapham. (Shipping to anywhere in Canada included.)

And in other blog news...

I'm enjoying this one. And maybe if I post something about it on my blog, I'll remember to add it to my blogroll. Yeah.
Flirty Pretty Thing

My interview with Audrey Tautou -- in which I unapolegetically fawn over the star of Amelie and A Very Long Engagement -- is online at the National Post and free for your online consumption:
[T]iny 26-year-old Tautou, her legs barely touching the ground under her chair, is contemplating the not-entirely-remote possibility of receiving a best-actress Academy Award nomination for A Very Long Engagement, a sweeping First World War epic opening today across Canada that reunites her with Amelie's director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

As with previous questions, Tautou tosses her eyes toward the ceiling of the Toronto hotel room, as if the answer might be hidden up there in the stucco. As she thinks, she emits a "buuuuhh" sound through her pursed lips, the French equivalent of a "hmmmm."

"That, for me, that's Chinese," she says finally, shaking her head. "It's not at all something that I can envisage or find real in any way.

"For me, it is a little bit like as if someone told me, 'Oh, you're going to walk on the moon.' Well, sure, technically, it's possible. You can put me in a rocket, and I can go. But I don't have the training, I'm not the best candidate."
While I had a fine time talking to Ms. Tautou, apparently she wasn't as GGG with all interviewers. In yesterday's Now, Cameron Bailey writes, "Tautou clearly hates interviews." This wasn't clear to me at all.
I suspect Tautou was cheerful because I interviewed her in French and she could dismiss her translator. And so, this seems like a propitious moment to thank Verstehen for getting my very clunky French up to interview levels over the past six months.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Irony Brings Us Together... for the Holidays.

Paul Tuns has some links to extreme right-wing paraphenalia just in time for Christmas. He suggests that you buy something for your favourite liberal-hater, but, ya know, I just can’t see a conservative wearing one of these gawdy t-shirts. After all, conservatives are kind of… conservative. No offence.

I do, however, think that some of these could be the hot ticket item this year for your friendly neighbourhood jaded urban hipster. This "Bush Kills Terrorists Dead" t-shirt? Come on. Some guy in a trucker hat is sitting at the Drake Hotel just waiting to wear it... And the gal next to him is totally slapping herself and wishing she had thought of naming her band I (heart) Halliburton.

And this beer stein with the Statue of Liberty holding up a machine gun? Even I want one of those.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

There will be a hockey season. Ron MacLean guarantees it.

The story today is that the NHL lockout ain't going to end and the players and owners are more divided than ever. But if you're a hockey fan, don't sweat it: There will be a season, says Ron MacLean.

On Monday night at the Gemini Awards, MacLean personally guaranteeed it backstage. Unfortunately, this quote got buried in my National Post article about the Geminis (not online), because, well, it wasn't particularly relevant to what I was writing. I figured I should highlight it here to give hope to the depressed masses:
In a subsequent [Gemini] sketch, out-of-work sportscasters Ron MacLean and Don Cherry from Hockey Night in Canada auditioned to be V.J.s on MuchMusic. MacLean, who picked up the Gemini for best host in a sports program for Hockey Day in Canada, told reporters backstage that the hockey lockout that has kept him off the air will soon be over. "I guarantee you here tonight ... the season will resume late in January, or by Groundhog Day," he said.
So there you have it. Straight from the horse-faced man's mouth.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Shooting the (MSN) Messenger

From today's National Post: Technology spawning teen 'monster parties'.
Cellphones and text messaging are allowing teenagers to quickly spread news of a house part to friends, causing controlled gatherings to explode into "monster parties," according to police.

Toronto officers issued a warning yesterday about out-of-control teenage parties after 18-year-old Tanner Hopkins was stabbed to death on Saturday in the driveway of his family's upscale home.
In other same news, stabbings are the rise:
"I see a trend with young people, I see a trend with weapons being used more often," police Chief Julian Fantino said Monday as he addressed the city's third fatal knifing involving teens this month.

"When you look at how . . . these stabbings occurred, they're really the kind of things that years ago, at most, it would have been a punch-up. Now we seem to be intent on pulling out a knife and plunging it into the heart of a young person."
Yes, two completely different angles on the same police press conference. Which one would you choose?

Monday, December 13, 2004

And the winner is...

...WestJet! Thanks a bunch for the advice, y'all.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival was a good guess Zeke (Free Roadsworth!), but it's a different festival that I'm going to around the same time. First person* to e-mail jkelly -at- gmail.com with the name of the exciting Winnipeg festival I'm attending in January gets an limited-edition mp3 of my old high school rock band playing "Horses" -- a song about eating horses that was especially funny when I was in Grade 11.

*People who already know (ie. friends, those who approve my travel requests) are not eligible.

Friday, December 10, 2004

How should I fly?

Here's a query that perhaps the blogosphere and its readers might be able to help me with. I'm booking a flight to Winnipeg in January (Whaaa!?! I know.) and Westjet and Jetsgo have return flights available for $230.28 all inclusive, while Air Canada has some for $230.29 all inclusive. I bet if I argued, Air Canada would give me the penny, so it really comes down to quality.

Tooling through the blogosphere I see a number of people have horror stories about JetsGo, and a few have serious vendettas against Air Canada. That makes me think WestJet is the best option. Is that the right choice? What are your experiences?
What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

In today's Globe and Mail, Lorna Dueck admiringly quotes from the book Divorcing Marriage that the advent of same-sex marriage will "deflect... marriage from the support of children to the mere affirmation of sexual commitment between adults." When I read stuff like that I just have to slap myself on the forehead and go, "Dude, where have you been the last fifty years?" There are just certain arguments that social conservatives make where you feel like they must live in a vacuum where they've never heard of divorce or adoption or met a happy gay couple or an unhappy heterosexual couple and there is no access to cable television.

A lot of supporters of gay marriage find social conservatives hateful. I've seen that side. I covered an anti-gay marriage protest last year where one pastor railed against gays and their "AIDS parade" and said that SARS was punishment for Torontonians wicked behaviour. The organizers of the rally were embarrassed by this, but the crowd cheered almost as loudly as they had for the previous speakers.

For the most part, however, I don't it really has to do with hate. I often find them admirable, these modern Don Quixotes. I find all traditionalists touching as they struggle to ressurrect Golden Ages that never existed. I think it's very human.

On the other hand, as a person who grew up in a "non-traditional" home, living mostly with my mother, I find their obsession with "traditional" families a little, well, obsessive. (They remind me a bit of ardent vegans who insist that there is only one ethical and healthy way to eat.) After all, my sister and I turned out quite well. At least I don't think we're any more or less buggered up than the people I know who grew up in nuclear families.

In high school, I'd say about half my friends had divorced parents. I also knew about five kids who had a parent came out of the closet while they were in high school. Seven years on (Good god, has it been seven years?) I can't see any correlation between the parental structure at home and how they turned out. (The people I knew who eventually came out as gay generally came from the more traditional families, now that I think about it.)

In short, I'm not convinced by any of these "But what about the children?" arguments because my first-hand experience has shown them to be pure bunko.

I've always felt that the issue of same-sex marriage was a bit of a funny one for marriage-lovin' conservatives to be opposed to. As a child of divorced parents, I was originally sort of ambivalent about the whole issue of same-sex marriage because I am sort of ambivalent about marriage in general. But to see people fighting for the right to get married – well, it makes the whole concept seem a little more worthwhile. I’m less ambivalent about it today.

Same-sex marriage isn't erosion; it's evolution. To me, yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling is the beginning of a rebuilding of an institution (and I'm talking about secular marriage, not religious marriage) that hasn’t made a lot of sense since the 1960s. Because the concept of marriage hadn’t changed with the times, it fell to bits. I grew up in a time when it was cool to say that marriage was bogus and paternalistic. The introduction of same-sex marriage makes the institution relevant again. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I can speak for myself: I will be more likely to get married after same-sex marriage is fully legalized in Canada than I would have been otherwise. Isn't that what social conservatives want?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Cannon fodder

Last year around this time, I went to see National Ballet of Canada's annual production of The Nutcracker for the first time and blogged the following:
It's a tradition to have local celebrities play bit roles in The Nutcracker and James Kudelka's version is no exception. Last night the two cannon dolls -- they stand on either side of a cannon that is wheeled out and fires confetti and streamers into the first few rows -- were The Globe and Mail Review editor Elizabeth Renzetti and her husband reporter Doug Saunders.
Ms. Renzetti's performance, as the stoic cannon doll, was passable, if a bit bland. It was her husband who stole the cameo as the nervous cannon doll. He chewed the scenery like a real pro, ripping into it with his incisors and then chomping on it with his molars until it became indiscernible sludge. He rolled around on the floor silently screeching in staged stage fright. Pure brill. I will never read his weekend column the same way again.
A friend of mine suggested recently that it would be much more entertaining if they actually shot these pseudo-celebs out of the cannon in lieu of streamers. Tsk, tsk...
This just in from the Famous Last Words department: On Sunday I'm going back to see The Nutcracker again, but this time fellow National Post reporter Siri Agrell and I will be the cannon dolls.
On the scale of pseudo-celebrity, I rank well down below Saunders and Renzetti -- I sometimes think of myself as the National Post's Guy Dixon -- so it is only fair that my mockery of those two should be returned to me tenfold.
(I am curious, though, to know if I am the first blogger to guest in The Nutcracker. Obviously, it wasn't for that reason that I was invited, but it still would make for a nice addition to my resumé.)
I should note that Saunders -- still my favourite Globe columnist, by the by -- was a good sport about the kidding, writing: "Though I knew that my status as a local hack would expose me to various pains and humiliations, never did I dream that I would some day suffer the sting of the dance critic upon my own not so well toned skin. Thanks to the magic of the blog, and your own strange obsessions, I can now add this honour to my list of accomplishments. I would never stoop to contesting a critical judgement, but my wife would like it to be known that she considered her performance measured and understated rather than 'bland and passable.'"

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

See the world, promote democracy, eat genuine Chicken Kyiv...

If you'd like to be one of the 1000 Canadian election observers the Ukrainian Canadian Congress hopes to send to Ukraine later this month for the do-over, click here for an application form.

If you'd like to be part of the federal government's official delegation of 500 election observers, click here to apply via CANADEM. Applications are due 5:00 PM, Thursday, December 9.
Downloader's Guilt Assuaged!

PiracyPlopping across the Internet this week, I came across this article about Canadian musicians pressing the federal government to update its copyright laws:
"The current Copyright Act ... damages the industry, the economy and our artists' careers," said [Canadian Recording Industry Association president] Graham Henderson, noting even the Supreme Court of Canada has recommended the federal government update copyright law.

"Downloading, file-swapping, peer-to-peer networks -- these are all euphemisms for piracy, pure and simple. It is devastating to the Canadian music industry."
After reading articles like this, I occasionally get pangs of Downloader's Guilt. So, in this case, the next time I passed HMV I stopped in an picked up a couple of albums that I have been listening to in mp3 format for the past few months: The Arcade Fire -- Funeral and Joanna Newsom -- The Milk-eyed Mender.

This, alas, did not relieve my mental distress. Now I have Buyer's Rage. Over $50 for just two albums? Rifriggindonkulous!Sharing

(The HMV cashier, by the by, a person whose career is presumably in peril because of Internet piracy, laughed at me when I told her I had Downloader's Guilt. "Why?" she asked.)

Anyway, perhaps "file-swapping" and "file-sharing" are euphemisms, but "piracy" is a worse dysphemism. Maybe Blue Rodeo is indeed hurt by downloading, but not in the "Arrrr! I'm goina cut owt yer blood-pumper 'n' steal yer booty!" sort of way. And other musicians owe their success to downloading, including the ones who got but a tiny slice of my $50 since they both have been pushed into renown by several high-profile mp3 blogs...

I realise this is a really stale, crusty debate. But, really, how are you ever going to get people to spend over $50 for two albums again? And is there a way to discuss the issue without -phemism? The entire Internet is a -phemism.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Brecht, Beckett, Bret Hart

You know, I'd love to fill this blog with Nestruckian insight all day long, but there are other things I must tend to from time to time.

There is, for instance, the National Post, where I work as a reporter in the Arts & Life section. My latest contribution -- an interview with wrestler-turned-thespian Bret "The Hitman" Hart -- is online and free!
"Wrestlers might be the very best theatre actors in the world, but never get credit for it," the strongman formerly known to the world as "The Hitman" says, looking rather dapper in a grey sweater with reading glasses hanging from the neck. "I remember I wrestled an hour marathon match for Wrestlemania -- XII, I think it was -- and I would put that match up there with anything Laurence Olivier ever had to remember from Shakespeare or Hamlet or anything."

Five years since retreating from pro wrestling after a career-ending concussion, Hart can still muster up some of the over-the-top bravado of the sports entertainment world; he just expresses it at a lower decibel level now. "To remember when to duck and when to turn around; when someone's diving off the top rope, you have to catch them right on the floor; the importance of protecting your opponent: They're all things that someone like Laurence Olivier would never have to think about," the former World Heavyweight wrestling champion continues in his gentle baritone. "If anything, I'd say that my job that day [at Wrestlemania XII] was certainly maybe magnified, more complex than his by a thousand-fold."
If you happen to come across a Post tomorrow, you'll find my interview with another non-actor-turned-actor: Renegade, Bush-stompin' MP Carolyn Parrish.

Meanwhile, over at Torontoist, there's some new theatre stuff up, featuring Brecht, Beckett, and an e-mail interview with actress Hilary Doyle co-star of Matt & Ben, the twice-extended hit that closes on Sunday. I didn't mention this on Torontoist, but if you go to see Matt & Ben -- which Post theatre critic Robert Cushman calls "still the best in town" -- on Tuesday or Wednesday and say the codeword "hit," you can get tickets for the ridiculously-low price of $10. If you live in the Toronto area and haven't seen it yet, you really should.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Glocal Diet

Riddle me this: Why is it that -- though the Internet allows me to download music from musicians based anywhere in the world -- I have added mostly Canadian bands to my mp3 collection lately? Over the last year, The Unicorns, Metric and The Arcade Fire have been added to my list of top ten favourite bands; these are all Montreal or Toronto groups that I discovered online -- not from local radio or posters on telephone poles.

Riddle me this, as well: Why is it that -- even though the Internet has no national borders -- Canadian bloggers tend to link mainly to other Canadian bloggers? More than three quarters of my blogroll is CanCon.

These are my questions on a Monday morning. Meanwhile, back in the Stone Age, the CRTC has to bribe television stations to run Canadian shows...

Friday, December 03, 2004

P.G. Wodehouse's Hitler Heil-arity

For those of you just joining The Great Laughter Debate now, here’s the sequence of events:
1) Colby Cosh buys a copy of controversial video game JFK Reloaded, writes, “I don't want any angry e-mails unless you can absolutely swear to me that you don't find anything funny about the idea of shooting that god-damned Halston pillbox right off Jackie's head.”
2) Warren Kinsella finds nothing funny about the idea, writes, "A game in which you get to murder John F. Kennedy (or George W. Bush, for that matter) isn't even remotely ‘funny.’ That is so obvious it barely merits saying." Kinsella follows this up by suggesting Cosh be fired from his day job for inappropriate laughter.
3) I read Cosh’s post, find it “funny,” defend Cosh’s dark sense of humour, note that jokes are made about horrible things all the time, particularly among journalists.
4) Kinsella blogs back that he is disappointed in me, notes, "Murder isn't funny, period, and I can't recall ever working in a newsroom where we all sat around and laughed about someone getting killed. Ever."

Now that we’re all up to date, let me make one thing absofrigginlutely clear: I do not find murder funny, nor does anyone else I have ever met on the planet. I do not find the Kennedy Assassination funny, nor do I find the other senseless murders Kinsella lists funny. And I am rather miffed that he has misrepresented what I was saying in this fashion.

First of all, there is a very significant difference between a game and reality, between an image and what that image represents, between fiction and non-fiction. People of a certain age seem to have particular trouble recognizing this when it comes to video games, that most despised of art forms. The very folks who are shocked by JFK Reloaded wouldn’t bat an eye at a bunch of Civil War re-enactors trying out a different version of the bloody Battle of Gettysburg. Nor are they upset that Philip Roth defeats FDR and corrals American Jews into ghettoes in his revisionist novel The Plot Against America.

But let’s leave that contentious issue for a moment and focus on laughing at “jokes” about tragedy or stories/representations of tragedy. While actual murder is emphatically not funny, jokes and silly depictions of real or imagined death often are – it’s the entire basis for the Road Runner cartoon oeuvre for goodness sakes. Representations of actual assassinations are not immune to this. (I direct your attention to David Ives’ very funny one-act play Variations on the Death of Trotsky.)

And now for the ultimate in overused rhetorical flourishes: Consider, if you will, Herr Adolf Hitler.

Making jokes about Hitler and the Nazis has been very popular from Chaplin (The Great Dictator) to Mel Brooks (The Producers) to Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful). Each of these comedians has been attacked, but for the most part the masses have praised their work with gales of laughter. (Or, as a Kinsellian might see it, the insensitive masses have praised their work with gales of scandalous, Holocaust-mocking laughter.)

In short, for Kinsella to say that jokes about murder are never funny... well I sincerely doubt that he has never laughed at a joke in a film or a book that hinges on violence or death. And I still would like to know whether or not he has any "Dead Kennedys" albums, given that the name of that band makes light of not one, two assassinations with a few other tragedies thrown in to boot.

I don't want to be miscontrued as saying that humour is appropriate in all instances. This debate -- and what bugs me about Kinsella isn't that he was offended by Cosh's laughter, but rather his absolutist "I can't believe there can be actual debate about this" stance when the debate over appropriate and inappropriate laughter is age-old -- has made me think quite a bit about humourist P.G. Wodehouse’s run-in with the Nazis, which I recently learned about in Robert McCrum’s very readable Wodehouse: A Life.

During the Second World War, Wodehouse –- the dry British wit behind the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster novels, as well as the book for Cole Porter’s Anything Goes –- was captured by the Nazis in Le Touquet, France, where he was living and writing. Like other male citizens of the U.K. under the age of 60, he was rounded up and put in an internment camp. He kept a low profile, but his fellow inmates eventually figured out exactly who he was. On at least one occasion, he raised the spirits of the men by turning his wry eye to internment camp life.

Shortly before his 60th birthday, Wodehouse was released and -- as he was not allowed to leave the country -- he took up residence in the Adlon Hotel in Berlin.

The Nazis had at this point realised exactly who Wodehouse was and asked him if would like to give a series of radio broadcasts to his fans in the United States, which wasn’t yet at war with Germany. Wodehouse, a political naïf, agreed in order to keep in touch with his fan base and reassure them that he was okay.

His first broadcast in June of 1941 was based on some of the material he had practiced on his fellow internees. (All of his broadcasts are available online here.) Here are a couple of excerpts:
It has been in many ways quite an agreeable experience. There is a good deal to be said for internment. It keeps you out of the saloons and gives you time to catch up with your reading. You also get a lot of sleep. The chief drawback is that it means your being away from home a good deal. It is not pleasant to think that by the time I see my Pekinese again, she will have completely forgotten me and will bite me to the bone - her invariable practice with strangers. And I feel that when I rejoin my wife, I had better take along a letter of introduction, just to be on the safe side....

The only concession I want from Germany is that she gives me a loaf of bread, tells the gentlemen with muskets at the main gate to look the other way, and leaves the rest to me. In return I am prepared to hand over India, an autographed set of my books, and to reveal the secret process of cooking sliced potatoes on a radiator. This offer holds good till Wednesday week.
While similar jokes lightened the mood among internees, Wodehouse’s broadcasts sapped morale back home in Britain. In Parliament and in the newspapers, he was branded a traitor and a Nazi collaborator. Librarians withdrew his books from circulation. Though some like Orwell defended him later, it ruined his reputation after the war.

What I find interesting about this story is that it illustrates perfectly how wildly subjective humour is and how it can be used for just about any purpose. Wodehouse’s stories were very funny to his fellow internees; they were almost a form of resistance. To the folks back home while the war was being waged, they were a Nazi propaganda coup.

Wodehouse’s story is a cautionary tale on the limits of ironic detachment -- and I do worry about that sometimes while enjoying a laugh with my oh-so-cynical peers. There are times when laughter topples dictators and there are times when it feeds them. Sometimes the exact same jokes can be used to both purposes.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Thirty-Two Short Notes about Pierre Berton

1) Here's my article from the National Post today (no subscription necessary), including interviews with Graeme Gibson, Rick Mercer, and Farley Mowat. The most fun to interview was Mowat, who, at 83, is still a really feisty fellow. While talking about his recently-deceased friend, Mowat shamelessly plugged his latest book No Man's Land (his 39th) and asked me if I'd mention it in my article. He also told me that now that Berton's gone, maybe he'll have a fighting chance of catching up to Berton's record of 50 books. (Some say 50, some say 77 with his series of children's paperbacks. I don't know if either of these numbers include Masquerade - 15 Variations on a Theme of Sexual Fantasy, a book Berton wrote under the pseudonym Lisa Kroniuk in 1985.)

2) And here's "an archeological or geological study of Berton’s sideburns" from a 1983 issue of Toronto Life, dug out and posted on Geist publisher Stephen Osborne's phototaxis.ca.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Nomenclature DIY, and a question

My interview with Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush is online and free on the National Post website. It's an article in which I try to give Rush a nickname: The Biopic Man.

And here's a question for you more technically-proficient bloggers. If I'm using Flickr to host photos, how do I stick them into my blog entries in a way that doesn't require me to post through Flickr? Why can't they just give you a line of code to cut&paste or the image's direct url?

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Guest Blogger: A Third Face for Ukraine?

Ruslan Tracz's internship at the Kyiv Post could not have come at a more propitious moment for an up-and-coming Canadian journalist. Tracz has been freelancing coverage of the aftermath of the fraudulent election in Ukraine to the Winnipeg Free Press, where his articles were on the front page all weekend. Now the pride of the 'Peg's Ukrainian community, Tracz is also working on a photography exhibit for when he returns in April. Here is his analysis of the situation a week into the Orange Revolution, as e-mailed to me last night and posted with his permission. The photo's his too.

Well, we've now entered week two of the Orange Revolution and it seems the crowds have dissipated somewhat from downtown Kyiv. That being said, there are still hundreds of thousands people roaming downtown Kyiv. The protestors meander from Independence Square up to the Cabinet Minister's building and Verkhovna Rada and to the Presidential administration - all of which is in a 5 block radius.

Met up with a group of Victor Yanukovych supporters over the weekend. Despite all the falsifications and corruption of the election, many people in fact did support the Prime Minister, but not the 15 million that the CEC reported.

"Who will be president it doesn't matter," said a Yanukovych supporter outside of the train station Nov. 29, who did not identify himself, but was from Dnipro'petrovsk, south of Kyiv.

"We need a third face, one that will stand for Ukraine. Not Yushchenko, not Yanukovych."

After talking with him for a long time outside, he offered to buy some coffee. This being Ukraine, I accepted and followed him into the train station. Expecting coffee, I was surprised to see that he carried a bottle of Cognac to the table and began pouring. He did make an interesting point though.

Who would that third face be?

Yesterday, Yanukovych's campaign manager and head of the national bank Serhiy Tihipko stepped down from both positions. Tihipko - too close to Yanukovych. [Yulia] Tymoshenko - too close to Yuschenko. The Speaker of the Rada [Parliament], Vladimir Litvin has definitely impressed me. He has conducted himself with poise, honour and has acted for the good of the country. He takes his job with the utmost respect and honour and refuses for anyone to dishonour the Rada, scolding both sides on as many levels as possible in an emergency meeting of the Rada. But there is no indication that he even wants the job of president. Who knows, but it's an interesting comment. With the country so divided maybe a third face is necessary.

Looks like there will be a third round [of elections] though, Kuchma spoke about it yesterday. Right now they are having a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister in the Rada. Although it would mean very little legally, a vote of no confidence would clearly show the winds of change blowing. (play Scorpions song here)

What else?

Rumours continue to swirl about Russian troops dressed as Ukrainian military walking the streets of Kyiv and guarding inside the Presidential administration. But besides, the Prime Minister in waiting, Yulia Tymoshenko's word and a few reports of Ukrainian troops with Moscow accents looking lost in downtown Kyiv - it's best to leave this as a rumour.

The situation hangs in uncertainty right now and it seems as though the crowd is conserving energy as they await the Supreme Court, the Rada and both camps to make the next move.

Since this was written, the Rada voted down the vote of no confidence and the standoff continues. Latest from the NYT.
Did you hear the one about JFK's assassination?
Perhaps you've heard of this JFK Reloaded video game that is causing such an uproar. Yes, you are Oswald and you too can assassinate Kennedy or, as Colby Cosh has suggested, shoot that "god-damned Halston pillbox right off Jackie's head." In a controversial recent post, Cosh noted too that:
If you like, you can just let the motorcade drive on past and shed a single tear for Camelot. Isn't it worth ten bucks to go back and add a happy ending to the story?

Naturally that's not what I did, but I'm kind of morbid. Moreover I was trained (sort of) as a historian, and with every round you play -- indeed, with every bullet --you can spin off bizarre new timelines in the American story. You can let the President's car go by and take leisurely aim at the Vice-President -- which, I suspect, is what Oswald would do now if he had it all to do over -- or if you're in the mood for a thorough shake-up you can try to bag both, and elevate Congressman John W. McCormack of Massachusetts to the nation's highest office.
Naturally, making light of JFK's assassination is not taken well in some quarters. Take Warren Kinsella, who foams:
A game in which you get to murder John F. Kennedy (or George W. Bush, for that matter) isn't even remotely "funny." That is so obvious it barely merits saying.

What isn't obvious is why the columnist in question is still employed by a reputable Canadian newspaper. If I ran it, he'd be gone, and pretty damn quick, too.
I find Kinsella's moral outrage a little over-the-top, especially considering he is a punk rock fan. Is he similarly perturbed by the insensitivity of a little band called the Dead Kennedys?

I've got to defend Cosh, here. I really appreciate how he has stepped out and admitted what so few journalists do: that we have a particular fondness for gallows humour. The fact is that people are always making jokes about the most horrible things in any newsroom. And when newspapers run articles about how people are "outraged" about something insensitive, it's usually something that the staffers were hypocritically chuckling about earlier in the day. It's a sensibility that comes with any occupation that has you constantly thinking about tragedy, I imagine... (Oh, who am I kidding? I'm an arts reporter.)

Like many other people I know, I am fascinated with the Kennedy Assassination and, in particular, the Zapruder video of it that has become so famous. A couple of years ago, I directed a production of Wendy MacLeod's The House of Yes, which was also made into a movie starring Parker Posey. (Named best play of the year by the McGill Tribune -- the rival paper of the McGill Daily, where I worked. Oh, yeah.) The play -- a dramatic comedy! -- includes a pair of incestuous twins named Jackie-O and Marty, who reenact the Kennedy assassination as foreplay.

Of course, these characters are very screwed-up and the play is not meant to condone their actions. What I found interesting -- and continue to find interesting -- about the play is what it has to say about our image-obsessed society. After you've seen the Zapruder video over and over -- and who hasn't? -- it loses all sense of context and meaning. Does anyone really feel pain or astonishment or loss when they see it now? It is as connected to these feelings as porn is to love. (Like it or not, the images of the Twin Towers collapsing are headed this same direction.)

And, on the other extreme, the image has become fetishized for a lot of people -- all of Camelot has been. For some, Kennedy's assassination is like a secular version of the crucifixion. Warhol was pretty much following in the footsteps of the many artists who have painted the Passion of Christ and the events leading to it when he created Jackie (The Week that Was), a silkscreen made from pictures of Jackie Kennedy taken before and immediately after the assassination.

Recent artists have tried to break down and/or reignite the power of iconic images by subjecting them to ridicule or humiliation. You want to scandalize a conservative, exhibit the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung. You want to scandalize a liberal, paint a picture the Kennedy Assassination nude (like Italian artist Gabriele Di Matteo did, see above).

You want to do take the assassination out of the world of the iconic and make it a real event again -- with actual causes and effects -- in a different, more substantial way? Write a musical about Lee Harvey Oswald and assassins through the ages.

Anyway, for Kinsella, Kennedy's assassination is tragedy. I understand his reaction to jokes about it. For Cosh, it's tragedy plus distance or time, a.k.a. comedy. I understand that too, and more directly. It's a generational and occupational thing, I suppose.

In truth, when I heard about JFK Reloaded, I too thought it was funny -- morbid funny. I didn't laugh a loud, sustained, maniacal laugh, but I did chuckle and wince -- the way I did at "doing a Lynndie." . And, as a student of American history, I found Cosh's counterfactual investigations as explored through the game quite interesting. Sorry.

In any case, I'm glad Kinsella's not my editor or I'd get fired pronto.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Journalism Monday!

The Internet: More BlogIdealism... But this time it's in French! Le Devoir's Michel Dumais looks at Les Blogues and sees Le Futur. More BlogPessimism... Live Journal user hires two ex boyfriends to kill her mom. Murder Most Blog?

The Newspapers: Ottawa going through a journalist's trash? What kind of a Topsy-Turvy world are we living in?

The TeleVision: In Ukraine, a sign-language interpreter rebels. (This is last week's news, but I keep telling it to people vocally, so I thought I should perhaps also yell it bloggally.)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Quote of the weekend

"What an old snob you are."

- Mark Starowicz, executive producer of The Greatest Canadian, to The Globe and Mail's John Allemang, after Allemang asked him why Mary Walsh appeared in only a towel in one scene from the much-maligned CBC series.

P.S. How annoying is it that The Globe and Mail site has different names for different sections from its print edition? Why "Entertainment" instead of "Review"? Very difficult to find what you're looking for, especially since the "search" function doesn't work well.

Speaking of...

An hour ago, I went and cast my vote for Lester B. Pearson, after a friend in Ottawa reminded me to vote via MSN. She, a biologist, voted for Suzuki -- as did the Sierra Club of Canada. Her boyfriend voted for Gretzky. Colby Cosh voted for Don Cherry. The University of Western Ontario, the Canadian Diabetes Association and the City of London supported Banting, and Terry Fox Secondary School in Port Coquitlam, B.C., supported John A. Macdonald.

Just kidding, the school is supporting Fox; the mayor of Kingston, however, sent out a press release last month endorsing Macdonald. Jack Layton and the NDP supported Douglas. As I just found out by googling "Nestruck" and "Greatest Canadian" looking for the piece I wrote about the show, my father is apparently supporting Trudeau.

Alexander Graham Bell? Well, not so many people are voting for eugenics-lovin' Bell, currently dead last in the standings. Even Branfort, Ontario -- The Telephone City -- is splitting its support between Bell and hometown hero Gretsky. Oh, some guy on the Royal Canadian Legion website voted for Bell, sure, but that's about it...

At the Pierre Berton Award dinner on Thursday, which I covered for the Post's Review and Books section, Starowicz told me that Douglas didn't have a sure lock on the top place. He said that there was a surprising push for Banting -- probably coming from the 2 million Canadians who live with diabetes.

I haven't had luck predicting ANY election results in the past year, so I think I'll keep my predictions of the winner to myself.

Oh, what the hell, I suspect Douglas is going to ride it out. But I'm not entering any more friggin' office pools...

Friday, November 26, 2004

Another inspiring media story.

Veronica Khokhlova. One week she's a freelancer with an obscure Ukrainian blog and a web site full of pictures of her cats. The next she's writing an op-ed for the New York Times and being reprinted in The Guardian.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the blogging story of the year.
Journalists reporting news.

Until yesterday, people in the West were getting more information about what was going on in the Ukraine than Ukrainians themselves. Then the government's control over nationwide television broke, AFP reports:
The pro-government private channel 1+1 said in a statement yesterday that it decided to begin providing "objective information" after having halted news broadcasts since Monday when journalists refused to operate under censorship.

The first reports of the mass opposition rallies in the country were aired in the dawn hours of today.

The channel is controlled by the powerful head of the presidential administration, Viktor Medvedtchuk.

Television stations which broadcast nationwide have provided extensive positive coverage of Mr Yanukovich, the declared winner of the election, while giving scant and negative attention to opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.
Despite nervous headlines like "Ukraine on brink of civil war" all week, a peaceful orange revolution really does seem to be happening in Ukraine. Just hours after Putin -- in a real tactical mistake -- told a news conference that, "From my perspective all issues concerning the elections ... should be addressed in accordance with the constitution. All claims should go to the court," the Ukrainian Supreme Court blocked Yanykovych's inauguration and ruled that the election results were not official until they heard Yushchenko's appeal. Now, there is much negotiation going on.

All very hope-inspiring, I must say.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

We are all Ukrainians...

Yesterday, Prime Minister Anne McLellan stood up in the House of Commons and announced:
Considering the allegations of serious and significant electoral fraud from international and Canadian election observers, the government of Canada cannot accept that the announced results by the central election commission reflect the true, democratic will of the Ukrainian people.
Canada rejects the announced final results.
Later that day, CTV reports, "MPs held an emergency debate during which they unanimously agreed to denounce the election outcome. According to the parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Affairs minister, Dan McTeague, that rare show of parliamentary solidarity underscores Canadians' concerns."
As David Mader wrote yesterday, "Hear, hear! It has been a long time since this government made me proud." Absolutely! I too was proud that Canada was the second country (after the U.S.) to reject the results.
I am also heartened by the determination of Yushchenko's supporters, not only to keep fighting, but to keep the struggle non-violent. The next steps they are taking are a nationwide strike and a Supreme Court challenge to the fraudulent election results.
Not much constructive happened at the EU-Russia summit, though, notably, Putin said, "From my perspective all issues concerning the elections ... should be addressed in accordance with the constitution. All claims should go to the court." That is a tad more flexible than his previous reaction to the election debacle, which was basically to repeatedly call Viktor Yanukovych and congratulate him... The courts are perhaps the key to overturning the results without Russia losing too much face.

A couple other quick things:

-- Novelist Andrei Kurkov has a comment piece in the Guardian today.

-- The Kyiv Post has smartened up and made its web site available to the world for free.

-- I spilt yoghurt on my bright orange sweater yesterday, leaving me with no clean clothing of an orange hue – or so I thought. This morning I triumphantly pulled an orange t-shirt out of the drawer that I didn’t realise was there. It doesn't match anything, but what the heck. Where's NDP paraphenalia when you need it?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Revolution will be blogged...

Everything is changing in Ukraine every few hours, so for up-to-date information GoogleNews is a better resource than this blog could ever be. One advantage of GoogleNews is that Russian news sources come up too -- as you can imagine they have a different perspective on things. Here's BBC's round-up of what the Ukrainian and Russian papers are saying, by the by.

I also encourage you to check out Maidan, which is described as "An Internet Hub for Civil Resistance to Authoritarianism in Ukraine." It is bloggesque in design and has its own XML feed. Neeka's Backlog continues to be a fascinating read and I wish she posted more often. The Periscope is frequently updated with new news, too, with one of their contributors in Lviv translating local news furiously. Colorado Congressman Bob Schaffer, who had been in Kyiv as an election observer, was updating the Denver Post via his Blackberry, but is now trying to get a flight out to make it home for Thanksgiving. [Hat tip: Maderblog.]

The Canadian Embassy in Kyiv has a good list of Ukrainian media sources. Infoukes has an excellent list of sources too, including a link to the disputed electoral map that shows the, uh, yellow states versus the browny-orange states...

As far as I can tell, things are remaining upbeat. The rumours of riot police beating protestors and Russian army tanks converging on Kyiv seem to be just that: rumours. Again, people on the ground in and around Maidan Nezalezhnosti -- Independence Square -- or elsewhere seem to be optimistic. I just heard Andrew Robinson, the Canadian Ambassor to Ukraine, on CBC Radio saying, "The mood is positive, not one of violence or antagonism."

What I would like to read more about is what is going on in the mainly pro-government East, but most Western journalists are stationed in Kyiv covering the gigantic demonstration. That, understandably, is where all the attention is right now.
Back in my day, you had to walk 10 miles through the snow barefoot to find the nearest convenience store...

The American Senate Commerce Committee's Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee is hearing testimony about how Internet porn is the New Crack, Wired reports. Some of the most intelligent minds in the U.S. –- thinking men like Jeffrey "Cracking the Bible Code" Satinover, who bills himself as a psychiatrist and advisor to the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality –- are testifying to the addictive nature of porn:
"Pornography really does, unlike other addictions, biologically cause direct release of the most perfect addictive substance," Satinover said. "That is, it causes masturbation, which causes release of the naturally occurring opioids. It does what heroin can't do, in effect."
The unfortunately-named Republican Senator from Kansas, Sam Brownback, expressed astonishment at what he was hearing and said it was the most disturbing subcommittee he’d ever chaired. He also said that, back in his day, masturbating to pornography was a lot tougher than it is for kids today: “[S]ome guy would sneak a magazine in somewhere and show some of us, but you had to find him at the right time.”
I saw Kinsey this weekend and thought, "Boy, how far we've come..." I guess not so far after all.
But what about the theatre?

Just a reminder that my posts about Toronto theatre are now to be found over at Torontoist. You can find the archive of my theatre posts here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

"This is a wonderful time here in Kyiv."

Sorry to go All Ukraine, All the Time here at On the Fence, but I’m just finding the actions of Yushchenko's orange-clad supporters truly inspiring. I was just a wee lad when the Berlin Wall started to come down, you see, so I'm just starting to feel the excitement now that the last bricks are being pulled away...

I don’t want to be too optimistic, but as the peaceful crowd soars to 200,000 people I’m crossing my fingers that the will of the people will be honoured and the crooked election results overturned. Here in the West a lot of people have been jumping to conclusions about inevitable bloodshed, but what I’m hearing from people on the ground is very hopeful.

Neeka’s Backlog is turning into the Salam Pax of Ukraine, with some riveting personal reporting from her residence near Independence Square where the protestors are massed. While she sounded scared last night, she is very positive today: “You should've seen the crowd walking past our windows, along Khreshchatyk and towards the Central Election Commission... This is a wonderful time here in Kyiv.”

My friend Ruslan Tracz, a young Manitoban who is currently interning at the English-language Kyiv Post, sounds like he’s having a wonderful time, but, of course, he’s a journalist and they have a weird sense of wonderful. He sent me a quick update while I was sleeping:
Bunch of cities across the country; ivano-frankivsk, vinnytsia, lviv, have gone against the CEC ruling and have stated that Yuschenko is now president. Kyiv city council has asked parliament not to accept the CEC results - ie. vote of no-confidence in the Central Election Committee.
On the main drag in the city a tent city has been erected - also in a symbol of solidarity around the main monument in independence square, a tent for each oblast, or region.
Unfortunately, most of the Kyiv Post original content seems to be for subscribers only. Though it has nothing to do with the election, you can read Ruslan’s interview with the man who started the first Avis Rent-a-Car franchise in Estonia in 1992, then expanded to Belarus, Lithuania, and finally Ukraine. It’s actually an interesting read as "Westernization and Liberalization of a former Soviet Republic as Seen Through the Eyes of Avis."

So, yes, I’m feeling like the situation is hopeful, albeit tenuously so. One of the few frustrations from my vantage point is that a lot of left-leaning bloggers have been looking at the situation in Ukraine through the distorted prism of anti-American or anti-Bush sentiment. Posts like this -- just one of a dozen similar ones I’ve come across -- point out the "irony" that President George W. Bush’s envoy has condemned the electoral fraud and is threatening to reevaluate the U.S.’s relationship with Ukraine if voting irregularities are not dealt with. Because, you see, Bush stole the election in the United States... Sigh.

And more radical commentators – those who clearly don’t have a clue – aren’t just pointing out the "irony," but seeing this as old-fashioned neoimperialistic interference by the West. This article on CMAQ, the Centre des médias alternatifs du Québec, is particularly foul. This is how messed up their worldview is: Their headline on their story about a sketchy election in Ukraine is “Republicans Cry ‘Election Fraud’ in Ukraine.” Yeah, Republicans… and Democrats, and Canadians and the Baltic States and the entire E.U.

I don’t think I realised until today how insidious the conspiracy theories about electoral fraud in the United States were. Until now, I mostly thought they were harmless sore-loser grumblings.

The fact is, the Bush administration is doing the right thing in regards to Ukraine, (Yes, I know, Bush foreign policy that I support unequivocally… What is the world coming to?) while someone like Putin has outright interfered by calling Viktor Yanukovych the winner before the results were even official. All these snarky insinuations about Bush give a misleading impression of equivalence...

UPDATE: Yushchenko declares victory, is symbolically sworn in as President.
Clearly Canadian reactions to the situation in Ukraine: Compare and Contrast

"The preliminary reports that you're referring to are certainly disturbing. And if they are found by the OSCE to be accurate, then clearly I think that the international community will want to examine its options."
-- Prime Minister Paul Martin, yesterday, during his official visit in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

"It's quite clear to me that Viktor Yushchenko is, in fact, president of Ukraine."
-- Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, international observer, on stage at Independence Square in front of 10,000 to 100,000 protestors yesterday.

[Both quotes taken from reportage by The Globe's Mark MacKinnon, who is having a very eventful last few days in his Eastern Europe assignment.]

Monday, November 22, 2004

Blogging from Independence Square

Einsodernull is keeping track of some of the Ukrainian bloggers writing in English. There's:

-- Blog de Connard, an American in Kiev or Kyiv or however you want to spell it, has been down to Independence Square and taking pictures of the peaceful pro-Yushchenko protest there.

-- Neeka's Backlog has been down there too and says that reports are saying that he protestors number close to 100,000 now.

-- Obdymok seems to be writing right from Independence Square, but I'm not sure...

-- Windowglass has put up a "STATEMENT OF THE UKRAINIAN DIASPORA ON THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS IN UKRAINE," declaring that the Ukrainian World Congress and Ukrainian Canadian Congress recognize Victor Yushchenko as the rightful President.

-- Sue and Not U isn't actually in Ukraine, but she was an observer in the first round of the elections and has lots of interesting reportage on abuses she witnessed first hand.
Why I'm wearing orange today...

A divisive Presidential election between two contenders with two very different views on where the country should be headed, especially in terms of foreign policy. Exit polls show the opposition candidate will win by a comfortable margin. After the votes are in, however, the continuity candidate is declared the winner. Allegations of electoral fraud abound.

Unlike in the U.S., however, the allegations in Ukraine have serious substance. The OSCE is saying the vote was fixed and two Canadian MPs -- Conservative Peter Goldring from Edmonton East and Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj from Etobicoke Centre -- who have been there monitoring the election are alleging "systemic and massive fraud" in favour of the pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanykovych:
"One particular location, when we checked the documentation on it, it appeared that 50 signatures in a row were done in the same hand. Well, those sorts of things indicate, when it happens in multiple locations, it's systemic," said Borys Wrezesnwskyj. [Sic.]

"This is a poor showing and of great concern, not only to many Ukrainians, but also to many of the democratic countries of the world, too. Everybody is watching this," said Peter Goldring.
There may still be hope however for pro-Europe challenger Viktor Yushchenko:
Tens of thousands of demonstrators contesting the tally brought the city centre to a halt, pitching tents in the middle of Khreshchatyk, Kiev's tree-lined main thoroughfare.

Yushchenko addressed the crowd, saying he had no confidence in officials conducting the count.

"Remain where you are," he told the 50,000-strong gathering in Independence Square on Monday. "From all parts of Ukraine, on carts, cars, planes and trains tens of thousands of people are on their way here. Our action is only beginning.

Supporters braved sub-zero temperatures in orange scarves, sweaters and headbands -- the colour of his campaign. Banners with the candidate's portrait hung from buildings and a bridge.
I have high hopes that the truth will win out. Perhaps we'll see a repeat of Georgia's Rose Revolution... Good luck to the demonstrators! I'm wearing Orange today to support them.

Kudos to The Globe and Mail's Mark MacKinnon who has doing an awesome job of covering the election for Canadians. Here's his report today and an excellent backgrounder from Saturday's paper. (That's his piece on the aftermath of the Rose Revolution, too.)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Gag

I realise this is a somewhat self-centred reaction to the blockbuster news in the New York Daily News today that Alfonso Gagliano is a made man in the Bonnano crime family, but what really bugs me isn't so much that we had a mob associate as our minister of Public Works and ambassador to Denamrk, but rather that it was an American journalist who broke this story... Sigh.

Anyway, is it too late for Peter MacKay to take his apology back?

Gag II

And she's out! I think CP got it right: "Parrish's cardinal sin appears to have less to do with her repeated, undiplomatic outbursts against the George W. Bush White House than her comments on the prime minister himself."

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Helmet Hair: An International Perspective

What, I wonder, does Andrew Coyne think about the Australian debate over mandatory helmet laws... for jackaroos. The issue arose after a 23-year-old jackaroo died from a head injury after falling off his horse while rounding up cattle in 2001:
The jackaroo mates who found Daniel Croker's body still do not wear helmets when they ride a horse. But his parents hope one day everyone will wear one, whether riding a bike or a horse.

And any farmer whose jackaroos don't don a hard hat might think again after Mr Croker's boss was fined $96,250 for safety breaches yesterday.
Certainly, it should be mandatory for underage jackaroos to wear them, but adult jackaroos -- they can make up their own mind about whether to wear a helmet or not...
Forcing them to wear helmets could lead to a jackaroo shortage, of course, because the primary reason jackaroos enter the trade is to wear broad-brimmed Akubra hats, which are hip, but provide little protection to the cranium. And imagine what effect a jackaroo shortage would have on the nation, and the world. A world without jackaroos: Now that's a scary thought.

Poor, deluded Mr. Croker, whose son would be 26 this year, is more worried about safety than looking cool:
"I think we can still have that fantasy of romantic, wild west-type attitude but with safety added on," Neil Croker said.
Bah! What has become of Australians? How did they contract this morbid aversion to risk? When did they turn into such wusses?

[Previously on On the Fence: Helmet hair sucks, but what can you do?]
Coming to Terms with Bush: Time to Drop the Conspiracy Theories

I was cleaning up my room yesterday evening – don’t gasp Mom, it’s true – when I came across this article about 9/11 conspiracizing that I had put aside from the New York Times last week. Here’s the bit I wanted to post:
A Zogby poll of New Yorkers' opinions about the 9/11 investigation, released last month, indicated that 49 percent of New York City residents and 41 percent of New York state residents believed that some federal officials "knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and that they consciously failed to act."
Okay, now the reason I put this stat aside was I wanted you, the reader, to compare and contrast it with a statistic that I heard repeated ad nauseum in the run-up to the election: “72% of Bush supporters continued to hold to the view that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%).”
And then, for good measure, I wanted to throw this statistic at you, too: 11% of Americans think that the American moon landing was faked.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Americans of all political stripes – like people of all political stripes in all other nations – are misinformed, unsure about facts, believe in the tooth fairy, etc. And this especially seems to come out when they are quizzed by pollsters.
If the Democrats or the Left or the Anybody But Bushies want to win power in the States, they need to look at their supporters’ delusions, not just mock those on the other side. Conspiracy theories that are currently sapping energy and credibility from this side include: The War in Iraq is All About Oil, and The Republicans Stole the Election with the Help of Diebold.
And then there’s the idea that “moral values” was the deciding factor in Bush’s election, the Jesusland Theory. While subsequent analysis has proven that this had little or nothing to do with Bush’s win – see previous post in my CTTWB series – folks are clinging to this argument and it’s being repeated as fact all over the place by people who should know better.
For those of us concerned with some semblance of the truth -- rather than simply wanting to make ourselves feel superior -– the perpetuation of this myth is a problem. It’s also a liability. If the Democrats want to get elected to the Presidency again, they’re going to have to study the real reasons why they lost instead of simply calling the other side stupid and misinformed…

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Annals of Bad Website Design, Part XVII

This satanic elf does not make me want to go see the Toronto Santa Claus Parade. If I were five, it would make me cry.
Introducing... Torontoist.

All the cool kids are talking about it.

Yes, Jake Dobkin's -Ist empire of blogs (Gothamist was the first) has spawned a Hogtown subsidiary with the somewhat awkward title of Torontoist. Run by some fab folks like Sarah Lazarovic and Joshua Errett, it will also feature the occasional post by yours truly. As some of your longer-term readers of On the Fence know, I used to post fairly frequently about local theatre... But then -- through a series of readership surveys -- I determined that what the consumers of OTF (not to be confused with the late ODB) really wanted was my spurious opinions about Canadian and American politics...

In any case, from henceforth you should be able to find those posts about theatre over at the Torontoist, a fine e-publication that I urge you to check out.

Monday, November 15, 2004

More Wire Bashing!

Bourque is linking -- tongue firmly planted in cheek, I think -- to this AP story today, AP's leader says Internet represents the future of news:
LOS ANGELES -- The future of news is online, and traditional media outlets must learn to tailor their products for consumers who demand instant, personalized information, the head of The Associated Press said Friday.
The growth of high-speed broadband connections is leading to a future in which computers are always on "and so are the users," Tom Curley, president and chief executive officer of the world's largest news organization, told the Online News Association conference in Hollywood.
Ignore for the moment, the inherent metaridiculousness of a news story about the wire service that has generated said news story. Instead, focus on the head-shaking ridiculousness that AP's president and CEO has only figured this out now. (If you like, you can also chuckle at the fact that most people who read this story today will be reading it online.)

It never ceases to amaze me how far the media CEOs of the world are behind the journalists they employ and those who consume their product. The future is a good four years ago, Mr. Curley.
Cyberlibel Chill

This story should have a pretty chilling effect on Canada's blogging community:
An Ontario judge has awarded an archeologist $125,000 in damages after a native man used e-mails to smear her as a “grave robber.”

The archeologist's lawyer is calling the ruling a precedent-setting one in the emerging field of Internet libel, a notion that may eventually have a chilling effect on the freewheeling ways computer users send messages.
Earlier this fall, Warren Kinsella caused a minor ruckus when he demanded that a couple of bloggers take down insults about him. He threatened to take these bloggers to court and, since he is a lawyer, it was pretty clear that he could and would.

While Kinsella's actions were justified, it pissed off a lot of bloggers. I can understand. Somebody that I wrote about unfavorably last summer threatened to sue me for libel. Even though I knew what I had written was provably true, I took it down -- an act of self-censorship that still bugs me. But blogging is only fun for me so long as it doesn't involve going to court or costing me money...

I think the average blogger, when threatened with a lawsuit, will take down whatever has been written as soon as they become acquainted with libel laws. If slandering an archeologist as "grave robber" is worth $125,000 (watch out rabble.ca!), then I can only wonder what some of the profane insults I've seen traded on blogs are worth in this eyes of Canada's judges...

Even with all the resources that it has, the mainstream media is sometimes victim to libel chill -- self-censorship over the fear of lawsuits from large corporations or rich individuals. The problem is exacerbated with bloggers, individuals who usually don't have the resources news organization have to defend themselves.

Just because someone writes on the Internet, they shouldn't get a free pass. But frivolous threats of libel as an attempt to silence bloggers are going to be more of a problem now that people have clued in to what kind of impact blogs can have... This is an issue that has been completely left out of the endless discussion of "MSM vs. bloggers".

Post-script

I just used Blogger's spell-check function for the first time... Isn't it ridiculous that it doesn't know the words "blogs," "blogger," or "blogging"?

Friday, November 12, 2004

Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick...

Republicans everywhere are going wild over Big Little Dick Cheney. [Via Wonkette, as enthusiastic about political phalluses as ever.]
Death of a Newspaperman

Theatregoers and gossip-seeking journalists will have a chance to catch a first glimpse of former Globe and Mail columnist David Macfarlane's new play this weekend. Fishwrap, a barely-veiled autobiographical tale about a washed-up newspaper columnist unable to find a job, is being workshopped publicly at Tarragon Theatre on Saturday at 8 pm as part of the admirable WorkSpace program put into place there by newish artistic director Richard Rose.

Back when Macfarlane wrote his Review column for the Globe, I used to regularly curse and spit Cheerios of anger at him while reading him in the morning. I would snort in disgust everytime he mentioned: a) the opera he was listening to while writing; b) the wine he was drinking; or c) his wife. He represented everything that I found annoying and pretentious about the Globe and its steadfast Boomerism. Once, I was so peeved by a condescending comment he made about readers under 30 that I wrote a long diatribe to his editor demanding that he be flogged. (This was, obviously, before I became a calm, level-headed professional journalist myself and realised that it is publishers who wield the cat o' nine tails.)

Anyway, there have been three press releases about Fishwrap so far, and in each one Macfarlane's play has seemed sadder and sadder, so I don't have the heart to make fun of him anymore. From a theatrical point of view, it's really interesting to read them to see how his conception of the play has changed as he's figured out different ways to dramatize a personal story. The first press release in March described Fishwrap thusly:
One minute you're at the top of your game. The next you can't get 500 words on bathroom fixtures in the Real Estate section.
There is no lonelier soul than a freelance writer who discovers, belatedly, that he is no longer wanted by the magazines and the newspapers by which he has eked out his living. Angry, funny and cruelly accurate, the play asks the question: how can a man make sense of a life that has never been anything more than yesterday's paper?
Okay, so at these point it seemed kind of funny, self-deprecating... Then, in September, a new release was put out and you can tell that the play has evolved to something a little more substantial and tragic in a Willy Loman sort of way:
In Fishwrap we meet Kingsley Fitzhenry – a man who always had pretension beyond newspaper and magazine writing, but who, nonetheless, earned his living on Grub Street. He has come to the offices of a newspaper for which he used to write with some regularity in order to pitch an idea for a column, but because nobody really wants to see him, he has been shunted down to a junior editor. He is humiliated by this treatment, but too desperate for work to let it deter him. What unfolds is less a pitch than an avalache of caustic autobiography. Angry, funny, bitter – and cruelly accurate in its portrayal of the lower rungs of print journalism – Fishwrap asks the question: how can a man make sense of a life that has never been anything more than yesterday's paper?
Now, for the latest press release (not online), check out the shift in focus as Macfarlane begins working with a dramaturge who seems to be wanting him to make the show more absurdist, more depressing, and, thus, apparently more relevant to the post-9/11 world:
Nothing is forever. Not life. Not love. And certainly not work. In an age of insecurity, few have a more tenuous hold on employment than the freelance newspaper writer. Fewer still have bigger egos. But when the axe falls, even the proudest old hack and the most deluded columnist are obliged to confront what all of us must someday face: no matter how important we believe ourselves to be, there will come a time when there is no space for us anymore.
In Fishwrap, comedy and anger, defiance and lonely bewilderment are woven together in a monologue that continually bursts beyond the confines of a single character. Stuck together in a single room, a blocked writer and his crusty, verbose persona mourn the loss of the only thing that gave their job meaning: an audience. Now, they have nobody to rant to anymore. Except themselves.
At this point, Fishwrap seems to have completed its evolution into a horror play for journalists, some sort of Endgame for scribes. "I can't go on; I'll go on..."

What a great business the media is, eh?

If anyone goes to the workshop this weekend, I'd love to hear back from you.