July 2003 Archives

Maybe they'll drop in for the weekend...

Okay.

Iraq: reputedly mad dictator, government corruption, rumours of government-sponsored human rights abuses, rumours of terrorist networks, oil.

Liberia: obviously mad dictator, textbook government corruption, people beaten and shot in front of international cameras, no oil.

US position on Iraq: get in there and get rid of that madman before he makes trouble. Even if we're not really sure he will make trouble. We're pretty sure he'll make trouble. Certainly we'll tell everybody that we know he'll make trouble. Bottom line - get in there and don't come out til everything is under (our) control.

US position on Liberia: Weeeeeelllllll, we're not going in until all this shooting people stuff stops. And some one will have to do something about Taylor before we even consider stepping off the boats. And if we do come in, we're only staying for a minute - and we're not all coming. We're really kind of tied up... we'll see. Consider this a definite maybe. But give our love to the UN.

Major difference (aside from the oil, which various people claim is not a factor): The rest of the world tried to get the US to slow down on Iraq. The UN tried to get the US to reconsider on Iraq. The citizens of Iraq, by and large, were not standing in front of news cameras begging the US to come save them.
In Liberia, people are carrying placards imploring 'Uncle Sam' to hurry the heck up. The UN is dropping not-so-subtle hints that they could really use some help, if anyone's looking for something to do. The international community is actually asking the US to get involved.

I'm sure there are myriad levels of political incentives and rationales for the US global strategy, and it's just me that doesn't understand. But I can't help thinking of my three-year-old son and what we call "the Yes/No game."

At least we're pretty sure our son will grow out of it.

Stating the obvious

I am not planning to venture downtown today.

Yesterday, the first day of the WTO meeting at the Sheraton Centre, was pretty scary, not to mention stupid. Thousands of protestors descended on our downtown core to let the WTO know they're against globalization. The protest very quickly became violent, and The Gap, Burger King and the Canadian Forces recruitment centre were left with smashed windows and, no doubt, terrified employees.

Several protestors and protest organizers defended their actions. One said that the three main targets were "legitimate" marks because they "represent the type of global capitalism perpetrated by the WTO." Another said that the WTO stands in the way of generic AIDS medication getting to Africa, "so millions face death. That's much more violent than a couple of broken windows."

One prostestor said that the 200+ arrests made were "obvious overkill."

I don't think so. In fact, given the violence and obvious disregard for the safety and mental wellbeing of innocent bystanders, I think the protestors are lucky that only 230 or so of them were arrested, and will no doubt be released today, if they haven't been already. They're lucky they chose to inflict their reckless vandalism on a city that won't lock them away forever, torture them, target their families for the crime of being related to a terrorist, bulldoze their houses, or simply shoot them on the spot.

How does "more violent than a couple of broken windows" justify the broken windows? Where is that invisible line that determines just how violent you can be?

I was listening to the radio yesterday morning, and fuming at the conservative, right-wing morning man's rant about the WTO protests - what a bunch of unemployed, uninformed, idiots with nothing better to do. Get a haircut and get a real job. If you want to change the system, get into the system. And so on. I was >thisclose< to firing off an e-mail in response (something along the lines of peaceful protest being one form of working within the system) when the station's reporter on the scene came on, half-terrified, to say that the Burger King windows were gone.

In one fell swoop of a garbage can, the protestors destroyed a window and any sympathy I might have had for their cause.

You cannot credible protest violence with violence, regardless of some delusional scale of relative violence. You cannot claim to be fighting for human rights when you recklessly endanger humans who are doing nothing more sinister than wrapping a burger. You cannot expect anyone to sympathize with your cause when you randomly vandalize some guy's car just because it's a Porsche.

Some of the people involved actually had intelligent points. One woman said she was protesting because "democracy is where you give your opinion and constructive criticism... there's a lot of potential for fair trade - and consumer consciousness is growing." Another explained her beef with the WTO is that they don't appear to be addressing the issue of world hunger because "hungry people work cheap and hard. Hunger is good for the stock market."

Constructive criticism? Okay. Destructive violence? No thanks. If you want to tell the world about the downsides to world trade, fine. If you want to smash windows and scare the crap out of the people working cheap at the Gap, just get the heck out of my town.

D'oh

We watched Minority Report last night. I'd review it, but I've already posted a lengthy Homeric interpretation today.

Suffice it to say that the film includes oracles, priests, a Cassandra, blinding, loss of identity, possible Oedipal issues, and an expositional 2x4.

Still worth watching, though, if only to induce covetousness for the nifty gloves.

Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

In Life of Pi, Martel continues the recent trend (seen in The Dutch Wife and Everything is Illuminated) of a first-person narrator presented as the author, reporting a second narrator’s first-person narrative of an altogether exotic story. In all three cases, this narrative device is deployed essentially to make the reader feel, through most of the book, completely at ease and secure, only to create complete distrust by the final chapters.

Life of Pi is a Homeric epic, a quest story that doesn’t actually go anywhere, geographically, for the better part of the story. Pi, a teenager from India en route to Canada with his family and the remnants of the family zoo, is shipwrecked somewhere in the Pacific, and spends 227 days adrift in a lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. He tells his story from the perspective of the survivor, as an adult living in Canada thirty years later.

The Homeric elements are subtle but solid – there’s a deceptively lush, inviting island (inhabited by aquatic meerkats, no less), blindness, storms at sea, the odd albatross, and, of course, the fact that the hero renames himself ‘Pi’ – a Greek letter and an ambiguous number, reminiscent of Odysseus telling the Cyclops that he is called no-man.

Martel makes Pi a Universalist, who believes and practices Hindu, Catholic and Muslim rituals, before, during and after his ordeal at sea. Of course, the only thing Pi really worships as a castaway is the tiger, whom he credits for giving him the will to live. This is not in the cuddly, we-befriended-each-other-to-survive sense, but in the I-will-survive-in-spite-of-the-man-eating-tiger sense. (Maybe the tiger is the .14 to the 3 religions) I was left with the impression that the religious beliefs were merely exercises in aesthetics, while the tiger was the real source of soul-level faith. Richard Parker is a real god, awful in both senses, fearsome and remote – and when Pi hits rock bottom, blind from malnutrition and waiting for death, the tiger speaks to him, as in a religious vision brought on by starvation.

Life of Pi is well-written – beautifully written, even. It made me laugh aloud in places and shudder in others. Martel has mastered the art of symbolism, making it obvious enough that you recognize the symbols at work, but subtle enough that you don’t feel you’re being whacked about the head with the 2x4 of exposition.

I recommend it without hesitation.

So what was the point?

I've never really been passionate about the whole 'one island, one city' debate. My life as a Montrealer and a Verdunite has not changed significantly since the infamous merger. It likely would not change if the newly-elected Liberals make good on their almost-promise to inflict demergers on us.

However, double dealing gets my goat (and my tax dollars). Apparently, Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay and his executive are now mulling over the idea of extending taxation powers to the boroughs (which is what we're now calling the former municipalities).

As I said, this issue has never been a hot one for me - but I do vaguely remember that one of the pro-merger arguments was that the island residents would be taxed on a more or less standard, proportionate, universal rate. Extending the perogative of taxation to the boroughs effectively destroys that argument - so we're left with the same old disproportionate taxes, but without municipal muscle to back it up. Dollard-des-Ormeaux will be able to fix its potholes and so on, but will still be a little borough in a big city.

As a Quebecer, I'm naturally gunshy when it comes to referenda, but in the municipal merger case, I've always held that the problem is lack of public consultation. Pro- and anti-merger factions should be compelled to make their argument to the people who actually live on this island, and those arguments should include dollars and cents - just how much have we spent on mergers? What would it cost to implement demergers? What are the real, quantifiable benefits of 'one island, one city?' Give us some input, some facts, and some power beyond voting for 'anyone but Bourque.'

Also in today's paper: rich people say "money does, in fact, buy happiness. Also, nya na na na na."

An Evening At Eve's Tavern

Just for Laughs Festival, July 18, 2003

Last year, my mum, sister and aunt did a girls’ day – lunch, shopping, An Evening at Eve’s Tavern, and supper. This year, we decided we loved that day so much we’d make it a tradition. We invited Kate and her mum along, partly to celebrate Kate’s recent (as in, same day!) move to Montreal.

My participation in the afternoon elements of the itinerary was curtailed because a certain tiny person chose to make an unscheduled appearance.

I met up with the girls at my place, where we had a nice cuppa and a quick catch-up before cramming ourselves circus-clown-style into Kathryn’s car and heading downtown. We arrived at the Spectrum to find a bit of a line-up, but were soon enough inside, and found a great table upstairs.

This year’s host, Aisha Tyler, is gorgeous but had a lot to live up to, given that last year’s host was Jann Arden, perhaps not as tall and slim, but definitely funnier and with better delivery. Tyler was the weakest element in an otherwise great show – of the three shows I took in the year, Eve’s was better than Bubbling with Laughter but not as good as the gala.

The first act was Sheryl Underwood, whom I’ve seen before, but who was more than a little raunchier this time – her other festival appearances this year included the Nasty Show, so I guess she was in that frame of mind. We were a little concerned that she was a sign of things to come for the rest of the evening, but thankfully, the rest of the comics were a lot less crass. Not that Underwood was unfunny – she had some great lines about being a black Republican: “there are eight of us. One of the perks is that we get flown in to any party event. Of course we have to move around the floor constantly so it looks like there are more of us…”

Highlights

Michele Balan: “I realized why we gain weight as we get older. I think to myself, ‘wow, I’m horny – wait, there’s a cookie. That’s easier.”

Judy Gold: (for context, gay, New Yorker, has 2 kids with her partner, 1st was carried by her partner, 2nd by her): “Our kids are going to be completely screwed up – two Jewish mothers.”
“My partner had our first child, by caesarian, because everything has to be dramatic… when the baby was 6 days old, we went out for a walk. I had the baby in the carrier, and my partner was holding on to walls to keep from collapsing. At the counter in the coffee shop, a woman asked me how old the baby was. I said ‘six days,’ and the woman said ‘wow, you look amazing!’ I said ‘thank you…’

Carla Collins: “I bought a vibrator at Ikea. I can’t get it assembled. I’m using the Allen key. It’s a little small.”

Maria Bamford: “Children in America, according to statistics, are more depressed than ever before. The sippy cup is half empty.”

Wendy Liebman (who closed the show and brought down the house):
• “My brother is in gradual school… he’s studying philosophy… he doesn’t know why.”
• “I took a year off to have a baby… … it didn’t work.”
• “I married a man with a 5-year old… mentality.”
• “His proposal was so romantic… he turned off the TV… well, he muted the TV… during a commercial…”
• “He does have kids, which is great, because now I have a second chance… to fail algebra.”
• “Now I understand my mother better. She always said that a mother has to be willing to give things up… like the will to live.”
• “Canada is great. The American health system is awful. My doctor charges me for a breast self-exam. It’s a flat fee.”
• “I can do an 18-hour bra in 15 minutes.”
• “I can’t drive and drive. I nearly had an accident with a house – it was on a trailer… it was headed right for me… I flashed my headlights and honked, but there was no one home… so I drove into the garage.”

Tina Fey ROCKS

Last night's gala, the fourth of five at the 21st anniversary Just for Laughs festival, was perhaps the best gala I can remember seeing. Since 1998, when I worked at JFL, we've gone to at least one gala per festival. Starting last year, my sister, mother and aunt have done An Evening at Eve's Tavern as well. This year, I also saw one of the Bubbling with Laughter shows, which was the least impressive of the three shows I took in.

Just for Laughs Gaga featuring Tina Fey
Saturday, July 19, 2003

The gala started with Bobby Badfingers, a reprise from an earlier gala. Granted, great finger snapping, but once you've seen him do 'Wipe Out,' you're pretty much good. So the extra two numbers, complete with forced audience participation, was a little on the lame side.

The gala really started with the predictable 'Live from the St-Denis Theatre...' and the smart, funny, gorgeous Tina Fey ensconced behind the Weekend Update desk. Her update was almost entirely Canadian - including a shot at the latest census data in which thousands listed their religion as 'Jedi': "although the data on religion has to be disregarded, Stats Can is happy because they now have a count of Canadian dorks." Also, she brought up the fact that it's now legal for Canadian doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana: "and in related news, actor Woody Harrelson has applied to med school at McGill."

After what she referred to as her "9,999th" Anna Nicole Smith joke, Fey said she was about more than trashing celebrities, and broke into 'Let me Entertain You.' Great singer, great dancer, and the best part? After all these years of wondering what news anchors are like from the waist down... Fey emerged from behind the desk in fishnets, a leotard, and fake fat legs and butt. As soon as the pic is available, you’ll see what I mean.

The first comic was Suli McCullough, whose best bit was letting us in on the fact that the guy inside Barney is black: “think about it – he’s 6’8” and dances, he wears a purple fur coat with green trim, and his girl’s name is Baby Bop. He’s Tyrone-asaurus Rex.”

Next up was Dave Coulier, who was the least annoying cast member of Full House. His act consists primarily of impersonations of cartoon characters, including Bullwinkle, Scooby Doo and Shaggy. These voices are dead-on, and very funny. He did get in a couple of good actual jokes, including “I’m so excited to be here. I wrote an act this morning and everything. Some of these are time-released jokes. You’ll get them in the car on the way home.”

Colin Quinn, an SNL alum and former Weekend Update anchor, was next, and came across as relatively funny but mainly drunk. Best bit? “To be an intellectual in the US these days all you have to do is say ‘yeah, but there’s a lot of stuff the government isn’t telling you.’ Right, like they’re telling you?”

My personal favourite of the night was Lee Mack, a Brit who was introduced as “adding another notch to his Commonwealth bedpost.” His act included a couple of great physical bits, which are obviously less funny when recounted textually (but the Riverdance from the waist up bit is something you can visualize). Best bit? Can’t decide – could be “I remember my Nan’s last words. She said to me, “what are you doing with that hammer?” Or it could be “I am being blamed for the death of the Queen Mum. I got home, turned on the TV, and the announcer said ‘if you’ve just turned on your television, the Queen Mother has died.’”

The last act before intermission was Tina Fey’s brief introduction to American culture (prefaced by a great bit about a conversation she had with a fellow-New Yorker about how sad it is that Americans know so much about Canada, but Canadians have no concept of American culture). Her presentation began with a map showing the “4 states – California, New York, Chicago and Hillbillyville.” She covered freedom of speech, gay marriage (as long as it’s to a person of the opposite sex) and freedom of religion – “Christian, Jew, or constantly under surveillance.”

1st act after intermission was Otis Lee Crenshaw (aka Rich Hall), a convicted felon from the “Darwinian rewind button, Tennessee.” Best bit – “Shania Twain? ‘That don’t impress me much.’ Shania, you’re Canadian. Anything impresses you. Maple syrup impresses you. ‘So you’re a rocket scientist. That don’t impress me much.’ How can you not be impressed by a rocket scientist?”

I overheard a lot of people say their favourite was Mitch Fatel, who was really good (but I still prefer Lee Mack). Some of his best: “I like small breasts. They have personality. It’s like they’re saying ‘Hello! Can I help you?’ No thanks, just looking.” And, regarding women who say ‘I usually wait six months before sleeping with a guy’: “how does that work? Do you e-mail me or something?”

Next up was Barry Julien, the only local on the bill. It wasn’t his best set ever, but he didn’t altogether bomb, I guess. Nothing really worth repeating, though.

We had a surprise guest next, when Tina Fey came on a one half of the country duo ‘The Staley Sisters.’ Other half – Rachel Dratch of SNL. The premise is that these sisters tour, singing their dead daddy’s inspirational songs, including ‘She was hangin’ laundry:’
She was hanging laundry one fine day
When her shoe she bent to tie…
Old grey cooch, old grey cooch, I saw Gramma’s old grey cooch that day…

The last comic of the night was Louis CK, whose best bit was on the guy with the sign that says “Honk if you love America.” “Sure, I love my country, but no guy with a Magic Marker is going to tell me what to do. Makes me want to walk up to him with a sign that says ‘Lick my ball if you love Jesus.’”

The show ended with a great a capella group called Naturally Seven. They were fabulous – rock solid despite a couple of technical glitches.

All around, a great show.

A very special day

Tidbits written at the Royal Victoria Hospital

8:23 a.m. So the phone rang this morning at the ungodly hour of 7:30 (it rang prior to that as well, but I guess we were too fast asleep to hear it). After a frantic search for the phone, which was hiding in the kitchen, I retrieved a message from Steve.

So now I’m at the Royal Vic, in the waiting room, waiting.

Dina’s water broke this morning, and she’s at this very moment under the knife, having a baby!!!

As some of you know, this has not been the easiest of pregnancies. Dina’s been watching every mouthful of food since being diagnosed with gestational diabetes. The most recent issue has been the fact that the baby refused to turn, and was presenting in a frank breech (butt first). In Quebec, and many other places, they will not deliver a breech vaginally, and automatically sign you up for a C-section. Dina did go in for a ‘version,’ a procedure with which they try to turn the baby, but at the last minute they decided against it because all the signs were against it being successful.

And now, in just a matter of minutes, I’m going to be an almost-aunt!

9:14 a.m.
It’s a boy!!!!
Bennett Wark weighed in at 6 lbs, 2 oz, moments ago.

I have not seen the new Mom yet, but believe me when I say Dad is glowing. Steve seems very relaxed, quite an accomplishment under the circumstances, and, of course, really, really happy.

I brought my camera, so I will be posting the first pix of Bennett – probably with this post, as a matter of fact. That’s the problem with blogging in advance. I have no idea what the next entry will bring…

1:17 p.m.
I have pictures, but I’m not allowed to post them. Parental priority or some such nonsense. We’re in the post-partum room now, chatting and generally being quietly thrilled. Ben is gorgeous and tiny and miraculous. Post-partum recovery seems to be going well, Dina is happy and only slightly dizzy. Pictures available soon!!

Nine years and counting

Happy anniversary, happy anniversary
Happy anniversary Haaaaaapy anniversary.
Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy anniversary.

heart.jpg

Love you, sweetie. (K)

McGilligan!!

So, in December I applied to McGill to do a BEd, which would make me qualified to teach at the high school level. I applied on-line, sent in all the relevant documents, and sat back to wait.

Now, granted, there is a disclaimer on the site that says there may be delays, up to three weeks, especially in the spring.

I got my acceptance yesterday.

Naturally, given that I now have a teaching job lined up for September, I declined the acceptance. Perhaps I should have given them more time before I accepted the job with Champlain, but I figured that five and a half months was more than sufficient. And that was three weeks ago.

Ah well, it's still nice to know that I was accepted.

Muahahaha...

From the 'Evil Henchmen Guide', How to Be a Villain:

Mean English Teachers
These sadistic henchmen are perfect for when you want to inflict the greatest amount of pain possible. They are arrogant, humorless, and ridiculously strict, insulting their pupils intelligence because they couldn't become writers themselves. They can extinguish any sense of creativity once held by an individual, as well as transform previously enjoyable literary works into nightmares of horror and confusion. Their monotonous tones are capable of driving even the sanest person to the brink of insanity, useful when you are in need of a torture master. Long after a child has grown up and become a hero, the sign of a mean English teacher continues to cause fear and discomfort.

Other henchmen possibilities
Classic thugs
Mutants Robot warriors
Ninjas (winners of the Henchmen of the Year award more than any other group)
Aliens
Demented clowns
Computer programmers
Winged monkeys
The undead

Reports of my death have been grossly exaggerated

I am still alive, really.

I've been engrossed in other things, and sadly neglecting my blog. My apologies. As I said to one blogette who complained about the lack of posts, I really didn't know I had an audience. Aside from stalwarts Bill & Becca, comments are few and far between. I assumed the chirping crickets meant I was writing into a void. Apparently I was wrong, and teeming hordes of readers are breathlessly awaiting my next bon mot. No pressure, of course.

Anyway, in an effort to prove that I really do care, I've added a page of educational resources. Go there. It's good for you, like bran flakes, but without the rush to the loo.

Well, you ask (apparently), what have I been doing with myself? - catching up on backissues of the Times Literary Supplement - stripping paint off of every painted surface in the house (or so it seems) - researching texts for my upcoming Lit courses - laundry - researching refurbished laptops - learning code (yes, I've gone to the dark side) - reading, reading, reading

I just finished Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer, which came with many recommendations. I now officially add my recommendation to the list.
The book is funny, sad, tragic, well-written... definitely worth the time. Part of the appeal for me is that Zoer doesn't hit you over the head with too much exposition - and he's paced it so that you suddenly realize where everything is headed and think to yourself "Oh my God, I was laughing at that?!?"

Other recent reads:

Black Bird, by Michel Basilieres

This is a must-read for Montrealers. Basilieres takes extraordinary liberties with Montreal history, but taps into our municipal psyche rather well. Nationalists may find the book a little offensive, but no one on either side of the debate walks away unscathed. The family at the center of the action is the DeSouche clan, half French, half English, all nuts in their own special ways. The setting is downtown Montreal, just before the October Crisis. There are some extremely funny moments, and some even more extremely disturbing ones. There's an anglo doctor creating his very own Frankenstein, using Brother Andre's heart, no less. There's a crow (hence the title) who plucks out the patriarch's eye. And above all there are myriad references that make a Montrealer all warm and fuzzy.

Lots and lots of P.D. James
I think I'm addicted.

Currently on the nightstand:
How to Read Literature Like a Professor
If I'm gonna be one...

How to Be a Villain
courtesy of Dina and Steve. Muahahaha.

Life of Pi

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