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.