Friday, September 29, 2006

More Steyn

Glenn Greenwald has a post up today about Mark Steyn. Steyn and Hugh Hewitt have a lot of sidesplitting things to say about all those dark, dangerous men being held in Gitmo, and the "lavish" conditions in which they are kept. (All of this on the day the US Senate voted to authorize torture.)

Here's Greenwald:
These two coddled authoritarian cultists are giggling about people who have been put into cages for the last five years on an island, away from their lives and their families, with little hope of ever being released. Many of them have attempted suicide. Actual terrorists ought to be detained and sentenced to life in prison or, reasonable people can believe, executed, provided they are found guilty in a fair proceeding. But large numbers of these detainees have been imprisoned without ever being charged with, let alone convicted of anything. And it is beyond dispute -- even the Bush administration admits -- that many of those we have detained in Guantanamo have been guilty of absolutely nothing.

To sit around chortling about how great these detainees have it and how grateful they should be requires a sociopathic derangement that is nothing short of grotesque. And to believe that people on a one-day controlled visit get an accurate or complete picture of what goes on there requires a blind faith in the Government so absolute that it is explains most of what one needs to know about the authoritarian Bush movement. On the day our country legalized tortured techniques and vested the definitively un-American power of indefinite detention in the President, Hugh Hewitt and Mark Steyn take off their masks and reveal the hideous and frivolous face of the Bush follower.

By the way, as James Wolcott has noted helpfully, "Steyn" rhymes with "whine," not "stain," though really, both would be perfectly appropriate.

More Steynishness here.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Peculiar touchiness"

Mark Steyn, the man who once wrote that "these days, whenever something goofy turns up on the news, chances are it involves a fellow called Mohammed," brings all of his wisdom, delicacy, and insight to America's racial divide in his latest column for Macleans.

The column, entitled "Keepin' it real is real stupid" (always encouraging when a headline in a national magazine just barely reaches the level of a pamphlet about peer pressure handed out in high school), is ostensibly about a new book by Juan Williams's new book, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America - And What We Can Do About It.

Here's how Steyn sees the black-white divide these days:

Whatever good it might once have done, America's racial-grievance industry is now principally invested in its own indispensability. Lavishly remunerated panjandrums such as the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have a far greater interest in maintaining racism than any humdrum Ku Klux Klan kleagle, assuming there still are any.

Jesse Jackson: more racist than the Klan (if such a thing even exists anymore).

Here's Steyn on the destruction of New Orleans:

Most Americans looked at what was happening in New Orleans and concluded that it's a great place to enjoy a margarita with a topless transsexual Mardi Gras queen, but you wouldn't want to live there: a deeply dysfunctional city exclusively controlled by Democrats for generations, it's a welfare swamp with a lucrative tourist quarter.

And America's better off without it!
The concept of "authenticity" -- that one's skin colour mandates particular behaviours, such as voting Democrat and supporting "affirmative action" -- is, of course, racist. But the peculiar touchiness of the black community on this question recurs again and again in Williams's book.

"Peculiar touchiness." Hmm. You don't thing a history of slavery, lynching, segregation, and systematic racism would have anything to do with it, would you? "We recultantly gave you some of your basic civil rights after decades of fighting you tooth and nail – what are you so touchy about?" You don't imagine Steyn has heard anything about those naughty little voter disenfranchisement schemes that seem to keep popping up every time there's an election in he U.S.?

Of course, we can't talk about race in America without talking about hip hop:
This is a fascinating theme whose significance extends far beyond music -- or, in this case, 'music.'

I can check, but I'm pretty sure putting quotation marks around "music" when referring to hip hop or rap went out of style some time in the late nineties. Speaking of music, here's what Steyn, the theatre columnist for the New Criterion, once said about a recent production of A Chorus Line, in which the cast was all done up in 1970's-era haircuts and clothes: "It shows how hip I am, it doesn’t look years out of date to me."
Williams recalls that in 1956 'a gang of white men dragged the famous black singer Nat 'King' Cole off a stage and beat him because they said he was singing love songs to white women.' They weren't wrong about that: my mom loved him.

And she always would remember that handsome nigger's dazzling smile as those boys kicked him in the head. What a dreamboat.

Here's my favourite bit of the whole column:

A few years back, arguing for the teaching of "Ebonics" as a distinct language, professor Ron Emmons of Los Angeles City College produced a list of black America's contributions to the English language: hip, cool, gig, jiving around, get high, gimme five, hot, baby, mojo, fine, mess with, thang (as in "doin' my," he helpfully explained), take it easy, slick, rip-off, bad . . . Hmm. Does that list really testify to the vitality of "Black English"? By comparison, India via the Raj gave English (to pluck at random) pajamas, bungalow, jodhpurs, cheroot, cummerbund, veranda, khakis, karma. Despite the best efforts of the late Tupac and the Rodney King rioters to copyright them, even "thug" and "looter" come from the subcontinent. Doesn't that list make "jiving around" and "get high" look a bit weedy?

Steyn: the wogs we colonized gave us niftier words than the darkies we enslaved. Case closed.

I should point out that Steyn and I are both Canadian, and Canada has given precisely jack-shit to the world in terms of new words. Who looks "a bit weedy" now?

I should also reiterate that this column was published in Macleans, the magazine I recently heard Noah Richler praise for its having moved from the dentists' offices of the nation into our front rooms. That's Canada: all jodhpurs, no mojo.

Bit of a rip-off, though.

[UPDATE: I know full well that Steyn writes these kinds of things to get liberals all enraged, out of a pathetic and juvenile need for attention and negative validation, Ann Coulter-style, but still, sometimes it's nice to be reminded that you can say whatever you like in this country as long as you've reached D-grade celebrity status in the U.S.]

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Trimming the fat


The opposition hurled their best you're-so-insensitive insults at the Conservative government Tuesday in the aftermath of $1 billion in cuts to programs.

But that outrage is probably confined to the usual Tory critics, say observers. Conservative supporters, meanwhile, will embrace the "fat trimming."

And this:

Despite the political outcry, many Canadians will accept the argument that the government needs to chip away at spending in the name of efficiency and prudence, said pollster Frank Graves.

"Not too many of the 905 folks are going to be up late gnashing their teeth" over some of these cuts, said Graves, president of EKOS Research.

And this:

Imagine that. The Conservative government we elected in Ottawa eight months ago is starting to get, well, conservative.

We've been waiting for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his crew to show us they're significantly different from the Liberal gang they booted out of office in January.

And this:


Why, I am sure, if he forfeit, thou wilt not take
his flesh: what's that good for?


To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else,
it will feed my revenge.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I just recently bought Soul Jazz’s Studio One Scorchers Volume 2, and while it isn’t quite the party-in-a-can that was Volume 1 (which never seems to get more than half-a-foot away from my CD player), it works as a kind of CD-length B-side to that record. More of the same, though a lot less instantly addictive.

Bark à la lune

Of all the fantasies indulged in by Kimveer Gill, the one that should have set off warning bells was his apparent belief that Ozzy still ruled.

All his other delusions flowed from that one, I'm guessing.

What, that's crazier than blaming his murderous rampage – at an English-language school – on the fact that he wasn't pure laine?

[NOTE: if that link doesn't work go here to get the gist.]

Monday, September 25, 2006

"Always aim for the turban, Jimmy."

Check out the photo Macleans had on its homepage as of about an hour ago. (They've changed it.)

Pack your kit, show your grit, talk bullshit

Neil Kitson takes a nicely aimed shot at the King and Country crowd at the Globe on

Bloody but Unbowed: Canadians in Afghanistan
From the editorial board of
The Globe and Mail

"Canadian troops are not in Iraq, although this newspaper has consistently advocated sending them there. As we said at the time of the Coalition intervention in 2003, 'much good should flow from it.' Subsequent events have proved our position to be entirely wrong. It is now clear that Iraq is in a much more desperate situation than before the invasion, that there were no 'weapons of mass destruction,' and that the invasion was illegal and without justification. We at the Globe are therefore satisfied, like Col. Cathcart, that our genius for ineptitude has not been blunted.

It is in this light that we wholeheartedly support the Canadian involvement in the Afghan catastrophe. We report that our troops are being killed and injured at quite respectable rates, enough perhaps to get us some credibility in Washington. It is indeed regrettable that some of these casualties have been from American bombing and strafing, but this is still honorable: war is a tough business...."

Read the whole thing here.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Snappy answers to troubling questions

SCENE: : outside Lansdowne Station, 1:30 am

WOMAN: (looking lost) Do you know what 666 is?

ME: The number of the beast.

WOMAN: (looks up and down street) That's what I'm looking for!


Monday, September 18, 2006

Don't Look Bock

In the Globe today, Dennis Bock was asked about "criticisms of current Canadian literature for its continued reliance on historical settings."

His reply:

"It's a ridiculous issue. You hear it from people who don't have the capacity to write outside their own experience. There is no Dennis Bock in this novel. For me, it's interesting because it has nothing to do with me; it's purely an imaginative act."

I love these false dichotomies – if you are a novelist, and you're not spending a year at the Reference Library or poring over your grandfather's war letters, you clearly lack the capacity to write outside your own experience.


Your choices are not between writing a novel set half-a-century before your birth and writing one about the erotic adventures of your authorial stand-in (though many reasonably talented novelists managed to go pretty far doing just that).

Bock is doing no better here than the people who say Canadian novelists should set their books in medium-to-large cities because, according to StatsCan figures, most of us live in one.

What is objected to when most people complain about CanLit's rampant archeologism is not the historical settings per se (few complain about, say, Cormac McCarthy for his ol' timey settings), but that these settings and times are too often used to gussy up an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative, or as background upon which can be slathered all kinds of lazy cultural prejudices, prejudices that would be immediately obvious and absurd-looking if placed in a contemporary setting.

Historical fiction, when it is not the straight entertainment of a genre writer, but the kind that possesses literary pretensions, is a very often a retreat from the shifting realities and complexities that make writing fiction so difficult. It is so much easier to let research and written history determine the path your fiction will take, than to attempt grappling with the world as it is now, still in the process of becoming.

Serious novelists must strive to write "outside their own experience," or else convert their experiences into something beyond mere autobiography-with-metaphors.

But that does not mean they should therefore write fat, costume-drama novels that bring us the shocking news that war is wrong, men oppress women, rich people oppress poor people, rich countries oppress poor ones, and that (Oooo...) there's more to history than what was in your high school textbook.

In reality, the historical novel is just an enormously successful subset of the middlebrow novel - entertainment dressed up in the language of art that seeks to flatter its upper-middle-class readership's educated prejudices (and, ironically, ends up being not very entertaining). No serious literature was built or sustained on the literary equivalent of Merchant-Ivory films.

And honestly, I have no trouble with people writing or reading the stuff – I really don't, though I do think there is more life to be found in work that is unapologetic about its genre status, that embraces its own limitations – but don't ever confuse it with real art. And please don't make bullshit claims for yourself that only you are doing the work of a true writer.


Ryan's got a new post up that is either a sort-of apology, a further twist of the nipple, or something in between – the maintaining of hipster plausible deniability.

Read it here.

By the way, I reviewed Mark Haddon's new one in the Star yesterday, and though it made me wince a little to read it (the review, that is), I at least got the title right this time. It could have used another read-through – there are some crucial words missing, a few unswept corners, and I don't really know what I meant by "comically understated overstatement." Too late now.

Read it here, if you like.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Being the Bigger man

Ryan Bigge takes some time out from whatever new and cool things he's into this week to twit me for fucking up the title of Trevor Cole's new novel:

"I’ve been reviewing books for a few years now, but I’d hesitate to call myself an expert. Given my focus on non-fiction and contemporary fiction, it’s not as if I have the breadth and experience to be, oh, say, the review editor of Quill & Quire. I mean, you’d really have to know your stuff to be the review editor of the Canadian book industry trade magazine.

So, like I said, I’m no expert. But it strikes me that if you decide to review a book, you might want to take the time to make sure you spell the title correctly. In today’s Sunday Star, Nathan Whitlock takes a crack at The Fearsome Particles. Only problem is that he calls the book The Elementary Particles."

(I could make a small objection here, that the problem wasn't that I spelled the title incorrectly, but rather gave it the wrong fucking title entirely, but never mind, he's got me, fair and square.)

He does end up forgiving me:

"All I know is that we're all human, and we all make mistakes. Even Nathan Whitlock."

Thanks, Ryan. And I hereby forgive you for embarrassing yourself so completely with that Leah McLaren review, which I have come to think of as an excellent example of the perils of hunting fish in a barrel without a bullet in the chamber.

Speaking of Trevor Cole, I was introduced to the man himself last night at a launch and offered again my apologies (I had already emailed some to his publicist and asked that they be passed on to him). I'm guessing he wasn't delighted by my review – even beyond the title fuckup – but he was completely gracious about the whole thing. At least while I was within earshot.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


It's been surreal to see Petawawa on the front page of the major papers seemingly every other day, thanks to the Afghanistan "mission."

There was a while there, in my twenties, when I had almost convinced myself the place did not exist, except as a kind of hallucination that was slowly subsiding in my subconsciousness.

In a couple of years, I will have lived away from there for longer than I lived there, so I've been more and more nostalgic about the place. When I actually go back, which I do at least for a day or two every summer, I remember why I left. Even the things I liked about the place are being destroyed in desperate and stupid attempt to turn the place into a small-scale suburb, a town without a centre.

And yet, every time I get within half an hour of the place, I get the urge to spend a week there, just exploring. Following bike trails, checking on the bungalows where my friends used to live, digging up mouldy caches of porn.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Long, Long, Long

Here's the Giller longlist, the first one they've ever made public (my take below):

David Adams Richards for his novel The Friends of Meager Fortune

Caroline Adderson for her novel Pleased to Meet You [short stories, actually...]

Todd Babiak for his novel The Garneau Block

Randy Boyagoda for his novel Governor of the Northern Province

Douglas Coupland for his novel jPod [ahem]

Alan Cumyn for his novel The Famished Lover

Rawi Hage for his novel De Niro's Game

Kenneth J Harvey for his novel Inside

Wayne Johnston for his novel The Custodian of Paradise

Vincent Lam for his collection of short stories Bloodletting and
Other Cures

Annette Lapointe for her novel Stolen

Pascale Quiviger for her novel The Perfect Circle

Gaétan Soucy for his novel The Immaculate Conception

Russell Wangersky for his short story collection, The Hour of Bad

Carol Windley for her short story collection, Home Schooling


Congratulations to all the longlisters; it's an honour just to be nominated, etc....

Here's my take: Possibly the most eclectic and interesting list ever associated with the Giller Prize, but that may all be for naught if the shortlist is a return to form.

Richards and Johnston are the only sure things for the shortlist, with maybe Alan Cumyn (his novel is set during WWI, which is catnip to a Giller jury). Also possible are the Boyagoda and the Hage. Harvey's book is a really good read, but I bet Caroline Adderson or Vincent Lam get on there before him.

Coupland, no (too hip for the room); Babiak, probably not; the books in translation, no.

All of this may occur completely organically, but I wonder if the Gillers have been internalizing some of the mumuring that, between it and the GG, the Giller has become the less interesting book award.

On the other hand, this will be the first year I get to actually go to the ceremony, so I say Huzzah! to the Giller Prize jury and to the good people who administer it.

[UPDATE: Can't get more wrong than this. See here.]

Monday, September 11, 2006

The FEARSOME Particles

I reviewed Trevor Cole's second novel in yesterday's Toronto Star, and somehow managed to fuck up the title throughout the entire thing.

I won't even try to make an excuse for it.

The rest of the review turned out ok, though my yearning for more consistently competent Canadian writing sounds a wee bit hollow now, doesn't it?

Read it here, if you like.

[UPDATE: link fixed, I hope.]

Friday, September 08, 2006


Being so far out of the loop on these things that the loop itself looks like the horizon, I had no idea that OOIOO, just about the only band around that I care about with the naked enthusiasm of a teenager, has just put, or is about to put out, a new record, called Taiga.

Details here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Your ass will follow

I had this exact same thought the other day:

"Beyonce's new record is entitled B'Day. Apparently because it is due for release on Sept. 4, her birthday. Fair enough.

But shouldn't she have opted for a hyphen instead of an apostrophe? Because, as it stands, couldn't her record just as easily be confused with a seemingly phonetic celebration of the 'low-mounted plumbing fixture or type of sink intended for washing the external genitalia and the anus?'"

Based on the two songs I've heard from the record, it has now entered that nebulous category of "record I'd like to own but refuse to pay money for because I just know it'll be two good songs and forty minutes of crap and so I will wait until either the library or a friend gets it so I can burn it – not possessing the technology to get it free off the Internet – at which point any enthusiasm I have for the thing will look a little pathetic given that it will be, at that point, probably over a year old, and such things don't have a long shelf-life."

There are many, many records in that category.


We were told, by friends and Fiorito alike, to expect some grimly impressive sights of destruction as we drove through Combermere this weekend. Our inner disaster-porn lovers were a little disappointed at first when all we could see was the odd stand of trees on its side amid the dense foliage next to the highway, but when we came close to Lake Kamaniskeg, things got a little more dramatic. The trees covering the entire side of a slope were flattened and stripped as if something massive had been flung against it - Mothra, perhaps.

In town, it got worse. Huge tracks were cut straight through the forest on either side of the road – long, straight paths fulls of broken timber and woody gore. In one spot, the storm could be tracked as it came through woods, crossed the highway, went through some backyards (leaving the houses mostly untouched), smashed open the gates to an old cemetery (seriously), where it shaved massive trees off at the thirty- or forty-foot mark, and then, as if out of some violent, maniacal urge to fulfill the cliche, crossed over the lake and blew open a trailer park. The park was never visible from the highway before, all of it obscured by trees. Now, the whole place has been laid bare, with not much left but mud and damaged cottages.

Makes you appreciate your own fragile existence, etc etc etc...

To fulfill another cliche, I must admit that it is stunning to be presented with such visceral evidence of a tornado's fickleness. In some spots it seemed to tiptoe through one yard, barely disturbing the Sylvester and Tweety whirlygigs, and then rage like a drunken beast through the next, knocking over everything in sight. Tornadoes are thunderstorms gone off their meds.

    A very subtle and funny writer - one I've become obsessed with over the past year - in a decidedly Muriel Spark mood. Imagine The Pr...