Sunday, November 30, 2008

Yes, Finally

Cross Off War and Peace

At 6:15 p.m. today I finished Leo Tolstoy's (is there anyone else's?) War and Peace.

It took almost a year. I am pathetic.*

*In my defense, I let 39 other books get in the way.


Brian Burke

Is He the Saviour?

With the hiring of Brian Burke, Leaf fans are supposed to believe the team now has the right man in place to guide them to a Stanley Cup. The main problem with this premise is that when the Leafs hired Ken Dryden, the same was said. When they hired Pat Quinn, the same was said. When they hired John Ferguson Jr. (can you believe this?), the same was said.

What makes Burke different? The only thing that will make him different is if he manages the team to a Cup victory. Until he does that it's just the same old story.

Call that classic Leafs pessimism, but maybe you should watch them play: it's just saying what is.


The Wrestler

The Times Has The Movie Covered

The NYT published a couple of stories about my most awaited holiday movie, The Wrestler. I'll say there are a few reasons I'm looking forward to the movie: (1) it's Darren Aronofsky's first film since his lackluster 2006 film, The Fountain; (2) I have a soft spot for professional wrestling; (3) I have a soft spot for movies about old men trying to redeem themselves.

Anyways, in the Arts section, the Times had a story about the screenwriter, Robert Seigel, a former editor of The Onion. It's not a terribly interesting read, but here it is. The other story, from the Sunday magazine, is about the star of the movie, Mickey Rourke, and can be found here. Now if you read the mag article, you'll think Rourke is both an idiot and a liar:
By the late 1980s, in Rourke’s second act, he was a famous leading man in a string of bad movies that continued through the ’90s. What makes Rourke’s choices astounding is knowing what movies he is said to have turned down: “48 Hrs.,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Platoon,” “Rain Man,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Top Gun,” “Tombstone.” Instead he chose to star in a string of soft-core movies and tough-guy thrillers....
The part about Rourke being a liar is harder to quote. Basically much of what Rourke says in the article about his life is refuted by other sources at near the end.

Still I'm interested in seeing The Wrestler despite Rourke's faults.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Gladwell Bestseller

Takes One Week: No Surprise

I'm not at all surprised that Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers, took a single week to make the Globe and Mail bestseller list; there it will reside probably for many weeks, becoming an evergreen but that hardly makes it a good book -- or at least some reviews are pointing towards a failed effort.

I've only read Gladwell's first, The Tipping Point, which was enjoyable but the knocks against Gladwell, like the criticism I'll cite in a moment, are hard to discount:
Mr. Gladwell's writing style -- now sufficiently iconic that many new nonfiction authors seek to define themselves as the "Malcolm Gladwell of" their chosen topic -- may be easy to recognize but its clarity and easy grace remain difficult to emulate. Yet clarity may also be its Achilles' heel: As Mr. Gladwell reduces complex sociological phenomenon (such as the success of Eastern European Jewish immigrants or the apparent facility of Asians for math) to compact, pithy explanations (exposure to the entrepreneurial culture of the garment industry and the efficiency-demanding requirements of rice-patty cultivation, respectively), you can't help wondering whether something has been lost in the simplification. This is especially worrisome in the context of the ever-captivating sociological studies that provide much of the supporting evidence in "Outliers." Science is just not as tidy as Mr. Gladwell's explanations would seem to suggest.
Having cited that, I'll say I suspect I'll read Blink and Outliers in the future. There's at the very least entertainment in them.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Pynchon

Coming Next Spring

From Conversational Reading:

Penguin has posted its Summer '09 catalog online (PDF format), and it includes some details as to Pynchon's new novel.

The title will be Inherent Vice, and it deals with a private eye in '60s Los Angeles. From the catalog:

It’s been awhile since Doc Sportello has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly out of nowhere she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. Easy for her to say. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that “love” is another of those words going around at the moment, like “trip” or “groovy,” except that this one usually leads to trouble. Despite which he soon finds himself drawn into a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists.

In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there . . . or . . . if you were there, then you . . . or, wait, is it . . .



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Killers

Day & Age: Not a Disappointment

Having listened to the new Killers' album a third-dozen times, I can say it's among my favourite albums released this year. It's not bloated, it's not thin, it's just right. I'm sure some people will say how much they dislike it (sure one example, so the plural is not warranted, I know), but it gets more than a passing grade from me.

And the aforementioned Chinese Democracy (see below) is a mess of noise. I listened once: never again.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chinese Democracy

Haven't Listened, But Expectations Should Be Low

From the, well, you know:
“Chinese Democracy” (Geffen) is the Titanic of rock albums: the ship, not the movie, although like the film it’s a monumental studio production. It’s outsize, lavish, obsessive, technologically advanced and, all too clearly, the end of an era. It’s also a shipwreck, capsized by pretensions and top-heavy production. In its 14 songs there are glimpses of heartfelt ferocity and despair, along with bursts of remarkable musicianship. But they are overwhelmed by countless layers of studio diddling and a tone of curdled self-pity. The album concludes with five bombastic power ballads in a row.

“Chinese Democracy” sounds like a loud last gasp from the reign of the indulged pop star: the kind of musician whose blockbuster early success could once assure loyal audiences, bountiful royalties, escalating ambitions and dangerously open-ended deadlines.
Seventeen years in the making? Yeah, just a bit indulgent.


New Use

The Newest Doping Drug: the Blue Pill?

From the Times:
Viagra, or sildenafil citrate, was devised to treat pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in arteries of the lungs. The drug works by suppressing an enzyme that controls blood flow, allowing the vessels to relax and widen. The same mechanism facilitates blood flow into the penis of impotent men. In the case of athletes, increased cardiac output and more efficient transport of oxygenated fuel to the muscles can enhance endurance.

“Basically, it allows you to compete with a sea level, or near-sea level, aerobic capacity at altitude,” Kenneth W. Rundell, the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Marywood, said of Viagra.
A number of easy jokes with this one; I'm too lazy to write them though.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Concert Post

The Killers @ Massey Hall, November 18

I've been lucky this year with my concert selection. Every show I've seen has been fantastic, and a few have been exceptional including last night's Killers concert at Massey Hall.

I had seen The Killers play the Air Canada Centre last year. That night I was sitting in the upper bowl, which may explain why I felt the show lacked a bit of energy. Sure it was enjoyable, but I didn't feel a connection to the band. Last night sitting not far from the stage, aided with a raucous, sing-along crowd, that connection was there. Brandon Flowers was far more relaxed and more polished than I've seen him before.

The band played five off their new album, Day & Age, which will be released next Tuesday: "Human," "Spaceman," "Losing Touch," "Neon Tiger" and "Joy Ride." The first two new I listed are familiar, and easy to listen to; I think I'll need another listen on the other new songs before I can give a thumbs up.

Lastly, the band played all of their big hits of their first two albums and the crowd, predictably, loved them. One of the best performances though was the cover of Joy Division's "Shadowplay."

All in all, as cliché summarizers go, a fantastic show. I'm looking forward to the band's return to Toronto in January.


First Person

See The Leafs Live And Realize: They're Bad

I lucked into a pair of, er, standing room tickets for the Leafs loss against the Boston Bruins Monday.

I predicted that I would be able to sit by the second period, assuming the crowd would be leaving in droves as soon as the Leafs fell behind far enough. But the team kept the game close and closed the gap further with 11 minutes remaining in the third. They did eventually lose 3-2 in a Leafs' classic: get everyone's hopes up and crush 'em.

The Leafs are a weak team prone to mistake; you can see that on television but live it's ever more comical. And a bit disappointing.


Coldplay Ends?

Chris Martin Says 2009 Is The End

From NME:
Coldplay's Chris Martin has suggested that he plans to split up the band at the end of 2009.

The frontman told the Daily Express that his decision was based on his view that bands should call it a day before they get too old – saying he wanted to go out with a blast by keeping as busy as possible until 2009 ends.

"I'm 31 now and I don't think that bands should keep going past 33," he said. "So, we're trying to pack in as much as possible. Up until the end of next year, we'll just go for it in every sense.

"I don't believe in time off. We've still got most of our hair, we can still fit into our musical trousers and we've got to make the most of that."
Kind of shocking, but it's hard to believe. I see this plan more in the vain of when Jay-Z and Eminem "quit." But if it is to happen, I've enjoyed the band - including the two concerts I saw them play this year - while they lasted.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Play Over

One of the Better Sports Mags Ends

From, perhaps ironically, the Times:
The New York Times has shut down its quarterly sports magazine, Play, officials at the paper and its parent company said on Monday, marking another in a long list of contractions in the newspaper and magazine industries.

First published in February 2006, Play won numerous accolades for intelligent, in-depth reporting and vivid photography, and this year it was a finalist for the prestigious prize in general excellence at the National Magazine Awards.


Colbert Christmas

The Greatest Christmas Album Ever

Info here.


Good Nickleback?

Is This Possible?

From the Times:
Nickelback seems eager to shed at least a little of its politeness on “Dark Horse,” its sixth album — by far its loosest and most jagged in years, both musically and lyrically...

But in what qualifies as a sort of progress, here these songs are the most thoughtful. “Just to Get High” is aimed at a friend who becomes a drug addict. And two of the album’s best numbers, “I’d Come for You” and “Never Gonna Be Alone,” are about asking for a second chance. Could it be that Nickelback has seen the error of its ways and is apologizing?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Polite Mafia

The Yakuza Try To Be Polite

From the Times:
“Not once have we had any trouble with any of our neighbors,” Mr. Fukui said. “That’s because our second chairman was very strict in that respect.”

So as not to inconvenience their neighbors, the Dojinkai eschewed the telltale flashier trappings of their counterparts in bigger cities.

They were forbidden to wear double-breasted suits. They were told to be circumspect while getting in and out of their cars by not lingering outside, and not to park their cars ostentatiously on the streets.

“We’ve seen how the yakuza in Osaka or Tokyo occupy the streets with their cars, but we were explicitly taught not to do that,” Mr. Fukui said, adding that Dojinkai members are also taught to exchange greetings with the neighbors. “We are stricter on this point than most ordinary companies.”

Saturday, November 15, 2008


The Next Big Fight, Tonight

The New York Times has a story about tonight's UFC bout between Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar, which would suggest that it's a big deal. I'll admit I know more about Lesnar than Couture, and that I know little about MMA. But despite that, I'm interested in this fight even though I can't say why. And after watching this derivative trailer below, I'm not sure why anyone else is interested:


Monday, November 10, 2008

More Lethem

"Lostronaut" at the New Yorker

Jonathan Lethem's has new short fiction in this week's issue of the New Yorker, which happens to be a full-on Obama issue.

Here's the direct link to "Lostronaut." And here's the rest of the table of contents.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Lethem Review

Jonathan Lethem Reviews Bolaño's 2666

From the Sunday Times Book Review:
“2666” is the permanently mysterious title of a Bolaño manuscript rescued from his desk after his passing, the primary effort of the last five years of his life. The book was published posthumously in Spanish in 2004 to tremendous acclaim, after what appears to have been a bit of dithering over Bolaño’s final intentions — a small result of which is that its English translation (by Natasha Wimmer, the indefatigable translator of “The Savage Detectives”) has been bracketed by two faintly defensive statements justifying the book’s present form. They needn’t have bothered. “2666” is as consummate a performance as any 900-page novel dare hope to be: Bolaño won the race to the finish line in writing what he plainly intended, in his self-interrogating way, as a master statement. Indeed, he produced not only a supreme capstone to his own vaulting ambition, but a landmark in what’s possible for the novel as a form in our increasingly, and terrifyingly, post-national world. “The Savage Detectives” looks positively hermetic beside it.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Prequel?

Oh My God, Can You Wait?

Yes, yes I can: Ugh.


Obama Presser

A First Look at Barack Obama

Here's the full video:

Quite a change from Bush, and not just because Obama speaks English. Obviously there's a lot of interest who Obama will pick to staff his cabinet. Sort of like choosing Team Canada, no? Well, no. But people are so sick of the Bush administration, a new U.S. government is intriguing.

Also intriguing is whether Obama's presidency changes how Canada participates in the Afghan war; the Star's James Travers has some thoughts on that here.

Until he takes office January 20th, I expect a more saturated news diet of Obama. That of course means a lot of it won't actually be news, just speculation.


Roth Interview

Philip Roth on Indignation

From the B&N Review:
JM: Your books come out at a prodigious rate, but from what you say about the struggles of writing I'd imagine there's a lot of drafts and so on that prove unfruitful. How much writing do you do that doesn't see the light of publication?

PR: There are a lot of drafts. I don't seem any longer to make false starts and write 125 pages, and have to throw it all away -- although I did earlier in my career. Sometimes I do make a false start of 25 or 50 pages and put it away; a year or two later, I look at it and I see what was wrong, then scrap most of it and start again. But by and large, it's drafts. I write drafts and drafts. Let's say that, on average, I write between 5 and 7 drafts of a book, trying to bring it to life, really. When I get to the point where I can't do anything more, I consider myself done.

JM: Have you begun another book?

PR: I've finished another book.

JM: Remarkable.


JM: Can you tell us anything about it, or would you rather not?

PR: I'm going to get an A in the course, aren't I?

JM: Gold star.

PR: I don't want to talk about it. It will just confuse the conversation about Indignation. But I just recently finished a book, also a short book, which will come out next September.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Victory Speech

Better Hearing It Live, But It Works On Video


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Dumb Lyrics

"If I Were a Boy," Beyoncé

If I were a boy
Even just for a day
I’d roll outta bed in the morning
And throw on what I wanted then go
Drink beer with the guys
And chase after girls
I’d kick it with who I wanted
And I’d never get confronted for it.
Cause they’d stick up for me.

If I were a boy
I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl
I swear I’d be a better man.
I’d listen to her
Cause I know how it hurts
When you lose the one you wanted
Cause he’s taken you for granted
And everything you had got destroyed

If I were a boy
I would turn off my phone
Tell everyone it’s broken
So they’d think that I was sleepin’ alone
I’d put myself first
And make the rules as I go
Cause I know that she’d be faithful
Waitin’ for me to come home (to come home)

If I were a boy
I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl
I swear I’d be a better man.
I’d listen to her
Cause I know how it hurts
When you lose the one you wanted (wanted)
Cause he’s taken you for granted (granted)
And everything you had got destroyed

It’s a little too late for you to come back
Say its just a mistake
Think I’d forgive you like that
If you thought I would wait for you
You thought wrong

You know when you act like that
I don't think you realize how it makes me look
or feel

Act like what
Why are you so jealous
It's not like i'm sleeping with the guy



I said yo
Why are you so jealous
It aint like I'm sleepin with the girl

But you’re just a boy
You don’t understand
Yeah you don’t understand
How it feels to love a girl someday
You wish you were a better man
You don’t listen to her
You don’t care how it hurts
Until you lose the one you wanted
Cause you’ve taken her for granted
And everything you have got destroyed
But you’re just a boy

(I apologize for making you endure that shit.)


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunday Reviews

From the Times

Three reviews caught my eye this morning. The first is a review of a biography of Samuel de Champlain, titled "Champlain's Dream" and written by David Hackett Fischer:
(Fischer's) thesis in “Champlain’s Dream,” which these days might be considered daring, is that Champlain was an admirable, heroic figure — a stance that runs counter to the recent trend in historiography to debunk and demean most “dead white males,” especially those who were explorers and settlers. Many of them richly deserve this opprobrium for slaughtering and otherwise mistreating the indigenous peoples they encountered. But Champlain was different. He was more interested in learning from and cooperating with Indians than in exploiting them. He treated most of those he met with “dignity, forbearance and respect,” and, Fischer writes, they largely reciprocated: “He had a straight-up soldier’s manner, and Indian warriors genuinely liked and respected him.”
Next is a review of Miriam Toews's new novel, "The Flying Troutmans." The reviewer, Tom De Haven, didn't care much for it:
Finally, nothing about “The Flying Troutmans” feels authentic, not the characters and not their psychology, and certainly not the American landscape they blast through, leaving dust in the slipstream, but very little else.
Last is a review from the business pages of Malcolm Gladwell's new book, "The Outliers." It sounds to me as if the problem's with Gladwell's theories are amplified in his latest:
By way of equalizing the field, Mr. Gladwell suggests grouping school classes and youth sports leagues by birth months. “We cling to the idea,” he writes, “that success is a simple function of individual merit.” We? Who actually thinks that way? Not the parents holding their late-month-born children back a year before they enter kindergarten. Not those involved in wrestling or other sports that group individuals by weight.

If some points border on the obvious, others seem a stretch. Asian children’s high scores at math, Mr. Gladwell would have us believe, derive from work in rice paddies. Never mind that few of the test takers or their urban parents in Hong Kong, Singapore or Tokyo have ever practiced wet-rice agriculture. Noting that math test scores correlate with how long students will sit for any kind of exam, Mr. Gladwell points to an Asian culture of doggedness, which he attributes to cultural legacies of rice cultivation. (Paddies require constant effort.)

Here as elsewhere, Mr. Gladwell promotes a cultural explanation for success no matter how indirect the causal mechanisms.
It'll be interesting to see if book buyers think the same.


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Open Letter

Looking to Tuesday

Where was I the month of October? Certainly not here; I couldn't even be bothered to post the occasional video post or to link to an article that I found interesting. I was busy, and had to ignore this blog more than I would like. It's that time of year when the wind grows a chill. This year maybe it gets colder. I hope not.

Tuesday, America votes and the world seemingly hangs in the balance. Every election is more important than the last and this presidential one would seem to be the ultimate election; I use 'ultimate' in its slang usage, not meaning the last because in four years there will be another. I haven't come across many people who would prefer John McCain win, though it may not matter for Canada who wins.

OK: yeah, right.

The result matters because if you read Barack Obama's books, if you listen to his speeches, if you get swept into his vision of the future, you must believe that if he loses Tuesday that the world will never be the same. A loss may feel like September 12th; everything changes for the worse (or stays the same for the worse); hope eviscerated; the world at its end.

Of course, all of that is hyperbole. And I have to think that if Obama loses, it may cement his legacy; a path not chosen, prosperity not realized. If he wins, the expectations of his presidency will be impossible to match with actual results. But I would be insane to care about Obama's legacy at this time. He needs a chance.

What can Canadians do? Unless they have dual-citenzenship, nothing. There is no world vote. We're left to trust a nation that has done a lot to lose the world's trust in the past eight years.

Well, I hope. I'm not confident and I wouldn't be surprised. But I hope. One election won't change the world - no matter who wins - but you have to think Obama has the best chance to do so.