Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mock and Pillory

Resist the urge to treat this as a wheeze. It's a bloody brilliant idea and should be taken seriously.
Perhaps Canada is drifting towards disaster while our elected officials bicker, snipe and throw pies at each other. Or perhaps our federal system has succeeded despite this sideshow for so long that the really important things are sort of firewalled off, and Canada will continue to prosper even as its politics tries to find a lower place than the gutter. Either way, it's clear that politicians waste a huge chunk of their time (for lack of a better word) discussing—and political journalists waste a good chunk of their time covering—issues that don’t really matter.


Any format that involves even a 10-second clip from Question Period needs serious tweaking if not outright abandonment, unless it's designed, like I said before, to mock or pillory the participants.

Whoah, hang on, that’s it—that should be the new format. Hell, that could be the new name: Mock and Pillory. “Welcome to the broadcast. First up, we’ll ask some smart, disinterested people what they think about employment insurance. Then, we’ll show you what our politicians said about it, while pointing out all their errors, distortions and outright lies. Then, as ever, we’ll show you the best bits of Question Period overdubbed with the soundtrack from Benny Hill.” It’s win-win, no? CBC can keep Canadians “connected” to their government without giving them an ounce more respect than they deserve. And if they want to be taken seriously again, all they have to do is start behaving like civilized, reasonably intelligent human beings.

Well that certainly would be a refreshing change from what it is now: listening to our poor pundits toss off their intellectual vanities about politician X's "brilliant" or "lame" political maneuvering. --As though the fat-kid-wiles of Canadian politics could ever, in a million-bazillion years, be said to offer even the consolation of wit or sophistication.

via Olaf

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A house built on sand

(Note: I should've pointed out when this was first posted that this is not news. The Phillips piece is about 7 months old.)

Melanie Phillips:
On Tuesday evening I attended the debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox at Oxford’s Natural History Museum. This was the second public encounter between the two men, but it turned out to be very different from the first. Lennox is the Oxford mathematics professor whose book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? is to my mind an excoriating demolition of Dawkins’s overreach from biology into religion as expressed in his book The God Delusion -- all the more devastating because Lennox attacks him on the basis of science itself. In the first debate, which can be seen on video on this website, Dawkins was badly caught off-balance by Lennox’s argument precisely because, possibly for the first time, he was being challenged on his own chosen scientific ground.

This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

Are we surprised? ... Really?! But the man's always been an ass!

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Big Cheese

As with The Girlfriend, this week's episode is lighter fare than usual:

EMG explains to EMG the futility of trying not to use swear words. (Click image, press play)

(Incidentals: there's a lot of swearing in this one, obviously. I couldn't find a copy of the song for download, but youtube has it.)

Play time is about 3 and a half minutes. Half a smoke.

As pants as it gets!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A heartbreaking post of staggering genius

Man, Rick McGinnis has got some awesome readers!

Take the one that wrote to him recently about the film JCVD. He (the reader) thought that JCVD was "a despicable farce" and that it would've been far more appropriately titled "Les Racines de JCVD: America in the Age of Obama."

Brilliant, what?! What an outstanding chap this reader of Rick McGinnis' sounds to be!

Rick, however, gently disagrees with his reader (whom, for the sake of simplicity, let's refer to as the Enlightened if Misunderstood Gentleman) and gives the film an uncharacteristically noncommittal review, as he did some time ago with Happy-Go-Lucky. (A movie which, if I'm any judge, the Enlightened if Misunderstood Gentleman thought a giant piece of shit too.)

He (Rick) sums up thus:
A film like JCVD is catnip for a critic, much like Being John Malkovich, or a good Woody Allen film, if you go back far enough in history. By this measure, any film can become a critical favorite as long as it harnesses that moment in a Looney Tunes cartoon when Bugs Bunny takes a break from tormenting Elmer Fudd, turns to the audience and says confidentially, "I do this sort of thing to him all through the picture."
OK ... So I shouldn't say that he's exactly noncommittal about the film. He clearly considers it to be gimmicky and overrated.

But it seems to me (and to the Enlightened if Misunderstood Gentleman as well, obviously, so that makes two of us at least) that Rick misses something extremely important in his analysis.

Indeed, to the extent that the gimmick employed by the film--that meta business, the cinematic self-reference stuff à la Being John Malkovich--to the extent, I say, that the gimmick itself fails, or anyway is fatally inconsistent, Rick is misleading us even in his attempt to dismiss the film as thin and derivative. For: while JCVD may give us its equivalent of Bugs Bunny turning to the audience and saying that he does this sort of thing all through the picture, the problem is: he doesn't do this sort of thing all through the picture. He stops after a point and does a most unBugs Bunnyish thing.

But let me just pause here for a moment in the interests of full disclosure.

You should know that I've been made privy to the full exchange of emails between Rick McGinnis and the Enlightened if Misunderstood Gentleman--hell, better just call him the EMG. And I think it's worth noting that in the last of those emails the EMG, having just read Rick's review, made a most disingenuous admission. He said:
... [I]t occurs to me that whereas some people are more inclined to rate a film according to whether or not it succeeded in being entertaining, I tend to rate them according to whether or not they succeeded in being part of an elaborate conspiracy to insult me.
Ignoring the slightly hamfisted phrasing here (the EMG, apparently, isn't always as succinct as I think he'd like to be), you'll notice that the EMG seems to be backing off his criticisms of the film out of deference to his illustrious correspondent. He prefers instead to humbly assume the role of the crank. This is understandable, perhaps, as Rick McGinnis is a talented and accomplished writer, whereas the most that can be said of the EMG, I gather, is that he didn't actually burn down an orphanage. (I.E. A little research on my part reveals that after leaving his native Luxembourg at the tender age of 18 to pursue what looked like a very promising career composing Haiku, the EMG apparently squandered his talents writing doggerel for gun and car enthusiast magazines, and now fitfully maintains a "blogspot" blog in some utterly obscure corner of the internet.)

But so moved was I by the EMG's penetrating observations about JCVD--so convinced was I that there was more to this man than Rick McGinnis's easy dismissal of him suggested--that I pressed him for more. At first he deferred self-effacingly, replying by way of a poem of his entitled "The Sneeze":
Alas, no promise of relief!
The lightly tickled membrane
(more tickled for the lightness)
suggesting ecstatic release,
is quelled by a seemingly endless,
face-curdling pause
and then nothing.

I remain, as yet, only teased
by the sneeze[d].
But I continued to hound him and eventually he gave in, sending me the following-- What can only be described as a tour de force Critique des Critiques! Indeed, it seems to me that there is a strong suggestion here that not only is the EMG not some b-list hack from the nether end of the blogosphere, but that he's something like a genius whose obscurity can only continue in a perverse, hypocritical and unforgiving world.

Dear Mr. George,

I am overwhelmed by your eloquence and charm! Here, if you insist, is a defence of my comments to Mr. McGinnis about the excremental JCVD:

Pace your effusions re. the alternative title that I came up with for the film--Les Racines de JCVD: America in the Age of Obama--I should say that it was meant more to indicate the extremity of my disgust than as a serious comment on the film's politics. It's worth noting too that I was on my fourth tallboy of Stella Artois when I wrote it, and was feeling a little--'ow you say?--uninhibited. There is, I suppose, a fiddly little argument to be made for the film's encapsulating something of the narcissism of the Obama era ethos, but let me come back to this later in the email.

Why did I think the film "a despicable farce"? Two reasons, intimately connected. The first: the film fails in all serious respects, save as a platform to show-off some of Jean-Claude Van Damme's hitherto unexploited talents as an actor. The second: while it might be the case that certain films have the power to resurrect dead careers, no film can be considered good if it serves only that purpose.

The question, then, is how does the film fail? Well, answer me this: is JCVD a black comedy, or is it an uplifting drama? A little bit of both, did I hear you say? Well quite. And that's the point: to the extent that it tries to be both of these, it does not (it cannot!) succeed in being either.

McGinnis's comparison of JCVD to
Being John Malkovich is, for this reason, an unfortunate one, as the films provide far more of a contrast. BJM is a relentless--indeed, ruthless--lampoon of the cult of celebrity and its spiritual analogue, the pursuit of immortality. The film's title character, the actor as himself, is then portrayed quite literally as a cipher; an "overrated sack of shit" at the mercy of various losers and eccentrics with privileged access to his head. The annihilation of Malkovich's ego at the film's end is brutal and decisive, as is the life-sentence given Craig Schwartz's ego for the crime of trying to hijack Malkovich's existentional nullity to supplement his own.

Now, while JCVD begins quite promisingly as a satire of celebrity in this vein, that is not how it ends. Indeed, the film comes off as more of a vindication of celebrity--or anyway of Van Damme's celebrity--to the extent that he spends so much time pofacedly repudiating it (his celebrity).

I mean: here we have this brilliant (if not entirely original) scenario of an aging, lecherous b-movie action star in debt up to his still absurdly bulging trapezius muscles, freshly rejected by his daughter in a child custody battle, who's stuck on the wuss end of a "real life" hostage-taking ... And what do we get? A vomit-inducing soliloquy--"making Hamlet sound like an extrovert" as the great Ebert puts it--lamenting America's depravity, his own shameful abandonment of his "racines", and a particularly obtuse assertion that poor people have more talent than him.

(And to those who say that, if nothing else, here is the evidence of Van Damme's as-yet-untapped acting ability, let me simply point out that this feeling likely has more to do with the fact that they'd never heard the man speak without a faltering and buffoonish accent before. It was bound to sound impressive.)

Note, furthermore, that from this point on the film disowns its tacit conceit: that it is satire on a world-beating scale. It becomes, instead, a story of manful perseverance, sacrifice and, yes,
redemption: i.e. by Van Damme's attainment of the renewed love and respect of his daughter, and a meaningful life teaching murderers, thieves and rapists karate.

Of course, as I read that last line over I see that this still sort of sounds like satire. Alas, no. The shift in tone is unmistakable; we go from remorseless cinematic-self-effacement one moment, to almost smothering sentimentality the next. And to be clear: my problem with this has nothing to do with my belief that sentimentality is a failure of feeling (and thus not a worthy object of art). Even I can admit (grudgingly) that some gruesomely maudlin films are good, and succeed as such. But the thing about sentimental films is that they are, of their nature, irony-averse; and as we all know, you can't suck and blow at the same time.

I mean, honestly! What would your reaction be to Gary Sinise's character if, in The Green Mile, he winked at the camera and referred to Michael Duncan's character as "Lennie"? Or "Malkovich", for that matter? It would be fine if the film was meant as a spoof of
Of Mice and Men. But it wasn't. (Rather, it was the touching tale of a giant retard with an army of zombie mice, who died for our sins in a novelty-sized electric chair.)

Still--I think I hear you saying--even if the film is a failure, calling it "a despicable farce" is to overstate it. You're letting your emotions get the better of you, no?

No. Though I'm having some difficulty trying to think of a fitting way of illustrating why a film that raises the stakes as high as JCVD deserves to lose everything if it doesn't have a really, really good hand ... That is, I'm having difficulty illustrating it with something other than a gambling metaphor.

Consider it this way:

Let's imagine for a moment that I don't exist. That is to say: Let's imagine that the email contained within this blog post is, in fact,
wholly a creation of yours and not--as it is--of our respective hands. So let us imagine, then, that I am an elaborate device you've fashioned to make a very simple point about the dishonesty of using one type of bad art to condemn another type of bad art.

Now imagine the reaction of your readers when they discover after reading 1,833 words, that the substance of your argument resides more in its form than in does in its content. That, furthermore, the 1,258 words following the 799th word of this post serve no real purpose beyond lending a little verisimilitude to the oh-so-clever conceit of those first 799 words. That, indeed, the 1,258 words following the 799th word were written more to emphasize what they don't get around to talking about--namely, the whole America in the Age of Obama business--than what they do.

... That's a whole lot of reading for a whole little point, what? And the device doesn't even have the virtue of being original! Don't you think your readers would get angry about this? Don't you think they might wonder who exactly you thought you were impressing? A critic, was it?

That's more than just a farce. It's despicable too. And Q.E.D.

Anyway, I had intended to say more, but that's as much as I can manage for you I'm afraid. I spend my evenings volunteering (natch), teaching immigrants ESL
and you've made me late for tonight's class. My output has been a little thin recently, as you noted, but I have reason to hope that some new projects of mine might make their way into one or two publications of note. I'll send you a link and perhaps you'll return the favour by sending it on to somebody with a proper readership.


Enlightened if Misunderstood Gentleman]

Friday, May 15, 2009


Both of them, right? Just piffle. Plain and simple.

Otherwise it doesn't make any sense. Surely.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


There is no such thing as success ...

... there are only intervals between failures.

Friday, May 08, 2009

tolerance n. Fluffy euphemism for nihilism

It was predictable, I know, but the speed with which Michael Ignatieff went from public intellectual to sinisterly vacuous Canadian politician really came as a shock to me. You'll agree, though, that the thoroughness of his transformation is remarkable even by Canadian standards. I mean, while Paul Martin's leap from statesman-ish Minister of Finance to bug-eyed, Tourette's-afflicted Prime Minister was something to behold--in an unfortunate, fat-kid-with-asthma-on-track-and-field-day kind of way-- Ignatieff's seems positively Olympian by comparison. Indeed (and if you'll allow me to switch the metaphor ... again), it seems to me that at this point it's less a case of his having sold-out, as it is of his having sold his soul.

Mark Steyn is well-worth the read on this:
[T]he sedating pretentiousness of Mr. Ignatieff’s prose style shouldn’t disguise the fact that this may be the most morally contemptible statement by a Canadian party leader since Confederation ... When Michael Ignatieff insists that a 'father' 'trying' to take 'two sick little girls to his parents' is 'a story of us,' he is inviting Canadians to collude in a lie as obvious as it is wicked.
And if you haven't already done so, see Robert Fulford on some other of Ignatieff's meta-political fact-tweaking:
[Ignatieff] tells us that William Grant’s son, the philosopher George Grant [i.e. Ignatieff's uncle], respected William’s [i.e. Ignatieff's grandfather's] judgment: “George knew his father was a liberal, both small L and big L, who sometimes voted for the socialist CCF from sheer exasperation.” Perhaps Ignatieff wants his grandfather to have been that sort of liberal but he confuses the wish with the fact. The CCF (precursor of the NDP) was founded in 1932 and didn’t contest a federal election till the autumn of 1935, some months after William Grant’s death.
(Image shamelessly stolen from Darcey.)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

De minimis non curat whaaaat?!

As conservatives undertake that most liberal exercise of purging from their ranks the apparent causes of all the world's ills, I notice that that hackneyed business about same sex marriage is being trotted-out once again.

The sort of person who remains opposed to SSM, they say, these so-called socons, are keeping us in the dark ages. (That would be the dark ages of four years ago--ed.) I mean, the idiots said the skies would fall, if you can believe it. Swear to God! Do we really want to continue our association with these people? I mean! Falling skies?! I don't want to make a big deal of this, but just so everybody knows: I think they're a bunch of weirdo squares too. ... Falling skies, ha! What a bunch of crazi-- What's that? No, I was just saying what a bunch of crazies those social conservatives are. Yeah, I'm still talking about tha-- What am I? Why, I'm a Libertarian! No, not like the Nazis! etc etc ... ...


Yes OK, guys. We get it. You don't actually know any homosexuals but that totally doesn't mean that you're not, like, completely comfortable with them; doesn't mean that you're, like, a homophobe or something.

Relax, for God's sake.