Entries from April 2008
» Paul Watson: Hero or terrorist?
» One cool bookstore, the Chinese intelligentsia, best comedy ever
» Bidini: China's concrete welcome mat
» Nepal: shining future or end of the path?
» Instant cities, France fights to save the semi-colon, Obama big in Gaza
Entries from March 2008
» Poor Mexican emos, news on a shirt, one angry author, what's the Eiffel Tower wearing?
» High heat on Iran
» The world's most powerful blogs, Starbucks gets caught stealing from the tip jar, Look out! Cyclists!
» Shopping cart races, that's a lot of home-grown terror, turning urine into fertilizer
» The Dalai Lama on Tibet protests
» From the frying pan into the fire
» Torture and hypocrisy
» International Women's Day: Afghanistan
» The TED conference, can a billionaire be 'exploited,' Cambodian oldies
Entries from February 2008
» Algonquin leader faces six months in Ontario jail
» North America's pollution problems, Ottawa's copyright slip-up, Don't mess with Texas students
» New China's catch-22
» Moving environmentalism forward
» Oceans in rough shape, schools for social justice, the copyright battle over Harry Potter, looking back at Wired
» 12 Years of Revolution in Nepal
» Segregation or inclusion?
» Guerilla tree planting, mocking Ahmadinejad, inadvertantly funny headline and Goo goo ga joob
» Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten
» 4th Annual Israeli Apartheid Week
» From pages of a magazine to the jailhouse: Gay men in Senegal
» Weekend links: Bikes can do anything, chopstick accessories, Mom, where do blog posts go?
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» Remember this story for when he runs for office...
» The Fruits of your mother's loins
» Times experiences Freudian slip; Senator Clinton slips a brain disc
» War is not the answer
» to ponder on the weekend
» teach your children well
» Toronto Life does not publish fiction
» an evolutionary meander
» I got 99 problems but The Dude ain't one
» how 'bout 'the foreigner'
» Yo, Steve -- Wassup?
» deutschland uber nichts
Pico Iyer, Canada's expat book noticer, has a piece on Leonard Cohen's Book of Longing in a recent Times Literary Supplement (no link, sorry -- subscribers only. I know, I know). He has much praise for Cohen, which makes me happy. I think Lenny deserves the Nobel, easily as much as Dylan.
However, I disagree with Iyer's broader point in the piece, which seems to be that we disrespect the writing of songwriters by not thinking of them as part of Literature.
For instance, he congratulates Cohen and Dylan and the like for engaging with God and big topics along those lines. By contrast, he has this to say about writers of fiction:
"The same writers who think nothing of writing of masturbation, sanitary napkins or their midlife crises take a breath, and usually walk away, before addressing the religious or romantic ideas that Shakespeare or Donne would have taken on daily."
Who is Iyer reading? Candace Bushnell?
The problem is not so much that writers of serious fiction, the Roths and Coetzees and Atwoods etc. aren't thinking big; it's that thinking big while writing subtly and miraculously sells considerably less than The DaVinci Code, or your average Dylan record for that matter.
Iyer also quotes Bruce Springsteen from his introduction of U2 at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
"A great rock band searches for the same kind of combustible fire that fuelled the expansion of the universe after the big bang. You want the earth to shake and spit fire. You want the sky to split apart and for God to pour out."
Iyer asks "When was the last time you heard another writer introduce a colleague like that?"
Um, when was the last time there was a Writing Hall of Fame induction ceremony?
I love the Boss and all. I listen to him almost exclusively on my long drives through the United States. But judging by that one small sample above, I'm unlikely to pick up his next novel.More entries on: Ear candy
Go now and read Andrew Potter's latest column in Maclean's.
In it, he outlines some of the basic tenets of the Euston Manifesto, which he calls "a statement of broadly left-liberal principles cooked up last spring by a collection of London-based journalists, activists and academics."
Quick full disclosure-- Potter blurbed my book, and I do like to drink with him when I see him, which is too rarely; but none of that means I can't objectively engage with his arguments.
That said, let's engage. I first heard of the Euston Manifesto on Potter's blog. I spent a bit of time with the EM, trying to figure out if it is something I might find myself signing. I have a romantic notion about signing declarative manifestos, ever since my hero Vaclav Havel was imprisoned for lending his signature to a piece of paper. Signing things can be an incredibly brave act -- just ask anyone who has bought a house. Now there's a way to make one's peace with the market economy. Sign here, here, here and here, and initial everything else. Then sign here. Now give me more money than you have.
In the end, I decided I could NOT comfortably sign the Euston Manifesto. While I applaud the impulse that created this document, I find its many flaws outweigh any positive significance it might have in the global debate. In my opinion, the EM and its many highly-placed and well-respected signatories have caved under relentless neo-con criticism, accepted the charges lobbed at them from the right-hand side of the arena and made the most forceful apology they could muster. The whole thing smells weak and a bit snivelish.
Potter outlines much of what I mean in his latest column when he presents his brief history of the problematic left. Let me quote a bit:
"The purpose of the Euston Manifesto is, essentially, to save the left from itself. It is an attempt to draw a clear line between the social-democratic liberal left and the anti-war left, the latter of which has, since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, made common cause with tyrants, excused terrorists, and -- in some cases -- sold out the rights of women to reactionary theologians, all in the service of a single-minded opposition to the United States."
"...The left followed a similar path of thought when it came to understanding the American desire to topple Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime in Iraq: the invasion was immediately linked with a dystopian narrative of suburban excess -- it was about providing a steady and cheap supply of oil to fuel the gas-guzzling SUVs that symbolize all that is odious about American consumer comfort."
See, this is exactly the problem with the EM. It is responding to the scenario here outlined by Potter, as if the charges herein had merit in fact. Which means that to sign it is to agree that the anti-war left in general has indeed made common cause with tyrants, excused terrorists and sold out women to reactionary theologians. Signing, in effect, is to agree that the left's criticism of the US invasion of Iraq was generally as simple-minded as Potter suggests it was. We on the left who are generally anti-war and have for many, many years been calling upon various world powers, including the much maligned US of A, to stop befriending tyrants, excusing acts of terrorism and selling out women are confused by this argument. I think I briefly engaged with Mark Steyn and Andrew Coyne on the use of just this kind of logical fallacy on this very blog awhile back.
Here's directly from the Euston Manifesto:
That US foreign policy has often opposed progressive movements and governments and supported regressive and authoritarian ones does not justify generalized prejudice against either the country or its people.
Well, who wouldn't agree with that? I'll tell you who -- neo-conservatives, who regularly make a "logical" link between any criticism of US foreign policy and a generalized prejudice against either the country or its people.
When did you stop beating your wife, Mr. Manifesto?
Is the EM really the only way for the left to gain back some of its moral authority? Why don't we just try not letting the bullies on the right define our positions for us -- you know, in everyday life; not on some document we can publicly sign to say, "not me, I'm not one of the deluded ones on my team." In the end, I think the EM probably makes the neo-cons very happy, since it shows just how unsolid is the solidarity. Lob a few logic bombs at these jokers and they start fighting among themselves.More entries on: Resistance
In September of 2003, North America’s first safe-injection site opened in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Operated by the local health authority, Insite is allowed to exist thanks to funding and support from all three levels of government. Ottawa’s role includes a three-year exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The success of the facility has been remarkable — it is used by an average of 607 people per day and provides a clean, health-focused location where addicts can inquire about addiction services and health concerns. This has reduced the spread of blood-borne infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C and reduced public injections in the neighbourhood. In its nearly three years of operation there have been 453 overdoses at Insite, but not one has resulted in a fatality.
Despite this excellent record, Insite will be closed this September if federal Health Minister Tony Clement does not renew the exemption allowing it to operate. Certainly, this is a case where voices from the public would help Clement make up his mind. A citizen’s group in Vancouver has created a website with facts about Insite and instructions on how to tell the federal government you are behind the facility.
The National Film Board has put online 50 animated shorts from throughout the years, including classics such as "The Sweater," "The Cat Came Back" and my personal favourite, "The Big Snit," a bizarre little cartoon with lots of sawing of furniture and eye-shaking. Give it a look and enjoy the 'toons.
IMAGE: "THE BIG SNIT"More entries on: Interweb
Because I’m a big fan of lists, especially musical lists, I bring up this effort from The Guardian in the U.K.: “50 Albums That Changed Music.”
I’ve only read the first 10 or so, but I like what I’m reading. Serious respect for Dylan, the Velvet Underground and NWA. Anyone take umbrage with the selections on the list?More entries on: Ear candy
Funny, why haven't we seen this article about John Bolton saying there is no moral equivalent between Lebanese civilian deaths and terrorism victims published anywhere but the independent media?More entries on: Bushfraud | Human rights | Media navel-gazing | Signs of the Apocalypse | War and peace
The BBC reports: "Womb environment 'makes men gay'". According to a recent study, the number of biological older brothers a fellow has, the higher chance he has at being gay. So when if your worried if your kid throws funny, don't stress unless he's got fourteen older brothers born in constant succession of each other. Cause then it's more than just a lack of co-ordination.
So in effect, does this mean God makes people gay? Or their mothers? Or which ever is less sacrilege?
The article further comments "It adds further weight to the argument that lesbian and gay people should be treated equally in society and not discriminated against for something that's just as inherent as skin colour."
Now, as logical and reasonable as that article sounds, be aware we are in a second dark age when science, fact and reasoning are completely suspended courtesy of this little thing called the Repulican union of Church and State. So while the reasonable and logical among us are heralding a new dawn of wide-spread acceptance of homosexuality as birthright as skin colour, the cynic in me thinks the Bush administration will not only continue efforts to outlaw gay marriage in the US, but now also black marriages.More entries on: Bushfraud
Nothing like a heat wave to angry up the blood.
The woman who would be President is displaying some more of that base-cementing political genius she's developed lately. The New York Times reports on comments Senator Hillary Clinton made about the missiles being lobbed back and forth across the Lebanon/Israel border. She leaves no room for doubt whose side she's on:
"We will stand with Israel because Israel is standing for American values as well as Israeli ones," said Mrs. Clinton, who was joined by two dozen political and religious leaders on a stage along 42nd Street.
And then, for good measure, she works in an appeal to all the border-terrified among her own peoples:
"I want us here in New York to imagine, if extremist terrorists were launching rocket attacks across the Mexican or Canadian border, would we stand by or would we defend America against these attacks from extremists?" Mrs. Clinton said to roars of approval.
Um, Mrs. Clinton, what did WE do? Mexico, I get. But Canada?
And, on an even less serious note -- that same New York Times, reporting on President Bush's reasoned response to the Blair/Annan proposal for peace-keeping in the conflict, printed this:
Mr. Bush did not address the plan directly. Nut he expressed his unhappiness about Mr. Annan's overall approach to the crisis quite bluntly and, unintentionally, quite publicly.
It's like they've just become exhausted from the effort of trying to not call him insane.More entries on: War and peace
I find myself completely appalled by today's front-page column by George Jonas in the National Post. Normally I try not to let Post columnists provoke me into posting about them, since it just draws attention to their views. But in this case...
Jonas is an apologist for the Israeli military, and practically the first words out of his mouth are that Israel "didn't mean to harm" the eight Canadian citizens it killed in an air strike on Lebanon yesterday. He goes on to put Israel on the moral high ground: while Hezbollah and other terrorists target civilians in their operations, Israel targets its terrorist enemies in the name of protecting civilians, and any civilians deaths that result are "sad, but unavoidable."
That comment alone is so infuriating I should just stop right here. Nothing is gained by painting one side in a war as "good guys" and the other as "bad," as Jonas does. It gets us no closer to peace, understanding or a diplomatic solution to this conflict, and completely ignores the multiple motivations either side might have for an attack.
When eight Israeli civilians are killed, this is rightly portrayed as a tragedy by columnists such as Jonas and papers like the Post. When eight Arab civilians are killed, how can anyone feel good about letting their killers off the hook, just like that? And if we go along with the dubious suggestion that Israel is targetting only terrorists, why is having terrible aim any better than launching a missile over a border? Killing is killing. War is not going to make it stop, nor is it "unavoidable." If that's the world Jonas lives in, I want no part of it.More entries on: Human rights | Terrorism (not the state-sponsored kind) | War and peace
"Power is essential for survival, but additional power is also needed for doing anything fast and complicated, like eating your neighbour..."
From a discussion of:
Current Middle East conflict? -- No.
Iraq/Kuwait, early 90's? -- No.
North and South Korea? -- No again.
The quote is from a Times Literary Supplement review of the book Power, Sex, Suicide by Nick Lane, about the elemental symbiotic relationship that occurs between mitochondria and the larger host cells that are the building blocks of all life on this planet.
Okay, now smoke a joint and reread this posting.More entries on: Planet Earth
Since watching the last forty minutes of last week's World Cup final, I have to say I am baffled by some of the mainstream media response to Zinedine Zidane's head butt to Italian defender Marco Materazzi, including the initial -- completely one-sided -- response of the play by play announcer at the game. We're supposed to be shocked by and ashamed of the famous, and now retired, French striker, saddened that his career would end in a red card rather than a trophy photo op.
Does the sports narrative always have to end in the same way? Is there only one kind of heroism in sports, one kind of role modelling? Is there nothing to be learned, meaningfully experienced or even entertained by in failure? Does one bad act make a bad guy?
Zidane's character and career speak for themselves. He was a brilliant player and, for the most part, a model of sportsmanship on the field and off. When he lost it, he took the punishment and generally apologized. When he triumphed, he carried himself with pride but did not gloat. His personal history stands as a metaphor for hope in a new Europe. All that ends with a head butt? Hardly.
Margaret Wente in the Globe today argues that the kind of 'trash talk' Zidane experienced from Materazzi is all part of the game, and the true champions resolutely take it without reaction. She then goes on to give us a most facile lesson in sociology. Boys gather together in groups to insult other boys. Sports are just territorial wars played out without weapons. There is no equivalent to trash talking among females (I'm sorry? Can you repeat that one?). Etc.
In the Robert Altman film M*A*S*H, a football game is won partly because an unwitting opponent is verbally goaded into violence and must leave the game. I saw that movie while in high school, loved the strategy and tried it out in the next after-school touch football game. Everytime I lined up opposite Kenny Winter, just as the scrimmage began, I let fly with an insult, a personal one. I think I may have even mentioned his sister at one point. It worked beautifully. Kenny was thrown off his game, I received the best shot to the jaw I've ever felt, everyone felt stupid and terrible, and the game ended without a satisfactory resolution. I can't remember the final score, but I've never forgotten how dumb I felt.
How does Materazzi feel about his part in all of this? Well, he's admitting nothing, but also rather sheepishly imploring FIFA not to punish Zidane further by taking away his tournament MVP award. Enjoy that guilty conscience my man. It's character building!
True to his nature, Zidane made some great comments yesterday. These are quoted from The Guardian:
"Of course the reaction has to be punished. But if there had been no provocation, there would have been no reaction. If I reacted, it was because something occurred. Do you think that in a World Cup final, 10 minutes away from the end of my career, I would do a thing like that because it pleased me? Never. My action was unforgiveable, but I'm saying to you that the person who committed the provocation should also be punished."
Now that's a sports narrative. I'll take my punishment, thank you. I deserve it. How often do we hear this kind of honesty in sports, or anywhere. He goes on:
"My action was unforgiveable. It wasn't the right gesture to make. I say this aloud because two or three billion people saw it, and millions of children. I apologise to them, and to their teachers, the people who have to tell them about good behaviour. I have children myself, and I know what it's like. I will always tell them not to be taken advantage of, and to avoid this kind of situation."
As a father of boys, I will very happily show them this great man's moment of failure. I'd like them to get something out of sports other than mindless triumphalism, or dumb social pseudo-analysis.More entries on: Sport
You mean, I really have to be able to afford Jamie Kennedy's restaurant to live happily in this city?
Both D.B. Scott's Canadian Magazines blog and bookninja have recently noted that Toronto Life editor John MacFarlane has announced the end of the summer fiction issue of his magazine. The following quote is, apparently, from the editor's note in the August issue (haven't had a chance to pick it up yet -- too busy readin' fiction):
"We had hoped that some of our summer fiction would - as Michael Ondaatje's 1987 novel In the Skin of a Lion did - help us discover, or rediscover, how it is with Torontonians. Sometimes it did, but much of it, set in places like Delhi, Croatia and Los Angeles might have prompted more than one reader to ask, "If it isn't about Toronto or written by a Toronto writer, what's it doing in Toronto Life? I wish I could say that in publishing such stories we were creating an appetite for fiction. But, while I'm certain they found an appreciative audience, there's no evidence it was growing. So with regret - it's been a labour of love - we've decided to make this, the 10th summer fiction issue, our last."
Where to start? The ninj accurately points out that The New Yorker, also a city magazine, somehow manages to publish relevant fiction (and poetry!) every week, not just once a summer. The issue of TL on stands right now promises An insider's guide to the prettiest pools, frostiest cocktails, must-see movies, no-sweat sports and more. Couldn't a great short story fit under and more?
Several years back, Toronto Life published a fine issue about how the smoke is a "city of writers." Have all these writers stopped writing? Someone kick them in the butt. They need to write again.
Maybe Toronto Life could keep their fiction issue going with excerpts from, ahem, great new Canadian novels by Toronto novelists (with important scenes set in Toronto). JM, call me.
Toronto Life has great writers like Jason McBride (former toiler at the venerable Coach House books) covering Canadian writing. It seems odd -- really, really odd -- to be the city magazine at the acknowledged heart of Canadian writing, and not publish fiction.
I think the saddest part of all this is the suggestion that with no evidence the audience for fiction is growing, we should stop trying to grow it.
What's that you say? Someone oughta write a letter? Oh,well then: firstname.lastname@example.orgMore entries on: Lit
Perusing Andrew Potter's blog can be such a fruitful exercise sometimes.
This post from yesterday sent me off to the online Asia Times to read about New York Times writer Nicholas Wade's book Before the Dawn, which, according to the Times "charts the recently compiled genetic evidence for the evolution and history of our species" and, more to Potter's point I think, also offers a critique of popular views of primitivism.
Which reminded me of the article I read in the Times Literary Supplement while camping this past weekend at Presqu'ile Provincial Park in Lake Ontario. I'd link you directly to the article but even though I'm a subscriber I have yet to scale the TLS' byzantine online subscriber wall. Anyway, the TLS was rather joyously celebrating the 30th anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, the book that legendarily explained evoluton to a generation (the one slightly older than me). My generation learned most of what we know about evolution from Richard Dawson (pictured above), host of the Family Feud and former charming POW on Hogan's Heroes.
Then, of course, I had to check out more on the Wade book, which brought me word of this critique of evolutionary theory -- Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution by Australian philosopher David Stove, of whom I had not heard, so I looked 'im up on wikipedia, which brought me this gem:
Stove's attack on Darwinism was not as radical as it appeared - he accepted evolution was true of all living things, and said he had no objection to natural selection being true of more primitive organisms. What he wanted to attack was the distorted view of human beings put about by some Ultra-Darwinists. For example, W. D. Hamilton, the Oxford biologist and (Richard Dawkins' mentor) famously said that no-one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person, but that everyone will sacrifice it for more than two brothers, a claim for which Stove thought was false, or at the very least, unverified.
Which reminded me of how happy I sometimes am to be both out of university and not living in a rural Kansas school district.
So you see, Andrew Potter makes me smarter and happier. He's, like, an agent of my own personal evolution.More entries on: Signs of the Apocalypse
It is time to start making, with earnest, your summer vacation plans. I got a list of about 99 things to do before I die, like most of you, and while Burning Man is so not on there, LebowskiFest taking place September 29/30 in Kentucky, is number nine with a bullet. For those of you who can't make it (can you walk to Kentucky from Alberta?) there's the t-shirts and the bumper stickers. Oh, to escape, however briefly, from the reality of the dominion of the Shrub.
The Dude abides.More entries on: Happenings
So, other nickames for Harper (see below)? The Canadian. The Foreigner. Belt-Buckle Guy. And my favorite... Bufuddled.
Here's a great bit:
As foreigners go, Harper is the sort who would appeal even to the isolationists among us. A youthful 47, he has JFK good looks and, like Bush, wore gray suit, silvery hair, and blue shirt, tie and eyes. His accent sounded downright American, except when he said words such as "again" and "processes." And though he spoke in French, it clearly wasn't his mother tongue; he asked a reporter how to say "missile defense" in French.More entries on: Bushfraud
Much is being said about President Bush calling our man Harper "Steve" earlier this week. While many are saying this indicates the two men are now chums, I'm more inclined to think the opposite -- that Bush really has no idea what Harper is like at all. I could be wrong, but Harper really doesn't strike me as a "Steve" -- he seems far too uptight for anything more casual than "Stephen."
Plus, calling a Stephen "Steve" really isn't very original. I'd be far more interested had Georgie lobbed out a "Steve-o," "Sparky" or "Chuckles".
Thoughts? Anyone else have some potential pet names for the PM?More entries on: Harper Index
The Times of London has run a weirdly triumphant account of Germany's loss to Italy in yesterday's World Cup semifinal match in Dortmund:
I'll admit to being a fan of Germany -- the soccer Germany (and, in all honesty, the beer Germany, sausage Germany and literature Germany as well). Maybe it's time for the British press to stop suggesting that I should be slightly sheepish about doing so. You know, what with Germany's history and all... ahem, you know what we mean, right?
The World Cup has broken through 60 years of German inhibition about openly demonstrating national sentiment. The flag has been displayed everywhere, from shops to trams and underwear. Germans have started to belt out the national anthem without stumbling over the words.
But the question has always been: what will happen to this seemingly new national confidence if the team fails to become world champion?
Erm... I dunno England. How do you blokes deal with it?More entries on: Sport
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