Monday, April 30, 2007

Sunday afternoon in the park

An older kid, about 17 or 18 years old, is hanging out with a trio of younger kids who look about 14. The older kid is wearing a sleeveless shirt to show off the fact that his arms and shoulders have been obsessively weight-lifted into a crowded, muscular state. His hair is thick and curly, but has been oiled and combed down so that it holds tight to his scalp, almost like Josephine Baker’s. He speaks with a muddy lisp, but compensates for this by talking louder. He sits on a small rise while the three younger kids stand around him in a rough semi-circle. He keeps taking sips from what looks like a big bottle of malt liquor.

He talks and acts like an alpha male, a mentor to the younger kids, but its clear that, whatever affection they have for him – and they seem to have some – it is mixed with very little respect. They barely even fear him physically, guessing that his muscles are mostly for show. He should be with guys his own age, but has probably been shunned. Maybe because of the lisp; maybe he’s just a loser. The younger kids have figured out that much, at least: they talk about him in the third person, making fun of his hard-assed anecdotes even as he’s telling them, giggling openly at his threats against them and others even as he’s making them.

“He always does shit like that,” says one of the younger kids, a fat one wearing tearaway pants and an XXXL T-shirt that hangs off his greedy torso like a poncho. “He was trying to take a piss and he almost pissed all over his fucking cell phone. Ha ha.”

They all laugh. He just shakes his head and smirks, taking the abuse like an old dog being harassed by yappy puppies with harmless teeth.

I lose track of them while trying to keep my daughter from killing herself: she insists on climbing on the built-up BMX course in the corner of the park that my son and a dozen other boys are hustling themselves over on bikes that are always threatening to fall away beneath them. I can hear the occasional hoots of laughter from the younger kids and the echo of a long, boasting story from the older one, but that’s it.

From the top of the highest biking hill, I see the older kid jump up and jog across the park and into the alleyway to take a piss. A group of boys playing soccer nearby start laughing: the fat kid is huddled against a low fence, pissing quickly into the older kid’s bottle. When he reveals the bottle, it’s perfect – he has added a couple of inches of liquid that is indistinguishable from what was there before.

The trio of younger boys set themselves into parodies of nonchalant poses as the older kid jogs back, already in mid-anecdote. He sits, finishes his story, and – as I, the younger kids, and the soccer players watch – takes a long drink. The soccer players start laughing first. The older kid looks like he’s going to puke. He jumps up and takes a few quick steps toward the other kids, who are a quiet for a few seconds, but then burst out laughing once they realize that even now his threats are empty. He is well and truly beaten. If anything, they like him more now.

(I don’t laugh, because I’m a grown-up, and I’m not supposed to have even been watching. If I was watching, then I, being a grown-up, should have prevented it from happening. But how often do you get to watch such a perfect and complete demonstration of social dynamics get played out in such a compressed period of time? The laughing soccer players should have come together right then to form an impromptu Greek chorus that could speak of betrayal and of the price man pays for his vanity.)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Everything falls apart

James Grainger on Jim Crace's The Pesthouse and the new-style dystopian novel, in which the dark visions of the future are predicated on the collapse of all governing systems, rather than their freedom-quashing hegemony:
The 20th century saw the social, political and religious hierarchies that defined Western society for centuries collapse under the organizing principles of the new technocratic state. The 20th century dystopian novelist followed suit, dramatizing the horrors of this dehumanizing brave new world with stories of Big Brother-style dictatorships that enforced demands for total social conformity with nightmarish surveillance technologies and high-tech brainwashing techniques.

But these fictionalized predictions, as prophetic as some proved to be, already have the quaint feeling of old newsreels. Overwhelmed by non-stop coverage of constant low-level warfare and terrorism and mounting evidence of an impending global ecological crisis, the 21st century world citizen is less worried about the threat of identity loss and political oppression than the total collapse of the technological and ecological systems that sustain us as a species.

Where the present goes, the futurist follows, as a slew of new dystopian novels demonstrate. The bubbled hive-like cities of Zemyatin and Orwell and Huxley have been replaced by endless ruins, social anarchy and environmental degradation.

In other words, being controlled is now less scary than the loss of all control. H.G. Wells's The Time Machine probably counts as a kind of stylistic and ideological ancestor to these books, with its vision of humankind eventually devolving into two species, one of which eats the other. Wells's The War of the Worlds depicts this breakdown even more explicitly – especially in its second part, "The Earth Under the Martians." (Which can be read online right here, not that the book is all that hard to come by.) In that book, English society comes apart in a matter of days. Wells goes to great pains to depict the crumbling of every possible bulwark of civilization – science, government, the military, the family (the narrator is separated from his), religion (in the form of the curate), and simple, human determination (in the form of the soldier who dreams impotently of a new subterranean humanity).

The whole genre of post-apocalyptic novels and movies is based on this notion that, as civilization's struts are pulled out from under us, we will very quickly and without too much fuss, revert to simpler and more primitive forms of social organization – gangs, bands of scavengers, etc.

Part of the fascination with post-apocalyptica isn't fear, though: it's a kind of vicarious wish-fulfillment for our inner D. H. Lawrences. Here's Mellors in Lady Chatterley's Lover:
"Quite nice! To contemplate the extermination of the human species and the long pause that follows before some other species crops up, it calms you more than anything else. And if we go on in this way, with everybody, intellectuals, artists, government, industrialists and workers all frantically killing off the last human feeling, the last bit of their intuition, the last healthy instinct; if it goes on in algebraical progression, as it is going on: then ta-tah! to the human species! Goodbye! darling! the serpent swallows itself and leaves a void, considerably messed up, but not hopeless. Very nice! When savage wild dogs bark in Wragby, and savage wild pit-ponies stamp on Tevershall pit-bank! Te Deum laudamus!"


"Because when I feel the human world is doomed, has doomed itself by its own mingy beastliness, then I feel the Colonies aren’t far enough. The moon wouldn’t be far enough, because even there you could look back and see the earth, dirty, beastly, unsavoury among all the stars: made foul by men. Then I feel I’ve swallowed gall, and it’s eating my inside out, and nowhere’s far enough away to get away. But when I get a turn, I forget it all again. Though it’s a shame, what’s been done to people these last hundred years: men turned into nothing but labour-insects, and all their manhood taken away, and all their real life. I’d wipe the machines off the face of the earth again, and end the industrial epoch absolutely, like a black mistake. But since I can’t, an’ nobody can, I’d better hold my peace, an’ try an’ live my own life: if I’ve got one to live, which I rather doubt."
Given all that, who wouldn't occasionally want a peek at a world where the most important thing is having some gas in your car?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Bigge on the Globe

I'm a sucker for "real-time," peanut-galleryesque critical dissections, so I had a good time reading Ryan Bigge's section-by-section review of last Saturday's Globe and Mail. (And not just because it links to me.)

I especially liked this:
D4. Lynn Crosbie reviews the new thriller by Joy Fielding. Crosbie’s decision to write the review in common English is a welcome change of pace, and for that I applaud her. (Her recent Tie Domi feature in Toronto Life is also in common English. A good career move.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My son, the writer

Long and interesting – if a little superfluous at this point – article on Amis pere and Amis fils here.
Ben Jonson wrote: “Greatness of name in the father oft-times helps not forth, but overwhelms the son; they stand too near one another. The shadow kills the growth.” This Oedipal principle applies to all sorts of professions, but few more so than the literary one. It’s not unheard of for the child of an author to try his hand at writing. Stephen King’s two sons are writers, and so is one of John Updike’s. Hilma Wolitzer’s daughter Meg is a novelist, as is Anita Desai’s daughter Kiran, whose second book just won the Booker Prize — an award that has so far eluded her mother. But writers’ offspring tend to go into the family business with far less regularity than, say, the children of doctors or lawyers, and it seldom happens that over the long haul, and in the deepening shade, the younger equals or outstrips the elder — the way that Anthony Trollope, to take a famous example, bested his mother, Fanny.
My own son once shocked and horrified me by saying he wanted to grow up to be either a lifeguard or a book reviewer. He was only 5 at the time, but all the same, I've been pushing the merits of lifeguarding ever since.

I've had this Leader bio of Kingsley Amis for months now, and was supposed to review it for the Toronto Star back in January, but instead spent my winter trying semi-successfully trying to get waist-deep into the writing of a second novel while reading my way through a crate of books as part of a jury for a provincial book award.

Now that things have cleared up somewhat, I plan to tackle the book, but back then, the sight of a 900-page literary biography – even about Amis, one of my favorites – was enough to drop me into a kind of emotional fetal position.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Not on the first date

God, he wants to take him to a play, now. (One based on one of his own stories, of course.)

Throw in some modern dance and a vegan dinner and we're talking about the high-middlebrow trifecta. With any luck, they'll be home in time for The National.
"I told the person at the Prime Minister's Office, forget the spin that's been given on this, that I'm educating the prime minister. Go back to my first letter. It's not so confrontational. It's not buddy-buddy. But come on, you can't expect total obsequiousness.
Well, I mean, Yann can, but not the prime minister. How many Bookers has he won? Martel's right that he never proposed to "educate" Harper: what he said he would do was, again, to "make suggestions to his stillness."
Surely, there is room for dialogue with the prime minister, Martel says. Surely, an answer will come at some point, he adds, unless Harper's "vanity" gets in the way or he feels too defensive about being asked to discuss his reading habits.
Interesting diplomatic approach. Come on, Yann: say he's got a tiny dick while you're at it...
"Even if he doesn't respond, that is a response," Martel says. "Even if he ignores me for however long he's prime minister, that's says something. I'm a Canadian citizen. I'm a well-known writer. I'm writing him letters that are not insulting in any way. So, at one point, he should get me in a dialogue."
A long sigh followed by a rolling of the eyes – that would be a response, too. And one of the more likely.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

In the skin of a lion, in the style of a dog

Phil Marchand on Ondaatje's newest:
The novel begins in the 1970s. A family – a widower, his teen-aged daughter, Anna, an adopted teen-aged orphan girl, Claire, and a slightly older adopted orphan boy named Coop – work a farm in northern California. The taciturn Coop is the "idol" of the girls. Perhaps inevitably, Coop and Anna, 16, begin an affair after Coop has moved into a cabin.

I say "perhaps inevitably" because nearly all the major characters in the novel, faced for any prolonged length of time with an individual of the opposite sex, have sex with that character. (Much of the sex involves penetration of the female from behind – future Ondaatje scholars can puzzle this one out.)
[Emphasis mine]
Oddly but interestingly, this from-behind tendency is one I noticed in Michael Winter's more-than-a-little Ondaatje-esque novel The Big Why, which I reviewed for Saturday Night magazine way back when. This is all perhaps completely irrelevant and childish, but is nonetheless a fine example of the Raised Eyebrow school of literary criticism.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Literature: important or impotent?

Following up on the Yann Martel thing below, there's been some confusion as to whether or not I think literature is important. Every time I've said it isn't, I've tried to qualify that statement to make clear that even though I think it is, I also recognize that the vast majority of people don't. I don't exactly welcome that reality, but I do accept that it's true, and think it is an important truth for writers to keep in mind when they start demanding real-world entitlements.

In the grand, writerly tradition of recycling work whenever possible, here is part of the reply I made to this post on Steven Beattie's site:

First of all, I was talking about writers, not so much writing. I never suggested for a second that literature doesn't actually matter, in the sense that Sartre and Bloom and a million others have argued, only that the manner and realm in which literature matters has absolutely nothing to do with, say, how appreciated a bunch of artists feel when they visit the House of Commons. I would argue that literature's importance is almost antithetical to the idea of being applauded by a bunch of parliamentarians.

Great literature is as much an indictment of reality as it is a celebration of it, so we shouldn't act so shocked and appalled when reality isn't all that grateful for the attention. The imaginative privileges writers grant themselves should be enough; demanding cultural and economic privileges on top of those is a little rich.

Ist klar?

Finally, there are a lot of things wrong with Martel's piece, but probably the most damning is this: You can't argue for the importance of great writing with an essay that is sloppy, clichéd, condescending, pretentious, illogical, and arrogant in the extreme. Sort of defeats the purpose.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Is that a gun in your pocket, Mark?

Mark Steyn looks at the horrible shooting in Virginia, and he's all like, "No way – not even I am crazy enough to talk shit about the dead students."

Then he remembers that he's Mark-motherfucking-Steyn, goddamit!

As I noted before, for Steyn, it's all about the cock.

UPDATE: A nice run-down of the shittiness here.
I don’t understand it. I really don’t. You could find more informed and enlightened commentary by interviewing the guy on the 39 Bus in Boston who thinks he’s the Invisible Man. Why isn’t he being paid six figures to write weekly columns for the National Review? Hell, he wouldn’t even require all that money- just give him a cheeseburger, and he’ll gladly pen 3,000 words explaining why people who get shot by angry psychopaths deserved to die because they didn’t pack heat and/or were Muslamoatheists. What the hell.
Exactly. Not to mention that if any of these people actually found themselves in a dangerous situation, they would quickly start to resemble Bill Paxton's tough-talking, fake spy when confronted with Schwarzenegger in True Lies. ("I got a really small dick. It's pathetic," is the exact line, for those shockingly unfamiliar with the movie. There is some pants-pissing involved, too, if I remember correctly.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"And here we are... the last island of beauty in the world"

One of the sustaining illusions often held by people who dream of being writers, especially those growing up in an environment hostile to art, is that they are like rare palace beauties, and outside dwells the rabble. It can be very useful thing to tell yourself.

After you've grown up a bit, and had a few things published, and met a lot of people who love literature and art and yet have no time for the palace beauties, you tend to drop that illusion. At its worst, it can lead you away from the actual sources of good, engaged writing into dead aestheticism. It can also make you sound like a precious little shit.

Like David Guterson, for example:
On this day off my writing, I began to think about my novel-in-progress and by the time I got to Ritzville I had to pull off the interstate, not only to buy a notebook but to cry because I felt badly for some of the people in my book. Inside the mini-mart, two young duck or goose hunters dressed in camouflage gear were getting self-serve coffee, and while I picked out a notebook, their conversation - which was frankly, I thought, a lot of idle foolishness - distracted me, and then I had to stand behind them in a line to make my purchase and, it couldn't be helped, listen to more of their sadistic banter underneath all of that mini-mart wattage. You would think this interlude would break the spell, but the road toward Othello was so overwhelmingly perfect in the darkness that the world dissipated within 15 minutes and I was "writing" again.
Personally, I think that, even if you never drop the "us and them" perspective, which is understandable, then it's more fruitful to realize that, as a writer, it's their world, and you are a parasite within it, living off it and contributing little of value (at least as far they are concerned). You steal and leech and hoard and spy, bleeding off as much from the host culture as you can and, hopefully, turning all that into art. Given that, it's best not to expect gratitude. You need them more than they need you.

Does that mean literature is not important? Absolutely not. Some of the most important things are almost completely useless, relatively speaking.

What it does mean, however, is that the "sadistic banter" of duck hunters in a store off the interstate is more interesting than the tears of a middlebrow novelist. After all, some of the greatest fiction is filled, from a certain perspective, with nothing but "idle foolishness."

How shitty can people be?

This shitty.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Yann Martel storms the barricades

Yann Martel is as mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. The Globe reprinted this essay on Martel's new campaign against... um... well, why don't I let him explain?
On March 28th, 2007, at 3 pm, I was sitting in the Visitors’ Gallery of the House of Commons, I and forty-nine other artists from across Canada, fifty in all...
Hang on: forty-nine, plus Martel himself, that makes... OK, the math checks out. On with the essay.
...and I got to thinking about stillness.
Uh oh. Going abstract this early on is a bad sign.
To read a book, one must be still. To watch a concert, a play, a movie, to look at a painting, one must be still.
I guess this makes the hero of Johnny Got His Gun a kind of aesthete. "He's not paralyzed, he's contemplative!" Remind me never to invite Martel to a midnight viewing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Just gazing upon a still lake, upon a quiet winter scene—doesn’t that lull us into contemplation?
Um, sure. So getting back to the House of Commons?
Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, “Here I am. What do you think?” Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, yet we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important, and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, panting, “Gosh, life is racing by.” But that’s not it at all, it’s the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by.
There's one at every party, isn't there? Stick to beer, Yann.

So, anyway, getting back to the House of Commons...
I was thinking about that, about stillness...
Jesus, any more banal repetition and this will start to feel like an evening with Philip Glass. (Just establishing my high-culture credentials for what's to come....)
...and I was also thinking, more prosaically, about arts funding, not surprising since we fifty [hang on: forty-nine, plus Martel... yup, still works out] artists were there in the House to help celebrate the fifty years of the Canada Council for the Arts, that towering institution that has done so much to foster the identity of Canadians. I was thinking that to have a bare-bones approach to arts funding, as the present Conservative government has, to think of the arts as mere entertainment, to be indulged in after the serious business of life, that—in conjunction with retooling education so that it centres on the teaching of employable skills rather than the creating of thinking citizens—is to engineer souls that are post-historical, post-literate and pre-robotic; that is, blank souls wired to be unfulfilled and susceptible to conformism at its worst—intolerance and totalitarianism—because incapable of thinking for themselves, and vowed to a life of frustrated serfdom at the service of the feudal lords of profit.
Like I said: stick to beer if you can't handle the hard stuff. What Martel is saying here is that the Canada Council is the only thing keeping us from becoming robots in a post-historical, totalitarian world that also somehow possesses a pre-industrial feudal economy. It's like an early Rush album, without the drum solo.
Just so that you know: the parliamentary appropriation this year for the Canada Council for the Arts is $173 million. Next year it will be $182 million. Does that sound like a lot?
I don't know whether it's a lot, but it sure sounds like $9 million more. Not exactly the most efficient way to set about erecting the Temples of Syrinx. Martel's the math-whiz, however, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Let me put it into perspective. A budget of $182 million translates to $5.50 per Canadian per year. Most Canadians I know spend more than that in a week on parking, some in a day on coffee. Sure, the federal government supports the arts in other ways, too, through industry-support grants and the funding of cultural agencies such as the CBC, the National Gallery, the Museum of Civilization, the National Arts Centre, Telefilm Canada, and so on, but these are institutional venues. Only the Canada Council for the Arts sustains our living arts of today and tomorrow where it really counts, at the level of the individual artist. And they’re supposed to do that on $5.50 a year per Canadian.
OK, so tons of money gets spent on artistic institutions and industries, but a paltry five-and-a-half bucks – per person – goes into the pockets of the stillness-makers themselves. It's like every citizen in Canada has to buy Yann Martel a half-a-pack of smokes every year.
The moment had come. Question Period was over and we were now going to be officially acknowledged by the House.

The Honourable Bev Oda, Minister for Canadian Heritage, whose seat on the government benches is as far away from the Prime Minister’s as is possible for a member of the cabinet, rose to her feet, acknowledged our presence and began to speak. We stood up, not for ourselves but for the Canada Council. Her speech was short. There was a flutter of applause. Then Minister Oda sat down, our business was over, MPs instantly turned to other things, and we were still standing. That was it. Fifty years of building Canada’s dazzling and varied culture, done with in less than five minutes.
So the problem is that there was not grateful weeping and rending of garments on the part of federal MPs because a bunch of subsidized artists were in their midst?

You just know what's coming, don't you?
Do we count for nothing, you philistines, I felt like shouting down at the House.
There it is: the p-word. No one gave Yann his due, so they are all philistines. Makes you wonder how Canadian writers got a reputation for being whiny, doesn't it?

I hate to be the one to break it to you, Yann, but no, in the grand scheme of things, you don't count for anything. You write literary fiction. In Canada. I'm sorry if you were expecting the elected representatives of this country to go down on one knee in your regal presence, but even the most junior cabinet minister has a lot more on his or her plate than what you face every morning when you sit down in front of the computer. That's the reality of it. At at much reduced, much less celebrated, and certainly less remunerative level, it's the reality I face, too. We're brothers in irrelevance. On the other hand, you won one of the most prestigious literary awards available, your novel is still on the bestsellers list after a couple of five-and-a half(!) years, you are published by the country's largest publishing house, and the Globe reprints essays you publish on a cheap-looking web site, so cheer up, hmm?

Where were we? Oh, right: Martel was calling down damnation upon the heads of those philistines in the House.
Don’t you know that Canadians love their books and songs and paintings? Do you really think we’re just parasites feeding off the honest, hard work of our fellow citizens? Truly I say to you, there are only two sets of tools with which the rich soil of life can be worked: the religious and the artistic. Everything else is illusion that crumbles before the onslaught of time. If you die having prayed to no god, any god, one expressed above an altar or one painted with a brush, then you risk wasting the soul you were given. Repent! Repent!
OK, seriously, who invited this guy? He's really killing the mood.
But I have no talent for spontaneous prophecy. Besides, guards would have landed upon me like football players and I would have been hustled out, bound for Guantanamo Bay.
You don't think Martel's losing perspective a little here, do you?
The Prime Minister did not speak during our brief tribute, certainly not. I don’t think he even looked up. The snarling business of Question Period having just ended, he was shuffling papers. I tried to bring him close to me with my eyes.
Kneel before Zod!
Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares not a jot for the arts.
Not a jot! Not a piffle!
But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness.
Yes, arrogance would be wrong. Pretentious is definitely the way to go.
For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness. That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written. I will faithfully report on every new book, every inscription, every letter, and any response I might get from the Prime Minister, on this website.
So that's that: Martel's going to mail Harper a book – a book "known to expand stillness," mind you – every other week. Attica! Attica!

I'm going to guess that the response, if there ever is one, is a signed 8 1/2 x 10 glossy of the PM that says, "Thanks for your thoughtful gift, Yan. Yours Conservatively, Stephen."

[More here and here.]

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Shut it down, boys

Click here for my review of the new Trailer Park Boys fan guide. Yikes. Driving over parking meters to steal the change inside would have been a more dignified cash-grab.

I'm guessing – hoping, really – the people on the show had very little to do with this thing beyond giving the initial go-ahead.

Friday, April 13, 2007

How Frank keeps its photo budget down

Q&Q gets Franked.

The added speech balloons are pretty hilarious, as is the list of Conrad Black defenders on the same page. Makes up for cat food-recall parody elsewhere in the same issue, which reads like the kind of thing written by the guy at the varsity newspaper who always wears Hawaiian shirts.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Losing the War Against Truth

I am biased, because I know and like Paul, but this is an overreaction on Raincoast's part:
The Canadian publisher of a well-regarded book about the U.S. invasion of Iraq has decided to solve a plagiarism problem with it by "disposing" of all warehoused copies of the book.

Vancouver-based Raincoast Books announced the action yesterday, but refrained from specifying whether the disposal would involve pulping, recycling or incinerating about 2,000 copies of A War Against Truth: An Intimate Account of the Invasion of Iraq by Toronto author Paul William Roberts.

The book, published in 2004, was a nominee that year for the $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for excellence in literary non-fiction and was cited by PEN Canada in 2005 when it named Roberts the inaugural winner of a prize honouring courage in journalism.

The disposal of the $24.95 trade paperback follows a decision Raincoast made in January to halt shipments of the text to its Canadian and U.S. customers after lawyers for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notified the publisher that A War Against Truth contains numerous "elements [that] . . . closely resemble or are indistinguishable from passages" in an article the Georgia newspaper published on Sept. 29, 2002.

In a subsequent letter of apology, Roberts admitted the plagiarism, from the article "Bush's real goal in Iraq: Invasion would mark the next step toward an American empire," by Jay Bookman.

But Roberts said it was inadvertent and more the result of an "egregious lapse of professional conduct" and "the dangers of sloppiness" than any malicious intention to borrow without attribution. The lifted sections occupy about five pages of the 400-page book.

Paul fucked up; he apologized; the aggrieved parties were satisfied; a correction was offered. So why the pulping? Were they afraid the plagiarism virus would seep into copies of the new Harry Potter while everyone slept?

I hope another publisher grabs the book and – after making whatever changes/ammendments necessary – reprints it. Toot sweet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Here is another Troy for you to burn

Troy Hurtubise has a new suit.

Of all its many gadgets, the "last words" recorder is clearly the best.

Camille Paglia on Susan Sontag: farewell you black kettle

Over time, Sontag's reputation will stand or fall not on her compulsive socializing and networking (which should raise doubts about her putative seriousness) but on her writing. Others will make those judgments. I myself feel that Sontag was a serial name-dropper who made gestures at subjects rather than saying something new, true or memorable about them. Except for a few early essays, when she was a witness to the surging avant-garde scene in downtown New York, Sontag rarely delivered what she advertised.
From here. (Scroll down through a lot of other bullshit.)

Monday, April 09, 2007

If he can't change your mind

Because the end is nigh, Bob Mould has been given an advice column, called "Ask Bob."

"High-toned cluelessness is a lifestyle."

A world-class violinist busks the morning rush in a Washington, D.C. subway station, and – horrors! – is mostly ignored. Philistinic entrapment can be funny and revealing, but this one is just dumb and insulting, for all the reasons outlined here. (The title of this post is lifted from the comments.)

Here's an excerpt from the original:

AS METRO STATIONS GO, L'ENFANT PLAZA IS MORE PLEBEIAN THAN MOST. Even before you arrive, it gets no respect. Metro conductors never seem to get it right: "Leh-fahn." "Layfont." "El'phant."

At the top of the escalators are a shoeshine stand and a busy kiosk that sells newspapers, lottery tickets and a wallfull of magazines with titles such as Mammazons and Girls of Barely Legal. The skin mags move, but it's that lottery ticket dispenser that stays the busiest, with customers queuing up for Daily 6 lotto and Powerball and the ultimate suckers' bait, those pamphlets that sell random number combinations purporting to be "hot." They sell briskly. There's also a quick-check machine to slide in your lotto ticket, post-drawing, to see if you've won. Beneath it is a forlorn pile of crumpled slips.

On Friday, January 12, the people waiting in the lottery line looking for a long shot would get a lucky break -- a free, close-up ticket to a concert by one of the world's most famous musicians -- but only if they were of a mind to take note.

These dirty plebes are more interested in money and pornography than Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor! I certainly hope the Washington Post picked up the tab for the writer's scented hankies.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

In John Fahey There is no East or West

Happy Easter, etc.

(Two more Fahey numbers, plus a very brief and awkward interview, from the same show here.)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bucking Frilliant

I went to see Lindsey Buckingham at the Danforth Music Hall last night. Having seen a few camera-phone videos from this tour, I had some idea what to expect, but still went in assuming that it was as likely to be a massive disappointment as a mind-blower.

In the end, it was a perfect encapsulation of Buckingham’s oeuvre, in that around 70% of the night was astonishing and brilliant, the rest either overwrought or simply pedestrian.

Everything he did solo with just an acoustic guitar was shiver-inducing. The eye-rollingly self-referential “Not Too Late” (“Reading the paper/ saw a review/ Said I was a visionary/ but nobody knew”) just bothers me on his new record, but live, as the opener no less, the song came off less as a confessional song than as a genuine confession, an admission of failure as an artist, as if he were just fingerpicking madly and free-associating. I immediately regretted being stuck up in the balcony. “Big Love” was primal, as expected. Even better, and even darker and more primal, was – shockingly – “Go Insane,” which was slowed down and made to both creep and howl. (See this version, from about a week earlier. Watch what happens just before the four-minute mark – there was a lot of that at this show.)

With just a guitar, Buckingham is a master of using dynamics. Whisper-to-a-scream has gone beyond cliché, but when done right, by a performer who can take a room hostage, it sounds like a fresh invention. I mean, obviously, he was shredding his throat on the coda for “Big Love” for the third or fourth time that week, but when he did it last night, he betrayed no sense that this was catharsis-on-cue.

I have fetishized Buckingham’s guitar playing for a long time now – to the point of buying a nylon-string guitar a few years ago, in part because he plays one – so hearing it fantastically loud in a hall for two hours felt like a personal indulgence, despite the fact that the place was packed. (I was was even willing to ignore the frequent onstage displays of ‘Dalai Lama hands.’)

As expected, the Fleetwood Mac material got the biggest reception, but he had the crowd all the way through. There were thick-necked Q107-type guys behind me openly admitting to being floored.

It was only some of the full-band stuff that lost me. The extended freak-out guitar solos went nicely through the roof (there were a couple moments where Buckingham literally starting grabbing at the strings of his guitar with both hands like some crazed monkey). But with the band, and especially the extra guitars, it often felt overdone and even rote. Where the acoustic material had felt like music being freshly created as it was being performed, the band stuff tended to just be an attack. Or worse, a kind of showcase. (There was also a beyond-shameful “funky white guy” drum interlude that more like something you’d here at, say, a variety show aimed at promoting teen abstinence.)

Another thing: as much as I like a lot of his new songs, I think he needs to get bored of playing them in their fixed arrangements and start pulling them apart like he does his older material.

Happily, he ended the show the way he began it, with a solo version of a new song – the vaguely Led Zep IIIish “Shut Us Down,” which I was already sold on from the record, but which came off like another cliché made fresh: the finale that actually feels final, as if nothing more could, or should, be said. It was the kind of show that left me genuinely grateful for the long subway ride home, for having the time to mull it over for a while.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Mark his words

Mark Steyn displaying more of his patented insight into global affairs:
Re: that pathetic U.N. resolution declining to “deplore” the Iranian action but agreeing to express “grave concern”:

What difference would that make either way? Would “deploring” persuade Tehran to release the sailors while “grave concern” lets them humiliate them for another few weeks?

Damn straight. Get 'er done, etc.


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed at a press conference earlier in the day that he had freed the British crew captured March 23 in disputed Gulf waters.

Blair thanked allies in Europe, at the UN Security Council and friends in the Mideast region for their help throughout the negotiations.

Steyn gets bonus points for positing the Falklands War as a possible model for how the British should have handled this latest provocation by uppity third-worlders. The Falklands: a bunch of tiny islands off the coast of South America with less than four thousand people on them, where the biggest industries are sheep farming, fishing, and tourism. Sounds just like Iran, doesn't it?

Macleans vs. Time

This is funny.

Did I not say we are third-rate and pathetic?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

On Chesil Beach - the digested read

Courtesy of The Guardian.

Best part:

They both knew there was something they should say to make matters better but neither could find the words.

"Maybe we could remain in a sexless marriage," she mouthed in a gesture of conciliation, "and you could occasionally get your needs met by other women."

"It's over," he gasped.

"Don't you think we're being rather melodramatic and that even in 1962 a couple might get over a crap shag on their wedding night?" she cried.

"Of course, but if we don't split up, the whole book's pointless."

Monday, April 02, 2007

Eating out - way out

In Saturday's Focus section of The Globe and Mail, they ran an excerpt (not online, sadly) from Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon's The 100-Mile Diet, about the couple's attempt to eat only locally grown and produced food.

In need of a hip-sounding headline that had something to do with food, the Globe went with:
Tossing the 1,500-Mile Salad
And in a family newspaper and everything...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

War Is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Irony is Easy

from here:
On the wall outside [George Orwell's] former residence - flat number 27B - where Orwell lived until his death in 1950, an historical plaque commemorates the anti-authoritarian author. And within 200 yards of the flat, there are 32 CCTV cameras, scanning every move.

(found on BoingBoing)

Home is anywhere you hang your head

Every week brings another reason to be embarrassed to be a Canadian. This week's reason comes courtesy of Colin Mochrie, who has already done so much to remind us just how pathetic and third-rate we are.

Just watch this. I won't even set it up.

(Obviously, this is probably a lot harder to watch for Americans, and Mochrie is barely visible for most of the video, but part of being a pathetic and third-rate Canadian is playing up every minor Canadian reference that comes along.)