Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam executed by Mexican wrestlers

Or maybe he was the victim of a house invasion. Personally, I think it would have been more effective – not to mention more historically and symbolically apt – for his executioners to have worn masks depicting former U.S. presidents, the way bank robbers sometimes do.

The big story in all this is how, immediately after the execution, millions of Iraqis tortured, gassed, and assassinated under Saddam's brutal rule magically came back to life, and peace and prosperity instantly came to that troubled country.

Of course, there are always a few grumblers who think hanging the man won't change jackshit.

Irony, which keeps refusing to die, also found itself on the gallows yesterday. From the Toronto Star:
Saddam remained in U.S. custody until he was turned over, at the very last, to the Iraqis.

Al-Nueimi said yesterday U.S. authorities were maintaining physical custody of Saddam to prevent him from being humiliated before his execution, and because the Americans also want to prevent the mutilation of his corpse, as has happened to other deposed Iraqi leaders.

"The Americans want him to be hanged respectfully," said al-Nueimi, noting any ill-treatment of his corpse "could cause an uprising, and the Americans would be blamed."

Those poor Americans can't catch a break, can they? I especially like their sudden concern for optics when it comes to humiliation and torture.

[UPDATE: check out this video retrospective on Saddam's "special" relationship with the U.S.]

[UPDATE II: also, please read this post from Glenn Greenwald on the illegality of Saddam's execution.]

Friday, December 29, 2006

Back in town

Back in Toronto after a few very cold days in the countryside outside of Ottawa with family. A highlight of the week was the lighting (not by me) of an outside fire with the help of a jug of chainsaw oil, a spray can of some other kind of highly combustible lubricant (the flame moving very quickly up the stream of oil to ignite the glove holding the can), and, finally, a small cup of gasoline (which went up with a very satisfying whoof!).

Anyway, it looks like I picked the right week to be away from the city:

While most people are uncomfortably hugging their relatives and McDonald's employees are still rolling their eyes when you ask for a free smile, six UBC students/Torontonians were out at Yonge and Dundas yesterday voluntarily hugging people.


Huggers have been spotted in the downtown core prior to yesterday, but the "Hug Master" of this current escapade is known as Matthew Corker. He started last week around Vancouver and is on his way to bust out the hugs in New York next week. Now what's special about this wonderful and loving homosapien is that he told us something a little hurtful. Honest, but still hurtful. He said that upon his travels and comparatively speaking: Vancouver was more open to the free hugs than Toronto. Yeah, that's what he said.


You know, I was looking forward to maybe reading this book if I got the chance, but now I feel as though I need to – just to get the bad taste out of my mouth at the thought of a bunch of clean-cut, super-enthusiastic Vancouverites handing out free hugs.

Friday, December 22, 2006


There are two ways to go about covering someone else's song.

Option 1) pick something totally inappropriate, siphon all the life out of it, then stand there awkwardly as it hits the floor:

(Here's the original. Mandy's version doesn't even have any guilty pleasure value. She would have been a lot better off doing this one instead.)

Option 2) Just fucking steal everything you need from the original – and its video, too, if need be:

(Result? Geniusness. Golimar!)

This has been a little Christmas present to all who waste their time on this blog.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Regan's packing up, moving out

Here's what's on page 2 and 3 of the Regan Books Winter 2007 catalogue:

Sort of takes on a slightly different context now, doesn't it?

(thanks to Gary for the scan)

(And thanks to Bookninja and Galley Cat for the links.)

(... and fishbowl NY.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Goin' down the road


A murder victim found north of Toronto in 1968 was identified by police on Tuesday as Richard (Dickie) Hovey of New Brunswick.

Ontario Provincial Police made the breakthrough in the nearly 40-year-old case after publicizing a facial reconstruction of the victim and offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the killer.


Hovey moved to Toronto from Fredericton in 1966 or 1967 and was working as a musician in the city's Yorkville area, then a counterculture haven, police said.

Investigators say Hovey disappeared in the late spring or early summer of '67, and believe he was 17 at the time of his death.

One question remains: who will be the first to turn this story into a novel? If a mystery writer gets to it first, the result will be a 275-page book full of corny dialogue and undigested research into the era, and with little psychological insight into the Hovey character, but with a storyline that is packed with incident and is expertly paced. If a more literary writer gets to it, the result will be a 450-page book full of corny dialogue and undigested research into the era, and with a storyline that crawls along on its belly, fattened on metaphor and symbol and aphoristic filigree, but starved of incident. In his psychological makeup, the Hovey character will be a near-exact match for the author's own idealized self.

That's my prediction, anyway.

Off-site blogging

I was at home with sick chilluns yesterday, but, thanks to the miracle of technology, was still able to fulfill my blogging quota over at Quill & Quire. They be: A) Finn Harvor's new publishing blog; and B) the few tears shed over Judith Regan's ouster.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Orange Menace

The RCMP spied on Tommy Douglas for years.

Well, after the election of Stephane Dion as Liberal leader and the Green Party surge, the NDP needed some good news. This gives them some street cred for a couple of weeks. Across Canada, thousands of Volvo socialists have rediscovered a sense of purpose: "You see? The Man's always been afraid of us...."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Makes no sense at all

Two things I never thought I'd see together: Joan Rivers and Hüsker Dü.

It's all very surreal (even more so than the Warehouse-esque set they're playing on), but my favourite moment is when, going to commercial after the interview, Rivers says "We'll be right back in a few minutes with the 85-year-old marathon winner and actor Ian McKellan," and the studio band starts into "Got To Get You Into My Life" by The Beatles. Plus, they let Hüsker Dü do a second song to play out the show! It's like a scene from some alternate universe where Hüsker Dü broke big, Nirvana-style, instead of breaking up.

(And what the hell was Ian McKellan promoting that night? This was 1987, which, according to McKellan's own website, he spent performing a solo show called "Acting Shakespeare." More proof that this is from an alternate universe – one I would kill to live in.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Even Easy Street has a pothole or two

For someone who was once sent scurrying after a failed attempt to buy "two pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes," Jacob Richler sure has done well for himself, food-wise. He is the National Post's food columnist, where he acts as a kind of "snob at large," trying this, sampling that, and basically pooh-poohing anything that doesn't come in a tiny, glass jar, costs less than $40 a gram, and hasn't been harvested from the uterus of an endangered creature. The columns would be pretty dull fare (get it?), but for the glimpses they give into Richler's life and his particular perspective on the world around him.

For example, see this week's column, on cheese.
I moved last week, and it was an unequivocally joyous event marred only by the predictable chaos that inevitably follows from this sort of thing – especially in the fridge. General disorganization meant that I actually ordered in dinner one night. [emphasis mine]
Horrors! But it gets worse for young Jacob...
One night, finding nothing in the fridge that appealed, I was driven to rummaging around in the cupboard, where the best thing I could find was a tin of duck confit from vallee du Lagoin, France. And while the legs did turn out very well indeed once crisped, and the extra fat lent itself nicely to a pommes sarladaises, afterward, the unthinkable happened: I had run out of cheese.
I think we can all identify with that: laundry comes back unpressed, the nanny's late, the episode of Brideshead Revisited they're showing on PBS is the same one they showed last week, and then this – nothing in the house but some imported confit. Not a crumb of cheese. Well, maybe a crumb. Actually, more like about $50 worth of high-end fromage:
OK, there was a small amount of a nice tete de moine, a small wedge of special reserve Stilton from Thomas Hoe Stevenson, and half a wheel of fine raw milk Camembert from Isigny Ste-Mere, but there wasn't much cheese. Certainly there was nothing new and exciting or previously unsampled – I had not been to the Cheese Boutique for weeks, and there was no prospect of finding the time to do so over the following few days.

How very grim.
Grim, indeed, but Richler should at least be thankful that, for all his cheese-related hardships, he is not as bad off as those students at his local Dominion he talks about earlier in the column, the ones “splitting the charge for a box of KD and a four-pack of toilet paper eight ways.”

Actually, I wish Jacob, in the spirit of the holidays, had chosen to momentarily overlook the social and cultural gulf separating him from those students and invited them back to his place for a big, communal meal of macaroni and tete de moine.

Another guy dies, another guy gets well.

Peter Boyle, RIP.

Boyle's greatest moment, set as poetry:
Look at it this way.
A man takes a job, you know?
And that job – I mean, like that –
That becomes what he is.
You know, like –
You do a thing and that's what you are.
Like I've been a cabbie for years. Ten years at night.
I still don't own my own cab. You know why?
Because I don't want to. That must be what I want.
To be on the night shift drivin' somebody else's cab.
You understand?
I mean, you become – You get a job, you become the job.
One guy lives in Brooklyn. One guy lives in Sutton Place.
You got a lawyer. Another guy's a doctor.
Another guy dies. Another guy gets well.
People are born.
I envy you your youth.
Go on, get laid, get drunk. Do anything.
You got no choice, anyway. I mean, we're all fucked.
More or less, ya know.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gwyn goes double-negative on Iraq

The Toronto Star's Richard Gwyn has some words for those who would formulate such a simplistic equation as Iraq=Vietnam:
It's certainly not true that the fact that no dominoes fell after North Vietnam's victory means that it can be assumed automatically that nothing much will happen after a U.S. pullout from Iraq.
"The situation in Iraq is as complicated as my sentence construction," Gwyn seems to be saying. Or rather, doesn't seem to be not saying.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Hitchens not being funny

Christopher Hitchens has a new thing in Vanity Fair on why women aren’t funny. Seriously – that’s the topic.

Read it here. Below is my abbreviated version, with comments:

Be your gender what it may, you will certainly have heard the following from a female friend who is enumerating the charms of a new (male) squeeze: "He's really quite cute, and he's kind to my friends, and he knows all kinds of stuff, and he's so funny … " (If you yourself are a guy, and you know the man in question, you will often have said to yourself, "Funny? He wouldn't know a joke if it came served on a bed of lettuce with sauce béarnaise.")
Zing! Snap! Seriously, if you’re trying to prove that men are funnier than women, you really ought to lead with a joke that’s actually, you know, funny.
However, there is something that you absolutely never hear from a male friend who is hymning his latest (female) love interest: "She's a real honey, has a life of her own … [interlude for attributes that are none of your business] … and, man, does she ever make 'em laugh."

Now, why is this? Why is it the case?, I mean.

Because no one ever actually speaks like this? That’s one reason that jumps out at me right away.

Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny? Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about.

I’m sorry: I have no idea what you are talking about, and I’m really not pretending. I don’t want to play the “some of my best friends are X” card here, but I really do know a whole lot of funny ladies. And you know what else? Funny ladies turn my crank.

All right—try it the other way (as the bishop said to the barmaid).

Now you’re not even trying, Hitch…

Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women? Well, for one thing, they had damn well better be. The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men. In fact, she equips many fellows with very little armament for the struggle. An average man has just one, outside chance: he had better be able to make the lady laugh. Making them laugh has been one of the crucial preoccupations of my life. If you can stimulate her to laughter – I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight—well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression. I shall not elaborate further.

That’s right: funny guys get more ass than a toilet seat. I can certainly attest to that. Even if, as used to happen pretty much all the time, the woman I was filling with deep-throated mirth opted to mate with someone more brooding and handsome, I was always comforted in the knowledge that it was me she really wanted. I exposed her horseshoe of teeth, after all – how sexy is that?

Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift.

Tee hee hee, sure do, you dirty dog! Hear you loud and clear! Tee hee hee. Rowf, rowf!

It goes on like that. Women aren’t funny unless they are lesbian, Jewish, or fat. Women aren’t funny because they’re smarter than men. Women aren’t funny because they can give birth, and there’s nothing funny about that.

The best part, for me, was when he identifies “self-deprecation” as “almost masculine by definition.” At the risk of making the kind of sweeping generalization that is the very engine of Hitch’s essay, self-deprecation has always seemed to me to come easier to women than to men, for a lot of no-so-great reasons that should be fairly obvious when you think about it. The worst, most pompous, self-important, and humourless people I have encountered have tended to be men.

It’s probably not all that surprising that someone who has lost all ability to analyze power relationships on a geopolitical level is also blind to such relationships on a man-to-woman level. I’ve never met Christopher Hitchens (though I did stand near him at a party!), but I’m guessing that most of the female laughs he does manage to get are a direct result of A) the fact that he’s famous, and people will laugh at most things famous people say if it sounds as though it's meant to be funny; B) the fact that he’s British and well educated, and can therefore phrase anything, even the tritest shit (see everything above, for example), to make it sound like wit of the first order; and C) the fact that most women Hitch would likely come into contact with are polite, and would choose not to embarrass a fat sweaty drunk by giving him the eye-roll he clearly deserves. He also doesn’t seem to understand the very basic difference between someone with a sense of humour, and someone who merely makes a lot of jokes.

And I know the trap I’m falling into here, letting myself get provoked by an article that says “Provocation” right over the title. And I’m aware of the rhetorical self-defence mechanism built right into the essay: “Didn’t find it funny? Proves my point.” Which is, sadly, exactly the line being used by the previously funny Graydon Carter, VF’s editor.

[thanks to Bookninja and for the links]

Hugh Laurie being funny

My eight-year-old can't get enough of this:

Monday off-site blogging

Monday posts on Quill & Quire's blog: A) new 'darker, edgier' Spider-man shows Peter Parker's spider-junk ; and B) The quick turnaround on the Iraq Study Group Report.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Never sure why columnists and editorial writers, when writing about the debate over gay marriage, often employ an image similar to the one used in today's otherwise fairly reasonable National Post editorial:
Unfortunately, that vote was only partly free: Mr. Martin's Cabinet – a third of his caucus – was whipped into supporting the new law. Since then, traditionalists have claimed, with some credibility, that gay marriage was rammed down Canadians' throats.

(emphasis mine)
Any ideas?

[UPDATE: I should note that though I do think the editorial is surprisingly reasonable for the Post, that doesn't mean I'm in %100 agreement. The notion that "our society arguably has become less libertine" since the legalization of gay marriage is, well, kind of stupid. But again, the gist of this editorial is reasonable enough. Gay marriage is here to stay, hooray. Let's move on.]

[UPDATE II: How did I miss this: "Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois is whipping his caucus. So is the NDP's Jack Layton, as he did in 2005."? Time to install some internet filters on the computers in the Post's newsroom....]

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I said yes, yes, yes

I was digging around, looking to, ah, preview Ghostface's new record, More Fish (it being at least 8 weeks since the last one, which I am still very much into), and came across a track in which he raps over Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good," a song that sounds exactly like its title. From the sound of it, I assumed it was some semi-obscure find from the mid-sixites, something put out, say, on one of Chess's subsidiary labels and only discovered by vinyl geeks a few decades later.

I listened to Ghostface's version for a week before bothering to actually look up Amy Winehouse, at which time I discovered she's a British soul singer in her early twenties who's already been all over everything in the U.K., and that, furthermore, "No Good" is from her second album, Back to Black, which came out over there in October, but which has not made it over here yet. (Coming out next week, I think.)

She's already been in shit a few times already for her drunken antics, including heckling Bono at an awards show, which I heartily approve of. When asked about her drinking in an interview, she replied, “I have a really good time some nights, but then I push it over the edge and ruin my boyfriend’s night. I’m an ugly dickhead drunk, I really am.”

Can you hear my heart pounding in my chest?

To cap it off, she's got a great, Etta Jamesish song called "Rehab" with this refrain: "They're trying to make me go to rehab/ I say no, no, no." This will be one of those "Hey Ya" songs that starts out being your new most favourite song ever, but quickly becomes everyone else's favourite, too, its appeal lessening significantly as the number of subsequent involuntary hearings approaches four million. We shall see.

Watch the video for "Rehab" here. Go sample some Amy Winehouse here before she's everywhere and you want her to fuck off and die already.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Will Self

Review of Will Self's The Book of Dave right here.

Self's stuff has always given off a distinctly anxious smell for me. As black as his humour gets, you always get the sense that at least some of the blackness is rooted in an urge to impress, that it isn't so much a natural product of Self's misanthropic worldview as a bid to outdo someone like Martin Amis. He often comes off like Toshiro Mifune's character in the first half of Seven Samurai, leaping and strutting around on the page to show he is better and bleaker and wordier and funnier and more Nabokovian and Ballardian than Amis and all the rest of his ilk, even though he lacks their pedigree. I once watched Self interview Mike Leigh, and you could almost see the sweat coming off him as he tried not to lose his cool before someone he clearly idolized.

Which is all to say I was surprised to see Self very nearly pull off what he was going for in this new novel. The book doesn't ever really fall apart so much as simply outstay its welcome and become a little too enamoured of its own conceit. While it's working, however, it gets a good hum going and draws you in. It's 600 pages long, but really doesn't feel like it.

(Self's book also gets a mention in Philip Marchand's column on apocalyptic books here.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Amis's first

According to Eric Jacob’s 1995 biography of the man, Kinglsey Amis wrote a never-to-be-published novel in the late forties, before Lucky Jim, entitled The Legacy, and featuring a protagonist named… “Kingsley Amis.” (Martin’s pulled that stunt at least once.)

Amis, just out of school and the war, sent the thing around for two years before giving up and sticking it in a drawer, from whence it was never to emerge. Though he later saw the rejections as having saved him from an embarrassing career-start, the whole thing stung at the time. Amis wrote to Philip Larkin that one publisher “sent The Legacy back, of course, saying it was ‘altogether too slight.’ That’s true in a way, I suppose, but there were plenty of other things to its discredit I would have said before that.” A later reader sent him a long and detailed note, outlining everything that was wrong with the book, including the fact that “there is no suspense,” and, more shockingly, that there was “a total lack of humour.” The capper was the comment that “If I tried to count the number of times your characters repeated themselves, the number of times they light a cigarette, pour out tea, pass plates of food, etc., this letter would be an essay in statistics.”

Amis, again in a letter to Larkin, wrote that she was “QUITE RIGHT in about half of what she says, but rest of the time she’s missing the point isn’t she? … I mean, detail’s the point isn’t it? Now if she can’t see that (I’M NOT ASKING HER TO LIKE IT) what chance have I got old boy? … An original writer who isn’t very much good, that’s what I am: I’ll never be Joyce or Warwick Deeping, so where do I stand? In the brown stuff, it seems.”

This all sounds very, very familiar, as I am sure it does to most writers reading this. And, thanks to the ever-sustaining self-delusion that is a writer’s secret weapon, it is also strangely reassuring. (“Yes, the next one will be my Lucky Jim….”)

    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...