Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Top 20 Artastic People/Places/Things of 2007

Here are some amazing theatre/music/film experiences I had over the last 12 months in Montreal, Toronto, London, Paris, Las Vegas and New York. (In no particular order of amazingness.) I'm afraid I don't have the time or brain cells to describe my reasons for loving all of these at the moment... Happy New Year's Eve!

1. My theatre trip to New York in May. I saw six plays, three of which blew my mind as it were. They were: The Drowsy Chaperone, Sweeney Todd, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Add to this that I tossed around an imaginary football with Nellie McKay at the Drowsy Chaperone opening night party and basically it was, like, the best extended working weekend ever.

2. Rock 'n' Roll by Tom Stoppard in the West End.

3. Show Your Bones by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

4. Better Parts/Antoine Feval/Minotaur. Shows I really loved at Fringe festivals in Montreal and Toronto this year.

5. Love, the Cirque de Soleil Beatles show in Las Vegas. Soooo beautiful.

6. Rosa Laborde's Léo at Tarragon Theatre. (If you're in Toronto, go see the remount.)

7. k.d. lang singing Hallelujah at Leonard Cohen's induction in the Canadian Songwriter's Hall of Fame. Bye-bye Jeff Buckley's version.

8. Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett starring Harold Pinter. I didn't make it into the actual production, but I saw the premiere of the filmed version. (This is my favourite play, by the by.) While it's disappointing that all the banana stuff is cut, Pinter's performance is great -- and, of course, full of extratextual poignance.

9. Peter Morgan. This British writer is my writing hero of the year. He wrote my favourite movie of the year, The Queen, and one of my favourite plays of the year, Frost/Nixon. He made me feel compassion for people I thought I disliked.

10. Brad Mehldau. I saw this intellojazz pianist life this year for first time, twice: opening solo for Wayne Shorter Quartet at Massey Hall and with his trio at the Montreal Jazz Festival. At the latter he was anything but aloof, giving five encores. Five!

11. Gnarls Barkley. You can't deny that St. Elsewhere is the awesome.

12. Bon Cop, Bad Cop. I think I enjoyed hearing my (anglo) mother and (franco) step-father tell me how much they enjoyed this movie more than I actually enjoyed watching it. Yeah, a lot of it was ridiculous and some of it was hackish, but I'm a sucker for bilingual humour and any attempts to bridge the solitudes. Director Éric Canuel shot television ads for the Bloc Quebecois for the January election, then he released the most popular Canadian movie of all time. What an interesting year he's had.

13. A Beautiful View by Daniel MacIvor at Buddies in Bad Times.

14. Recut Movie Trailers. My favourite meme of the year.

15. Sarah Harmer's album I'm a Mountain. Okay, so it was released last year... I liked it this year. Sue me.

16. George Galloway on Big Brother.

17. Michael Sheen. This Welsh actor is my acting hero of the year. He played Tony Blair in my favourite movie of the year, The Queen, and David Frost in one of my favourite plays of the year, Frost/Nixon. He made me feel compassion for people I thought I disliked.

18. Sizwe Banzi est mort, by Athol Fugard at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. Peter Brook's theatre in Paris is such a gorgeous space that it almost doesn't matter what I saw there. But this production of Fugard in translation had one of my favourite performances of the year from the intensely charismatic Malian actor Habib Dembélé...

19. Thank You For Smoking. Satire!

20. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.


No, I'm not even joking.


I knew the American economy was in trouble, but I hadn't realized the situation had gotten this bad. It seems now they're even outsourcing their car movies to Asia.

Yes, the third episode of The Fast and the Furious is here -- I could hardly wait either!-- and it is subtitled Tokyo Drift. That would have been a fitting subtitle for Lost in Translation too, come to think of it, but here drift refers not to the anomie of global travel, but to a kind of stunt driving that originated in Japan. Drifting involves pulling the hand brake while going into a turn, so that the car spins or glides sideways around a corner. It's an impressive trick, though frankly not much more than driving on icy roads without snow tires. (Here's a free sequel suggestion: Pay It Fast and Furiously 4ward -- Canadian Winter.)

Though it quickly relocates to Japan, Tokyo Drift begins in the familiar Fast and Furious territory of the U.S.A., where we are introduced to troublemaker Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), a 17-year-old Southerner with no attachment to any of the previous movies in the series or, it appears, anybody in this one.

As the teenage antihero is introduced in the opening montage, it becomes apparent that this Fast and Furious director, Justin Lin, has a pretty subversive sense of humour. We watch a football mascot taking off his head to go through the high school's metal detector, a group of fans beating a pinata shaped like a Native American (they're about to play a rival team called the Indians), and a student being tortured with a paint gun in shop class. This almost Michael Mooreian look at American culture goes miles towards explaining why Sean has a penchant for escaping through street racing.

That need for speed quickly gets Sean into trouble and -- since this is his third offensive in a third town -- he is given a choice between jail and moving to Japan to live with his estranged military father; he chooses the latter.

Flash forward to Tokyo, a new school where you have to wear slippers, and a drift-obsessed illegal racing scene, which Sean quickly gets involved in despite threats from major dad.

The ensuing plot, which is more about cars than characters, is fast and spurious: Sean falls for an Australian ex-pat named Neela (an Angelina Jolie Jr. named Nathalie Kelley), whose boyfriend happens to be a small-time crook called the Drift King (Brian Tee), whose uncle is a big-time crook in the Yakuza crime syndicate. With the help of ex-pat car expert Han (Sung Kang) and fellow army brat Twinkie (Bow Wow, who has ditched his 'Lil), Sean learns how to let his back tires slide and deal with being a gaijin -- an outsider, which he was even at home in the States.

There's some trouble with the Yakuza, fun glimpses of underground Tokyo culture and then, before you know it, the climax of Tokyo Drift is at hand: A fast and furious race down a mountain where Sean and the Drift King fight for the girl and their very lives. Warning: Spoiler ahead. No really, watch out! That spoiler has detached itself and is coming straight at your windshield. Aaaahhhh!

Critics didn't really like the first two Fast and Furious movies, but they went on to earn more that US$443-million worldwide. It makes one feel sort of impotent, but I don't really mind because this is the best of the series and hopefully will help make the talented Black as big a star as Vin Ethanol, er Diesel.

Tokyo Drift is a bit more contemplative than its predecessor, which perhaps has to do with the fact that drifting is more of a car ballet than a race. There is one scene where Neela and Sean drift down a mountain with friends that actually looks like they're floating down a river. An unexpected moment of beauty in a sea of loud, obnoxious -- and completely effective -- car porn.

There is disclaimer at the end, by the way, urging kids not to "duplicate any action, driving or car play scenes herein portrayed." You may nonetheless want to look both ways before crossing your suburban shopping mall's parking lot.

Rating three stars

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Anyone know any good New Year's Eve parties in London?

My plan to crash Abi Titmuss's party did not pan out.

I don't really like to throw stones at other journalist's mistakes, because I live in a glass house. But, really, The Real Thing is by Tom Stoppard and Humble Boy is by Charlotte Jones.

As for My Top Artastic Experiences of the Year, well, if you're interested you can pop by this ol' blog tomorrow.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas in Afghanistan.

With Rick Mercer
. Just a little blog reading that touched me...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas and all that!

I'm writing from Paris, a lovely little town that is full of lights and love, but not Internet cafes. Thanks for popping by the ol' blog over the past year... I'm going to go on hiatus until 2007, because the Cybercafes are ridiculously expensive and I am only tenuously employed.

Let me tell you one thing, though, before I go back to revelling: Peter Brook is a bit of a jerk. I mean, sure, he's directed countless wonderful productions around the world, but if you go up to him after a show in Paris and say hello, he will reply, "Je ne parle pas anglais." This will confuse you and you will wonder if he is perhaps the janitor, but then you will see his picture on the cover of a book and be all, "What the -- That was Peter Brook!" Then, you will see him a few minutes later on the street outside his Théàtre des Bouffes du Nord and be all, "Bon soir!" And he'll totally ignore you and your friend who has read The Empty Space half a dozen times.


But back to the Christmas spirit: Here's my Toronto Star interview with Stephen Merchant, co-creator of The Office and co-host of the funny Ricky Gervais Show podcasts. Have a happy Christmas or Chinese dinner or whatever it is you do and see you in the new year!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Laughing all the way to the Banksy...

My article on Santa's Ghetto, Banksy and friends' awesome "squat art concept store" on Oxford Street.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Time's 2006 Person of the Year is...


Pffft... What a-cop out.

(Still gonna put it on my resumé, though.)
Meat, Smoked.

Leonard Cohen writes about when he knew Jack. Well, kind of.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Neon Bible.

This, apparently, is the title of the upcoming Arcade Fire album. We are excited and may need an Intervention. (Who's got tickets to the second night of the band's comeback concerts in London in January? I do, I do!)

What does the title mean? That the Arcade Fire is embracing its status as a cult and this will be their seminal text outlining their commandments and who begat who?

A possibility. I do wonder if it is a reference to The Neon Bible, one of the two books by John Kennedy Toole, the one that isn't A Confederacy of Dunces. Though Toole was a famous New Orleansian (?), there is a Montreal connection to Neon Bible; Terrence Davies' movie adaptation of the book starred Montrealer Jacob Tierney in the main role... Not the best movie or, I hear, the best book, but hopefully the album will be better.
Just overheard in a Crouch End café.

Angry Woman Exiting: "...and if you're uncomfortable with racism in Britain, go back to your own fuckin' country!"
Rest of Café: *stunned silence*
Just one more reason to love Michel Gondry.

He can solve a Rubik's Cube with his feet.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that knighting Ringo could bring an end to Western civilization as we know it."

Okay, maybe I was exaggerating a bit.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Drow$y Chaperone.

It's recouped its investment. Anyone want to bet on how long it'll run on Broadway? It's doing as well now as it ever has...
Robert Rabinovitch: Testify!

This video made me weep from laughter, but I'm kind of an idiot. (How sad that Ouimet is shutting down Tea Makers... Where else will I get my Ceeb gossip?)
The Resolution Will Not Be Blogged.

Whereas Declan over at Crawl Across the Ocean has dug up a fun U-turn from Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro.

Whereas on Nov. 9, Del Mastro blogged:
In a move that can only be described as astounding, the Federal Liberal party officially aligned themselves with the Bloc Quebecois.

Now what is the noble cause that has united them? Well while they apparently agree that Quebec is a Nation, contrary to proud Canadians everywhere that's not it.
Whereas two weeks later, Del Mastro voted for Harper's motion recognizing the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada.

Be it resolved that Dean Del Mastro does not consider himself to be a proud Canadian.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Quick, Johnny Knoxville: Buy the movie rights to this story ASAP!

Man fakes mental retardation for 20 years.
The honeymoon is over.

Dion should give up his French citizenship. Not to channel Mike Harris or anything, but it's just common sense.

So saith a dual citizen who is totally down on all those dual citizen haters out there.
Bare walls no longer...

Potestad Poster
It's a long story as to how it ended up overseas and in my hands, but now I have this awesome poster hanging in my London flat. Designed by the wonderful Theo Dimson, it was for a 1989 Toronto production of Eduardo Pavlovsky's Potestad at the Tarragon Extraspace starring Diego Matamoros, one of my favourite Canadian actors. (The poster is signed by Dimson.)

Imagine, there was a time when you only had to dial seven numbers to buy theatre tickets in Toronto...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mémoires affectives.

Okay, I promise this blog hasn't gone all-Dion-all-the-time. But let me point you to two good posts of Andrew Potter's about how Stéphane Dion’s views on federalism and Quebec are constantly misrepresented.

Here's a prime example from the CBC today:
In Dion's Montreal riding of St-Laurent-Cartierville, which he has won five elections in a row, his constituents weren't sure what to make of his new role as Liberal leader.

"To win the heart of Quebecers, what will he do?" wondered Llesse Chuckiken, who said it's hard to forget that Dion voted against Harper's motion acknowledging the Québécois as a nation within Canada.
That must be hard to forget, because not only did Dion vote for Harper's motion, but Harper consulted Dion when he was drafting it! There is clearly a serious disinformation campaign about Dion in Québec...

Anyway, here are two encouraging signs that those of us who think Dion is going to end up doing just fine in Quebec aren't totally up merde creek.

1) A poll that blasts the conventional wisdom on Dion in Quebec: "62 per cent of respondents in the province said that Mr. Dion was a good choice for the Liberals, with only 29 per cent saying he was a bad choice. The approval of the Liberals' pick was higher in Quebec than in the rest of the country, where 55 per cent liked the choice."

2) The fact that La Presse cartoonist Serge Chapleau has stopped drawing Dion as a rat... now he's a beaver, a much bigger and more admired rodent.

Dion Makeover
Kicking a man when he's down...

From the Guardian's editorial praising Stéphane Dion today:
Eight candidates went to Montreal hoping to step into the shoes of Brian Martin, who stood down this year.

Also of note in this editorial:
The bright and bookish Mr Dion does not come over as the kind of machine politician who thrives in the sweaty convention atmosphere. But, after triumphing in a test of nerves like this, winning Canada's next general election should be child's play.
Guess we can't call him perenially underestimated anymore, eh?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Kingmaker Martha Hall-Findlay...

And other Aesop fables from the Liberal leadership convention over in my final Tyee election-blog post.
Planet Stelmach.

Am I the only one who finds it impossible not to think of ALF whenever Ed Stelmach's name is mentioned? Why does Canadian politics suddenly become all fun the moment I leave the country?
Some corrections from last night.

- CPAC does have a bilingual option. My bad.

- By "I might have to change my whole world view. Seriously." I meant, "You know, whatever. I'm cool."

- Why are pirates pirates? They just arrrrrrr.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I can't believe Dion won.

This isn't how politics is supposed to work.

I might have to change my whole world view. Seriously.
Kinsella calls it for Dion.

For what's that worth
Why is there no bilingual option for CPAC?

I hate simultaneous translation.
Go Dion, go!

Thank you, Gerard Kennedy! Eeg... it's going to be close.

You've probably figured out by now that I'm rooting for Stéphane Dion. In truth, I have never felt so positive about a politician in my life. I had a brief crush on Howard Dean back in the day. And I have a little enduring one on Judy Wasylycia-Leis. And for a period of a week, after he went to the hospital with an asthma attack, I secretly swooned about Stephen Harper.

But Dion... He might seriously be the guy who could make this cynical youngster get off the fence and believe in politics for once. I was so glad when Martha Hall-Findlay endorsed him, because those two both have the same spirit.

I dig Dion's three pillars: economic prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability. I also know that he will stand up for Canadian unity -- not nationalism -- in a way that is based on rationalism, rather than emotionalism.

(By the way, did you know Dion's youth team is handing out condoms -- "For your third pillar" -- at the conference?)

I'm holding my breath.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Vote Dryden: Is he part of the cure or part of the disease? Could it be worse?

Dear Ken Dryden,

We all like Coldplay, but how exactly are these lyrics going to inspire anyone to vote for you:
Lights go out and I can't be saved
Tides that I tried to swim against
You've put me down upon my knees
Oh I beg, I beg and plead (singing)
Come out of things unsaid, shoot an apple of my head (and a)
Trouble that can't be named, tigers waiting to be tamed (singing)
You are, you are

Confusion never stops, closing walls and ticking clocks (gonna)
Come back and take you home, I could not stop, that you now know (singing)
Come out upon my seas, curse missed opportunities (am I)
A part of the cure, or am I part of the disease (singing)
What's funny is that Dryden followed Clocks with a Coldplay song called Fix Me. The lyrics are even worse:
When you try your best but you don't succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?
I kind of wish Dryden would win, really, just because he'd be the weirdest Liberal leader since William Lyon Enjoys-Talking-to-His-Deceased-Dog King. Oh yeah, oh yeah, what a great goalie and that child-care thing woulda been nice, but really...

On the subject of campaign songs, my buddy Marci notes:
And Iggy... well, here's a funny one. Iggy chose Goo Goo Dolls "Better Days", but seems to have re-written some of the lyrics and translated some of it into French.

The funny part?

The same song was the theme to this fall's ABC drama 6 Degrees. Remember it? That's because it crashed and burned after about 6 episodes. If that many.
Yeah, it's totally going to be Rae. I'm mean, I'm crossing my fingers for Dion, but I'm not overly optimistic.
Volpe goes to Rae!

Damn you, CPAC! Why is your online video so choppy?

Loved this quote from Ignatieff on the floor: "I wish them a rich and happy life together."

UPDATE: Every single candidate who has dropped out has gone to Rae, no? I think we'll see him as the next leader.
Bye Bill!

Bill Haugland anchored his last broadcast of CFCF-12's Pulse News last night... I can't believe he's been commuting from Vermont all this time.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bringing Humour Back.

Hold on a sec, I've always thought the Québécois nation had a good sense of humour. But first Michaelle Jean gets in trouble for making a joke about André Boisclair and the whole cocaine thing. And now, Boisclair is in trouble for making a joke about himself and the whole gay thing. (Here's the offending Brokeback Mountain sketch.)

In some ways, I kinda want to go: Ha, ha, ha, the shoe's on the other foot now, eh, Boisclair?

But I also feel it's important to defend the right of politicians to have a little fun, make the occasional television sketch-show appearance, tell the occasional dumb joke, and not have it be a big scandal, whether they're the Governor General or the Péquiste leader, John Kerry or Ralph Klein. Seriously folks, laugh a little.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

50+ Years of the Wilhelm Scream

Come on babies, do the loco motion.

Over at the Tyee: Why it's a bad move for the Liberals -- especially for Ignatieff -- that they've pulled the Quebec-nation motion.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bob Rae for Minister of Canadian Heritage!

The folks over The Tyee asked me to write a bit about the Liberal leadership from the arts & culture perspective. If that sort of thing was what Liberals voted for, the Notorious B.O.B. would win in a walk. He did, after all, introduce hip hop to Toronto. Whereas Dion thinks rappers "speak too fast."

Sure, Ignatieff was shortlisted for the Booker, but an actual Booker winner -- Michael Ondaatje -- has campaigned for Bob. And speaking of the Bookers, Bob was the first major political leader to meet publicly with Salman Rushdie (author of Midnight's Children, the Booker of Bookers) after the Ayatollah issued his infamous fatwa. You'd think that would endear him to those who insist the West stand up to Islamists... Not so much, though.

Read all about Maestro Fresh Bob, the culture candidate, over at The Tyee.
Is Bill Clinton the next Ben Mulroney?

By which I mean, will Clinton show up as a judge on the CBC reality TV show The Next Great Prime Minister? That's the rumour...
Meech and Chong.

Heh, heh... Good one.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Bollocks of the week.

It's a tie! First, there's alleged historian Michael Bliss in the Post:
Let there be no misunderstanding about concepts of nation and nationality. The only two meanings of "nation" are (1) a human group bound together by ethnic ties, i.e. ties of blood; (2) a territorial unit that exercises political independence. We call aboriginal Canadians "nations" in that racial or ethnic sense; they used to be seen as tribes. We call Canada a "nation" in the political sense because it is an independent country.

In what sense can Quebecers be considered a nation? Quebec is not an independent country. If Quebecers are a nation because they are of the French-Canadian tribe, the volk, as the Germans used to say, then we are legitimizing racial/ethnic concepts that are ugly almost beyond belief in the 21st century. We turn all Quebecers who don't have the right blood -- all the Schwartzes and Cohens and others -- into second-class citizens.
First step, the nation resolution... Second step, the Holocaust! Or 'Olocaust as they'll say in Québec as the bloodthirsty nationalists start with Barbara Kay and work their way through Cote-St.-Luc. Sigh. (Potter's on this one.)

Secondly, there's John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail:
For anyone under 40, it's so obvious that Quebec is its own nation that the subject isn't worth discussing.
What? Oh, and for everyone between the age of, um, 32 and 53, incomes trusts were so obviously a tax loophole that needed to be plugged, like, totally.

Okay, upon further consideration, Bliss clearly is the actual winner of the Bollocks of the Week award. But, really, Ibbitson, come on. (By the way, did you know that Ibbitson was a playwright in a previous life? Where can I get a copy of Mayonnaise?)
Wither the CBC?

I know I'm in London and the last thing on earth I should be paying attention to back home is the eternal "Whither the CBC?" debate. But something Richard Stursberg -- the CBC's newish executive vice-president of English TV -- said in a Toronto Star profile of him this weekend just smelt to high mendacity heaven and I have to call him on it.

For those of you who haven't been following the Stursberg debate: Critics of Stursberg say he is single-mindedly chasing ratings and ignoring the higher ideals of public broadcasting. He doesn't neccesarily do much to dispel this view of him; he's the one who wants a succesful CBC show to attract one million pairs of eyeballs and has said that the CBC needs shows that are "less issue-driven," "fast-paced," "positive and redemptive" and "escapist."

Fair enough, though, I say -- that's a valid view of what the CBC should be doing...

But here is Stursberg in The Star making his point in a totally misleading manner:
"You've got to have some shows that really connect with English Canadians. And I don't know how else to measure that connection other than, `Are they watching? Do they like it?'

"We had six hours of the early life of René Lévesque," says Stursberg, hands upturned, shrugging. "Well, that's nice. He's a very interesting guy. Nobody in English Canada had ever heard of him. So we put it on. And that's fine.

"Same with October 1970" — a recent miniseries developed before his arrival — "which got fantastic reviews. And you know what? Nobody's watching. And the thing you have to ask yourself is why?

"If you're going to be constantly lecturing and hectoring people — honestly, first, I think it's patronizing, and secondly, it's not the nature of television. If you want a lecture, go to the university."
Okay, I know what you're thinking, but it's not the fact that Stursberg thinks "nobody in English Canada" has heard of René Lévesque that got my Irish up. It's what he says about October 1970. You know the main reason why October 1970 didn't get good ratings? Because the Stursberg's CBC didn't tell anyone it was on. And now I suspect the conspiracy theorists were right about why: Stursberg wanted it to do badly so that he could use its bad ratings in order to back up his view of where the CBC should be headed.

What the heck am I talking about? Well, last month, on TV writer Denis McGrath's blog, a commenter named blueglow, one of the people involved in October 1970, wrote about how the CBC abandoned the miniseries that they had commissioned:
It's also a problem when you put [a mini-series] on the air without a single promo or advertisement (it is not our policy to promote mini-series!! yes, they said that) until we surprised them and actually got good reviews (Doyle -- remarkable, the French Press -- who would have thought a bunch of Anglo's would have done so well --which is pretty great praise from La Belle Province). So, finally had to relent and did ONE promotional spot on Dragon's Den the night before the show. That, to date, has been the extent of their "ad campaign".

An eight hour mini series about French Canada that went to air with one "on air" promo, no print ads, no nothing is not going to get eyeballs. (the conspiracy theorist says -- this was also the last mini series bought by the old regime so it was really not in the new regime's interests that this do well. If it did it would fly in the face of their "no coloured faces, no more boring history on the CBC becuase we know niether of these play in Oakville" mandate. Jozi H also fell victim to this mandate.

I don't think any of us ever expected big numbers for a mini series about the FLQ (even though we tried to make it entertaining -- imagine eight hours on the FLQ crisis with not a single scene in Ottawa) I don't think we expected the complete and utter abandonment by our broadcaster.
Later on in the comments, blueglow explains about his or her attempts to promote October 1970 without the CBC:
We did try and promote it ourselves which was the only reason that reviewers in the Province where this event actually happened got screeners. This action also caused grief and in future there will be provisions written into contracts that no contact with the press can be made without prior approval of the network.

Also Canadian production companies, for the most part, are not in the postion to afford to buy "on air" spots on national TV or afford to buy four colour advertisements in newspapers or magazines to promote their own material.

In terms of press, we didn't do badly, but reviews are only one quiver in the arsenal needed to promote TV shows. You need a print, radio and TV campaign on air at least six weeks before the thing airs. In this case there was one ad. So the broadcaster and major financial investor ie, producer took ten million dollars of taxpayer's money making a show they had no intention of promoting.
Can you believe that? According to blueglow, the CBC not only did not promote October 1970, but gave other people "grief" for promoting it without their approval!

That Stursberg simply told the Star that October 1970 didn't attract viewers because Canadians don't want to watch "lecturing" and "hectoring" is at best an incomplete view of what happened with that particular mini-series. At worst, it is deliberate misinformation intended to boost support for the questionable direction he is taking the CBC.

As writer McGrath said of blueglow's jaw-dropping account of what happened with October 1970:
There's the perfect storm of Canadian accountability on any level. The politics behind those decisions, the incompetence in the promotional end -- the fact that self-promotion was discouraged...

...someone should lose their job over this.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

This Old Spouse.

In a YouTube video, Olivia Chow shows off the green additions to her (and Jack Layton's) home in Toronto.

Good on Chow and Layton for walking the walk on the environment as well as talking the talk... but I must admit I mainly enjoyed this video for purely voyeuristic reasons. I mean, if you've ever wanted to see where the leader of the NDP takes a dump, you'll love the part where Chow shows off their low-flow toilet. And are those arm-shaped towel racks on the wall? Creepy.

How things change... Once Canadians politicians told us the state had no place in the bedrooms of the nation; now they're showing off their bathrooms on the Internet.

Friday, November 24, 2006


I can't tell you how excited I am to discover that writer Kristian Gravenor -- longtime Montreal Mirror contributor, co-author of Montreal: The Unknown City, and self-proclaimed expert on Azerbaijan -- has started a blog. Gravenor is known for, among other things, his annual straight-faced round-up of the seediest and stupidest Quebec crime stories of the year. There's plenty of these "blood simple" tales on his blog, as well as theatre reviews and snippets of lost Montreal history...

Gravenor is also a contributor to Wikipedia and the entry he wrote on his father Colin -- who bought Nun's Island and campaigned against cow's milk -- is a good example the casual way he writes about the most eccentric stories.

Perusing his month-old blog, I was particular entralled by this post -- a transcription of an old Montreal Herald article from 1933 about the city's suicides: "One grim story after another lies hidden in the local morgue, one tragedy after another of life misspent, of disillusion, suffering, struggle and mental aberration leading to death."
Only once has the Montreal morgue received a suicide who in ending his own life wrote down his sensations while death was creeping upon him. It was the case of a young man on Park Avenue some months ago who turned on the gas in his room. He sat at a table and wrote notes at intervals of one or two minutes. Such phrases as a “pleasant feeling,” "seem to be floating very tired” and “sleeping” and “it wont be long now,” were used by the writer to describe his exit from this life. The last note was but an unreadable scribble which trailed off into nothingness, he was found pen in his hand resting on the note.
This is from before newpapers stopped writing about suicides, of course.

In other news, I drank my first beer on the street tonight. I mean, my first legal beer on the street. Huzzah!
A nation if necessary, but not necessarily a nation...

The night before he introduced his Quebec-nation-in-a-united-Canada motion, Stephen Harper (or his office anyway) called Stéphane Dion to run it by him. Dion approved -- in fact, what Harper going to propose in Parliament was similar to the compromise nation motion Dion was going to propose at the upcoming Liberal convention.

So why on earth is Ignatieff taking credit for it? And how exactly does it take the heat off the upcoming Liberal convention motion, which wants to "officialize" Quebec as a nation?

All that and more in my latest Tyee Election Central post!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Getting Results for the People of Winnipeg.

Our hoser jokes must end: Manitoba's Spirited Energy Web site has corrected the errors I poked fun at the other day. Unfortunately, they have also corrected only the typos I explicitly pointed out...

Let's see if they're still reading: You're missing a closing quotation mark in the second sentence of the fourth paragraph here, folks. You should also cut out the "he says" from the first sentence of the third paragraph. I could make the argument for a few judiciously placed commas, but there's no need to be picky.

(Look, I just want my birthplace to put its best face forward to the world. Is that a crime? If so, lock me up and throw away the key.)
The Ryerson Review of (Toronto) Journalism.

There's a disappointing article about the Dawson College shooting coverage on the RRJ's Web site.

Rachel Hahn's story "The Game of the Name" begins: "After the Dawson College shootings, four Toronto daily newspapers raced against deadline and each other to get one crucial fact. Here's how two of them got the scoop... and two didn't."

The crucial fact was the name of the shooter. And how The Sun and The Toronto Star got the story, while The Globe and The Post didn't is not actually an interesting story at all.

Basically, The Sun was told the name by sister paper Le Journal de Montreal and The Star was told by reporters at La Presse, a Montreal paper it has a relationship with.

Now I'm no magazine journalism prof, but shouldn't the story have been how Le Journal de Montreal and La Presse got the scoop?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Alphabet Soup.

There's an intriguing article in today's New York Times about "lexical-gustatory synaesthetes." These are people whose senses are crossed and who can therefore actually taste words:
For example, the word “mince” makes one subject taste mincemeat, but so do rhymes like “prince.” Words with a soft “g,” as in “roger” or “edge,” make him taste sausage. But another subject, hearing “castanets,” tastes tuna fish. Another can taste only proper names: John is his cornbread, William his potatoes.
Talk about eating your words... [via LanguageHat]
Il fait beau dans l'métro.

Et l'autobus! [via Montreal City Weblog]

I have a serious case of the giggles right now.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tech Me Out.

Hey, anyone know a good free Web counter that isn't Site Meter? I'm sick of S.M. and its stat-losing ways.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Liberal Leadership Race Tyee Breaker.

Over at The Tyee, the Election Central blog is back up and running for the final weeks of the Liberal leadership race. There you'll find posts by bloggers like Jay Currie, Jeff Jedras and yours truly, as well as The Tyee's usual top-notch roster of journos and pundits.

In my first post, I point out that the last anglophone leader of the Liberal party to win a majority was King. Meanwhile, the post-war francophone Liberal leaders have led the party to eight majorities -- and never allowed the Conservatives to eke out more than a minority government. So, why are some Libs suggesting that another francophone leader would hinder the party's "electability"?

Friday, November 17, 2006

TV Journalism's David Brent.

This video of CNN's Glenn Beck interviewing the first Muslim ever elected to Congress would be the funniest thing in the world if it weren't real. Actually, it's still pretty funny... And terrible, of course.

Actually, mix David Brent with Jim Walcott from The Newsroom and you've got Glenn Beck in this clip. (Why are there no Newsroom clips on YouTube!??!)
Fiendly Manitoba

I just clicked on an online ad exhorting me to "Come Home to Work-Life Balance in Manitoba" and was taken to this Web page, part of the Manitoba: Spirited Energy campaign. The message -- that the average price for a single family home in October was $160,000 -- is compelling to me, since that is only slightly more than what I am paying in monthly rent for my furnished room in London...

But more convincing to others will surely be this quote from Peter Squire, "a market analyst and Public Relations Director for the Winnieg [sic] Real Estate Board":
"Winnipeg's housing market has experienced a boom in recent years, with prices rising steadily. Even so hosing costs in Winnipeg are substantially lower than what you'd find in other major Canadian centres, says Squire. [Emphasis mine.]
Hear that, you hosers? With fond memories of The Pemby and their cheap pitchers, I can certainly attest to what Mr. Squires says.

May I suggest that Manitoba consider spending some of its rebranding budget on luring a couple of copy editors back home? (Considering all offers at

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Faris Wheel.

At the end of this year's Toronto International Film Festival, I wrote:
You can really learn deep, uncomfortable truths about yourself working the film festival. An unsettling surprise for me was how excited I got when I spotted comic actress Anna Faris sitting a table away from me in Avenue at the Four Seasons last Saturday night. Unexpectedly, I got giddy and gushing. "She was really good in Brokeback Mountain... and Scary Movie I through IV," I found myself saying to my shocked companions.

But it's true! I think she's a really talented female comedian! There, I said it.
I guess I don't have to keep my love of Faris a shameful secret any longer now that she's been profiled at length in the New York Times Magazine.
I had a dream last night...

That I was a writer on the Rick Mercer Report and Neil Young came into the studio after hours and sang "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" just for us!

On the whole, not the worst dream I've ever had.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Who's Your Daddy-land?

Oh God. It's starting again...

In response to the nation rigmarole that Ignatieff resurrected, Andrew Coyne is now asking our federal leaders to say, loud and clear: Canada is a nation. Big mistake in my view. Nationalism begets nationalism.

I remember very well the question posed to us circa 1995: Are you a Canadian first or Québécois first? I generally dodged the question, saying I was a Montrealer first. So did a number of my friends. I think that's partly why we tend to have such a strong attachment to that city...

I feel that divisive question coming back slightly altered. What's your nation: Quebec or Canada?

Coyne totally loses me here in this part of his column:
[W]hereas the idea of the Canadian nation, being civic and inclusive, can withstand competing ideas of nationhood -- you can identify, if you choose, with the Quebec nation, or the French-Canadian nation, as well as the Canadian nation -- the idea of nation that underlies Quebec nationalism, being language-based and exclusive, is necessarily a rejection of Canadian nationhood, at least as it applies to (francophone) Quebecers.
That doesn't make any sense, though. The idea of a Canadian nation can coexist with the idea of Quebec nation then, but the idea of a Quebec nation can't coexist with the idea of a Canadian nation? You can identify with the Quebec nation as well as the Canadian nation, but you can't be a Quebec nationalist and recognize the Canadian nation?

Say what you will about Quebec nationalists, but they switched to the idea of a civic nation themselves a while ago. (Most of them, anyway.) Most of them would argue that their nation is civic and inclusive, too.

But I question the idea that any idea of nation can be "inclusive," Canadian or Quebec. The very idea of nationhood is exclusive... When you say "we, the people," who are "they"?

The moment you start talking about the Canadian civic nation, you've implicitly recognized that Quebec can be a civic nation, too -- in fact, that it probably is. I mean, why one but not the other?

Anyway, if this is only going to escalate, then let me say loud and clear: my civic nation is Montreal. And that's why I'm quite happy to call myself a Montrealer even though I haven't lived there for, oh, a good three-and-a-half years now...


See why I hate this debate? Re-reading this, it all sounds ridiculous.

Please, keep in mind that we're using the sociological definition of nation here, not the definition of nation as a country. Canada is a country, of course.

Using some semblance of a sociological definition, I should note, I don't think that it is completely unreasonable to call Quebec a nation, or French Canadians a nation, or Irish-Canadians a nation, or Newfoundland a nation, or, heck, even Canada a nation. It's just: what's the point? Sociologists can argue this out in their academic conferences, but in the real world it just leads to divisions.

Can we switch back to the debate over how many angels can dance on the head of the pin debate, instead?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Space Race, 45 years later...

First colonel in space, 1961: Colonel Gagarin.

First colonel to be seen from space, 2006: Colonel Sanders.
Hey Canadians!

Oh, who am I kidding? It's only Canadians who stop by this ol' blog.

Anyway, in the lead-up to the release of Casino Royale, we're profiling the best of the Bond villains in the National Post. Today, I make the case that Jaws chews up and spits out all of his evil competition. He is, with apologies to Nietzsche, the uber-henchman:
An assassin whose secret weapon is a set of menacing braces sounds like an episode of Pimp My Grillz gone horribly awry. But played by the seven-foot-two American actor Richard Kiel, Jaws recalls the classic movie monsters of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Like Frankenstein's monster, he is a silent and misunderstood giant with a misshapen forehead; he lumbers along as if he has all the time in the world to kill Bond, if not quite enough brain cells to succeed. Like Dracula, Jaws dispatches his victims with a bite to the neck, though his kiss of death is less erotically charged. ("He just dropped in for a quick bite," Bond says after escaping his murderous clutches once more, a line that could be recycled from any vampire movie.)
Alas, you'll need a print copy to read the rest. Chris Knight's profile of Goldfinger -- He loves only gold! -- from yesterday, however, is free and here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Beyond the Whiter Shade of Pale?

Seems a bit cheeky to sue for credit and royalties on an organ solo that was lovingly ripped off from Bach, no?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"Maybe I'll put on a wig and go see Shakira."

Oh, Hugo Chavez! You're the most amusing Latin American strongman ever...

On a more serious note, a Venezuelan expat I had lunch with the other day has this message for those of you who think Chavez is the bomb: "Go live in Venezuela for a year. Then tell me what you think of him."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dueling over Dual Citizenship.

Straight up, my perspective on the whole dual citizenship row is tainted by the fact that I recently became a dual citizen. Thanks only to my grandmother happening to be born in Ireland, I got Irish citizenship last Spring. And with my newly minted EU passport, I came over to... England. If any country should be irritated by my "citizenship of convenience," it should be Ireland.

We all know the reason why dual citizenship is even on the agenda with Stephen Harper's government. The Israeli-Hezbollah conflict earlier this year forced about 15,000 Canadian citizens to be evacuated... at Canadian taxpayers expense, as the blusterers say.

As far as I know, the evacuation of American, British and French citizens from Lebanon has not sparked the same debate over dual citizenship. And as far as I know, there are few people upset that an estimated 300,000 Canadians are in England at any time. My understanding is that the anti-dual citizenship argument is mostly put forth by people who are ignorant about the size of Canada's Lebanese population -- and who consider them to be less Canadian than those of British, French or Irish stock...

I have no argument for these folks, so let's instead turn to Andrew Coyne, whose views are not based on such quasi-racist grounds. Coyne believes one of the inherent problems with dual citizens is that their loyalties are divided:
I asked one fellow, a dual citizen who accosted me at a party: so if there were a sporting match between Canada and (your other country), who would you cheer for? He refused to answer. The question, he said, was impertinent.
Why? If their loyalties are truly not divided, there should be no question what they would do: if asked to choose, they would unhesitatingly choose Canada. If not -- if the question caused them any difficulty whatever -- then we cannot even say their first loyalty is to Canada, let alone their undivided allegiance. That doesn't make them bad people. It just doesn't make them quite ... Canadian. Not if citizenship has any meaning.
The sports metaphor is not a good one. Rooting for Canadian teams is not a condition of citizenship, neither is it a good indicator of how devoted someone is to Canada. I know people who rooted for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2004 Stanley Cup finals, even though they were playing a Canadian team. But I know that in, say, a war with the United States (god forbid!) or, more likely, a really nasty trade dispute, they would unhesitatingly side with Canada.

Likewise I have a friend who is rabid Boston Red Sox fan and cried when they won the Series; his politics, however, are very anti-American.

Similarly, I know Americans who root for Canada in Olympic hockey. Why? Because we're awesome... And I don't think it makes them any less American.

During the World Cup, thousands of Canadian-born residents of my neighbourhood rooted for the Italian team -- not just those with dual citizenship. Not just those who were Italian either! I rooted for the French, even though I have no French blood in me.

If Ireland and Canada were, theoretically, to battle each other in the World Cup... Well, I'm not sure who I would root for. Likely the Irish, because I think they would go farther in the competition.

If the Irish and Canadian teams faced off in Olympic hockey, well, it doesn't really matter who I root for because hell has frozen over and we are all doomed regardless of citizenship.

My point is that sports are just that: Sports. And unhesitatingly choosing Canadian teams does not a Canadian make.

But loyalty surely is an important part of citizenship, right? Well, there are those who say that people who question one's country are the truest patriots. And that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Coyne doesn't seem to be in this camp:
If it is too much to ask that citizens of Canada should be loyal to Canada, that is the problem in a nutshell. I realize this is radical talk, in a country that cannot even assert it has a right to exist, choosing instead to spend forty years perched on the brink of dismemberment. But that just speaks to how radically dysfunctional we are as a polity.
Just as sports-team preference is not a solid indicator of loyalty to Canada, however, neither is dual citizenship. There are people who have dual citizenship -- like Stephane Dion -- who love Canada so much that they have spent years fighting to keep it together. Meanwhile, there are many Quebecers who are only Canadian citizens and who want to break up the country...

Coyne is really making an argument in favour of some sort of loyalty oath, one where presumably we would agree to only root for Canadian teams. I don't think I need to get into the reasons for why loyalty oaths are a bad idea. (Cough, Acadian explusion.) Certainly, if it involved swearing allegiance to the Queen, well you'd lose me as I am anti-monarchy. If it involved swearing allegiance to the constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, well I know certain Canada-loving conservatives who would object.

Again though, I must emphasize that there is no reason to assume dual citizens as a whole are any less "loyal" to Canada than single-citizenship Canadians. The truth is there are Canadians with dual citizenship who are extremely loyal to Canada, and Canadians who are just Canadians who are not. Homegrown terrorism, anyone?

Basically, I don't see any disadvantage to there being dual citizens. They roam the world acting as ambassadors for Canada, make business connections between countries, produce art that crosses national boundaries... If their loyalties are divided, well, so are most everyone's in this crazy mongrel world! New immigrants, third-generation Canadians, Conrad Black, Michael Ignatieff...

But what if there was a war between two countries where people have dual citizenship... Well, not allowing dual citizenship doesn't make this any less of a problem. That's why the Canadian government interned Ukrainian-Canadians in the first world war... even while other Ukrainian-Canadians were fighting for the Allies! In a country that isn't racially or even politically uniform -- that is, every country in the world -- there is always going to be a conundrum when war erupts.

Now this is just speculation on my part, but I think the existence of dual citizens makes the possibility of war less likely. Having people who understand and who connect the people of two different countries could be one of our biggest weapons of peace.

Coyne finishes his blog post with what is apparently his clincher:
Still not convinced? Then answer me this. Suppose Quebec were to separate. (I don't think it's likely or even possible, but leave that be.) Should the citizens of an independent Quebec also be citizens of Canada?
Well, how about we rephrase the question to: Should the citizens of a newly independent Quebec have the option of retaining their citizenship in Canada? I certainly hope so! Imagine turning our backs on, say, 40% of Quebecers who wanted to and voted to stay in Canada.

As someone who grew up in Montreal and Winnipeg, I would really like to have the option to be both Quebecer and Canadian. In fact, I have that option right now! Let's hope it stays that way... The fact that people can have two identities -- Quebecer and Canadian -- is why our country works. Coyne says you have to choose... and that is what the separatists say too.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

CBC Arts lede watch: The Return!

This just in on the wires from Italy:
A toilet which plays the Italian national anthem while flushing and was impounded by police in October is at the centre of a debate of patriotism over artisitic expression in Northern Italy this week.
I, for one, welcome a debate of patriotism over artisitic expression in Northern Italy. (Especially, if it is in a move reminiscent of life mimicking art.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Half in the Bag.

Note: This is a piece I wrote somewhat hungover a couple of a weekends ago. I tried to shop it around to a couple of Op/Ed pages here, but I think, in general, editors want comment pieces about the "veil debate" to say something, not just be ridiculous and poke fun at the debate... Anyway, here it is.

There is a wise, if somewhat unsanitary Native American belief that you cannot really understand someone until you have walked a mile in her shoes. I, for one, certainly gained a deeper understanding of women who wear the niqab after spending a night in a Knightsbridge club with a plastic bag over my head.

Like many Muslim women who wear the veil, I have recently immigrated here from a vastly different country than the U.K.: Canada. It was, in part, my sense of dislocation than led me to me wearing a bag over the weekend.

See, in Canada, to dress fancily means that you leave your sneakers at home and put on a blazer and a tie. Here, however, “fancy dress” apparently means that you dress up like a pirate or a witch.

This bit of cultural confusion resulted in me showing up at a Halloween party across from the National History Museum two weeks ago somewhat out of step with the rest of the partygoers.

Luckily, earlier in the day I had been shopping for pants – what you call trousers here -- at H&M and so I had a ready-made costume on hand. I put the white H&M plastic bag over my face, poked a couple holes for my eyes and mouth, and voila: I was the reclusive American author Thomas Pynchon.

Almost immediately upon donning the bag, I began to gain insight into what daily life must be like for those who wear the niqab. People stared at me suspiciously and felt completely at liberty to ask me probing questions. I tried to explain myself, but no one in attendance had read the sacred text that is Gravity’s Rainbow or understood why Pynchon, praise his name, would wear a bag on his head.

Those who had spent time creating an elaborate costume or money renting one claimed to be offended by what they interpreted as a lack of creativity on my part. I suspect, however, it was really the fact that they could not see my face that offended their Anglo-Saxon sensibilities. After all, there were at least nine naughty nurses at the party and none of the men in attendance complained about that bit of groupthink.

(The second-most popular choice for ladies, I might note, was dressing up as a "Japanese woman." That rather convinced me that British tolerance has advanced little since the time of W.S. Gilbert.)

Class prejudice may also have had something to do with the disdain I felt aimed at my bag-covered face. “H&M?” one woman remarked. “A bit down-market.”

As the evening and the alcohol wore on, those who were uncomfortable with my choice of dress became more vocal about their feelings. A lawyer in attendance echoed Jack Straw when she confessed to me, "It is hard to talk to someone with a bag over his head." Though I appreciated her opening this frank dialogue, I must admit that I began to feel quite hot under the collar. This may have had something to do with the lack of air circulation to my neck, though.

The anti-bag sentiment came to a head when a guest convinced that I was his friend John putting on a funny voice – I don’t see what’s so funny about my Canadian accent -- began demanding to see my face. He pulled upwards on my bag and it tore. It was quite violating. I spent the rest of the evening with the remnants on, my whole face revealed through a gaping hole, looking a bit like the flying nun.

Now, I’m no pro-bag fanatic. I’m perfectly willing to admit that wearing a bag on your head has some inherent drawbacks. For instance, it severely restricts your peripheral vision. I certainly understand now why women are not allowed to drive in certain Islamic countries.

Dancing was also a difficult proposition. On more than one occasion, I very nearly spilt my red wine on a naughty nurse's whites. I suppose this is not a situation that devout Muslim women would find themselves in, however, so I’m not as understanding of Islamic prohibitions on dancing.

Still, though I only spent a scant four hours with a plastic H&M bag over my head, my experience has led me to believe that it is a slippery slope to dictate what men or women of any religion wear. It may be hot and your ears may sweat, but the state has no place advising us on. It may not be your bag to wear the veil, but everyone has the right to look foolish.

Do keep plastic bags away from young children, though.
Speaking of Dean.

I'm fully expecting the Democrats to get slaughtered again today.

Monday, November 06, 2006

One Fine Daifallah Quip...

Oh-oh! Has it come to this? Adam D. tells it like it is re: Iggy: "Dare I say .... should I ... yes I will: He's become positively Howard Dean-sian."

Love in the noughties is paranoid.

The London Review of Books has just released They Call Me Naughty Lola, a book collecting some of the literary journal's most hilarious, bizarre personal ads. (Sample: "Romance is dead. So is my mother. Man, 42, inherited wealth.") I attended the book launch/singles night last week and you can read all about it in today's Post.

A few of my favourites ads that didn't make it into the sidebar:

- Not everyone appearing in this column is a deranged cross-dressing sociopath. Let me know if you find one and I'll strangle him with my bra. Man, 56. Box no. 3221.

- Save it -- anything you've got to say can be said to my lawyer. But if you're not my ex-wife, why not write to box no. 5377. I enjoy vodka, canasta, evenings in, and cold, cold revenge.

- Slut in the kitchen, chef in the bedroom. Woman with mixed priorities (37) seeks man who can toss a good salad. Box no. 7421.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What the Fawkes?

For the past week, what sounds like a gun battle has raged in my neighbourhood every night. It's climaxing right now. I kind of imagine this is what the blitz was like, but with less death and more drunken people wandering the streets.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Overheard at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Walking out of Mark Ravenhill's latest, pool (no water), tonight, two teenage audience members.

Girl #1: That was so much better than what we had to read in class!

Girl #2: Ugh, yeah. Much better than The Royal Hunt of the Sun.

Girl #1: And that Lepage....

Girl #2: Oh, I liked the Lepage.

Girl #1 (in a mocking tone): Oh, I liked the Lepage!
Will The Drowsy Chaperone follow me to London and the West End?

Absolutely, and in May according to totally unsubstantiated Internet gossip! Which I post about over at Londonist...

Just when you thought I was done with posting endlessly about The D. Chap.... Bwaa-haa-haa!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Anyone but...

Gosh, everyone here in London seems to have a thing or two to say about Michael Ignatieff. Those who know his first wife Susan don't seem to be, um, that fond of him...

At a book launch this evening, I was told a great little anecdote from the time of their disintegrating marriage that I pass on, with lots of allegeds attached. Apparently, Susan made her husband angry at a party once by telling the people there that, "The only reason anyone thinks Michael is clever is because he just... talks... so... slowly."

Allegedly she said this. Allegedly.

A former friend of Ignatieff -- who embarked on a rant about him simply because I said I was from Canada -- also warned me that you should watch out for men who devote their lives to human rights. "They're always the worst," she said.

And this is why you should run for public office in a country where your ex-wife's friends aren't...

By the way, it's true what Michael Valpy wrote in his giant Ig portrait: "[W]hen discussing Susan, who refused to be interviewed for this story, the first observation Britons usually make is that she is working-class." That's not a comment on Ignatieff, but rather on this bizarre "class consciousness" that you constantly encounter here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Norm tells the hoes all the time, 'Bitch get in my car.'

A little revised Fiddy for you, there.

For some strange reason, I'm still following colonial politics from over here in the heart of the British Empire. I believe what we heard the other day from columnist and media personality Norman Spector -- he called MP Belinda Stronach "a bitch" on the radio -- was simply his career as a pundit jumping the shark or, as we say in the blogosphere, posting the cat. Here's his exact quote: "I think she's a bitch. It's as simple as that. And I think that 90 percent of men would probably say she's a bitch for the way she's broken up [retired hockey player] Tie Domi's home and the way she dumped Peter MacKay. She is a bitch."

First of all, I am a man and I don't think Belinda is a bitch and I'm kind of irritated that Norm purports to speak on my behalf. Maybe 90% of skeezy old dudes who worked for Mulroney think she's a bitch, but I consider her a somewhat overexposed MP who hasn't done anything to particularly impress me yet, but who hasn't done anything nearly as objectionable as a couple dozen Liberal MPs I could name.

I never get what the deal is with all the hate spewed at Stronach. Other MPs have switched parties before and been attacked in the media, sure. But she got reelected under her new party's banner, so that's kind of a dead issue -- clearly, her constituents have sanctioned her move.

Likewise, other children of rich men have jumped into politics with a giant sense of entitlement... and they've become Prime Minister to the cheers of pundits everywhere! (And later, when their total lack of skill at anything but gaining power has become apparent, jeers.) So why does Stronach get all this abuse for being rich and wanting power?

Spector has -- and I should thank him for this -- opened my eyes to why some people rag on her all the time. And it really is sexism, pure and simple. Spector, who I thought was a political pundit, outlines entirely personal reasons for why Stronach is a bitch. I don't tend to take morality lessons seriously when they come from a guy who used to work for Imperial Tobacco, but does Spector really think every person who has dumped someone in an awkward manner, or hung out with a married person of the opposite sex is a bitch? Or is it just Stronach? Or is it just women? Since about 50% - 80% of married men have had actual affairs according to the last stats I saw, I'm betting that some of the 90% of men who apparently agree with Spector are big ol' hypocrites.

Don't believe that Spector is sexist? (I'm looking at you, Coyne.) I agree that calling someone a bitch is not necessarily sexist, but in this case Spector's comments clearly are. First of all, he turns it into a sex thing by claiming that the vast majority of men think Stronach is a bitch. He's not saying "I, an individual, think that Stronach, an individual, is a bitch." He's saying that men think women who do these specific things in their sex lives are bitches. Earlier in the show, he said that the Mackay's "dog" joke has been covered so much because "half the press gallery now are women. And women find this very offensive. You and I [he's talking to a male radio host] might have a different word for a dog - at least I would have a different word for a dog to describe her and what she's done with the Domi family and how she handled Peter Mackay." Spector says: Women think like this, while men think like this... He's a big old sexist.

I do think it's tremendously disconcerting that members of the media (like Mr. Spector) are now going after MPs for their personal lives, and I wonder what has suddenly happened to change the Canadian rules. I mean, a married man who has gay affairs on the side can lead a party and never be questioned about his personal life in the press (except by Jan Wong), but the attractive, rich Belinda ends up on the front page with a big "?" every time her platonic friend Bill Clinton comes to town.

Really, I suppose Peter Mackay is to blame for all this. He was the first to break the silence and tell the media that he was dating Stronach -- and his and her personal lives moved out of the gossipy Ottawa notebook columns and became a part of public debate. Whether it was calculated or not, he used the break-up to show the world how sensitive he is and boost his political career. Then, with his "dog" comment in the house, he brought his personal life into the public sphere again. But it's Stronach, who only answers questions about her personal life when she's forced to react, who is derided as the "bitch"...

So, now, agreeing that Spector is ridiculous and out of line, I hate having to end this post by defending him. It is not at all appropriate for MPs to call upon media organizations to fire journalists for their opinions. I was somewhat irked when Jean Charest and Stephen Harper criticized Jan Wong over her Dawson College column, but I don't think they actually called on her to be fired. We have a little thing called freedom of speech in Canada, and MPs are welcome to join in on any debate, but calling on journalists to be fired for controversial comments as an MP is not cool... That is entirely up to Spector's employers to decide.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Adjust Your Links, Avert Your Eyes.

For those of you who usually get here by typing into your browser, I'm afraid you're going to have to learn the true URL: That's because I've recently pointed to Yes! My new Web site, only marginally better designed than Kelly's Pointless Homepage I made on Geocities a decade ago...

The dealie is this: I'm an entrepreneur now. A self-employed freelance writer. And I figure I got to have a presence on the ol' Interweb that isn't just me blabbing on about pelicans eating pigeons. So, that's, where I am slowly compiling an archive of my old articles, etc. I welcome all your constructive feedback on my terrible use of Dreamweaver templates.

Hmmm... It suddenly occurs to me that people who normally get here via aren't reading this message, because they're at Hopefully, they found the "blog" link there. Hi! The Internet!
Lord Black of Cross-Examination.

Almost everything in the Tom Bower book about me is a lie, says Conrad in The Sun:
This is a play in three acts, as I tried to explain in my e-mails to Bower, but it was hopeless. He was writing a criminography; where the biographer begins with a judgment against character, then argues backward to invented or twisted "facts." The egregiousness is already certain, as you are dealing with someone known to be wicked, as well as, in this case, pathetic. Almost every word of his malodorous pot-boiler will be dishonest and defamatory.
Hat tip to Daifallah.

Monday, October 30, 2006


Through the magic of globalization, I can be here in London, while my byline appears in the National Post in Toronto! Yes, if you happen to pick up a copy of the Post today, you can read my interview with Canadian comic Phil Nichol, the top comedy award winner from this year's Edinburgh Fringe, who filmed a DVD of two of his very funny shows on the West End this weekend. If you follow that link, beware: It's subscription only, darnit.

In other Canadian media news, THIS Magazine turns 40. Hoorah! I'm interested to see where newish editor Jessica Johnston -- who happens to have the same birthday as me -- is going to take it.
Monday Schadenfreude: An update on the pelican that ate a pigeon

The British media are almost as obsessed with this freak act as they are with the Macca/Mucca debacca. The Times' AA Gill takes the cake with his interpretation of the fowl play:
The pelican is the ancient symbol of selfless charity. They were thought to feed their young with the blood from their breast (they don’t) and the pigeon of course is cousin to the dove, harbinger of peace. Some might think that charity eating peace was an augury of some imminent catastrophe or perhaps it’s just an elegant bestiary metaphor for the end of the Tony Blair years?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Importance of the Arts.

Oh, scrap that. I had something to say about the relationship between arts and foreign relations, but I think I'll save it for a day that's less... less... less of a Sunday, you know?

But I will say this: Isn't it highly ridiculous in this era of Globalization for a book to have different titles in different countries that speak the same language? Take Margaret MacMillan's new tome Nixon in China: The Week that Changed the World. Over here in England, it is called Seize the Hour: When Nixon Met Mao. I just read a review of it in The Sunday Times and felt completely thrown off when I got to the sentence, "Margaret MacMillan is famous for Peacemakers [The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War], her study of the 1919 Versailles conference..." What? You mean Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, surely.

Why confuse people this way? Perhaps the Brits need less of an excuse to read history books, whereas North Americans in the bookstore think, "Versailles? Meh... I'm not interested... WAIT! This event changed the world? The entire world!?! I've got to read that!"

Meanwhile, the Brits are all, "Oooh! The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War! Hand over that hardcover immediately! I must read more about this failed attempt to change the world!"
The Elephant Show.

I found this New York Times Magazine article by Charles Siebert about the increasingly fraught relationship between elephants and humans absolutely fascinating. I had no idea how little I knew about elephants, their brains, their societies, their incredible mourning habits... Not the usual kind of thing I link to from here, but thought I'd pass it on.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Now I've seen everything...

A pelican eating a pigeon?
This country is craaaazy!

I particularly like that the BBC covered this. I love the headline: Pelican swallows pigeon in park.

Reports a photographer who happened upon the scene:
Mr McNaughton, from the Press Association, said: "The pelican was on the towpath preening itself, and there were a lot of tourists watching it.

"Then the bird got up and strolled along until it reached one of the pigeons, which it just grabbed in its beak.

"There was a bit of a struggle for about 20 minutes, with all these people watching. The pelican only opened its mouth a couple of times.

"Then it managed to get the pigeon to go head first down its throat. It was kicking and flapping the whole way down."
A bit of a struggle? For twenty minutes? Ladies and gentlemen, the British art of understatement.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


You can read my review of the National Theatre's production of Tony Kushner's musical Caroline, or Change over at Londonist.

WARNING SPOILER AHEAD: Something I didn't mention over at Londonist, but which I found puzzling and a bit disturbing, was the audience's reaction to the play's climax. Caroline, the Gellman's African-American maid, has been told that she can keep whatever money eight-year-old Noah leaves in the pockets of his dirty laundry. (This is 1963; we are in Louisiana.) Caroline finds this a bit patronizing, but she only earns $30 a week and could use the spare change -- even if it does come from an absent-minded child.

Well, everything goes swimmingly, until Noah leaves his Chanukah money -- $20 from his grandpa -- in his pants. He rushes home, but Caroline has already found it and kept it and is thinking of the Christmas presents she can now buy for her three kids. Upset that Caroline won't give the cash back, he tells her (sings, as this is a musical) that LBJ has invented a Negro-killing bomb and he hopes she dies from it.

Caroline hands the money over. Then she tells Noah that Hell is a fiery, hot place... and it is where Jews go when they die.

It's really a shocking moment in the play. Caroline has been infantilized by her position and has been reduced to scaring a child... all over a little loose change.

But the audience laughed. And then, they applauded. They applauded a grown woman telling a precocious little kid that he was going to hell because he was Jewish.

Eeg. My expat theatre companion, I found out after, was equally put off by this reaction. He wondered if we were just having the "North American reaction" and the rest of the audience was having their "British reaction."

I'm assuming that Kushner wants more of the North American reaction. After all, Caroline has to exorcise her demons after this and regrets the mean, bitter woman she has become.

The laughter is understandable. The "Jews go to hell" bit is set up like a punchline. It is surprising. And, in a way, you're glad to see the whiny brat get his come-uppance, even if you feel guilty afterwards. I do hesitate to ever condemn an audience for having an honest reaction.

But the applauding really did throw me for a whirl...

I'd be curious to know what Kushner thinks... And also what the reaction to this part was like in New York. Anybody see the production there? Am I off base?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Canucks in London: trey anthony.

Yes, anthony's Vagina-Monologues-meets-Beauty-Shop-with-drumming play Da Kink In My Hair, which was very successful in Toronto, will be here at the Hackney Empire in east-end London on Nov. 8.

Read all about in my article in today's Toronto Star.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Re: La nation québécoise...

Matthew Hayday voices my thoughts perfectly on the current Liberal leadership debate over recognizing Quebec as a nation. Except, of course, that his post is less profane than mine would be, and he makes more references to Charles Taylor's writings. From Matt:
I believe that Bob Rae and Stéphane Dion are wise to preach caution about the merits of re-opening constitutional talks for the main purpose of writing in an official recognition of the "Quebec nation". For one thing, it begs the question of the ramifications of having the constitution speak of one nation, and remain silent on the remainder of Canada's population. For another, I'm not sure it's prudent to have our constitution be so prescriptivist on issues of identity. And for a third initial thought (recognizing that this is a blog post, and not an academic paper), I think Canadians should be cautious about constitutionally entrenching what are, to be certain, fairly recent conceptions of what constitutes a Quebec nation. There may well currently be a sociological nation of Quebec. But less than 50 years ago, the primary identity for francophone Quebeckers was as part of la nation canadienne-française, which spoke to a much larger geographical reality, and encompassed many more people in the rest of the country.
Our identity politics (and indeed our identities) continue to change and evolve over time, and this is not necessarilly a bad thing. Even if one accepts Taylor's premise that Canadian society is characterized by "deep diversity," and that our individual identities are rooted in (or derived from) broader collective cultures, I do not think that it need necessarily follow that our constitution should codify the current forms that this diversity assumes.
Damn straight!
Montreal Stories.

Le Journal de Montreal may not be the best newspaper in the world, but its reporters have their ear to the ground and come up with some really great human interest stories.

I liked this one from a couple of weeks ago, about a woman riding the Metro for the second time... 40 years after her first ride.

Then, I liked this one about Joseph Lamontagne, panhandler at the corner of Notre Dame and Iberville who has just turned 65... and so is retiring now that's he's eligible for his old age pension.

[h/t to Kate, who reads Le Journal so we don't have to...]

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Man's Best Frenemy.

From today's Sunday Times excerpt of Tom Bower's upcoming book Conrad and Lady Black:
Simon Heffer, a columnist on Black's Telegraph, observed: "Barbara has turned Conrad from an homme sérieux into a society petal. He's besotted with her, like a spaniel."
From A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene I, Helena:
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love,--
And yet a place of high respect with me,--
Than to be used as you use your dog?
This is a propos of nothing.

Okay, it's a propos of a few things. First, I'm pleased -- or do I mean displeased? -- to find out that Brits are as fascinated with the trials and entrails of Conrad Black as Canadians are. The above excerpt was trumpeted on the front page of the Times today. (It's an interesting read, though I prefered the excerpt that dealt with Amiel, which names many familiar Canadian journos as her ex-lovers and has a story about George Jonas -- denied by him -- confronting her first husband Geroge Bloomfield at gunpoint.)

Second: if we aren't allowed to insult our ex-girlfriends, who are we allowed to insult? I'm refering of course to Mr. Mackay's alleged not-so-snappy QP comeback that alluded to his ex Ms. Stronach (or Belinda, as everyone insists on calling her) as his dog. (Not "a dog," but "his dog," which suggests that he has yet to relinquish all feeling for her.)

I do think that Mackay should keep such lame witticisms out of the House of Commons and in the pub after your third pint where they belong. (Likewise perhaps, Liberal MP Mark Holland, who first asked Mackay about "your dog," could refrain from making veiled references to the Mackay-Stronach breakup like a high school bully.) I do think Mackay would've been wise to apologize quickly.

I also, however, think this is Not A Big Deal. And I think Jack Layton looks ridiculous calling upon Mackay to resign over this "sexist" remark.

Ah, scare quotes. They're there because when you call Black a "spaniel," I don't think anyone calls it sexist. Likewise when you say "You dog!" to a guy. Even the expression "his/her bitch" has become unisex. (Ie. Mackay is really the media's bitch right now.)

So yes, Mackay's alleged (he says, though he's heard the Liberal recording) remark was insulting and unparliamentary... but I don't think it was sexist. If Belinda Stronach was Ben Stronach, Mackay's male ex-lover, I suspect Mackay would have the same broken heart and adolescent disdain. Hating your ex is not the same as hating a whole gender. And dog is a gender-neutral insult.

My third and final point is: We have a weird relationship with dogs, one that extends back to Shakespeare's time at least. I don't think I want to explore that any further.
Getting to Know U.K., Getting to Know All About U.K...

Did you know BBC Radio 4 actually has a radio program(me) called Desert Island Discs? I thought that was an imaginary show Tom Stoppard invented in his play The Real Thing.

I'm not sure who this woman is on the show right now... "I couldn't spell, I was struggling in school..." That could be anyone.

I'm sorry I missed last week's episode, which featured Robert Fisk. Would you believe he had them play Hatikva, the national anthem of Israel? It's true. Also, Mellow Yellow.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Easy Like a Bad Day.

Okay, I'm trying to put my finger on it, but why do I always think of Lionel Ritchie and the Commodores' Easy (Like Sunday Morning) when I hear Daniel Powter's Bad Day? I guess it's the similar piano openings...

Anyway, now a message for the kids: Remember to double check all information you read on Wikipedia before you include it in a paper. Something tells me that this little tidbit from Powter's Wiki entry is likely untrue: "In the late 90's Daniel Powter worked with the Canadian Mounted Police aka The Mounties in Québec to fight of an attack of wild grizzly bears who were a threat to the traditional Canadian way of life."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ist Shift.

Some of you may recall those halcyon days when I used to post over at Torontoist, the Gothamist offshoot founded by my friends Sarah Lazarovic and Josh Errett. Well, it conflicted a bit with my day job and this here blog and I just didn't have the time, so I move on while remaining an avid reader...

Now, unemployed in London, I got nothing but time! And so I have begun to contribute to Londonist, the British branch of the ist-iverse.

To wit: My brief recounting of a two-parts fun, one-part embarrassing evening at BAFTA celebrating Canadian short films. You can take the boy out of Canada, but you can't take the Canadian Heritage Minutes out of the boy.

POST-SCRIPT: Does anyone object to me putting Blogger comments on? I'll put Haloscan comments back on if so...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Two countries separated by a common language, part LXVI.

Apparently, parts of the Mary Poppins musical that is such a hit here in London are too scary in New York... even in a new lightened up version. Michael Riedel reports:
"Mary Poppins" played its first preview Saturday night and is, by all accounts, more child-friendly here than it is in London.

But there is one production number, a holdover from London, that's still scaring the kids and baffling their parents.

Called "Temper, Temper," it occurs just before the end of the first act. Mary Poppins has temporarily deserted her petulant charges, Jane and Michael Banks, leaving them alone in their nursery. Suddenly, a sinister red hand pokes out from the window of a doll house. A gigantic, evil-looking rag doll then emerges from the doll house, ready to exact revenge on Jane and Michael for abusing their toys.

Soon all of the toys, looking as if they were designed by zombie horror movie-maker George Romero and acting like graduates of the John Wayne Gacy School of Clowning, come to life. ...

Ticket brokers and group sales agents, who are driving a lot of the show's business right now, aren't pleased. The last thing they want is word that "Mary Poppins" is scaring kids.

Cast members, too, think the "Temper, Temper" number should go, grumbling that they can tell from the stage it's making the audience uncomfortable.
Producer Cameron Macintosh is insisting the scene stay in, however:
Years ago, Mackintosh secured the rights to "Mary Poppins" from author P.L. Travers by promising her that the stage production would be closer in tone to her books than the the saccharin Disney film. He also promised to use characters and incidents from the books that were not in the movie.

The concept of "Temper, Temper," one production source says, is "deeply rooted" in the producer's commitment to P.L Travers and her estate."
I hope we haven't got to the point where there can't be any scary scenes in kid's entertainment. What's Wizard of Oz without those terrifying flying monkey? On the other hand, I do still have nightmares about the Jabberwocky thanks to a TV version of Through the Looking Glass I saw as a kid... Of course, I still have nightmares about the Gorgs, too. I'm a bit of a wuss. [H/t to Playgoer.]

P.S. Speaking of the Gorgs, did you know that poet bpNichol was a writer on Fraggle Rock? That blows my mind.