Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Catching up on links...

Some of my recent articles:

- Albertine, Michel Tremblay's most famous character, returns to the Tarragon.

- Try the National Post's Buble vs. Bubbles quiz: Can you tell the crooner from the cude nerd?

- Actress Cara Pifko and her literal pen pals.

- The Perils of the Peanut Gallery. [This one's subscription only, but it's essentially a reworked version of this blog post.]

- Gladwell's got a blog.
Ms. Eckler Goes to Bloggington.

Remember the recent book battle between Ryan Bigge and Leah McLaren? Yes, I know, you're trying to forget, but hold on a second. You'll recall the Star's book editor Dan Smith wrote that it involved "an unprecedented, week-long catfight of venom, finger-pointing and character assassination in the heavily trafficked blogosphere, where many CanLit players and wannabees hunt." (For the record, we take issue with his use of the word "unprecedented".)

Leah McLaren had her response to the blogoskirmish in Saturday's Globe:
The day I decided to swear off the blogosphere was the morning I decided to plug my own name -- and the names of several other writers I know and admire -- into the search engine at technorati.com, a site known as Blogger HQ (it claims to itemize every new blog on the Internet; last time I checked, the head count was more than 28 million). The results of my search were grim: countless chat rooms full of bitter unpublished writers venomously slagging published ones -- their terrible spelling, poorly constructed sentences and outrageous amounts of displaced hatred and envy a testimony to why they became bloggers in the first place.
McLaren couldn't stand the heat so she got out of the kitchen. I'm sure the blogosphere isn't losing any sleep.

Now, during the "week-long catfight," one Rebecca Eckler, who writes for the National Post, was frequently brought into the melee. People taking a swipe at McLaren wanted to get a poke in a Eckler at the same time. This is often the case. People can't seem to just turn the page on them...

But Eckler has a different response to the heat. On the same day McLaren decided to publically renounce the blogosphere, Eckler decided to jump in feet first.

That's right. Check it out: Nine Pound Dictator - Rebecca Eckler's blog. She has yet to really post yet, but I know once she does you're going to scoff, pretend you don't read it, and then read it every day anyway. You know it's true.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Sentence of the Year Contest!

What was your favourite sentence of 2005? Send your nominations to McSweeneys:
As a special feature in this next edition, we'll have a section highlighting the best sentences written in 2005. This means the best sentences, period, from any source—book, blog, newspaper, journal, magazine. Anything published in 2005 in a verifiable medium. Send your nominations to banrr@mcsweeneys.net. Be sure to include the media outlet, the date, and the author's name. Deadline is March 1.
I've decided to nominate the following sentence from my colleague Robert Cushman's review of Stratford's production of Noel Coward's Fallen Angels: "Now, with their off-putting spouses off putting, the ladies learn that Maurice is about to arrive in London, news that leaves them all a-tremble." Alone, I suppose, it's not terribly exciting. But when I stumbled upon it in context in June, I was delighted:
The Fallen Angels of Noel Coward's 1924 comedy are called Julia and Jane. Each of them lives in a frightfully, not to say frighteningly, expensive flat in Central London. At least, we can see for ourselves that Julia does, and we have no reason to believe that the circumstances of Jane, who resides on another floor of the same apartment building, are any less luxurious. Both women are married, and though we don't know what their respective husbands actually do that yields such riches, we assume that it's Something in the City. Off duty, they're solid tweedy chaps whose main preoccupation is golf.

Julia and Jane have more in common than a postal address and identically placid marriages. Each, long ago, had a premarital fling with the same fella, a debonair Frenchman (he must have been debonair) named Maurice, who whisked one of them off to Rome and the other to Pisa for romantic times they wish neither to forget nor to repeat. Or so they say.

Now, with their off-putting spouses off putting, the ladies learn that Maurice is about to arrive in London, news that leaves them all a-tremble.
Ah, clever wordplay. That's all it takes to win me over.

ADDENDUM: Forgot to mention -- found this through Said the Gramophone.

Having explored the power of thinking without thinking in Blink, Malcolm Gladwell had now decided to explore the power of writing without thinking. That's right! The crazy-haired contrarian has started a blog. (And has changed his mind on Canada's health care system, too.)

Another famous Canadian journalist has just joined the blogosphere, too. But I'm not sure if s/he's ready for visitors yet, so stay tuned.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Anagram Fans of the World Unite!

So, the other day, Robot Johnny had a little fun. He photoshopped the TTC Toronto subway map, rearranging the letters of the different stops into funny phrases. Bathurst station became Butt Rash station. St. Clair West because Wrist Castle. St. George became Greg's Toe.

Ha, ha. Oh, anagrams. Fun with your local transit system.

Today, of course, Robot Johnny gets a cease and desist order from the TTC:
The TTC has not granted, and expressly denies, permission to you or the Website to reproduce or otherwise use TTC intellectual property in whole or in part. The TTC hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from using TTC intellectual property on the Website, failing which the TTC will take appropriate legal actions without further notice to you.
Ah, the TTC. The public corporation whose lawyers were not competent enough to make sure the plans for the St. Clair streetcar Right-of-Way were airtight, so a group of citizens halted the project's progress for months leaving me taking a sporadically scheduled shuttle bus from St. Clair West to St. Clair station every morning... And yet these laywers are on a blogger's case for playful copyright infringement within days. Way to get your priorities straight.

If this were a private corporation, fine. But I have been led to believe that the public owns the TTC and I bet there's not a single Torontonian who wanted the TTC's lawyers to waste their time and our money going after a transit geek's non-profit-seeking exercise in Phun with Photoshop.

The remixed map: Fun, free publicity for the TTC in cyberspace.

The ensuing cease and desist order: Bad publicity, makes people like me want to buy a car.

Wasn't there anyone at the TTC who realised this would turn something harmless into a public relations disaster? Can we fire these people?
The Free Tan Dilemma

When I joined my gym last month, I got a coupon for a free tan that expires on Feb. 28. I think fake tanning is ridiculous, especially for men. But, on the other hand, it's free and I have a hard time turning down free things.

And so, I will let the blogosphere decide. Please leave your Yes (pro-tan) or No (no-tan) votes in the comments and whatever side is more numerous by Monday afternoon will win.

Friday, February 24, 2006


(I said I wouldn't post anything more about a certain thing, so pretend like I didn't just link to this: "There was a miscommunication between my editor and myself regarding the conflict of interest, which I regret. To conclude, I have a few corrections and comments I would like to make, before never mentioning the whole mess ever again.")

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Anyone want to go protest at the Russian embassy?

A link from The Media Drop leads to this Russian-language article about yesterday's Olympic hockey smackdown of the Canadians by the Russians. The headlines is "?????? ????????? ??????? ???????."

This, a friend of the Media Drop notes, translates to "Russia makes Gretzky cry." (Babelfish gives me "Russia forced Grettski to cry.")

Insult to injury!
Shotgun same-sex marriage.

Thursday reports that his lesbian friends, who were once going to wait until their disapproving parents died to get hitched, are now getting married while the marrying is good... Expect to hear many more such stories in the lead up to the Conservative government's promised free vote on gay marriage.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Death to Smooches.

In the Guardian, Mark Ravenhill writes that Wales has banned kissing from school plays. I think this is an excellent idea. I mean, what if the one child actor kissing the other child actor had been eating peanuts before?

Just kidding. This is friggin' ridiculous! Writes Ravenhill:
In a new directive - which, it's feared, might soon be applied in England, too - the Welsh assembly states that kissing in school productions should be replaced by "a peck on the cheek or an embrace", and that characters should "hug each other in friendship". If this were applied to [Ravenhill's young person's play] Citizenship, it would reduce the play to a nonsense. And how chilling the Welsh assembly's advice to teachers not to rely on "arguments about the artistic integrity of the text".
And now, Romeo and Juliet's first meeting as it would be in a Welsh high school production:
ROMEO: If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My arm, two swarthy pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a hug of friendship.

JULIET: Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' bear hug.

ROMEO: Have not saints backs, and holy palmers arms to wrap round them in a non-sexual embrace?

JULIET: Ay, pilgrim, arms that they must use to whip their own backs in self-flagellation...
End scene! Okay, so I'm no Thomas Bowdler, but
you get the point. Romeo and Juliet without the kissing and the hot teenage sex = Homeo and Frigidette.

UPDATE:Okay, well I should have expected Mark Ravenhill's P.O.V. to be perhaps a little inyerface. A BBC article clarifies what the Welsh are going to squelch:
An assembly government spokesman said the guidelines would not ban kissing or give a set list of texts for students.

"The draft guidance does not ban kissing, but it does stress that the safety of children and young people must always take priority over the integrity of artistic work and that there should always be a clear rationale for the use of an explicit gesture or action, such as a kiss."
I suppose if the Welsh assembly must intervene in high school drama productions, this policy is more reasonable... And yet, I don't think my high school drama teacher's decision to make Borachio and Margaret have their role-playing sex on stage in Much Ado About Nothing had much of a clear rationale beyond titilating the adolescent audience. But I wouldn't take back that memory for nothing and would have been mightily peeved if that little bit of extra stage time for my bit part had been cut by an act of Parliament...

Whatever. The Welsh kids won't really care as long as they can continue to secure a parentless house with a well-stocked liquor cabinet for the cast party.
Skating towards Gomorrah.

Sure, sure, the Canadians lost to Russia. It's upsetting, but, you know, chill out. It's just a game.

What, on the other hand, if you stumbled across your ex-girlfriend's blog, that ex-girlfriend's blog, and she was about to move in with her athletic, chivalrous boyfriend and she seemed tremendously happy and excited about it? What then?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Shell games.

Yesterday, everyone and their mother was calling or e-mailing, "Hey, did you see today's Globe and Mail? Big story on peanut allergies."

Let me say that it is great to read about 15-year-old Aly Young's crusade to eliminate peanuts from sporting arenas. What an impressive young woman, especially considering she has to deal with peanut-brains like this guy.

In March of 2004, I blogged about my one and only visit to the Air Canada Centre and the discomfort I felt throughout the third period, surrounded as I was by peanut shells and the aroma/stench of the offending legumes. I wrote:
I think it's about time they stop serving peanuts at sporting events. I believe the whole point of the salty snacks is to sell more beer, but pretzels surely can fill that gap. Cutting peanuts out wouldn't significantly bother the non-allergic fans and it would bring plenty of allergic fans in.
Sound reasonable? Good.
Now what we need are a couple of Hockey players with allergies to take the charge. How about Tom Poti, the New York Rangers defenseman, who has severe allergies to nuts, fish and MSG? Or Todd Reirden, defenseman for the Phoenix Coyotes, who has a gluten allergy?
And yet a lot of folks -- some like the peanut-brain, most much more intelligent -- don't think it's reasonable. Many people are offended or concerned by the idea of letting the allergic minority determine the unallergic majority's menu options. As the ethicist in the Globe article puts it, “How great should the restriction on liberties be to accommodate the vulnerable?”

These concerns are legitimate, but here's what I say:

1) Sporting arena owners spend millions of dollars making their facilities accessible to the disabled. Here's what the Air Canada Centre does for the disabled according to their website:
The arena is user-friendly, providing one per cent of fixed seating for the disabled and their companions. Accessible seating areas are strategically located throughout the building, providing maximum flexibility and pricing selection. Among other features, all public washrooms are wheelchair accessible with accommodating counter heights and lower urinals with grab bars. Food and beverage service counters are lowered to accessible service heights.
What those with severe peanut allergies -- those who the very smell of peanuts can set off a reaction -- are asking for is much less: to sell some other snack than peanuts. The ACC went out of its way so it wouldn't have to tell wheelchair-bound hockey and basketball fans, "Sorry. You'll have to watch at home on your TV." Why is it more acceptable for them to say this to people with peanut allergies?

2) I'm not sure about Ms. Young, but I am not looking for the government to ban of peanuts in private facilites. The Air Canada Centre and other arenas should voluntarily choose to stop selling peanuts the way airlines have. Why? Because they shouldn't be chasing away hockey fans. And they shouldn't have to wait for the first death to take action.

3) The argument, "Where do we stop -- banning gluten for those allergic to gluten? Banning salty pretzels for those on low-salt diets?" is a red herring. Just the smell of peanuts can set off a reaction in the allergic, which makes it quite different from most every other allergy or food-related condition. Also, for some reason, it is considered socially acceptable for people eating peanuts to throw their shells on the ground. When I went to the A.C.C., I didn't have to just deal with people eating peanuts nearby. I had to deal with peanuts underfoot (by the third period) and tipsy, excited sports fans sputtering peanut particles into the air behind me. I kept my hand over my beer the whole time.

4) To peanut-loving sports fans: What do you go to the game for? The game or the snack? It's not a burden to eat chips or pretzels instead of peanuts. We're talking about a snack choice versus a life-threatening condition here. So, when arenas stop selling peanuts, as they inevitably will as the peanut-allergy generation gets older and starts throwing its purchasing power around, don't be annoyed about it. You're there to watch hockey or basketball, not eat peanuts. Relax.

So, ACC -- why not take the lead and show the rest of the sporting world the way? Listen to Aly Young and stop serving peanuts.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Feud for thought.

I know you folks are just dying to learn the latest from the Bigge/McLaren pillow fight... (If you're just joining us, see this post and this one.)

So: Dan Smith, book editor at the Star, printed a sorta mea culpa for Bigge's review in yesterday's paper.
What we didn’t tell readers last week, and we should have, is that Star reviewer Bigge had previously, in 2001, been on the receiving end of a decidedly nasty putdown of not just his own debut book, the semi-memoir A Very Lonely Planet, but also his person — at the hands of one Leah McLaren, in the Globe.

The result of this failure to arm readers with knowledge of Bigge’s animus — and the buck stops here for that — helped fuel an unprecedented, week-long catfight of venom, finger-pointing and character assassination in the heavily trafficked blogosphere, where many CanLit players and wannabees hunt. It’s been wild....

Let us share one salient fact: The CanLit wading pool is far too tiny to ever guarantee three degrees of separation, never mind six — although we really should do better than one, as in Bigge’s case. In a little world of juried state-sponsored publishing, conflict of interest is never far away....

Last word to Andrew Potter, Maclean’s magazine columnist and co-author of The Rebel Sell, guest-blogging last week on Andrew Coyne’s blog, in which he discusses his own tit-for-tat, author-reviewing-author feud with Hal Niedzviecki in the pages of the Globe and Post: "Criticism is itself a form of writing. It is entertainment, and nothing, I mean nothing, is more entertaining than a good literary hair-pulling."
Well, we now know the Star book editor's position on book reviewing: That's entertainment, baby. Basically, Smith is saying, "Yeah, we really could have got somebody less biased to review the book. And, at the very least, we should have disclosed that Bigge had previously been bashed by McLaren. But it was fun, wasn't it?"

I could criticize that position. I could shout, "What did Smith know and when did he know it?" I could argue that the Books section deserves to be put together with the same journalistic integrity of any other section.

But I won't say these things. Because, well, I don't really disagree with Mr. Dan Smith. This was kind of fun, albeit ridiculous fun. But now we're so over it. And with that, On the Fence promises not to come back to this topic for a long while.

[Turning back, like Columbo.] Oh, just one more thing. There's another spin-off feud to emerge from this whole business: Me vs. Marc Weisblott.

In his latest Paved post about McLaren and Bigge, the Blaugerista refers to me as "a fellow fluff reporter." Ouch! I'm an arts reporter, not a "fluff" reporter. I write serious articles about culture. Perhaps the 'Blott hasn't been reading my weekly Hobbit Forming series in the Post, in which I investigate the healthy habits of the cast of the Lord of the Rings musical? Today, the Gollum understudy reveals the details of his biannual Wild Rose Cleanse.

That's some real journalism, blog boy. So, put up or shut up. Whatever that means.
Math joins the postmodern world.

"I think that we're now inescapably in an age where the large statements of mathematics are so complex that we may never know for sure whether they're true or false... That puts us in the same boat as all the other scientists.”

This is upsetting to me and I refuse to believe it. If we can't find truth in math, where can we find it?

Friday, February 17, 2006

End of an era in the Montreal film scene...

Hour reports that Cinéma du Parc "head programmer Don Lobel (who has programmed at the Parc for seven years, and was the previous owner as well, before the cinema was acquired by Ex-Centris) was dismissed from his duties without notice by Ex-Centris management, causing his programming partner, Mitch Davis, to tender his resignation last Monday morning."

One summer, I lived in a crappy apartment on St-Dominique and worked as a ticket taker at Cinéma du Parc, the last remaining rep theatre in Montreal. It is located underneath the La Cité apartment complex. My job literally involved ripping tickets and pointing people to the correct of the three theatres. When movies went in -- three in a row, staggered by 15 minutes so they could have only one projectionist -- I would just get to sit on the big red sectional under the movie-poster-plastered wall and read. (I remember reading Duddy Kravitz and, halfway through it, Mordecai Richler died.) As an employee, you could see as many films as you wanted when you weren't working and take a big bowl of popcorn in with you. It was great fun and I learned a heck of a lot about the movie world that existed outside the multiplex: I saw my first spaghetti western, my first really freaky Japanese horror film, and was introduced to oeuvre of Larry Clark.

Cinéma du Parc was a pretty ragtag place back then. When I'd walk into the midnight shows during the credits with my flashlight to kick everyone out, I'd regularly encounter empty cases of beer, the lingering smell of pot, and the occasional couple engaging in oral sex. (Why did they wait until the credits to do that?)

Daniel Langlois's Ex-Centris bought the place right during my time there and, to their credit, they let Don and Mitch essentially keep doing what they were doing. And they renovated the theatres and spruced the place up, which was cool, but kind of took away from its charm.

The more cinephilic will pay better tribute to Don and Mitch and their cult and art programming prowess. Things will be different without them, but Langlois is a cinema lover, so I'm more curious than worried as to what happens to du Parc next. In Hour, Melora Koepke writes:
[T]he Parc's programmers are widely considered the best in the country. Davis, who is a co-founder and head programmer of the Fantasia festival (the midnight shock screenings at Cinéma du Parc were his pet projects), cites a few of their recent victories: "Oldboy, Dans ma peau, Three...extremes, Popaganda, Gods of Times Square... one of my personal gonzo programming jobs was Abel Ferrera's Ms. 45. I got his phone number from a mutual friend and called him directly through a mutual friend, and called him up at home in New York and got him to ship me his print. I have some pretty good connections... it's all about connections."

It's unclear what Ex-Centris has in mind for Cinéma du Parc (they had not responded to inquiries at press time), though they have assured Davis that his hard work was not in vain.

"The good news is that [Ex-Centris] has assured me that the Parc will remain dedicated to supporting independent films, repertory cinema and film creations that are out of the mainstream currents. They have every intention of keeping things on the cutting edge and that definitely made me breathe a sigh of relief," he says.

"But different sensibilities will bring in different movies, that's for sure. To [program] this kind of stuff, you really have to have an obsessiveness and dedication that takes time, energy and ingenuity. Not everyone's going to bother."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Religion is the fashionable substitute for belief.

So wrote Oscar Wilde. Another of his that's popping into my head is "The worst vice of the fanatic is his sincerity."

When I think of the word "blasphemy," I think of a word that became soft somewhere around Wilde's time in the Western world. Is it about to tip back?

If it's true that Norway's parliament has criminalized blasphemy in response to the cartoon controversy, I will be mightily concerned. But why can I only find stories about this in sketchy publications and on blogs?

By the way, there's a good recap in The Star of what happened with Salman Rushdie and The Satanic Verses a decade and a half ago, for those who want to blindly link all this to Iraq or the War on Terror.

In addition, just for the blogorecord, I'm firmly behind the movement to Buy Danish. Boycotts are a democratic way of showing your displeasure, but there's no reason a whole country should be punished for the actions of a single newspaper. (Remember when we were fighting over Hans Island and the idea of a war with Denmark was a joke? Oh, those heady days.)

Does anyone know of a Danish foodstuff that isn't Rosenborg blue cheese, though? I think I'll get sick of it pretty soon. Better yet, know of any good Danish bands I can download on iTunes?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Gehry on Gretzky.

I report, you decide:
Yesterday, Frank Gehry laced up to play defence for Wayne Gretzky. The famed architect showed up at an Art Gallery of Ontario press conference wearing a Gretzky-style Canada bomber jacket in "solidarity" with his hockey superstar friend and launched a slap shot straight at the members of the press who have gone after the Great One over the NHL gambling scandal.

"[Gretzky] is one of the straightest arrows in history," said Gehry, who is more often associated with curved or squiggly lines. "I guarantee he did nothing wrong and I'll swear by it."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Repeal the blasphemy law!

The British one that prohibits blaspheming the Church of England:
A conglomerate of British writers and artists are spearheading a campaign to abolish the country's centuries-old blasphemy law that offers the Anglican Church special protection.

Launched by English PEN, a lobby group for freedom of expression, the campaign is led by best-selling author Philip Pullman and London's National Theatre Director Nicholas Hytner, The Times daily reported today...

Britain's blasphemy law, introduced in 1697, only covers the Church of England and a 1938 ruling denies the law's coverage to all other religions, including other Christian faiths.

That is why angry Muslims could not invoke it in regard to Rushdie's Satanic Verses, the daily said...

The blasphemy law was last used was in 1977 against the editor of Gay News for publishing a poem about a gay Army commander's love for Christ.
PEN's statement on the Mohammad cartoons pretty much summarizes my feelings on that whole debacle, by the way.
Bigge v. McLaren.

What we've learned since our last post:

A - McLaren once bashed Bigge and his book, A Very Lonely Planet: Love, Sex, and the Single Guy, in a column about "lurpers," a word she invented to describe certain young men that caught on like the frug revival;

B - During an online Q&A today, McLaren was all, "Hi Greg, I know the review you're talking about and I didn't read it. I try not to look at that stuff. I have enough negative voices in my head without adding someone else's. At the same time I'm not complaining. When you do a public job there are lots of perks, but there is also a downside, which is public criticism. I just see it as part of the job." {via Bookninja}

C - During said online Q&A, a guy called William McEnery from Pender Island, B.C. Canada, actually asked the following question: "Leah, it has been a pleasure following your career over the years - God, that makes you sound like a wizzened vetern doesn't it? You have made me laugh and think. Sometimes at the same time. Congrats on the publication of your novel. As your career is in its ascendancy do you envision a different role for yourself in the future, in regards to your writing? Perhaps writing on global/international issues, for example. Doing the Allan Abel switch. I ask only because I, along with countless others, would miss your weekly columns and the occasional features you write. Take care and good luck." What a TOTAL SUCK UP. Is Pender Island, like, an island that is threatened by global warming, so all the residents have to learn to suck real hard, because otherwise the rising water will overwhelm them?

D - On his blog, Bigge is all, "[I]f Oprah (or the Canadian equivalent therein) demands it, I will appear on her show and weep on cue" and he's all, "Oh, and I'm no longer single."

E - The Bigge-McLaren "feud" has launched a spin-off feud between Carolyn Weaver, producer and host of Fine Print, and Continuity Girl blurber (not to be confused with 'lurper') Ceri Marsh, editor of Fashion magazine. In the comments on Quill and Quire's blog, Weaver wrote:
It is impossible to say if McLaren's critical commentary on Bigge’s A Very Lonely Planet or Bigge's critical commentary on McLaren’s The Continuity Girl have merit without first reading both books. What I can comment on, having read many tremendously “smart and entertaining” novels by Canadian writers, is the comment by Ceri Marsh on the back of The Continuity Girl in which she writes: Leah McLaren's writing is an elbow to the ribs of the accepted CanLit notion that smart and entertaining don't belong together. I found the comment sad, offensive and in poor taste. Sad because she felt that the only way to be an advocate for the book was to diminish the work of others. Offensive because she carries the title of Editor-in-Chief of a Canadian publication and had no hesitation to publicly disregard the first rate, internationally recognized work of so very many great Canadian writers.... I do not know if McLaren approved the quote but I am sorry that Haper Collins went with it. I can’t think of many industries in which a patently untrue comment of this sort by someone of stature would go unaddressed.
Or, you know, whatever.
Happy Valentine's Day.

Here's a little story about Sean from Said the Gramophone and his search for his funny valentine. (I was actually supposed to write this, oh, three months ago... But now is a fitting time to run it.)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Shooting fish in a barrel... and MISSING!

Look, I've been known to complain once or twice that Canadian fiction gets a bit of an easy ride by Canadian reviewers. On occasion, I've been peckish for a Canuck Dale Peck to appear out of nowhere.

So, I appreciate that Ryan Bigge gave meanness a try while reviewling Leah McLaren's The Continuity Girl in the Sunday Star. Unfortunately, Bigge just made a total friggin' fool of himself. Nice try.

Bigge begins by mentioning his favourite part of The Continuity Girl... THE FONT! Oh, snap! He must have spent a whole five seconds thinking that up. Later, he (ironically, unironically?) refers back to this font joke, calling it "the Electra zinger."

Moving on. "The Continuity Girl illuminates the limitations of my thesaurus," writes Bigge like he is one of those gifted kids in Grade 4. "Uber-lousy? Fifth-rate? Super-bad? None of above. There exists no English word that adequately describes the residuum, offal and drek that slosh through the pages of this novel." Ha, ha. Bigge actually used a thesaurus to compose that last sentence, I bet. I'm sure he came up with "uber-lousy" and "super-bad" on his own.

Etc., etc... It's all very obvious, "spoiled brat", yada yada. I suppose there is one original line: "McLaren is a provocative pool toy that is kept inflated only by the warm air of the chattering classes." I'll give points for that just because it takes some balls to compare a female author to an inflatable toy and get the Star to print it.

But, of course, if Bigge's whole point is that all that chattering has only made McLaren stronger, then why did he agree to review her book? And why do it in such a "provocative" way. See, it's you, Bigge, who is blowing that hot air! Into McLaren. And keeping her afloat. By blowing into her.

But really, when the lines you quote from a novel to show how bad it is are more interesting than your entire grrr-I'm-so-sassy review, you've lost. Lost completely. Having read Bigge's review, I have no good reason for thinking that The Continuity Girl is a bad book, but I have many good reasons for thinking Bigge is a small man. A good mean reviewer would have taken the book apart piece by piece, instead of writing a fifth-rate, uber-lousy stand-up act that falls down under its own logic.

And in truth, Leah McLaren and Rebecca Eckler are the only two Canadian writers who ever actually seem to come under any sort of attack... So, this Dale Peck act is not even that daring.

I dare someone to pan, I don't know, Ondaatje's next book or a something.

I dare you! Double dare you!


UPDATE: Paved says there's some sort of five-year feud between Bigge and McLaren. Clearly the most boring feud ever...
CBC Arts Watch, Part LXVII.

Today's top headline: NACO conductor Zukerman apologizes to players.

"I'm sorry. I did not mean to be a player hater... My name is Pinchas."

Friday, February 10, 2006

Shoo flu, you poo.

My doc says it's the flu or a "flu-type virus." But how? I got the flu shot...

Well, apparently, the vaccine only prevents the flu in 70% to 90% of healthy people. Guess I'm one of the lucky ones. Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket.

My doc also says they didn't pick all the right flu strains for the vaccine this year.

Okay, back to bed. You don't want to read about the flu and I'm having trouble following and processing the news with this fever. Did Wayne Gretzky cross the floor and join the Russians?

Thursday, February 09, 2006


- Hey! It's my interview with Craig Lauzon, who plays Stephen Harper on the Royal Canadian Air Farce.

- Hey! It's my article about how Montreal's Maisonneuve magazine is relaunching in the fall as a city magazine, like Toronto Life or Calgary's Avenue. It's a pity to see another national, general-interest magazine bite the dust, but this seems like a smart move. Though it took home the President’s Medal at this summer's National Magazine Awards, Maisonneuve didn't have a lot of name recognition outside Montreal. Heck, even Zerb, whose job it is to follow the media, had never heard of it in October...
Happy 3rd Blogday, On the Fence!

Blog du pays, c'est mon tour
De me laisser blogguer d'amour...

My very first post was on February 9, 2003. Today is February 9, 2006. Still no flying cars.

How am I celebrating my blogday? Oh, I'm lying in bed with a lung infection.

Or something. I don't know what it is. But it involves a fever and a hacky cough. Oh, and some aching, too.

There's some irony in my current agony: My immune system is often a little prone to crashing -- I had a similar childhood to our new Prime Minister -- so I joined a gym last month in order to get all buff and, presumably, get ill less often.

As part of my deal with Good Life, I signed up for six session with a personal trainer. Jing is her name. Anyway, Jing called me last night to cancel our next session. Why? Oh, because she has an infection and is on antibiotics. Same symptoms as me. She's felt bad for the past week, but only went to the doctor now.

Oh, the last week. You mean, the last week including the day we met for our second session? Argh.

I totally got sick from my personal trainer. IRONIC! ANNOYING! COUGH! HACK!

Let this be a lesson to you: Exercise is bad for your health. Of course, now that I've signed up for this gym, I have to keep going. They're going to keep charging me, that's for sure. I hate everything.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Some Girls are Bigger Than Others.

Antonia Zerbisias is getting a lot of flack for this post and the accompanying column about the cartoon controversy. I've been very troubled by the insane, over-the-top reaction to the cartoons and worried that too many are equating words and pictures with actions, and attacking a religion with attacking a people. But I'm still collecting my thoughts on the whole issue and I think it's important to remain calm... For what it's worth, I think Zerbisias makes several good points in her column, though, as usual, they are a little hard to hear, drowning as they are in over-heated my-side rhetoric.

To wit, this bit from A.Z.'s column:
...Israpundit who, along with Michelle Malkin, who is like Ann Coulter but not as funny and not so skinny, are leading the cartoon crusade.
Can you imagine Zerb ever mentioning the weight or size of a male columnist in her column, or a female columnist she agreed with? Or a male columnist saying that about Malkin? I thought Az was supposed to call this sexist stuff out.

I will never understand columnists who write as if they actively want to discourage people who disagree with them from reading.
Say it ain't Solberg!

Another Conservative betrayal: Minister Monte shuts down his blog
As the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration I'm coming to realize that blogging just might have to take a back seat to Ministering.

So, I load up 20 or 30 Burnt Almonds and stick them in my desk at CIC and settle down with 20 or 30 briefing books. I steel my spine with an extra large double cream from Tims and get ready to enter the maelstrom....

[I]n leaving the blogosphere I make this commitment: I WILL stand up for Canada. But first a nap.
I suppose we all knew this day would come. Have fun on the dark side, M. So.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Symbolism anyone?

Stephen Harper's new cabinet is gathering at la Maison Wilson on the banks of Meech Lake tomorrow. Writes Michel Vastel:
[C]'est là que fut conçu l'accord constitutionnel reconnaissant le caractère distinct de la société québécoise et lui attribuant quelques pouvoirs particuliers. Trois ans plus tard, la belle entente était sabordée.

Le 24 juin 1990, pour souligner la mort du beau risque, un certain député de Jonquière mettait le drapeau du Québec en berne devant sa maison. Je me demande ce que pensera Jean-Pierre Blackburn demain matin, en franchissant la porte de la Maison Wilson...
Is the cabinet appointment of Montreal's Michael Fortier good news for big cities... or really bad news?

While I'm fairly nonplussed about David Emerson's defection to the Tories, Stephen Harper's appointment of the unelected Michael Fortier to the Senate and then Minister of Public Works in his cabinet raises my hackles. As Coyne puts it, "[I]t is a fine thing for a Prime Minister elected on a platform of democratic accountability, who promised he would not appoint anyone who was not elected, either to cabinet or to the Senate, to then turn around and do both at one go. And to appoint his campaign co-chair, to boot!" Word to Big Bird.

People curious as to who Fortier is and what he stands for must read this Feb. 2 interview with him by Suzanne Dansereau in Journal LesAffaires. This was from before Harper's Cabinet announcement, but Dansereau calls him "Un des cinq doigts de sa main." (One of the five fingers on Harper's hand. Uh, it sounds better in French.) She begins the business magazine article noting: "Si vous êtes en train de revoir votre liste de contacts dans le milieu des affaires à la suite de l'élection des conservateurs de Stephen Harper à Ottawa, je vous conseille d'y ajouter un nom : Michael Fortier..." (If you're revising your list of business contacts after the election of Stephen Harper's conservatives in Ottawa, I advise you to add a name: Michael Fortier.)

Here's an excerpt from the interview, the end of which David Miller and the New Deal for Cities folks will be particularly distressed about:
[Fortier:] "Les péquistes m'ont enlevé mon drapeau - le fleurdelisé, qui est devenu un symbole souverainiste - et les libéraux m'ont enlevé mon drapeau, devenu un symbole de scandale. En devenant conservateur, je récupère les deux", dit-il.

Avec sa chemise à carreaux rose et sa cravate dans le vent, Michael Fortier est à des années-lumière du stéréotype redneck du conservateur de l'Ouest.

À ce sujet, il dira que "les points communs entre les Québécois et les gens de l'Ouest sont plus nombreux que les divergences". Au premier chef, la soif de respect des champs de compétences. "Le gouvernement Harper va commencer par ça, et bien des problèmes se régleront, dit-il. Elle est finie l'époque où le fédéral menaçait de passer par-dessus les provinces pour donner de l'argent aux villes. Le ton vient de changer. Les provinces, même libérales, vont apprécier."
My emphasis for Mayor Miller et al.

Here's a translation for you Bev Odas out there:
Says Fortier, "The Pequistes took away my flag -- the fleur de lys, which became a sovereigntist symbol -- and the Liberals took away my flag, which became a symbol of scandal. By becoming a Conservative, I got them both back."
With his checkered pink shirt and his tie flapping in the wind (?), Michael Fortier is light-years away from the stereotype of the Western conservative redneck.
On this subject, he says that the "points in common between les Quebecois and the people form the west are more numerous then the divergences." First of all, the respect for the provincial-federal division of powers. "The Harper government will start with that, and many problems with be solved," he says. "The era where the feds threaten to go over the provinces' head to give money to cities is over. The tone has just changed. The provinces, even the Liberal ones, will appreciate this."
Can you find a positive spin to put on that, D.M.?
I interviewed Leonard Cohen yesterday...

It was one of those ten-minutes-in-a-hotel-room blitzkriegs, but it was nonetheless terribly exciting to meet The Man. Here's my article (free link) from today's Post.

So that's one more hero I can cross off my list of people that I want to meet. That leaves Thom Yorke, Don Rosa, Christopher Hitchens, Harold Pinter, Howard Barker and Tom Stoppard. Am I missing anyone?
"This Account Has Been Suspended."

See. Guess the folks at David Emerson's web hosting company voted Liberal... Or maybe the guy who registered his domain.

Or, more likely, he's taken down his website himself to get it all Conservatized.

Monday, February 06, 2006

David Emerson.

What a slut! God, how whorish of that dipstick to prostitute himself out like that! It's like he accepts money for sex or something...

Anyway, yeah. I don't really have many objections to MPs crossing the floor. I'm not sure if the Emerson defection will help or hinder the Conservatives, though.

On the one hand, this makes makes the Cons look like a bunch of whiny hypocrites.

On the other hand, a Liberal who said this about the Conservatives -- "They've got a message that they've been quite successfully getting out to try to pretend they're moderate on a range of issues where we all know that underneath, when you scratch a bit, they're not moderate at all." -- defecting to the Conservatives makes it clear that the "scary Harper and his scarymen!" Liberal rhetoric was a bunch of b.s. Plus, Emerson voted for gay marriage, so that also makes the Cons look more moderate.

But on the other hand, nobody except political junkies will care about this in a week.

In other news, I bet Jack Layton's got a real grin today, not just a boiled dog's head smile. An event that makes the Conservatives and the Liberals look like two sides of the same coin... AND Cons (125) + NDP (29) now = 154/308. Add A.Arthur to the Conservative column and the Dips can hold the balance of power all by their lonesomes again. And now the Bloc and the Liberals can't bring down the government without getting the NDP onside. NDP: Nice damn! Power!
Songwriter's Gala...

I attended the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame gala last night and, boy, what an evening. The songwriter's songwriter Leonard Cohen was being inducted, as was Gilles Vigneault, who wrote the Quebecois anthems Mon Pays and Gens du Pays and a million others.
I really loved what Vigneault said -- in English! --to accept his honour. Here's what I copied down in my notes:
Now, with your indulgent permission, I'd like to say some words in English... [A]s I just said in French, a song is a small bridge between the banks of a river, between two people or two cultures. The bridge never denies the existence of the river. If the river overflows, no one will blame the bridge, and when the floodwater has receded, the bridge remains.
The song, for me, is most useful when it inspires someone to plant a tree, when it becomes a subtle device of seduction or when it becomes a lullaby; these are all little bridges. Thank you very much to all.
Such a rich bit of poetry. Songs literally have "bridges", musical interludes between verse and chorus, so the word has an automatic musical meaning. But I had never thought of seduction or a lullaby as a bridge -- but, of course, they are, between lovers and between awakeness and sleep.

If you have the time, you should listen to the broadcast of the show on CBC Radio Two tonight (8 to 10 p.m.) or watch it on CBC Television on March 6. At the very least, tune in for k.d. lang's show-closing interpretation Hallelujah, which was the most beautiful version I have ever heard -- yes, that includes the Jeff Buckley, John Cale and Rufus Wainwright version. We were all in tears, not least of all Leonard Cohen.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

It's a sign of what a bad shape the Liberal Party is in...

... that I keep running into lefties who see the Conservative minority with significant NDP gains (seat-wise, at least) as the best possible result from the last election. Of course, not everyone is content. To wit, Judy Rebick.

There's a lot of silly assertions in Rebick's piece criticizing the NDP for its "right-wing electoral campaign", but the silliest is this:
When Jack Layton announced out of the blue at the beginning of the campaign that he actually supported the Clarity Act, any chance of unity with the left in Quebec flew out the window. Most progressives in Quebec that I've talked to voted NDP in the last federal election because they believed that Jack was the first leader who really supported Quebec's right to self-determination. This time they voted Bloc Québécois.
What percentage of the popular vote did the NDP get in Quebec in 2006? 7.5%. Boy, what a dramatic drop from their 2004 results, when they got 4.6% of the popular vote in Quebec.... Oh wait. That's actually a gain of 2.9% -- a bigger increase in popular vote than the NDP got nationally during the same period. Newfoundland is the only province where the NDP gained more popular-vote wise from 2004 to 2006... In fact, the NDP did better in Quebec in the 2006 election than they have in any election since the BQ was formed.

And, I should note, the Bloc's share of the Quebec vote fell by 7.8% in 2006.

So who are these Quebec progressives Rebick talked to? Is she just making them up or is she only in touch with people who are out of touch with the actual political currents in Quebec? The NDP should ignore such ill-informed advice...
Chuck Cadman lives on...

Torontonians incensed by the street-racing-related death of a cab driver who was about to become a Canadian citizen might be interested in Bill C-65, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing), which has been wending its way through parliament.

The Liberals introduced the street racing bill to honour Chuck Cadman and his memory. But the Conservatives opposed it saying it was a watered-down version of Cadman's private member's Bill C-338 on street racing, which the Liberals killed (in committee?).

Will the Conservative minority be reintroducing C-65 or will they put forth a new bill that more closely hews to Cadman's? Alas, either way, it's too late for Tahir Khan.
The Power of Love.

While Paul Wells' recent comments about Stéphane Dion may have killed off Draft Dion, they piqued my interest in his (possible) candidacy to lead the Liberals. I'm not the hugest fan of the Clarity Act and, really, until now that's what I've associated Dion most with. But might he be the left-leaning decentralist I dream of?

Friday, February 03, 2006

What I've been saying about Haiti elsewhere...

Antonia Zerbisias is absolutely right -- it's shameful that Canada's peacekeepingmaking role in Haiti (and Afghanistan) was virtually ignored in our recent election. The biggest discussion about our soldiers was about where they weren't actually stationed. (With guns. In our cities. We ain't playing. Don't be a playa hater.)

But while A.Z. is correct that we haven't read enough about what's going on in Haiti in the (English) Canadian press, I'm more than a little skeptical of this story she's bought into that there was some sort of Canada-France-U.S.-led coup to oust president Aristide because he wasn't neo-liberal enough. And just because the rebel forces include some very unsavoury characters doesn't mean that Aristide was a saintly leader. Zerbisias actually writes that he was "democratically elected (with a whopping 91.8 per cent mandate)" without irony. Presidents don't get elected with over 90% of the vote in a free and fair election...

Anyway, here's the rest what I posted over there in her comments:
May I suggest that you read Human Rights Watch's backgrounder on Aristide's return to power.

(I'd also recommend "The Agronomist", Jonathan Demme's excellent document[ary] on Haiti's courageous slain radio journalist Jean Dominique, who stood up to the Duvaliers and then to his one-time hero Aristide.)

Now, you don't have to think Aristide was a saint or a paragon of democracy to believe that his resignation/removal wasn't extremely bizarre and suspicious and may have made a bad situation worse. And I'm not saying the rebels haven't behaved equally bad or worse. But the situation is much more complicated than you presented in your column...

The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti we are participating in hasn't been a rousing success, but it has the right intentions -- make things safe so proper elections can be held... Hopefully, MINUSTAH will keep the elections on Tuesday as peaceful as possible. If you want to feel proud of Canadians, consider this: We're sending the biggest contigent of observers.

By the way, when you say that the Canadian media coverage of the mess in Haiti has been scarce, I think you mean the English Canadian coverage... Though Sue Montgomery at the Gazette, who you mention, has done a lot of excellent reporting from Haiti and on the Haitian community in Montreal. (Yves Engler, on the other hand, is an activist, often a misguided and shrill one, not a journalist.)

Kudos for broaching this subject at least. But I'd caution against an enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend view of the situation in Haiti...
Good luck to all the Canadian election observers off in Haiti. Let's hope it runs smoothly.
Breaking News!

As regular readers know, I think the guy or gal who writes the headlines at www.cbc.ca/arts is the funniest wo/man alive.

Today's headline: 'Harry Potter,' 'Narnia' set for sequels

Holy crap! Stop the presses!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Oscanadars.

Canada or Canadians played an important role in each of the five best picture nominees announced yesterday: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Good Night, and Good Luck, and Munich. Can you guess the Canuck connection for each? (Answers at the end of this article.)

Which one do I hope wins? Well, Brokeback, Capote and Munich were all great films, so I'd be happy if any of them took home the Oscar. (Haven't seen Crash; no diss intended to London, Ont.'s Paul Haggis.)

If I have any strong feelings about this category, it's that I sincerely hope that Hollywood doesn't give in to its McCarthy fetish and give the best picture trophy to the beautifully shot, well-acted, but nuance-free and self-righteous GNAGL.

My colleague Chris Knight disagrees and hopes it or Brokeback will win. He calls GNAGL "a 93-minute civics lesson about a war of ideas between journalist Edward R. Murrow and a junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. Frighteningly relevant 50 years after the time in which it is set, it garnered applause at a rep cinema screening this week as the final credits rolled."

See, I agree that GNAGL is a 93-minute civics lesson, but I say that in a derisive way. ("The film's a 93-minute ciiiv-icks lesson. Snort.") Also something I am personally suspicious of : Films that get applause at your local rep cinema. That's a good sign that a film is all about making you feel proud and superior. For me, the best dramas leave you unable to clap at the end.
National Post remainders.

Apropos of nothing, here's a link to a silly article I wrote about how bands, books, and TV shows with the word 'monkey' in the title are taking over the world.

Also, if any of you have a burning desire to win a National Post tote bag, every Wednesday I put together a five-question Pop Quiz about the week in pop culture. It's always at this URL.

I never really link to the daily stuff I have in the paper, because so often you have to pay for access. But today, everything's free! Huzzah! Hazzoo!
Best new blog URL of 2006.