Friday, April 30, 2004

How to tell that Spring is really here...

I had my first bicycle tantrum of the season today. After fuming for a couple of minutes behind a giant traffic-bound SUV that wouldn't -- and couldn't -- leave enough room on the side of the road for bicycles to pass, I finally managed to squeezed by. As I passed his window, I yelled, "Your car is too big!" into it.

It brought me back to the summers of yore in Montreal, when I used to stand at the corner of Parc and Milton and hold up a sign that said, "Your car is too big!" on one side and "Votre char est trop grand!" on the other. This was back when SUVs comprised only, maybe, 1 out of every 30 cars that passed by.

Ah, the halcyon days of my youth...
And the nominees are...

The Canadian Association of Journalists has released the list of nominees for its fourth annual Code of Silence Award recognizing the most secretive government agencies in Canada:
"Keeping timely, important information hidden from the public is often a thankless job, tirelessly performed by many government officials from coast to coast," said Paul Schneidereit, CAJ president. "This award shines a special light on their dedication. From hiding public health risks to silencing whistleblowers, our finalists have shown an abiding commitment to secrecy."

The list of finalists is based on nominations from journalists and the public.

The nominees are:

The New Brunswick Department of Health and Wellness, for stonewalling for more than a year on freedom of information requests to make public two commissioned studies on health care resources. After a court appeal, an appeal to the ombudsman and a confidential draft of one report was leaked, the minister, Elvy Robichaud, still refused to make the two documents public, saying, referring to the entire population, "you don't need 700,000 people to do the planning." Only after a public outcry over his comments and a pending ombudsman's ruling did the minister finally release the two reports on future health planning.

Health Canada, for fighting for five years to prevent journalists from obtaining its adverse drug reaction database, preventing public scrutiny of drugs that can kill. Recently, the parliamentary all-party standing committee on health slammed the federal department for failing to effectively protect Canadians who take prescription drugs. The committee said the manner in which drugs are tested and approved is too secretive, in large part due to excessive concerns about the commercial interests of the drug companies.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for their efforts to stifle the use of confidential sources by journalists in Canada. After a prolonged court battle in which the RCMP sought to obtain materials sent to National Post investigative reporter Andrew McIntosh in the Shawinigate affair, in order to try to identify who had sent the documents, a Ontario Superior Court ruled against the police, stating confidential sources were an indispensable means with which journalists inform the public in a democracy. The day of the court ruling, the RCMP raided the home of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill under the Security Information Act, in search of leaked secret documents related to the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen deported to Syria by U.S. authorities.

The government of Alberta, for its handling of a freedom of information request involving a defamation suit against former provincial cabinet minister Stockwell Day. After spending nearly $800,000 defending Day in the lawsuit, a judge found the province attempted to manipulate public opinion by selectively releasing documents on the government's actions sought under the Freedom of Information Act. When The Globe and Mail and the opposition Liberals requested
more documents, they were told they would each be charged an additional $60,000. Even after Justice Terrence McMahon of the Alberta Court of Queens Bench drastically lowered the fees and ordered the government to comply,
the Alberta Department of Justice released mainly old newspaper clippings and other documents of little journalistic value.

The city council of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, for refusing to open committee meetings to the media. Top courts in several provinces have ruled that such meetings should be open to the public, but the municipal council continues to deny reporters access to the city's committee sessions. The CBC is now fighting the secretive policy.

The winner will be announced at the CAJ's national conference in Vancouver, May 8.

Last year's winner was the Nova Scotia government for a year-long pattern of secrecy, including instituting the highest fees in the country for access to information requests. The result was a sharp decrease in the number of requests under the Act.

Prior winners also include the federal Department of Justice for giving itself the power to override the Access to Information Act and withhold any information relating to international relations, national security or defence it deems sensitive; and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment for withholding information about the Walkerton water tragedy that claimed seven lives and sickened thousands more following contamination of the town's water system.
Good luck to all the nominees!
Missing : A blog post from last night

Some astute regular readers of On the Fence have noticed that a post I wrote last night, in which I refered to the Tampa Bay Lightning as "a bunch of tampons," has been removed.

In the warm light of morning, I realised that I had made an editing error the night before. I meant to write that the Tampa Bay Lightning are "a bunch of fine hockey players, who beat the Canadiens fair and square." Also, when I refered to Vincent Lecavalier as "the biggest tampon of them all," I meant "a fine hockey player from Laval."

On the Fence regrets the error.
Theatre Thursday. Well, okay, actually it's Friday now.

Just wanted to recommend a show I saw tonight: Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. Brad Fraser's breakthrough 1990 play is being remounted at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre right now and I recommend it heartily.

I've heard about this play for a long time, but I had never seen it before. Using a serial-killer mystery as his framework, Fraser wrote an investigation into the confusion and treacherousness of love and relationships in our ultramodern times. It still seems really timely today. To me at least.

The second act is a little lame at times and the ending feels really anticlimactic. Some of the acting in this production is a little off, as well. But I loved it. I was absolutely riveted during the first act and was genuinely unsettled during intermission. In fact, I'm still a little unsettled.

Anyway, the play is an excellent example of how you can drape new ideas and characters onto even the most cliched of narrative structures (the murder mystery) and emerge with something really original and cohesive. Many young writers think that in order to do something new, you need to reinvent the wheel. Not so.

Plus, Fraser has some really dazzling lines up his sleeve. In Unidentified Human Remains, most of them go to David, the nihilistic gay man at the heart of the play. It took me a few scenes to warm to actor Damien Atkins as David, but soon I was really into his performance.

There are a few bits of dialogue I'm dying to quote, but I'm going to get them wrong. Maybe I'll pick up the script at Theatrebooks tomorrow...

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Sly like FOX News

Paul Wells makes the only point that need be made about whether the CRTC should permit FOX News in Canada or not:
It's a false debate. The way technology is evolving, any day now the CRTC will be powerless to stop it.
Exactly. And that day is a couple of years ago.

Back when I was at McGill, I used to eat lunch quite often at a certain restaurant in the Student's Union Building (a.k.a. the Shatner Building). That little resto had a satellite dish and three televisions on at all times: One displayed CNN, the second broadcast FOX News, and the third one seemed to always be tuned into Black Entertainment Television.

Watching FOX News while chomping on a panini didn't scramble my brainwaves. My general position on TV news, especially 24/7 news channels, is that they are all silly bunk. FOX News was just sillier and bunkier. Which is why I watched it much more often than CNN...

When they put in a smoking lounge in the restaurant last year, the sign they put up initially read "SMOOKING LOUNGE." I can't say for sure that it didn't have something to do with the cryptofascist propaganda of FOX News. But it was pretty funny, anyway.


And now, the concluding episode of The Globe and Mail's TV critic John Doyle's wrestling match with FOX News' Bill O'Reilly.

So what's the deal with Christie Blatchford? First, I hear she quit The Globe and Mail over the weekend. Then, I hear she's changed her mind.

Who knows? Not I.

EDIT: Inexplicable comma placement fixed.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Kerry, The Sad Tree

Now, I'm not exactly a big fan of Peggy Noonan, Reagan's old speechwriter, but the woman's got a way with words. She was the Great Communicator, not Ronnie.

Anyway, I thought that this bit from one of her recent polemics was quite poetic:
It's OK that [John Kerry] looks like a sad tree, but you can't look like a sad, hollow tree. And it looks a little hollow in there.
It's true! John Kerry does look like a sad tree! What a perfect description.

As for Kerry looking hollow, I can't really disagree with that, either. But as current mememaster Alan Blevins puts it at "John Kerry is a douchebag but I'm voting for him anyway."

In my case, just replace "voting" with "rooting."

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Everytime I see you falling...

Pull out your prayer shawls and get your yoga mats out of the basement... Only eight more days until the U.S.A.'s National Day of Prayer. Why have such a day? Here's why:
Corporate prayer has always played an important role in our nation’s history. Men such as Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Webster not only participated in corporate prayer but sounded the clarion call to intercession on behalf of this young nation.
As far back as 1774, there is record of government leaders calling for a day of intercession... One of the most memorable calls for corporate prayer was issued by President George W. Bush when he proclaimed a national day of prayer and remembrance just three days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Now, I'm not opposed to prayer, of course, but I am fascinated by this term "corporate prayer." I've never heard it before... It sounds so, um, I don't know, corporate.

I'm also fascinated that the National Day of Prayer's Honorary Chairman is none other than Oliver North. And on the site, he relates his own story of being healed by prayer:
I lay writhing on the ground. Couldn’t feel my legs. Lost control of my bladder.

Before a medic could arrive, John Grinalds showed up. Next thing I knew, he was putting his hands on my legs and saying, "I’m going to pray for you."

Pray? I thought. I’m lying here in agony, and you want to pray!

But what I said aloud was, "Uh, Colonel, don’t you think we could just do this the usual way? You know, get the helicopter, go to the hospital...?"

But Grinalds ignored me. He called out, "Lord Jesus Christ, You are the Great Physician. Heal this man."

In that very instant the pain disappeared. Soon the feeling returned to my legs. When I was ready, Grinalds helped me to my feet.

Astonished, I came out with one of the most inane utterances of my life. I said, "Thank you, sir."

At that, Grinalds grabbed me by my jacket and pulled me up to his face. "Don’t thank me," he said. "Thank your Lord and Savior. He is the Great Physician. You have to turn to Him."

That incident was the two-by-four God used to break through my thick-skulled resistance.
That's a figurative two-by-four...

You can order North's prayer book from the National Day of Prayer site, by the way. Ah, the power of corporate prayer.
Theatre Tuesday: "Puppetry is ridiculous - I wouldn't pay to see it"

The brilliant Canadian puppeteer Ronnie Burkett is in London. The Guardian interviews him. As usual, Burkett is self-deprecatory to a fault.

As On The Fence is always interested in the subject of Truth in Art, here's what Burkett has to say about the matter:
Tender is almost a definition of Burkett's work. But it is also tough. He minutely observes how humans behave, finding the best and worst in people, wrapping that up in a package that always includes large dollops of sentiment, anger, camp and a fearless, frightening truthfulness. Truth, Burkett believes, is something you don't often get in art. "The best you can hope for is to give the audience honesty and ownership. I extend a hand to them, in effect saying if you will breathe with me in the dark for a couple of hours and let me control your breathing, I will try and make it worth your while."
If you've never seen one of Burkett's shows, you're really missing out. There's truly no one else like him on earth.

Here's my interview with Burkett from January when his current show Provenance was playing at CanStage.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Mark McKinney

Hey, my interview with the former Kid in the Hall is online and free. Huzzah!
There's something refreshingly dull about Mark McKinney. Many comedians feel the pressure to be funny with journalists and offer up an endless stream of quips and hilarious anecdotes, but not this former member of Kids in the Hall. True, when he orders his tea in a swank Toronto hotel lounge on this sunny spring morning, he does so in a Cockney accent. But that's it with the funny voices. The show's over after that. No more whimsy for you.
Read the rest, if you are so inclined.

The interview was re: The Saddest Music in the World, not tomorrow's equally exciting DVD release of the first season of Kids in the Hall.


In other news, have you folks seen Kid in the Hall Kevin MacDonald in the new Outkast video for 'Roses'? That's him all right, breaking up the fight. Also, he was on Arrested Development last night... That's nice.
Joe, that's Who.

Oh, former Prime Minister Joe Clark... What a funny guy! One day, he's the leader of the Progressive Conservatives, the next he supports Paul Martin as the "lesser of two evils." Then, he supports Ed Broadbent in Ottawa Centre unequivocably. Shall we assume the NDP is the least evil in his mind then? CBC reports:
[Clark] said, in the next election, Canadians should not vote for parties but for the best candidate in their constituency. Clark said he's prepared to support candidates from all parties, including an old political rival, former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, who is running in Ottawa.
This last bit is particularly radical for an old party politician like Clark. But man... Wouldn't it be great if that was the case? If people really voted for the individuals they thought were the best?

Clark's become a bit of an idealist in his old age. Cute.


Andrew Coyne asks, "It is a mystery why the media have given so much play to Joe Clark's declaration in favour of the Liberals, given that a) he has said much the same thing before, and b) he is entirely irrelevant. "

Then, he goes and writes not one, but two blog posts about Joe's Clark's declaration in favour of the Liberals.
Monday Schadenfreude: In Which Paul Martin Overlooks a Small Detail

All day long, Prime Minister Paul Martin had been nervous about his meeting with the Dalai Lama. "Remember, keep the talk to spiritual matters," he said to himself over and over all day long. "Don't mess this up, too."

It was now Friday evening and time to get down to business. After hesitating for a fraction of a section on the theshold of Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais's house, Martin put on his best polyethlene smile and entered for his 25 minute session with the Dalai Lama.

"Hello, Your Holiness!" Martin said stretching out his arm to shake hands with the Dalai Lama.

"Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me, Prime Minister" the Dalai Lama said. As he bowed, the spiritual leader's eyes caught sight of Martin's pants. Unable to help himself, the Dalai Lama began to giggle.

"What is it, Your Holiness?" Martin asked, suddenly paranoid that he had done something wrong already.

"Oh, nothing," the Dalai Lama chuckled. Then, after a short pause, he looked right, left, then said in a loud stage whisper, "X - Y - Z."

Martin turned bright red, turned himself away from the Tibetan spiritual leader, and did up his zipper.

This has been your Monday Schadenfreude.


Previous Monday Schadenfreude: Teenage Pol Pot, Tony Robbins, Dame Judy Dench, Donald Trump, Kissinger.
The Greatest Canadian competition continues to unravel...

I imagine all of you are breathlessly following the CBC's campaign to name The Greatest Canadian (Ever).

Ripped off from the BBC's Great Britons competition, this Greatest Canadian business seems to be mainly attracting derisive snorts from the bloggerati. (Though civic-minded Matthew at Living in a Society has been trying to get people interested.)

Now, Saturday Night's agent provocateur Jesse Brown has jumped into the fray and he wants you to vote for him: see

Best of luck Brown. His media pranks are tiresome at times, but he can be funny from time to time too. Like here. Taking on Pierre Eliot Trudeau for Greatest Canadian status, Brown remarks, "Dude, Mick Jagger fucked your wife." To David Suzuki, he says, "Give it up homeboy. Earth is fucked."

It's funny because it's true.

Anyway, I'd consider voting for Brown, but I've already voted. For Kim Campbell. I encourage you to do the same.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Disco, anyone?

Back when The Post was doing its '70s week a couple of months ago, I was introduced to the vivacious Ms. Rogue, a DJ and emcee and devoted Disco revivalist. On her invitation, I attending a fine Cream Soda Funk night at Roxy Blue. My discompanion and I had a funkadelic time.

So, if I don't get too sidetracked by the opening of the Hot Docs festival, I should be heading over to Ricochet Liquid Lounge on Avenue Rd. tonight where Ms. Rogue is starting a new weekly gig called 54 Fridays. Ms. Rogue's groovy hair alone makes it worthwhile...
Either this is really brilliant...

...or I really need to get to bed: Songs to Wear Pants To.
Film Friday: A Punishing Experience

So, yeah, The Punisher movie sucked big time. But, as a cultural document, it's quite enlightening.

In the original Punisher comic book circa 1974, Vietnam vet Frank Castle became a vigilante after his wife and two children were killed in a random act of violence, caught in the cross-fire of a Mafia shoot-out in Central Park.

In the 2004 movie, Frank Castle's entire family is wiped out -- both sides and his wife's family too -- at a family reunion. A good 30 people are murdered in this massacre. And it's not random violence either: It's an evil and misguided act of revenge. Howard Saint's (John Travolta) son was accidentally killed during Castle's last undercover assignment as an FBI undercover agent; so Saint retaliates 30-fold. From my review in The Post:
The Punisher was first introduced as a supporting character in The Amazing Spider-Man in February, 1974, five months before Charles Bronson started avenging his wife's murder and daughter's rape as Paul Kersey in the first of the Death Wish series. These two cultural touchstones led a spate of anti-heroic movies that capitalized on 1970s anxieties about crime and social breakdown. Though violent crime rates have been in continuous decline since then, these fears have remained, which is why The Punisher comics continue to be compelling.

The [2004] movie, however, capitalizes not on our specific fears of random acts of violence, but on fears of evil, overzealous and misguided acts of revenge.
I didn't spell it out in the review, but, yes, I mean terrorist attacks and 9/11 specifically.

So, in the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, we were scared that a family member or two might be killed by muggers. Now, we're scared that our entire families are going to be wiped out in one blow?

So it seems. Man, there's totally a good Cultural Studies thesis just waiting to be written here...

Here's my full review.
A Query for Y'all

Well, the internet guy came and installed installed high-speed in my apartment on Tuesday. This is the first I've had high-speed in my home for about a year.

Anyway, I'm wondering: What do the kids use to download music these days? Kazaa is passé, correct? What do they do now? Soulseek or something?

Man, I've been out of the loop...
Digital Culture: Telling Stories

For more than 30 years, Project Gutenberg has been creating electronic versions of some of the world's most important texts. Its dream of building the world's first free e-library began in 1971 when founder Michael Hart inputted the Declaration of Independence into his computer -- all in upper-case, since lower-case was still unavailable. The library now contains more than 10,000 documents collected from the public domain, everything from the Bible to Shakespeare's plays and sonnets to the Tarzan books of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

But before the original Gutenberg invented his press in 1440, most stories were passed down through generations orally. A new Internet project, Telltale Weekly , aims to bring this even older tradition of storytelling into the information age by making the world's great texts available in sound files: The Internet's first fully legal free audio library.

Founded in March by Alexander Wilson, a 27-year-old actor and writer in Chapel Hill, N.C., Telltale Weekly has ambitions as high as Project Gutenberg. To date, the Web site has made 23 texts available for download, ranging from the Epistles of John from the King James Bible to Jonathan Swift's famous satirical essay A Modest Proposal. Just as Project Gutenberg began with short texts like the U.S. Constitution, Telltale Weekly is starting by producing pieces less than 45 minutes in length. For the time being, the texts are downloadable -- in either the MP3 or open-source Ogg Vorbis formats -- for prices ranging from 25 cents to US$1.50. But after five years or 100,000 purchased downloads, Wilson has pledged the recordings will be available under a Creative Commons Attribution License, which means anyone will be able to distribute the recordings as long as there is proper attribution. The money made in each of the recordings' first five years will be used to pay for the recording of more "e-books on tape."

Recently, Project Gutenberg began experimenting with computer-generated audio versions of its books, but Wilson says Telltale Weekly -- which he hopes will attract professional voice actors -- is a better, if more time-consuming, project. "Text-to-voice programs are practical for some purposes," he told The New York Times. "But few people would choose to listen to them for pleasure."

[Originally in the National Post]
The Continued Pornification of the World, Part IV

Burger King's marketing department is now getting inspiration from internet porn. Fitting somehow.

Surely there's a women's studies thesis in this somewhere...

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Theatre Thursday: Cookin' at the Cookery

I'm sorry I haven't been posting about the shows and movies I've been seeing lately. It's just a busy time of the year, yadda, yadda... Surely, I'll get around to making mention of The Saddest Music in the World, Super Size Me and The Cremaster Cycle eventually.

For now, however, let me just advise Torontonians and those who are planning to visit Toronto over the summer to check out Cookin' at the Cookery, remounted for an indefinite run at the newly-renovated New Yorker Theatre. The critics loved it when it hit CanStage in the fall (and the Manitoba Theatre Centre, less we forget), but I didn't get to see it until Tuesday night. A biography of singer Alberta Hunter, the two-hander feature two fab females performers playing the singer at different ages: Jackie Richardson and Montego Glover. Richardson's getting all the press, but Glover is one of the most stunning young actors I've had occasion to see since arriving in T-dot. She's spectacular, especially when she morphs into Louis Armstrong. It's like Satchmo's spirit has risen and taken up residence in her body.

Here's my interview with Richardson from The Post. Gratis for once!
Gmail: Can't stop loving you.

So, apparently I missed the memo: Gmail is evil. It scans your e-mail messages for keywords that then decide what ads are displayed when you log on.

Well, the cyberhysteria is nothing if not predictable. Remember when cookies first started invading our computers? Those were (continue to be?) seen as the second coming of Hitler, too. But, I must admit, I like going to sites and having them tailored to my usage. And, of course, I have my browser set so that I have to agree to each cookie before it is downloaded onto my computer.

As with cookies and P2P and MSN Messenger and filling out any form online, it's up to individual users to make the choice whether or not to let someone else violate your privacy and find out that you like porn. And, in my case, I don't mind that my e-mail is being searched by some bot. Gmail is better than Hotmail, that's for sure. And Hotmail's antispam filters search my e-mail text already... (Plus Google's text ads are so much less offensive than pop-ups and banners.)

I understand that a number of people are worried about Google's Privacy caveat: "Please be aware, however, that we will release specific personal information about you if required to do so in order to comply with any valid legal process such as a search warrant, subpoena, statute, or court order." Well, sorry, but that's the law. If they have a search warrant, the police can come search your house and your harddrive as it is...

The Tinfoil Hat Brigade (I was a card-carrying member back when Napster was introduced) complains now, but in six months time they'll all be on board. Bwaa-haa-haa!

[Paul Boutin's got a good pro-Gmail piece on Slate.]

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Who's got Gmail?

I gots Gmail. Selected Blogger users, like yours truly, get to beta test the new search-based e-mail run by Google (which owns Blogger, by the by). Already I am impressed.

My new dream: Google designing some sort of personal search engine, one that can spider your word processor documents, spreadsheets, e-mail databases, etc. Because currently my hard drive is sooo disorganized, I can't find anything.

Anyway, please try sending me an e-mail at jkelly at This is like Christmas.
From the Mailbox...

Got this e-mail this afternoon:
From : Support Our Troops
Sent : April 22, 2004 12:22:44 AM
To :
Subject : Rep. Jim Gibbons thanks you for Supporting Our Troops

Dear Friend,

Thank you for participating in the "Support Our Troops" campaign. Please know that with the help of the Department of Defense, your thoughtful sentiments and words of support will be delivered directly to our brave armed services personnel who are actively fighting to protect our freedom and security.

There is no doubt that the morale of our military men and women is integral to ensuring victory for our nation. Thank you for your efforts in seeing that this goal is achieved.

Please monitor my website ( in the weeks ahead as I highlight innovative ways that you, your family, friends and co-workers can continue to "Support Our Troops."

God Bless America,

U.S. Congressman Jim Gibbons
Thank Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev)! And thanks to whomever signed me up for this. 'Twas a good practical joke.

Anyway, this is good reminder that you should be skeptical whenever you hear a politican say, "20,000 people have sent letters to us supporting our initiative." Because, without knowing it, you could be one of those 20,000 people.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Errol Morris: Truth exists.

I must say, The Believer is just a superb magazine.

Here's from Nick Poppy's interview with documentary filmmaker Errol Morris in the latest issue:
EM: I was surprised at the time that The Thin Blue Line came out that people reacted to the reenactments as blurring the distinction between fact and fiction. Between documentary and drama. My feeling was the exact opposite. It was telling us how images can confuse us. Images are not reality, nor do I claim that they are. In fact, they usually bear a very complicated relationship to reality. And when people complain about reenactments, I like to point out that consciousness, itself, is a reenactment. Everything is a reenactment. We are reenacting the world in the mind. The world is not inside there. It does not reside in the gray matter of the brain. Think of my movies as heightening our awareness, not confusing the difference between truth and fiction, but heightening our awareness of how confused we can become about what is real.
Precisely! This is -- to flog a favourite horse of mine -- why I believe media literacy courses should be mandatory in all high schools.

It amazes me how many people complain about the media -- newspapers, television, radio, blogs -- for being biased. Well, of course, they're biased. They are filters of reality, not reality itself. Some biases are obvious -- ie. the political leanings of the National Post or the Toronto Star -- while others are hidden and hidden deep within the very media formats themselves -- ie. blogs, because of the way they are constructed, are prone to pithiness over deep analysis.

Now, some might read Morris's comments and think that he is arguing the old pomo trope that there is no truth. But Morris believes no such thing:
EM: I was at a screening of The Fog of War just a couple of nights ago and someone asked me about Rashomon, and about my comment that he remembers from the time that The Thin Blue Line came out, that I do not believe that the truth is subjective. Just thinking something does not make it so. This idea that there is no reality, that truth is up for grabs, or that truth is subjective, I find foolish and unappetizing... I believe in the real world. Just like there's a fact of the matter of whether there was an attack on August 4th [1964] in the Gulf of Tonkin. It's not up for grabs. Either we were attacked or we weren't attacked. Either there were North Vietnamese gunboats shooting at the Maddox and the Turner Joy, or there weren't.

I looked at Rashomon about a month ago. I rewatched it, and much to my surprise, Rashomon isn't Rashomon. Rashomon is not a movie about the subjectivity of truth. That there's no objective truth, just subjective truth. A truth for you, a truth for me. On the contrary, it's a movie about how everybody sees the world differently. But the claim that everybody sees the world differently is not a claim that there's no reality. It's a different kind of claim. What really surprised me on rewatching Rashomon is that you know what really happened at the end. It's pretty damn clear.
Read the whole interview in the latest issue of The Believer.


Needless to say, I'm a fan of Morris's work. In fact, The Fog of War is the only movie I've given a full four stars to since I started at The Post. Here's the review.
The Greatest?

CBC is asking the nation who The Greatest Canadian is.

May I suggest Richard Zednik?

Tampa Bay: Bring it on! (Man, I wish I was in Montreal to join in the festivities right now...)
Bonus Monday Schadenfreude?

Jim Cantalupo, McDonald's CEO and chairman, died of a heart attack this morning.
Monday Schadenfreude: An unexpected situation arises!

While attending Catholic school in Phnom Penh, thirteen-year-old Saloth Sar -- the boy who would grow up to become Pol Pot -- often let his mind wander in cathechism class. One day, while Saloth was daydreaming about a girl he once knew in his home village, Brother Carré called upon him.

When Saloth didn't respond immediately, Brother Carré demanded that he come up to the front of the class and recite the Apostles' Creed in front of everyone.

Young Saloth slowly and hesitantly made his way to the blackboard and turned around, desperately hoping that the other boys would not notice his ill-timed erection. But Sangha Cham, the class bully, was always on the lookout for such moments of protrusion and immediately began pointing at Saloth's crotch and laughing. Several other boys joined in, before Brother Carré silenced them by slapping his ruler down hard on the desk.

"Allez, Saloth!" he demanded. "Le Symbole des Apôtres!"

"Je crois en Dieu, le Père tout-puissant, créateur..." Saloth began. But he couldn't continue.

Moments later, the tears began pouring down Teenage Pol Pot's face. The boys and Brother Carré howled with laughter.

This has been your Monday Schadenfreude.


Not enough Monday Schadenfreude for you? Check out previous editions: March 22, March 29, April 5, April 12.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

This has gone too far!

Does he have to go after cute, defenseless bunnies, too?
Hockey in the 21st Century

With my current makeshift antenna (a piece of wire hooked onto a clothes hanger), my television will give me the picture for CBC for Montreal-Bosten Game 6, but no sound. So, I've got my computer hooked up to the Internet (I've only got dial-up at home) and tuned in to CJAD radio online feed. The computer's hooked up to my stereo and I've brought one of my stereo speakers into the living room and placed it next to the TV.

Surely, there must be an easier way to watch the hockey game...

Anyway, I have nothing else to say right now because I don't want to jinx anything. Period 3 begins now.


Okay, so that didn't work at all. The CJAD sound was about 25 seconds behind the CBC picture. Radio-Canada, on the other hand, gave me both picture and sound, so I watched the last 10 minutes of period 3 in French.

I thought it was interesting that during the post-game breakdown with Saku Koivu, the announcers interviewed the Canadiens' captain in English for about four minutes and then translated and summarized what he had said afterwards. Imagine English Canadians sitting through four minutes of a CBC interview with Jose Theodore in French...

Interesting fact I learned from this interview: Sunday night's showdown will be Koivu's first Game 7 ever. First time's the charm...
Muslims Less of a Burden on Government, says Imam

From Colin Freeze's excellent story on the return of the Khadr widow and son to Canada:
In his sermon, Imam Aly Hindy told the faithful that the senior Mr. Khadr may or may not have been a terrorist, but that it's now for God to judge.

As for the rest of the immediate family, "these people have extreme views," he conceded. "But who said if you have extreme views you should be kicked out?"

The imam said Muslims pay taxes and probably require fewer social services than non-Muslims because they eschew activities such as drinking, promiscuity and homosexual relationships.
Riiiiight. Sigh...

[Aren't you proud I avoided making a single 'Welcome Back Khadr' joke?]
If I had a mallet...

The Globe and Mail's editor-in-chief Edward Greenspon is a big dork. Exhibit Number 372: His embarrassing Saturday column this week, in which he takes his weekly wankery to new wankerrific heights:
My briefcase goes through the scanner [at the Toronto Island Airport], as do I. A man in a light-blue uniform lies in wait. Can I open your bag? he asks, offering one of life's artificial choices. Help yourself, I reply, grabbing my overcoat.

I glance up to see him holding a rubber-headed mallet. Uh-oh, I grimace. This doesn't look good. I glance around to make sure nobody is lurking from a rival publication.

One might wonder why I'm carrying a rubber mallet on a flight to the nation's capital. It's a reasonable question, although, remarkably, it will never be posed in the next few minutes.

The answer is both complicated and silly. Awhile ago, a package arrived in the Report on Business containing a hollow chocolate cake and a rubber mallet. Inside the cake was a press release.

The mallet hung around for a while. It has the look of a gavel. I took a shine to it. I keep it on my desk. On an average day, there is no call for its use. But not all days are average.

A number of months back, three of the four hubcaps disappeared from my wife's van. It's been on the To Do list. This week, she picked up a new set at Canadian Tire for $35. She asked Judith to have me bring home the mallet. Wednesday evening, after taking out the garbage and recycling boxes, I banged in her new hubcaps and returned the mallet to my briefcase. There it remained as I dashed to the airport.

The screening guy evinces no curiosity about the reasons for the mallet. He wants to know simply what I intend to do with it, given that I cannot take it into the passenger cabin.

He suggests I check it through. I express discomfort with the notion of waiting around the baggage carousel in Ottawa as my lonely mallet travels the gauntlet. Moreover, I remind him, I will have to go through the embarrassment of checking it back through the other way.

Still, I can't simply give up the mallet. Would the Speaker of the Commons, having made a similar mistake, surrender the mace? The Air Canada attendant knows me from travels past. She is watching with amusement. She suggests putting the mallet in the airport safe until I can retrieve it.

The reception at Rideau Hall is tremendous. The journalists speak with enthusiasm of their inspiring work. La Presse wins the Michener. We all retire with Her Excellency and His Excellency for a sumptuous dinner.
The prosecution rests, Your Honours.

Mags in the NYT Mag

Rush to pick up your copy of the Sunday New York Times tomorrow! The magazine is featuring a big photo spread of swoonerific Maggie Gyllenhaal, the smart man's sexpot.

Uh... I mean, pick it up for the indepth news coverage, incise commentary, difficult crossword and Frank Rich, of course.

Friday, April 16, 2004

The Art of War : Roommate Edition

In order to draw Iraqi gunmen out from Fallujah, the U.S. military has begun using tactics like playing AC/DC music all night and blasting Arabic insults -- like “You shoot like a goat herder”-- over loudspeakers [so saith AP]. Jaded Graduostudoblogger Optimus Crime has some other psych ops suggestions for the American army, as taught to him by his roommate from his first year of university. Some of his helpful hints:
2) Spend the night downing beers and watching wrestling. Once sufficiently inebriated, burst into insurgent headquarters, drunk, and demand that the sunni cleric "... wrassle" with you.

3) Make an enormous pot of Kraft Dinner after smoking weed. Leave leftovers to rot on a rooftop for several days. When insurgents ask what the smell is, swear that you have no idea.

4) Download bad 1980s porn from a file sharing network. Invite the Third Marines over at 3:00am to watch it while the mujahideen are trying to sleep. Insist that the enemy fighters wake up to watch it with you. When rebuffed, steal their sheets and blankets.
[Read the rest here.]


Note that Optimus Crime has recently become the CSI of blogs. There is now an Optimus Crime: Halifax and an Optimus Crime: Kingston. What connects these three? They are all written by Canadian graduate students procrastinating from their theses...
Theatre Trivia!

What is the title of the play, by playwright Doug Wright, that won the Pulitzer Prize for drama last week?

a) I Am My Own Wife;
b) I Am My Own Grandpa;
c) I Am My Own Goat, or I Am Sylvia?;
d) I Am My Own Camera; or
e) I Am My Own Private Idaho.

A hint: Terry Teachout loved it. (Wait... That's not a hint at all. It's just a bad segue to linking to TT's blog entry about the play.)

Post-script Trivia

Speaking of the Pulitzers, I've ordered a copy of Anne Applebaum's Gulag: A History, which won the general nonfiction prize. Why?

a) Because of my newfound interest in articles/books dealing with gulags;
b) Because of my newfound interest in coming to terms with the North American Left's longtime romance with that whole Soviet Communism thing;
c) Because of my newfound interest in my Ukrainian heritage;
d) Because it has now been recommend to me by no less than three different people; or
e) All of the above.
Doug Pepper? I put him on my plate, says McClelland & Stewart

The big news in the book world on Wednesday was that Douglas Gibson is out as publisher and president of M&S -- "The Canadian Publisher" -- and Doug Pepper is in.

This is good news for Canadian non-fiction writers, as Pepper is best known for his work in Canada and the U.S. with journalists, academics and thinkers like Jane Jacobs, Linda Frum, Bruce McCall, Jimmy Breslin, P.J. Rourke and Ann Coulter...

Anyway, talking with Pepper on Wednesday, I got a good impression of him. I particularly like the turns of phrases he uses. A brief excerpt from my article:
Will he be searching for a Canuck Coulter who may be hiding somewhere in the Canadian woodwork? "In terms of sales, yeah," Pepper said. "But I don't think there is another Ann Coulter. She is tough meat."
Heh, heh... "Tough meat."

Other publishing news

New publishers were installed at three different CanWest papers today. But I'm not sure if that's been announced publicly or not, so I'll wait to blog about it until tomorrow... Nothing terribly earth-shattering, but the choice of replacement for Larry Smith at The Montreal Gazette is a bit of a surprise.
Stress: Could it be lurking in your workplace?

Stress: It makes MPs steal jewelry.

Stress: It makes Toronto Star reporters plagiarize the Village Voice.

Stress: Get it, before it gets you.


In all seriousness re: Svend Robinson: I really wish the guy the best. While I certainly do not agree with all the stands he's taken over the years, I consider him a courageous guy, particularly for having come out of the closet when he did. That opened a lot of doors here in Canada.

Also, Mr. Robinson had to be one of the most accessible MPs in parliament. I've met him in person more than any other politician (except for maybe John Nunziata) and he's always been super friendly. And once, when I was just a young student journalist, I was listening to him give a speech when he up and quoted an article I had written for the McGill Daily. At the time, I thought it was really cool that a politician would actually read (or get his staff to read) student newspapers. I was like, "Whoa! Svend Fuckin' Robinson is quoting me," because in the circles I frequented then, he was a political rock star.

And remember the time he was shot in the leg at the Summit of the Americas and The National Post started a campaign to buy him new pants? Man, that was awesome. Or that time he got into the shoving match with the Israeli border guard? Cuh-raaa-zeee, yo. It's a loss in so many ways is all I'm sayin'. You're never going to see, I don't know, someone like Reg Alcock chaining himself to trees or whathaveyou...

Thursday, April 15, 2004

"I found myself less antiwar than anti-antiwar, which did not make me prowar but left me much less antiwar than I wanted to be."

There's an article in the April issue of The Believer that eloquently and near perfectly expresses my own feelings about the War in Iraq: "My Antiwar Problem -- and Ours" by Tom Bissell.

Under the guise of writing about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, a three-volume non-fiction work first published in the 1970s that details Soviet slave-labour atrocities from the Russian Revolution until the mid-1950s, Bissell expertly dissects what was wrong with the reasons the U.S. went to war with Iraq and equally what is wrong with the mindset of most antiwar protestors:
I was opposed to the war because I believed it was wrong to attack a country that had not attacked us and that was not immediately involved in an act of concentrated genocide. (Genocide seems resistant to suggestions that it is subject to a statute of limitations -- until one realises that, if it were not, every white person in North America would be guilty of it.) I was opposed to the war because of my own experiences in nations still hamstrung by the legacy of totalitarianism. Most of us, as Americans, simply cannot understand the psychic damage that living in a totalitarian society, when one delinquent whisper can shuttle you and your family to a dungeon, wreaks upon a culture. By design, totalitarianism creates a sick, fearful, insane citizenry. One does not "free" such people by declaring democracy any more than one cures mental illness by throwing open the doors to an asylum. (But what, then, does one do for such people? I certainly have no answer.) Germany, Japan: these are the exceptions to the grave rule of totalitarianism. The hopeful examples they provide are virtually impossible to replicate, except, perhaps, in hopeful State Department memos. I finally did not trust the Bush administration to do the right thing in the aftermath of an Iraq invasion, especially not after Afghanistan [where Bissell has travelled extensively], when the evildoers we had promised to apprehend were allowed to slither into Pakistan and the warlords were permitted to reestablish their fiefdoms. Most of all, I worried that, if they did not see through the various and highly necessary post-invasion protocols, my generation could conceivably pay the price for this war every day for the rest of our lives.

But I did not march. I found I could not march. I could not stand within the crowd that gathered around the United Nations Plaza shortly before the war began when I knew the sight of it was providing a whole menagerie of Baathists with comfort. I could not find myself alongside those who, however inadvertantly, would allow these men an additional daily surplus of torture and cruelty. I had, after all, just read Samantha Power's unsparing and monumentally important book "A Problem from Hell," which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize. Power details the consistent Western failure during the twentieth century to stop various instances of genocide, including the Iraqi genocide against the Kurds that took place after the stalemated Iran-Iraq war in the late 1980s. I was, to put it most basically, incredibly confused. Confused about Iraq, about George W. Bush, about the gauntlet that Samantha Power's book had thrown down within me, and above all I was confused about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose moral clarity had paradoxically made a prism of my own moral feelings. I found myself less antiwar than anti-antiwar, which did not make me prowar but left me much less antiwar than I wanted to be. [...]

For the few remaining remnants of the antiwar movement to accomplish anything useful, they must abandon all notions of "bringing our soldiers home." This would be the worst imaginable solution to the problems we, together with the Iraqis, now face. It would make what was, at best, the clumsiest intervention in world history into international vandalism of Visigothic proportions. [...]

I believe that the war in Iraq was morally wrong, tactically dubious, and probably illegal, while, at the same time, and very nearly impossibly, I believe that the removal from power of Saddam Hussein was a great moral accomplishment, however large the windfall for Halliburton, and however insincere and dishonest the Bush administration's motives for doing so. That I detest the man conducting this war is finally immaterial. There is no other option. I may not like it, I may in fact hate it, but we as a nation have crossed a different kind of theshold magnitude, one of great potential good, and only skeptical and determined benovolence will prevent us from turning to vapor.
There's a reason I call this blog "On the Fence," you know. So much of what is going on in the world today leaves me "incredibly confused" about what is right and what is wrong and what should be done. And I believe that is normal.

There is no simple solution to the problem that is Iraq. Anyone who, through ideology or whathaveyou, offers simple answers to this complex question, anyone who is absolutely sure about her point-of-view on this subject is, in my view, dangerous. And, yes, that includes not just the Bushs and Rices, but the Noam Chomskys and Michael Moores.

I really wish this article was online so you could all read it. You'll just have to go out and buy the magazine, I suppose.


[One caveat: While I agree with most of what Bissell says, his style can be a little -- how you say -- pretentious, ie. "international vandalism of Visigothic proportions." Try and ignore that and his apparent dislike of people from New Jersey.]

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Float like a Butterfly...

From last night's press conference:
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. In the last campaign you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you'd made in your life and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa ... After 9/11 what would your biggest mistake be, would you say? And what lessons have you learned from it?

BUSH: Hmm. I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it ... I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way or that way. You know, I just - I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer. But it hasn't yet. I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even though I know what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we'll find out the truth on the weapons. That's why we set up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth as to exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm ... And - but it will all settle out, John. We'll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time ... You know, I hope I - I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes; I'm confident I have. I just haven't - (chuckles) - you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not quick - as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one. Yeah, Ann?
[As brought to my attention by Jonathan Kay on the Post's Ed Blog.]
This Just In: I hate the Bruins. Goddamn you, Bruins.
Late Theatre Tuesday: Sexy Saidye

Over the past five years or so, the Saidye Bronfman Centre has become the more excited of Montreal's establishment English-language theatres. I mean, Centaur's got an okay 2004-2005 season lined up, but nothing there has got my interest like these three plays from the SBC's 2004-2005 season (which was announced today):

1) "Martha Henry’s debut at the SBC, in a solo performance of Rose, directed by her long-time friend and collaborator, Diana Leblanc."
-- True, when the SBC brought Uta Hagen in for Donald Margulies' Collected Stories a couple of years back, it was sucky: a great actress past her prime in a crappy play. But this time around we've got a great actress still in her prime working with solid material. (Please: do not try to convince me that Margulies is a good playwright.)

2) "In 2004-05, [Gravy Bath director Madd] Harold will make his [SBC] main stage debut, directing Shakespeare’s The Tempest, starring Gareth Armstrong, of Shylock fame, and featuring Governor General Award winner, Douglas Campbell."
-- Considering the incredible things Harold has done with the rag-tag ensemble that is Gravy Bath, I'm pumped to see what he'll do with these actors and a good budget/rehearsal period. It'll be particularly interesting to see what comes out of the clash of old Shakespeareans (Armstrong and Campbell) and the new Shakespearean (Harold).

3) "In early 2005, the SBC will present Infinitheatre’s production of Death and Taxes, written and directed by Montreal’s own Guy Sprung, noted author, director playwright, award-winning screenwriter, and cultural critic."
-- Sprung is a little hit-or-miss in recent years, but he remains one of Canada's most vibrant theatre artists. I still vividly remember his billingual production of Beckett's Endgame at the Fonderie Darling.

Anyway, here's the SBC's full press release for your reading pleasure.


By the way, don't buy in the SBC's "Sunday @ The Saidye" business. Don't EVER go to the theatre at the SBC on a Sunday if you are under the age of 60... The senior citizens will chatter and they will complain loudly during the blackouts and they will snore. And that's their right. They've been through a lot: wars, depressions, whathaveyou. But there's no reason for you to have to put up with it.
Also: The Habs break my heart.
W.E. Gladstone Murray's Grandson...

... is alive and well and keeping a website about his work as a journalist in Thailand. Ol' W.E. was the first general manager of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but -- more importantly -- was the founder of The McGill Daily, which is the only reason I note this here.
"Corruption if necessary, but not necessarily corruption."

That does seems to be Ping Pong Paul's mantra, hmmm? It was also the title of a post over at POGGE the other day. Anyway, I think it's such a clever bit of wordplay -- alluding to William Lyon Mackenzie King's famed words about conscription -- that it should be spread about the Internet with glee.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Whoa: New National Post Editorial Blog

Across the Board, which was officially launched today, has the potential to be one of the more interesting blogs out there. Each member of the National Post ed board -- Jonathan Kay, Natasha Hassan, Adam Radwanski, John Turley-Ewart, Adam Daifallah, Marni Soupcoff, Lorne Gunter and John Geiger (two of whom have personal blogs already) -- posts her or his views on the news of the day as the news of the day unfolds...

Whether you agree with any of these people or not, Across the Board provides an interesting look into how editorial consensus is formed at a major newspaper. This is something very few people get to observe first-hand.

This is the first newspaper in Canada to have a blog like this. Apparently, the Posties got the idea from The Dallas Morning News' editorial blog. I, for one, would be fascinated to see how the ed board at The Toronto Star or The Globe and Mail or The New York Times or the Guardian or The New York Post or any number of newspapers form their editorial opinions.

This is one of those moments where you can see how, if journalists truly embrace new communications technology like blogs, the way we think of journalism could be radically altered. Transparency! Accessibility! Blogutopia!

Monday, April 12, 2004

Monday Schadenfreude : In Which Dr. Kissinger Erupts

This week's Very Special Schadenfreude comes from Mr. Sean Carrie of Montreal, QC:
Pretty much everyone in the DuPont Circle Chipotle franchise is staring in the direction of where the good Dr. Kissinger is presently consuming what the counter staff later confirm is a Carnitas Burrito "with everything except sour cream." Even the younger, less-educated-looking clientele are at least aware that this is a Washington personage of some high stature, and are consequently looking just as baffled as are their more clued-in elders as to why the wavy-haired guy in the natty suit is wolfing down a fast-food tex-mex meal at a ground-steel table instead of nibbling in a delicate manner, on something that costs way more than five bucks, at one of the District's -- even DuPont's -- more tony establishments.

Ol' Hank is pretty much oblivious though. I mean, he's entitled to eat where he pleases, isn't he? Hasn't he done enough starry-stripey stuff to merit the opportunity to have a bite with the salt of the U.S.eArth from time to time? And he's secure enough in this idea to ignore the stares...

Until such time as the pinto beans and salsa have worked their way, and pretty quickly, mind you, through his gut and out his Germanic rectum in an angry, tympanic salute to the cuisine of the Rio Grande. Which sends the breathless assembled into fits of laughter. A couple of Georgetown students pull out their cell phones and start spreading the word: "Fucking Kissinger farted! Tell Tammy! And Tell Rory!" Even the heretofore oblivious Japanese tourists in the corner are tittering politely, hands held delicately in front of widening smiles.

Dr. K. crumples the foil burrito wrapper and slams it down on the table like so many cluster bombs on Laos. Flushing, he makes briskly for the door and, once out on Connecticut, is seen to break into a run towards a waiting
This has been your Monday Schadenfreude.
Digital Culture: Manufacturing a Crappy Blog

Yes, it's true... Noam Chomsky started a blog last month. It's called Turning the Tide. But after a week, he mysteriously stopped blogging...

I wrote about Mr. Chomsky's blog flirtation last week in the Post, as part of a new item I'm writing on Tuesdays called Digital Culture:
Over the past year, it has become commonplace for celebrities of all stripes to start weblogs: Everyone from Belinda Stronach to Margaret Cho has jumped on the blog bandwagon. Still, some arrivals to the blogosphere are a genuine surprise.

A linguist and left-wing theorist of some renown, Noam Chomsky has spent most of his life criticizing media. So, it's interesting to see that the Chomster joined the self-publishing revolution with "Turning the Tide" ( on March 24.

While most popular bloggers are known for expressing strong opinions succinctly, Chomsky seems to be having difficulty mastering the art of the sound bite. In a recent post about the upcoming American presidential elections, he writes, "We have several choices to make. The first is whether we want to pay attention to the real world, or prefer to keep to abstract discussions suitable to some seminar. Suppose we adopt the first alternative."

In other ways, however, Chomsky's prose is well suited to the Internet. Jumping from thought to thought to thought -- sometimes in a single sentence -- his writing resembles a primitive form of hypertext. Take this erudite consideration: "All opponents of the invasion of Iraq -- at least, all those who bothered to think the matter through -- took for granted that there would be beneficial effects, as is often the case with military interventions: the bombing of Pearl Harbor, for example, which led to the expulsion of Western imperial powers from Asia, saving millions of lives. Does that justify Japanese fascism and its crimes? Of course not."

When Chomsky does manage to render an opinion concisely, it reads like poetry. Take his March 24 entry, "Bush's Economics":
Whether Bush believes,
or even understands,
the economic policies of his administration I have no idea,
and it really doesn't matter much.
Alas, Chomsky hasn't updated his blog since last month. One senses the medium is not suited for his message and that, like Belinda, he will soon permanently mothball his blog.

In the future, it seems, everyone famous will have a blog for 15 days.
Another thinker unsuited for blogging: John Ralston Saul. Man, I wish he'd get on that...
Theatre Monday: Harwood, Schmarwood

A Winnipegger (who also happens to be my father) pointed this story out to me this weekend:
Oscar-winning English playwright Ronald Harwood has cancelled an upcoming trip to direct a play in Winnipeg because of Canada's "draconian" anti-smoking laws.

The renowned author, playwright and screenwriter had agreed to restage his 1980s play The Dresser, a drama about an aging actor struggling through King Lear with his devoted valet, at the Manitoba Theatre Centre next season. But Winnipeg's public smoking ban – in place since last summer – has changed his mind.

"The reason for going back on my word is that I am a cigarette smoker," Harwood told the Winnipeg Free Press. "I have recently visited Canada and had to suffer the most draconian anti-smoking regulations in restaurants and public buildings.

"I had no intention of allowing myself to be forced out into the street in winter to partake of one of my great pleasures."
Well, that's a one-point deduction for Winnipeg.

On the hand, The Pixies are reuniting and their first gig is in Winnipeg in two days. That's 59 points for Winnipeg!

Sorry Harwood... You lose.

Winnipeg rules! Harwood drools! Out of the side of his cancery mouth!

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Kim Campbell: Ahead of her time, clearly...

Thanks to KW for forwarding me this absurd CBC News article: "Campbell among 'most important' leaders":
Although she was prime minister of Canada for less than five months, Kim Campbell has been ranked as one of history's 50 "most important political leaders" by the National Geographic Society.

Campbell, who led the country for 132 days back in 1993, was included for being Canada's first female prime minister, according to the Washington D.C.-based society.

She and her Progressive Conservatives went from having a majority government to holding only two seats after the November 1993 election. The former cabinet minister lost her own Vancouver seat.

Campbell's name appears on the list of influential leaders alongside such historical giants as Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.
Too funny. Kudos to CBC for playing the story straight. I'm not sure if CP or CBC 'broke' this story first, but here's CP's elaboration:
The American editor of the almanac said Campbell belongs in the pantheon of historical greats for the simple reason she was Canada's first female prime minister.

"Given that there have not been that many females who have led nations, we chose to include her," Jane Sunderland said from the society's headquarters in Washington.

She said she "stands by the choice" of the book's authors.

James Marsh, editor-in-chief of the Canadian Encyclopedia, differs.

"I don't think Kim Campbell should even make a list of great Canadian leaders," March said.
Too much fun for a Sunday evening...
David Mamet is still cranky...

...about the PC criticism of his 1992 play Oleanna, which is about a student who falsely accuses her professor of rape. In the Guardian, he rants about that and more:
Even most dramatic roles for women, when viewed not as entertainment but as, if I may, art, are drivel. Now, Voyager and Sophie's Choice treat us to the noble spectacle of women either crying or bravely not crying. Is this writing for women? Well, it is writing about women. Or about their simulacrum. Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Noël Coward wrote women characters that were fantasies about homosexual men.

Can real women be written by men? Well, who is to say? The terrible voices of that coercion known as political correctness cry - but they cry not for parity, let alone humanity. They cry for power.

Let us apply a rational application of the rational doctrine of sexual equality: is it less heinous to enquire the sex of an applicant for our dramatic attention than of an applicant for employment? Having settled that, let us move on, and hush up, you academics brown-nosing for tenure with your authors listed by sex, race and geographical distribution. Get a job...

[Oleanna]'s first audience was a group of undergraduates from Brown University. They came to a dress rehearsal. The play ended and I asked the folks what they thought. "Don't you think it's politically questionable," one said, "to have the girl make a false accusation of rape?"

I, in my ignorance, was stunned. I didn't realise it was my job to be politically acceptable. I'd always thought society employed me to be dramatic; further, I wondered what force had so perverted the young that they would think that increasing political enfranchisement of a group rendered a member of that group incapable of error - in effect, rendered her other-than-human. For if the subject of art is not our maculate, fragile and often pathetic humanity, what is the point of the exercise?
Oh, Mamet!

[Yeah, I realise: three articles from the Guardian in a row. Why can I say? They've got good theatre writing... Anybody out there have any good theatre news/review sites to recommend?]
Antigone's Antagonist

The Guardian's Michael Billington likes Seamus Heaney's new translation of Sophocles' Antigone, The Burial at Thebes. The production at Dublin's Abbey Theatre, directed by Théâtre du Nouveau Monde's Lorraine Pintal and designed by fellow Canuck Carl Fillion: not so much.
You feel that Heaney has brilliantly stripped Sophocles's play to the bone only for his Québécois director, perversely, to dress it up again.
[Psst... that's Québécoise, Mr. Billington.]
"Why not come into a piece of fruit?"

The Office's Ricky Gervais is doing stand-up. The Guardian reviews.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Theatre Thursday: The Ragin' Acadian Maillet

After six years in development, Pelagie -- a musical based on Antonine Maillet's Acadian epic Pelagie-la-Charrette -- finally opens tonight at the Bluma Appel in Toronto. I won't catch it until later in its run, but here's my interview with Maillet from the Post earlier this week:
In her books and plays, she writes not only about Acadian culture and history but in the Acadian language as well, a preserved version of old French specific to the region. "When the Acadians came to America -- they were the first Europeans to come and live in America, in 1604 -- that was the French that was spoken at the time," Maillet explains. "They took that French with them and kept it with them." (Pelagie's premiere coincides with the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia and the 2004 World Acadian Congress in Nova Scotia.)

Because of the unique dialect, it is tremendously difficult to translate Maillet's works into English without losing their distinctness. Nonetheless, Maillet is supremely happy with [librettist Vincent] de Tourdonnet's work on Pelagie. "You can never get the real flavour when you translate, but you can get a similar flavour," she says. "Vincent has done that."

She says you can hear the rhythm of the ocean in Acadian French, which emphasizes the first syllable of words, sounding like waves crashing on the shore and then dispersing. "When I speak to translators, I say, 'Try to give it an ocean flavour, a sea flavour, a salty flavour," says the author, who has translated several of Shakespeare's plays into French herself, as well as David French's play Salt Water Moon.
[Sorry for the lack of accents on those Pelagies... I'm at an unfamiliar keyboard.]
Kelly Nestruck's Tri-City Birthday Tour

This blog post is being written from sunny Ottawa, the city that always sleeps. Our nation's capital is the second stop on my Tri-City Birthday Tour and its narcoleptic atmosphere is just perfect for my grandparents, whom I am visiting.

Now, the grand-'rents don't have a CD player, let alone a computer, so I won't be updating my blog over the next day or so. In fact, the Tri-City Birthday Tour seems like a fine excuse to take a brief break from blogging and try to stave off carpal tunnel syndrome. Don't expect exciting and new until Monday.

If you are in Montreal and are a bona fide friend of mine though (and the statistics demonstrate that you could very well be), please consider joining me for a beer at Copacabana on St. Laurent on Friday night. I should be arriving about 10 pm.

If you are some sort of Internet stalker, please consider joining me at Brutopia on Crescent on Friday night, where I won't be at all.

If you are some sort of hot Internet stalker, however, do head on over to the Copa, where music and passion and too much smoke are always in fashion.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

What are you doing April 13?

Well, if you live in New York City, I hope you'll be attending An Evening With Bill Murray at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The awards and accolades for Lost in Translation proved what long-time fans already knew: Bill Murray is a great actor. He’s always been funny, but lurking around the edges of his caustic, sharp-witted persona is a sad-eyed mix of melancholy and tenderness. This series highlights some of Murray’s best-known characters, as well as some of his choice supporting roles.

BAMcinématek is proud to present a special talk with Bill Murray moderated by the New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell, following a mini-Murray film festival on April 13
Caddyshack in on the schedule, as is Rushmore, Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters. But Cinetrix makes a good point: Where are Kingpin, Scrooged and Meatballs?

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

April 6. A day that will go down in history.


(Yeah, I'm just trolling for birthday greetings...)
Theatre Tuesday: Mirvish, TaurPro and CanStage, oh my!

And on the completely opposite end of the theatre spectrum from the Fringe and the Fringe-Fringe, here's my article about CanStage stepping into the megamusical hole that Livent left. In order to produce Urinetown, the not-for-profit CanStage has teamed up with an interesting partner, a money man named Aubrey Dan:
So what does Dan get out of this deal, which requires him to take all the risk and share his profits? Does he dream of showgirls and Champagne, like Bialystock and Bloom from The Producers? Does he want to see his name up in lights?

Dan, a decidedly contemporary theatre producer, seems aghast at the idea. "I'm not sure that's my goal," he says sheepishly. "I'd rather see the DanCap name up than my own personal name. In fact, it's an opportunity to build the brand. Brand recognition."
[Cue the epileptic fits and foaming at the mouth over at the Infringement Festival...]
Theatre Tuesday: Car Stories and the Infringement Festival Redux

Glad to see that debate is still raging down at the last Car Stories post. Forty-nine comments (as of April 6 12:30 am) is a record here at On The Fence.

Two quick things, then I'm dropping the subject until at least June:

1) Donovan King has written me a most interesting e-mail, in which he helpful delineates when he is "playing" and when he is not:
Our players and their characters are free to operate in any medium – they are not restricted to the stage.

[T]his talk of “erratic behaviour” is misleading to say the least. Given our duality in practice (the actor/character), it is important to get the facts straight. For the record: Yes, the characters are erratic – in our guidelines they are “bold and slightly grotesque urban creatures who populate the dramatic space and lead the spect-actors from car to car”. My character at the beer tent was loud, obnoxious, American, and drunk. He didn’t get it that he wasn’t making any money with 30 actors “on the payroll”. He was concerned with “stolen vehicles in the show”. He also tried to recruit others and sell the show. On other days, it was Matt Legault who played a drunken Irish lunatic in this role. Yes, the characters are erratic. But we are not. The word “behaviour” should be replaced with the word “performance”.
My response is this: Theatre requires only two things: audience and performer. Once the audience doesn't realise it is an audience, it is no longer an audience and we are no longer dealing with honest theatre.

What I love about theatre is that you go out there and say, "I am going to lie to you" and then do. And everyone goes along with it anyway. There is an agreement, a contract between the audience and performer. Because everyone knows it's a lie, theatre is more truthful that reality.

The "inter-performance" that King describes in his letter isn't honest theatre: it's activism; or it's manipulation; or it's lying; or it's just plain reality (or indistinguishable from reality, anyway). It's onanism: if you never reveal yourself, then the spectator and the performer are one and the same. It doesn't make people sympathize with you; it makes them suspicious of you. You know the story about the boy who cried wolf...

Now that King has revealed to me what (he says) is performance and what is not, I am more sympathetic to him. He's lifted the curtain. I used to be very interested in Augusto Boal myself; a couple of years ago I might have even been on board with King, disturbing the shit.

But I now feel strongly that invisible theatre is dishonest and condescending to the audience. It's the activist equivalent to a politician's staged photo op : only successful when the lie is kept up.

2) RE: The Infringement Festival. As I wrote in the comments below, I think a valid question raised by King, McLean and others is the question: Is the Fringe still on the 'fringe'?

The answer, in my opinion, is no. In most cities, the Fringe is thoroughly mainstream and a humungous festival. In Edmonton and Winnipeg, the Fringes are the largest festivals of the year.

So it's natural that fringe Fringe festivals like the I.F. have emerged. And they aren't bad ideas. Every year, there are many, many applicants to the Fringes who are unable to get in, because only so many artists can be accommodated. And there are fringey folks who feel that the Fringe has become "corporate" and "exclusionary." If you feel that way, by all means, go and form an anti-corporate festival. Nothing wrong with that. The more theatre festivals the better.

But it seems to me that the Infringement Festival is more about opposing and protesting the Fringe and less about creating a separate, "ethically sponsored", no registration fee, fringe-fringe event. This seems to me, a pity.

[EDITED tuesday morning, for clarity/hindsight. Word "honest" added twice.]

Monday, April 05, 2004

Monday Schadenfreude: Imagine Donald Trump Eating a Rotten Sandwich

Courtesy of regular blog readers Anders and Erika Yates of Montreal, QC:
Picture Donald Trump, sitting in an ornate antique chair in an over-the-top, moneyed-up dining room. One of his servants brings him a sandwich on an exquisitely crafted platinum tray, and Trump grabs it and takes a bite. But only then does he realize that the salami therein is well past its best before date.

"This tastes awful!" he says.

Then he ends up with a stomach ache for the rest of the day, makes a bad decision, and loses $100 million.

This has been your Monday Schadenfreude.
Thank you, Brother and Sister Yates.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Saturday Night: In which I get blung.

Saturday Night started a feature a couple issues back called “Vocabulazy.” Written by Bob Sexton, the column rails against linguistic larcenies: “Literacy is down and the number of lazy e-mails is up. The result? The dumbification of English across the nation.”

I am honoured to have my work included in this month’s batch of “recent examples of the misused, overused and just plain wrong" alongside offending sentences by Joanne Kates and Leah McLaren (The Globe and Mail's restaurant critic and eternally-twentysomething columnist, respectively). Here, Mr. Sexton's summary of my crime:
A popular theory contends that if you (i.e., the majority of us) have heard about a slang term or underground trend, it's no longer cool or “street.” There’s no better example of this than “bling bling.” First used in 1999 in a hip-hop song by B.G. (Baby Gangsta) to onomatopoetically denote an ostentatious display of wealth (ring, chains, gold teeth, what have you), the term is now being used in decidedly “establishment” circles. In a National Post review of the documentary film The Corporation (January 17, 2004), J. Kelly Nestruck took the term a step further, perhaps, than he should have: “Because corporations are all about bling-bling, the environment, the law and the public good often end up blung.” [From Sat. Night, April 2004 issue, page 18.]
Like I said, I'm honoured to be included in "Vocabulazy." But I'm little freaked out by this "'establishment' circles" stuff... Yoicks! That totally kills my street cred, man.

Elsewhere in Saturday Night's April issue: Another full-page picture of editor-in-chief Matthew Church's back. This time, in a blue duotone!
ACHTUNG! Totally esoteric post about Jonny Greenwood/Olivier Messiaen

Okay, so after reading Alex Ross's New Yorker Article about Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, I finally went out and got myself a CD of it.

Anyway, all while I was listening to it, I kept hearing bits and pieces of Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's score to the documentary Bodysong in it. It was reading about Greenwood's obsession with Messiaen that first piqued my interest in the composer, but until yesterday I had only downloaded some of his organ pieces and a few movements from the Quartet.

Particularly similar: the Bodysong track "Moon Trills" and the fifth part of the Quartet, "Louange a l'Eternite de Jesus." The piano parts are very similar and, about six minutes into the Louanges, the violin starts into some really devastating vibrato and it sounds almost exactly like the 'trills' from "Moon Trills."

Download the two tracks and compare. "Moon Trills" almost seems like a variation on "Louange a L'Eternite de Jesus."

I don't want to accuse Mr. Greenwood of anything -- particularly since I don't know from musicology -- but when does inspiration turn into homage and when does homage turn into rip-off? And does it really matter, since both pieces are absolutely hypnotic?

[The version I have of the Quartet is this one. Apparently, this one is the best recording, but, alas, not at my local CD store.]

[Further discussion here.]

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Poet of the Week: Sarah Harmer

Most poetry these days, of course, comes in the form of music lyrics. One wordsmith I am particularly fond of as of late is the lovely and talented Sarah Harmer. What I love about her lyrics is that they are deceptively simple. It's only with repeated listens that deeper insight and meaning is revealed.

Here's a sample, from Pendulums [real audio from Universal], the first track off her new album All of Our Names, which was released last week:
We are like pendulums
our arms swinging at our sides
and I am a good little clock
walking along power lines

I'm thinking like a swinging door
hinging on these changing thoughts
between the pull up to the shore
and the push off.
So, on first listen, I was all like: "Yeah. We're like pendulums. Cute."

Further consideration on my way to work yesterday, however, set me off on a mini thought-explosion:

"Yes! Time isn't really measured by clocks. It's measured by humans. And if we cease to exist, so does the concept of time. We are clocks. The only clocks. And time is measured in the tick-tock of our daily activities. Of course it sometimes feels as if time is passing by slowly or fast: it is. It moves at different speeds for different people, depending on their moods and how fast the swinging doors in their minds are hinging back and forth, how fast their hearts are beating..."

And then I started thinking about all the pendulums in my body: my pumping heart, my lungs breathing in and out, my teeth chewing gum in my mouth, my arms swinging at my side. My morning cup of coffee is a water clock, dripping towards my stomach and lunchtime. Days aren't set by the rise and set of sun, but by the schedule by which I turn on and off my lights at home. We are clocks. Our arms swing like pendulums, but we are clocks!!! It's not simile, then metaphor. It's simile, then truth. Zammo!

Anyway, basically, Ms. Harmer has set Einstein's Theory of Relativity to music. And described it beautifully, I think.


Universal Music's site about Harmer's album doesn't really do it justice. It descibes Pendulums as being about "a wintry walk in the countryside." Yeah... And so is Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

[Actually, if I was looking for a poet to compare Harmer to, it would be Frost.]

Friday, April 02, 2004

Film Friday: La Grande Séduction

My review of the Quebec comedy La Grande Séduction, which is being released in the rest of Canada as Seducing Doctor Lewis today, is up on the Post's website and -- hurrah! -- free for all the world to read.

I'm proud of this review, mainly because it features my first-ever French pun in print:
Another award-winning dramatic comedy from Quebec about the foibles of our flawed health-care system, you say? La guérison, yes sir.
Get it? Hein? Like La guerre, yes sir! by Roch Carrier. Hoo-hoo! Zammo!
Film Friday: Scooby Don't

When I was just a wee lad of toilet-training age, my grandmother purchased me some Scooby-Doo underwear to help bolter my confidence. "Don't do poo in Scooby-Doo," she advised me wisely.

Ladies and Gentlemen, with Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, Warner Brothers has done poo in Scooby-Doo.

Here's my review from last week:
All right kids, back into the Mystery Machine
National Post

Maybe, just maybe, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed is all right for those who are still forming their childhood memories. But for those of us whose childhood memories consist of the grand old television series, the movie is traumatic and liable to leave you in a horrible, sinking, what-is-the-world-coming-to? funk. Scooby-Doo 2 takes everything that was brilliant and subversive about the original cartoon and smashes it on the altars of inoffensive pap and Burger King product placements.

In a cartoon universe populated by Smurfs and Friendly Ghosts, Scooby-Doo, Where are You! (which originally ran from 1969 to 1978) was and continues to be distinct and daring in the way it debunks the supernatural and promotes healthy skepticism among kids. Sure, it featured a jive-talking Great Dane, but at the end of every episode Fred, Daphne, Shaggy, Velma and Scooby unmasked a monster as a flesh and blood human being. The toon mirrored the questioning spirit of its time: Zoinks, Shaggy! Nixon knew about Watergate! And the Black Knight was that nasty old museum curator Mr. Wickles! And the U.S. policy in Vietnam was a disaster! Jinkies!

The first Scooby-Doo movie followed the original formula to an ironic T. But despite being the product of the same writer, director and cast, the sequel has decided that skepticism is now uncool. (Perhaps echoing the spirit of our times?) So in Scooby-Doo 2, the meddling kids from Mystery Inc. have to do battle with real monsters, paranormal beasts who have been created in a monster machine by a mad scientist. Science is now the villain instead of the hero.

Another thing that made the original series so fab was Velma, cartoondom's first lesbian, albeit only ambiguously so. Short, squat and smart, Velma didn't take no guff. She was the brains of the operation, even if an animated glass ceiling prevented her stealing the leader position away from boring, ascoted Fred.

Though Velma needed a love interest like Scooby needs a bicycle, the filmmakers provided her with one here anyway. And, going against the sly allusions of the first flick, it's a man. At least Velma's prospective museum-curator boyfriend is Seth Green, an actor who may not always elevate bad films to good, but consistently makes them tolerable.

A key sub-plot of Scooby Doo 2 involves Velma dealing with self-esteem issues, worrying that she's ugly and geeky and gross. By the end of the film, of course, she comes to terms with the way she looks and acts and learns that some guys (ie. Seth Green) dig gals like her. But here's the thing: Linda Cardellini, the actress who plays Velma (surely either Thora Birch or Christina Ricci would be better), is a breathtaking, petite brunette, as swoon-inducing as Sarah Michelle Gellar's Daphne. She is not by any stretch of the imagination ugly. In presenting a beautiful woman as plain and then saying it's OK to be plain (read: beautiful), the film sends mixed messages and steals away a role model away from short, stubby and/or ambiguously lesbian children.

These objections are surely the qualms of an adult, not a child. But the kids at the matinee I saw didn't seem particularly impressed. They tittered at the fart jokes, but were only nominally rapt during the ghost-busting and character development sequences.

Better to get your popcorn in a doggy bag and stick to reruns on TeleToon: that's where Scooby-Doo really is.
[The beginning of this blog entry, by the way, was the original ending to this review. I think my editor was wise to advise me to leave my toilet-training experiences out of it...]

Thursday, April 01, 2004

This Week in Blogs

A genuine addition to the canconblogosphere this week: Adam Radwanski, member of The National Post's editorial board and a music reviewer for its Arts & Life section.

This, as Andrew Coyne notes, brings the total of past and present National Posties with blogs to 15. (Actually, Coyne tosses in Warren Kinsella, prolific letter-writer and très occasional contributor, too and says 16.)

As for bloggers who work at The Star or The Globe and Mail or any other Canadian daily: Zero to my knowledge.

Why do you suppose that is? Leave your witty and/or astute comments on this ("Because the Post sucks!", "Because the Post rocks!") below.

The Sheila Copps blog was, of course, just an April Fool's Joke. But I had you there for a moment, didn't I? Eh? Didn't I? Uh-huh. Oh yeah. Bam!
Golly, GMail!

There is speculation in some corners that the announcement of GMail, a free new e-mail service from Google, is an April Fool's Day hoax.

However, the New York Times wrote about it yesterday, when it was still March 31 and every single person in the world was telling the truth every moment of the day.

In any case, the idea of GMail (A gig of space! Search-based e-mail!) is like a little poke at my geek G-spot. As with love, I'm throwing myself into the belief that it's real. If Google breaks my heart on this however, I'll rip out its little googly eyes...