Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ransom note book reviews

From the Heather Mallick stylebook:
  1. Write down a thousand odd words, each on an individual chit of paper. Make sure to include a few that you clearly don’t understand. Like “grandeur”.
  2. Mix words in bag. (Cloth please. No plastic.)
  3. Overturn bag, allowing contents to fall evenly over floor.
  4. Topmost 15 words—as they have fallen—will comprise first line of essay; second 15 from top, second line; third 15 from top, third line; and so forth.
  5. Email to editor.
  6. Turn TV back on.
NOTE: Words, phrases and “sentences” may be rearranged and/or improved upon at your discretion to ensure that none of the following are omitted:
a) Endless repetitions of what aspire to be—but aren’t quite—progressive platitudes.

b) Obtuse flattery of author, interspersed (on a one sentence per paragraph basis) with the crude substance of an attempt at an actual book review.

c) Basic contradictions. (E.G. In paragraph 15 suggest that mankind continually fails to grasp the obvious message of the author’s oeuvre; in paragraph 18 claim that the author doesn’t, nor has she ever, intended a message.)

d) A comparison—as though it was a compliment—of the author to, say, the mythical personage responsible for unleashing evil on mankind. Remain oblivious to kick-you-in-the-nuts irony of same.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

flair n. promiscuousness and/or buffoonery

From every- body’s favourite novelty newspaper:
By imitating Trudeau, Ignatieff could recast himself as a leader with a bold vision for Canada, a man who offered voters a stark alternative to Harper, rather than the uninspiring leader whose main policy positions seem merely to mirror those of the Conservatives.

[Trudeau] was internationally famous and he made Canadians believe we mattered on the world stage.

And he had flair, dating a series of beautiful women and once performing a pirouette behind Queen Elizabeth's back.

In contrast, Ignatieff, a man of intellect and international experience like Trudeau, comes across as too packaged, stiff, seemingly afraid to take a stand on any issue that pollsters tell him is unpopular.

To regain momentum, Ignatieff needs to offer voters bold programs for the future. To do so, he should steal from Trudeau's agenda, running on just two or three overriding themes that resonate with Canadians, such as championing medicare or restoring our image as global peacemakers.

Being bold, taking risks, speaking his mind, promoting programs that made this country better: they all worked for Trudeau.

They might just work for Ignatieff, too.
Dare we point out that there’s a difference between making “Canadians believe [they] mattered on the world stage” and Canada actually mattering on the world stage? Or perhaps that’s the columnist’s point, the cynical scamp. The emphasis should really be on that word “believe” then, shouldn’t it? As in: making Canadians “believe” that championing medicare and restoring our image as global peacemakers are bold, risk-taking stands that the pollsters consider unpopular.

(Cross-posted at Small Dead Animals, where I'm guest-blogging for a bit.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

What's he(mg) listening to?

As there's a French theme to today's picks, you'll be pointing out that my post title should've been in French. Seeing, however, as I'm just not that confident in my French, let's call it a political decision that I didn't.

We begin with Jacques Dutronc--brilliant song and probably the worst video you've ever seen:

Les Négresses Vertes:

And MC Solaar:

Où est la piscine? Splish splosh.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hideous Public Art - Two Curmudgeons Stroll Down University Avenue

You'll remember that I'm a big fan of the Hideous Public Art series at the blog Diogenes Borealis, yes? Well, I had the very good fortune recently of meeting its author, Eric, and spending an afternoon with him. Half our time was spent hoisting pints on a Baldwin Street patio, the other half guffawing our way down University Avenue (by way of the AGO), taking in the sights there ... Better call them spectacles actually.

A distillation of some of our thoughts and conversation here follows--the first of what will likely be 3 or 4 joint critiques, cross-posted to each of our sites.

Stop 1: The Art Gallery of Ontario.

After having ranted numerous times about Daniel Libeskind’s grotesque addition to the ROM known as “The Crystal”, it was appropriate to take a cursory glance at Frank Gehry’s recent renovation of the AGO. I was prepared to hate it, but it doesn’t provoke a strong reaction in me either way. The old AGO building was nothing to write home about, so the new Dundas Street facade certainly isn’t any worse. It has a certain charm with its expanses of clear glass stretched over a soaring wooden frame, but it reminds me of a transparent beached whale. At least it isn’t yet another iteration of his signature crumpled tin-foil buildings, which are getting a little tiresome. The back of the building (facing Grange Park) is truly ugly; with its massive expanse of blue anodized aluminum cladding and its modern staircases curving down like claws around The Grange. It looks like an alien spacecraft that has landed in Victorian London.

Gehry’s redesign of the AGO is an improvement on the original building right up to the point where it does this dreadful thing you’re seeing done to the poor old Grange. Which is to say, seen from the northeast corner of Dundas and McCaul, it’s really something. Get around the other side, though, and you’re punched in the eyeballs, and beaten relentlessly about the credulity.

I notice that the façade is the same colour as the holograms on the Transformers toys of my boyhood; and no doubt if Eric and I had bothered to look at it from the right angle, we could’ve made out a Decepticon insignia.

So a slight variation on the alien spacecraft theme in my view: not quite suited to the physical demands of interstellar warfare, Capsizedboat-tron awaits the order for his post-colonization duties (something cushy in the Ministry for Space-propaganda, if it’s convenient) set spang in the centre of ever-accommodating Toronto.

Stop 2: Per Ardua ad Astra - Dundas Street & University Avenue

This is probably Toronto’s most famous piece of Hideous Public Art. Known officially as Per Ardua ad Astra (“through adversity to the stars” - the motto of the Royal Canadian Air Force) it was unveiled by none other than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1984 as a memorial to Canadian airmen. It was sculpted by Oscar Nemon (1906 - 1985), a Croatian emigre who settled in England during the war and who is justly famous for his portrait sculptures of luminaries like Sigmund Freud and Winston Churchill. Per Ardua ad Astra was his last work.

Per Ardua was very controversial when it was installed. Paid for by philanthropist and art patron Hal Jackman, the former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, it attracted criticism for being “politically motivated” and for being installed without consulting the Toronto arts community. At the time the Globe and Mail called it "vapid," "ghastly" and a "mediocre sculptural doodad" and art dealer Av Isaacs organized a protest against it. Nemon himself, when he saw that the city had placed his work on a plinth against his express wishes, reportedly said that they had made it look like “a tulip in a box” (as opposed to just a tulip, I suppose). Shortly after it was installed, vandals spray-painted the words “Gumby goes to Heaven” on the plinth and it’s been called that by Toronto residents ever since. The Great Canadian Book of Lists puts it at number six on its list of “Ten Controversial Moments in Canadian Art”.

Well, who am I to argue with the arts critic at the Globe and Mail? This thing really is a mediocre sculptural doodad. Prominently positioned in the middle of a major intersection on Toronto’s most ceremonial boulevard, it looks really out of place like it should be in a playground instead. I can imagine it installed in an amusement park somewhere with water spouting out of its hands. Its childish appearance is all the more startling when one realizes that it is in fact a memorial to Canadian airmen who fought and died in combat (including seven Victoria Cross winners). I can imagine the look on the Queen’s face when she pulled the shroud off this thing at the unveiling.

I just can’t understand the iconography of this sculpture. Is Gumby releasing a Dove of Peace? Perhaps warding off the Eagle of Fascism? Maybe just shooing away the Shitting Seagull of Lake Ontario? As art it’s just ridiculous, but as a war memorial it’s insulting.

I was surprised to discover that the sculptor, Oscar Nemon, is also responsible for the Winston Churchills to be found next Nathan Phillip’s Square here in Toronto, and outside of the Halifax Public Library. (No doubt there are others as well.) I’ve always rather liked these monuments—in spite, that is, of the effect the pebble-grained body has on the unstylized head, i.e. emphasis of the loads of birdshit on Winnie's face as compared with the body, where the stuff is effectively disguised in relief. And, indeed, there is much that is admirable about the corpus of Mr. Nemon’s work. But the Canadian Airman’s Memorial (aka Per Ardua Ad Astra, aka Gumby Goes to Heaven ) really is awful.

(And if I can just note: while I sympathize wholeheartedly with the mockery intended by the nickname, it strikes me as being a little inadequate. I get more a feeling of: Gumby’s Had Way Too Much To Drink, And Is Way Too Excited That A Village People Record’s Been Put On. For which, apparently, gay Gumby is about to get squashed by a homophobic anvil.)

It goes without saying that this bronze and marble piece is conspicuously ugly/trite, but, like Eric, what annoys me most about it is the confusion of its visual metaphors:

Here we have the figure, stretched impossibly to the heavens—its oversized hands palm-upwards and outwards, implying both the skyward aspiration and the hands’ transformation into wings—but then, for some reason, we’ve got an eagle, and an incongruously proportionate one, atop all that. I mean, if we are trying to describe man’s growth through technological progress (as per the former RCAF—the institution here being commemorated) then why go any further than the gumbification-and-wingy-hands theme? Or, if it’s the idea of man harnessing the power of flight, why not just have some regular sized dude dangling from the bird?

And don’t forget the memorial’s motto/title: through adversity to the stars. The stars! Yet another dimension of metaphorical convolution! Wouldn’t it have been at least a little less muddled if Gumby were reaching for a star, then? (Though, yes, that would be rather too Soviet, wouldn’t it?)

The thing’s just a mess.

(cross-posted at Diogenes Borealis)

Monday, September 14, 2009


Sorry for thin posting. No doubt this will soon change given the gobsmacking ambitions of certain politicians.

And sorry for the lack of EMG and EMGs--I know how some of you have come to depend on them for your spiritual sustenance. But there's been a lot of construction in my neighbourhood lately and recording's basically been impossible. So we're still in reruns.

The archive, of course, is always there in the sidebar for you to make your way through (just under the blogroll), but I was listening to a couple of them last night and feel compelled to recommend another listening of The Acceptable Usage. Really just absolute genius. And that's me saying that, so ...

And The Girlfriend.

Pants, pants, and pants again!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Chris Selley sees the logic through

In expressing my exasperation at Naomi Klein' s baffling, circuitous and slippery attempt to defend her and her cohorts' protest against Israeli films at the Toronto International Film Festival — or, if you believe her, against the way these Israeli films have been “packaged” — I neglected to follow her argument, such as it was, through to its logical and damning implications.

For those of you lucky enough not to have read her piece in The Globe and Mail, and foolish enough not to have read this morning's Full Pundit, I will summarize her reasoning: Israel did bad things in Gaza, and is trying to resuscitate its international reputation through a re-branding campaign, which doesn't help Gazans any, and threatens to let Israel off the hook for the aforementioned bad things. The package of Israeli films to be shown in Toronto may or may not be related to this re-branding exercise — this is the most equivocal part of Klein's article — but it nevertheless “matches Israel's stated propaganda goals to a T.”

Read more »

Dennis Dale on going 'round the prickly pear

Has the media's recoiling fascination with the Angry White Mobs of health care reform's roadshow crippled that effort and stalled the Obama administration?

Marshaling evidence to that effect, liberal codger E.J.Dionne, for one, draws the only relevant conclusion: there is no such thing as a "liberal media bias." In giving the "tea-baggers" all that sneering attention, the media overstated their numbers and fury; and as we all know consequence equals intent and consequences are always intended. Employing their conspiratorial mob tactics (political organization and assembly, raised voices, unfashionable clothing) they snookered the media into acting as their own oblivious man behind the curtain, projecting the illusion of a powerful force. It's a new twist on an old story: idealistic and naive city folk brave the American interior in search of a dream, get taken by slick operating small-towners. It was a Simpson's episode. Of course, eventually everything will be a Simpsons episode.


Media bias, liberal or not, is nothing more than the aggregate of the influential class' prejudices, fantasies, and phobias. It is not action but drift. Its predictable nature creates the illusion of direction and control. But once set in motion, round and round it goes, where the narrative stops, nobody knows.

Dennis Dale, Narrative Blowback

Friday, September 04, 2009

Shock value and Brookfield Place


The basis for what has been treated as 'daring' for the last 50 years:

An ignoramus has a very elaborate opinion.


There is something extremely irritating (but still not shocking) about inferior architecture that treats superior architecture as an artefact.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Viva la contrarevoluciòn!

Gerald Warner on the strangest thing I've ever heard:

You do not have to go all the way in supporting the English Democrats party, whose silly proposal for an English parliament would add another superfluous layer to already excessive government, to raise a glass to Peter Davies, the party’s elected Mayor of Doncaster. Davies, the father of Tory MP Philip Davies, is one of just 11 directly elected mayors and he is enjoying increasing media exposure because of his outrageous agenda which, against all the tenets of consensual British politics, consists of doing what the public wants.

In his first week in office he cut his own salary from £73,000 to £30,000, which is putting one’s money where one’s mouth is. He also scrapped the mayoral limousine. He is ending Doncaster’s twinning with five towns around the world, an arrangement which he describes as “just for people to fly off and have a binge at the council’s expense”. He intends now to reduce (that’s right, reduce) council tax by 3 per cent this year.

The “diversity” portfolio has been abolished from the council’s cabinet. From next year no more funding will be given to the town’s “Gay Pride” event, on the grounds that people do not need to parade their sexuality, whatever it may be, at taxpayers’ expense. Black History Month, International Women’s Day and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month are similarly destined to become history.

Council funding of translation services for immigrants has been scrapped because he believes incomers should take the trouble to learn English. Officials have been ordered to abandon bureaucratic gobbledegook language. Davies is saving the taxpayers £80,000 by disaffiliating from the pointless Local Government Association and the Local Government Information Unit. He aims to abolish all non-jobs on the council, as epitomised by “community cohesion officers”. He is taking advice from the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Campaign Against Political Correctness.

Davies’s views are calculated to put Harriet Harridan into intensive care for six months. He disregards all “green claptrap”, is creating more parking spaces to encourage traffic in the town for the benefit of business (”I’m not green and I’m not conned by global warming”). He has asked the Electoral Commission to reduce the number of Doncaster’s councillors from 63 to 21 (”If Pittsburgh can manage with nine councillors, why do we need 63?”).

You may be feeling disorientated, overcome by a surreal sensation, on hearing such extraordinary, unprecedented views. They are the almost forgotten, forcibly extinguished voice of sanity which most people had thought forever excised from British politics. These policies are common sense, which is something we have not experienced in any council chamber, still less the House of Commons, in decades. The establishment is moving heaven and earth to discredit and obstruct Davies. He is that ultimate embarrassment: the boy who reveals that the Emperor has no clothes.

If it is good enough for Doncaster, it is good enough for Britain. Our effete, corrupt, politically correct politicians must be compelled to follow suit. Once upon a time, such policies would have been axiomatic in the Tory Party. In the Cameron-occupied Conservative Party of today they are regarded as anathema. There has to be an inflexible public will to enforce the country’s wishes on the political class under pain of ejection from public life. That is the sole agenda for the next general election. The mainstream parties, as currently constituted, are no longer electable.

More here and here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

That hissing sound

*And, yes, the artwork is an EMG (and Mrs.) original*

Christopher Booker on the "barbecue summers" that refuse to materialize:
The idea that temperature records might be a state secret seems strange enough, but when the policies of governments across the world are based on that data it becomes odder still that no outsider should be allowed to see it. Weirdest of all, however, is the Met Office's claim that to release the data would "damage the trust that scientists have in those scientists who happen to be employed in the public sector".

Doesn't the Met Office realise that trust in it has already been damaged enough by its batty predictions of "barbecue summers"? If it wants to restore that trust, it should first come clean about its data, and then reprogramme its computer to give us forecasts that are not skewed by its obsession with global warming – which is not happening.
James Delingpole provides a little perspective:
Power cuts (and the energy gap) represent a clear and present danger to Britain and her economy. ‘Climate change’ does not. Unless we get our priorities right very soon, we’re all going to be in deep, deep trouble. And no amount of impassioned protesting by environmentally conscious ex-public-school-children or bien-pensant celebrities will be able to get us out of the hole that they personally did so much to help dig.