Our Heroes: A balanced perspective of the Maple Leafs’ journey to the 2014 Stanley Cup


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Game #4–Friday, Philly

The Leafs got ahead of Philly 2-0 in the first 5 minutes of the game. Counter-intuitively, these games are hard to watch: you sit there with nothing to gain, hoping to avoid an ugly crumbling. Of course watching my Leafs isn’t just fun, it’s thrilling. Skydivers can’t imagine the adrenaline rush I get watching Kessel skate with the puck. But whether we’re winning or losing, it’s gut wrenching.

So it’s funny that when Leafs do in fact blow the lead, the reverse feeling swooshes in and immediately I feel a win is at hand. I like to attribute this curious cerebral complex to the irrationality of our species, human kind, not to Leaf fans in particular.

Yet what appears on the surface to be fundamentally nonsensical may be called instinct, as I was ultimately vindicated: the Leafs scored late in the third to take the lead, blew that lead, then won on a beautiful overtime goal by Lupul, compliments of Phaneuf. It’s possible that through our long relationship and by the sheer force of my devotion, my gut is in tune with the Leafs. I doubt the aching in my stomach for them to win causes them to win, but it probably predicts it accurately.

Game #5–Anaheim

Funny that the Ducks are supposedly among the best teams in the NHL, because we beat the shit out of them, 3-1. We scored twice in the first period–first a Bozak goal from Phaneuf (same move as the winner from the previous overtime), second a Kessel breakaway (killer speed, good shot, stopped but somehow went in). Second period saw a beauty cross-crease pass from Kessel to Paul Ranger who buried.

Ranger gets a special salutary paragraph here. Old joke: if you want to see what it would look like if you were inserted into an NHL game, watch Paul Ranger. But not last night! Ranger looked WAY better than me, really. Even if he didn’t score he was effective in the D zone, hitting guys and (actually) clearing the puck. I was stunned to find myself admiring his play, but I am glad to see it and hope it continues.

Bozak had three points and was a beast. Poor guy doesn’t get credit because he’s taking Sundin’s role. Nobody can replace the Big Swede. But Bozak was all over the ice, tipping pucks out of the zone, getting breakaways, setting up goals.

Still, I became terrified after the Leafs took a 3-0 lead in the second. The Ducks are no joke. They (Perry, Getzlaf) got shots, mostly from far away but some in tight, but really we did a good job defending the league, even if Perry scored. But there’s nothing to stop me from freaking out, so I did. That’s not totally true. The only thing that can make me finally relax is winning the Cup, and I cannot wait for this Spring, when under the influence of unimaginable ecstasy I’ll probably set a dozen cars ablaze along Yonge. Look for me, I’ll be the guy without pants.


Our Heroes: Game #3


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Leafs beat New York in overtime, 3-2, on a day where Leaf management opted to make no moves on trade deadline day, convinced that chemistry is good and there’s sufficient firepower to win the big games come June. The game was odd.

Bozak scored a beauty on a penalty shot. He’s a breakaway artiste, I believe 3/5 in shootouts this year including the game winner in the outdoor game. Nice fake out, a clutch, and I think he went 5 hole or low glove but really he had little room to thread it and somehow he did.

Kadri scored a ball hockey goal. Kulemin made a nice patient move to the slot, waiting a while before getting a decent shot away, and Naz was there to bat the bouncing rebound home.

Things looked good for the buds when a Ranger was called for tripping with 14 minutes left in the third. But the Leafs failed to kill the power play, New York somehow scoring twice. I’d say this never, ever happens, except it happened like last week.

The first goal was the result of some miscues and diabolical puck luck. Puck went off a skate to a Ranger (a New York one, not Paul) who took a shot, but Bozak’s stick redirected the puck way wide of the net, only to hit Phaneuf’s ass (hard not to hit Dion’s ass, the biggest in the league) and got behind Bernier.

Our heroes were determined to use the power play to restore a 2-goal lead, so they went up ice with grit poise and purpose and New York scored a minute later. 2-2.

I’ve been chirping the hockey gods in this space lately and I wondered if they preferred to communicate their disgust with me this way, rather than say post in my comment section. But superstition is stupid, and I never give in to it during the regular season. So I made the hockey gods no offerings and trusted the boys to pull through.

And in overtime, the apartment line checked in. Kessel made a sharp entry into the zone. Lundqvist directed the biscuit behind the net, Phil fought for it and sent a sweet pass to the front of the net to his roommate / video game companion, and Bozak buried.

It was Martin St. Louis’ first game as a Ranger, reunited once more Richards, Cup winners in Tampa, the beneficiaries of anti-Canadian refs conspiring against the Calgary Flames. If you’ll recall, the Flames scored a goal in overtime of game 6 that should have won them the Cup, but the refs said “nah,” determined to give the Cup to a tropical hockey market filled with rich die hard fans of baseball and NASCAR.

That the Leafs stymied this Cup-winning duo, extra energized in this their first game together, speaks volumes about the Leafs capacity to win come June. I look forward to the imminent glory.

Our Heroes: Game #2 vs Columbus

From what I saw, the Leafs played the whole time in Columbus’ end, scoring, getting rush chances and continual sustained pressure. They looked dangerous and determined. Bozak barely missed what looked like an open net chance in the final minute or so with the net empty to tie the game, and for once our empty net didn’t get scored on (we lead the league in allowing empty net goals, one reason why our goalies have great numbers despite our total goals against).

How did we lose? I’m unsure. For one thing I had work and only watched the last five minutes of the game, a 2-1 loss. It is incredible to me how in sync I am with my team. It appears my Leafers arrived to the game the same time I did. When I got to the TV we were down 2-0, I felt relieved to make it in time for the comeback. The Gods I disparaged last piece are sometimes called mysterious, but really they’re just bastards. More likely they’re like Poseidon, toying with Odysseus, bouncing him around the sea before giving up the game and sending him back to Ithaka. Odysseus was lucky, it only took 9 years to return from Troy. Ergo, we are overdue. The Cup should arrive in Toronto roughly between June 3-10.

Ignoring the divine realm, strictly at ice level, we have a tendency to play up or down to our competition, losing against teams like Florida, Columbus and recently even bottom feeders like montreal. But we dissected the shit out of Chicago 4-0 earlier, the second time this season we beat the reigning Stanley Cup champs. Having watched us dominate our enemies secretly fear the worst. Even the most severely warped, foaming-at-the-mouth sens or habs fan surely must conclude these are the real Leafs.

While this seems obvious, maybe I shouldn’t attribute powers of impartial judgement and rational thinking to low lives rooting against the Leafs. But alas, we can’t help our nature: I am not just the paragon of hockey wisdom, but am generous with those who don’t share my viewpoint.

Our Heroes–A Balanced Perspective On The Toronto Maple Leafs


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The refs Saturday were more despicable than usual in allowing the perverted midgets from Montreal not just one point, but two. We can’t afford to lose games against such vastly inferior opponents.

The game begun in characteristic fashion. The Leafs were in no mood to play hockey, and a couple lucky shots snuck past Bernier. The Leafs didn’t put a shot on net for ten minutes, maybe more. This brutal hockey delighted the fiendish mtl audience. Leafs down 2-0.

Familiar with the Leaf’s heroic nature, I eagerly awaited the comeback. On cue, the Leafs restored the normal order of things by scoring three electric goals to take the lead. JVR’s finesse, determination and imagination can’t be suppressed for long, and he elegantly tipped a shot past budaj. Killing a mtl powerplay, the same JVR powered past subban and went five hole on a breakaway to tie things up. Finally, Kessel was Kesselesque, wiring a wrister a foot off the ice inside the bar in top flight.

It was gracious of the Leafs to show the montreal crowd what elegant hockey looks like, but I doubt they appreciated the gesture. They are an ungrateful lot and no doubt such gorgeous puck made them miserable. By tradition, they only applaud the most depraved, unspeakable acts.

The game’s ending proved that either there are no hockey gods, or they are a sadistic debased group of flunkies unworthy of worship. subban tied it up and the Leafs got three straight penalties. When JVR was violently hooked the ref called a penalty on the the guilty montreal runt, but called JVR too! Gleason was penalized for body checking. In overtime, an unusual delay of game penalty was called on Bernier and the habs successfully parlayed one perversion into another by scoring, winning the game. I’m not sure whether refs can be fined, suspended or imprisoned for desecrating  the hallowed game of hockey, but this should be looked into. Sometimes it feels as if the NHL scouts meth clinics in search of referees.

To be sure, the Leafs should have won, refs notwithstanding. Just sometimes fate takes pity on such ghastly underdogs.

I’m already over it, moving forward should be easy. Bernier is shaking off the rust from the Olympic break. For unexplainable reasons he wasn’t selected to Team Canada, which managed to win gold despite our glaring weakness in net.

Lupul looked lively in more ways than one. Sharp magazine named Lupul one of the best dressed athletes of all time. I believe the style and elegance imbued in all facets of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization rubbed off on his clothes. Anyway Lupul nailed a crossbar and was tough to contain.

Even Clarkson had a good night, which is to say he earned a tiny fraction of his ridiculous salary by scoring 0 points but looking less useless than normal. Kadri needs to bury again, but he was a presence and cannot be suppressed for long. Kessel and JVR are unquenchable fire.

Perverted outcome aside, things look as rosy as ever in Leaf land.

The Sopranos V.S. The Wire


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These masterpiece TV shows are in their sustained high quality more like novels (those lofty things!)  than television programs (low vulgar trash). As far as American art is concerned, The Sopranos is like Melville’s Moby Dick whereas The Wire is like Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Sorry, but The Sopranos is superior to the Wire. Both are equally taut and economic in storytelling, the character complexity and dialogue is comparable too. But The Sopranos beats The Wire because its ambition to reveal the inner workings of a single person’s mind is greater than the accomplishment of The Wire, which is to demonstrate the inner workings of society. Even if both succeed equally in their goal, ultimately a single mind is more complex than society. But this difference in function or purpose also accounts for the narrative flexibility in The Sopranos as well as the dark comedy that runs through its core, something which The Wire’s societal message forbids.

The writing in The Sopranos’ narrative veers and changes more because its object isn’t pedagogical like The Wire. The Wire must instruct and demonstrate how life really is, and though it does this with incredible artistry it is a burden they’re chained to. The dream sequences of The Sopranos are an obvious illustration of this ability to move laterally in a storyline and not straight ahead, but there are others. The story isn’t linear in The Sopranos for the simple reason that people’s minds don’t work in straight-ahead fashion, and at heart the show is about a single mind—Tony’s. The Wire is a wonderfully dense web of things happening on one external plane, the observable world. They can’t devote an episode to a single character, much less what a single character is dreaming of, or of what subconscious motivations make him act out. These things are implied in The Wire, but this is done through backstory—McNulty’s family and drinking problems impact his policing, but this is still observable, and it’s shown. The real action of The Sopranos happens on an invisible level. When we see Tony act it’s in response to the drives that even though they’re discussed very explicitly (literally, in therapy) are still only hinted at because the subject itself, the human mind, precludes us from full knowledge. This is reinforced as his therapist comes to doubt her own work toward the show’s end.

The Sopranos object doesn’t just make it deeper or more intellectual, but its mode grants the writers the usage of a darkly comical tone that The Wire’s format can’t access. It allows them great fun! It’s taken for granted that the members of “this thing we have” (the Mafia) have made a deal with the devil and redemption for them is impossible. The entire show is governed by what is essentially the law of comedy, where by definition the hero is never in danger; if a house falls on him, he simply stands up in the rubble, brushes his shoulder off and walks away. The Godfather II (and the gangsters in Sopranos reference these movies all the time) begins with a targeted hit on Michael in his family’s home. Family is the most sacred thing in this Mafia, and Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather novel and screenplay, called the Godfather a story not just about the Mafia but about family. Violence in the family home is the symbol of the greatest threat possible to the Corleone’s (compounded since Fredo, his brother, inadvertently caused it). This is subverted in the Sopranos to be dark comedy: though he’s surrounded by no shortage of people who want to kill him, the only ones who seriously threaten Tony are his mother and his uncle. His mother puts a hit on him and his uncle shoots him in the stomach, almost fatally.

By contrast, The Wire’s writing can’t engage in such dark, detached humour because their object demands an explicitly attached view of life as it is. Don’t get me wrong, there is humour, but it’s at the level of dialogue or embedded in the situation. The Sopranos writers invert conventional mob movies  by making the drama not just about hits or robberies but ordinary conflicts, like family and sex, but also by doing its opposite, darkly and jokingly depicting ordinary people (not just Mafioso) suffering the violence of stone cold gangsters. In an example that cracks me up, Paulie and Chris get into a tiff over an expensive bill from a restaurant in the parking lot just after eating, and just then their unfortunate waiter approaches them with their paid bill to ask if they forgot to leave a tip. His kids are going through school, he explains, and Chris left only a $16 tip on a $1200 meal. The waiter gets lippy so, naturally, Chris hits him in the head with a brick. He begins convulsing, so Paulie shoots him then, for good measure, retrieves the $1200. This establishes that they’re cold-blooded gangsters and every mob show or movie would end here, but, emblematic of Soprano’s rich and dark comedy, the next day Chris and Paulie come to a sweet and heartfelt understanding over the phone. “Besides,” Paulie says, “somebody could have gotten hurt.”

Death in The Wire has attached to it all the consequences and implications death has in real life. The cops might make jokes about it because they’re numbed to it, but only because real experienced cops would too. Also, the bodies don’t disappear in this show like they do in The Sopranos. the Baltimore cops have to deal with the bodies because death matters in their world and in the world of the show. In The Sopranos, it’s just a joke. The waiter’s body never gets addressed in the show again. Better to kill a waiter than make a passing joke about Johnny Sack’s wife.

But nothing demonstrates the contrasting approach to each show’s writing more than their final episodes. The Sopranos finale was hated by people who didn’t understand the real point of the show. Those who wanted closure on the observable level of the everyday were upset when they got none. They wanted to imagine the characters living out their lives beyond the show’s finale. But the show itself is a dream, and there is no life after. Whether Tony is literally killed by some bum hit man is irrelevant. His life is only the show, and it expires when the show does. Anyway, he signed a deal with the devil before the first episode. When Chris gets initiated into the Soprano clan, Tony tells him, “once you’re in, there’s no way out.” Same goes for him. Whether he dies in a restaurant or keeps living his life of death is irrelevant. If the show itself isn’t art for art’s sake, it never set out to make an explicit value statement. There’s a Nabokov novel called The Defence where at the very end the protagonist is in mid-flight on his way to sure death. We’re tempted to believe he dies, but he doesn’t. Mark Lilly’s essay Nabokov: Homo Ludens describes how The Defence ends in precisely the same way I think the Sopranos does. Nabokov intentionally doesn’t depict the landing—his character “forever tumbles to a death that he will never reach.” We are not meant to imagine life beyond the book. He’s suspended. Same with Tony.

The line between reality, dream and death is constantly blurred. All throughout The Sopranos, images from Tony’s dreams pop into his real world (the toy fish that sings “take me to the river”), while real life images in turn intrude on his dreams (a real fish in the ice that begins talking to him after he kills his best friend, throwing him overboard “with the fishes”). The line between reality and dream world was always very fluid, constantly mingling. It’s instructive that while the tension of the climactic scene is building up and we’re meant to wonder whether or not Tony will die, the writers choose to show Meadow frantically failing to parallel park outside the restaurant where the action supposedly is. This is more dark humour, but it also reinforces how the real subject isn’t life or death. Will Meadow ever park successfully? It matters as much as whether Tony lives.

The Wire needs to end in opposite fashion because it has a point to make outside the show itself: it functions as social commentary, so as a systematic cross-section of society it must neatly wrap up every single storyline. By the end, they’ve touched on society’s primary institutions: school, unions, gangs, police, family, courts, and news. Each storyline from each institution has a counterpart, a mirror image, which completes society’s cycle. An exhaustive list is unnecessary, but here’s a brief sampling: a hack young journalist wins a Pulitzer for what we and he know is an elaborate, conscious lie; Bubbles the crack head finds redemption and gets wonderfully, mercifully clean; Omar is killed by some little runt who shoots him in the back, but his reputation, street-cred founded on genuine toughness, was such that the hood refuses to believe he was killed by anything but a posse’s gunfire, and his name and deeds live forever. Here are the mirror images, inversions of their counterparts listed above: the young honest journalist, the fraud’s peer in age, gets demoted and sent elsewhere specifically for describing how he lied; Prez’s young earnest student who tries so hard to escape the ghetto gets tragically addicted to crack, replacing Bubbles; Marlo, Omar’s mirror (their names are even composed of nearly identical letters) is rich and safely alive, but, unlike Omar, the street literally doesn’t even recognize his face or his name because he had people work the streets for him, and in a world where reputation is everything he is a nobody—he does live, but his name is worthless.

Watching these programs has restored my faith in television programming, which will probably last until I watch Breaking Bad. These shows are both masterful, but the takeaway is that The Sopranos is of a very different type. When satirizing one of those idiotic guide to the creative process books for writers that gave the imbecilic advice to “be able to summarize the structure and purpose of a book in a sentence of ten words or less,” Mordecai Richler imagined what this author might say to Herman Melville: “Herm, you’ve got a lot going for you here, especially for fish nuts and armchair adventure freaks, but we’ve got to think of promos in this office. So I want you to tell me in ten words or less, why Ahab just has to hook the big one.” Moby Dick isn’t a fishing adventure like The Sopranos isn’t about gangsters. It’s about the deeper undercurrents that defy a ten word explanation. But The Wire is about “all society.” The tone and narrative structure is accordingly different. Unchained to any purpose outside itself, The Sopranos can move in any direction it wants. Tangents, side trips, dream sequences are welcome. The Wire does incredible things within its confines, but it’s very limited, albeit deliberately and elaborately so. You’re free to like either show, but I do decidedly prefer Melville and Sopranos over Hawthorne and The Wire.

My next piece will either compare these two novels or dissect Duck Dynasty, which is an aggressive rebuttal to the bankrupt values and pseudo-spirituality of bourgeois capitalism, even if it’s an American reality TV show about entrepreneurial millionaires, though they do have huge redneck beards. Maybe TV isn’t so bad?

LIT CRIT–Haruki Murakami: After the Quake review


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I decided to read some Murakami for a few reasons. So many girls on OK Cupid claim to love him, and they usually list other decent writers alongside him. I want to relate to these chicks I’ll never meet. Murakami is still alive, unlike all my heroes. I’ve read some Ishiguro, but not much Japanese writing otherwise. The proprietor of Doug Miller Books, the fantastic second-hand bookstore located at Bloor around Christie, recommended this one to me after I told him I had already read and loved Barney’s Version and A Confederacy of Dunces. You trust a man after he recommends you those.

I really liked the stories. The narrative alternates between swift glossing over of years and extended dialogue. To give a picture of his aesthetic, it seemed to me like a Japanese water colour painting in that the focus of the painting isn’t situated squarely in the middle. Murakami puts the central event of the story in a corner or over to the side, and this has the effect of rendering what went on before or after more pertinent. I think this is what gives his stories weight while writing with such a light hand. Each story has space.

Light hand: this may sound like a stupid, clichéd term, so let me expands. Murakami talks about hard ons and hangovers while citing different old jazz musicians and literary references, so there’s no pretentious baggage that often accompanies “literature.” He writes about people who are fun-loving and light-hearted people, and also dark and suicidal, portraying them all with a pretty full picture in a short space. He’s a minimalist, meaning there’s no room for bullshit. Though remember, I’ve only read these short stories so I’m only describing his writing as it pertains to this collection. I’ll get to his novels one day soon maybe.

He’s good on dreams and surrealism. What I mean is he takes for granted that the fiction doesn’t need to correspond to journalistic standards of writing where things must be proved,  accurate, fact-based. If a frog comes to save Tokyo from an earthquake we must not ask if this is really possible. You will miss the point.

Imagination isn’t bound in good fiction.

I am amused that the Washington Post Book World described him as “poetic.” I hope this critic has read him in Japanese, not in English translation. I found the stories taut, moving, and suggestive of more than is there. Not poetic, but light. Perhaps this is what they meant, or maybe they meant to write something that would sell books.

The stories are easy to read, but I feel like they’ll reward rereading too. There’s more to get out of them. He’s anything but a stuffy, stodgy writer, and he is more wise than what people think of when they say “literary.” His sentences are stark and short, not the generous,  expansive, majestic stuff of Melville. But still, he’s cool.

Good stuff Murakami.

7.3/10…a fine rating.

New reads: Faulkner and Hemingway

Nabokov thought very little of these two highly celebrated authors and their books had sat on my shelf for too long unread, so I decided to give them a whirl. I think Nabby didn’t like them because the structure of their novels, how the  plot itself unfolds rather than the writing per se, is pretty straightforward in each. He hated extended dialogue and books about society, too. But I really liked both novels. I’ll read more of theirs soon, Nabokov be damned! Here are the off-the-top-of-my head reflections of each while they’re still kind of fresh. I’ll rank each book out of ten, although I do agree with Nabokov that there are only two kinds of books, bedside and waste basket. These are both the former.

A Farewell to Arms–Hemingway:

So much is made of Hemingway’s macho persona and his “tough” prose that I was kind of laughing when I started it. The sentences are short. Punchy. Ceaselessly short. The dialogue is repetitive. The same bland expressions used again and again. “Lovely,” “my sweet,” and others in that vein. But I love confronting a famous authors baggage and going beyond it, finally.

I thought Hemingway the tough guy would glorify the fighting more than he did, but I should have paid more attention to the title. The novel lays bare how arbitrary and senseless war is–tragic and stupid. I’d describe his writing as journalistic in a sense. He was a journalist after all, but it feels like he’s covering it objectively, without colour. Though a description of the colour of a lake as steel grey blue was memorable.

The blurb on the back literally describes a scene in the novel to be among the greatest in literary history. This is nuts. It’s not even close, but I really liked the novel. Hemingway is known for his glacier approach to writing, that is the little you see on top is what he writes and it gives you the impression of what’s unseen underneath. Yes, and there’s something to this, but the writers I like describe in vivid and palpable detail the unseen underside of the glacier, which is all the more remarkable because it’s not something you come into contact with otherwise. The difference in reaction is awe and rapture versus excited approval.

Still, there was very good humour, and there is no bullshit in his writing anywhere. The love between Henry and Barkley seemed a bit phony at first, developing from nowhere, but I came around to it. Maybe, like in advertising, repetition worked on me, but I think it had more to do with Hemingway’s selection of details–the little everyday sacrifices they made for each other. They were invested in each other to the exclusion of everything else, that’s for sure. I think the general lack of sentimentality in the style of writing balanced the corny dialogue: “I love you,”  “I love you.”

The retreat of the army is memorable, and I like the contrast between Henry’s dicking around in Italy when he wears and doesn’t wear his uniform. The way he feels and is regarded. Henry drinks a lot, even in the morning. There are good musings on life and death at the end that refreshingly is expressed in brief, drunk chat and not the obnoxious academic, solemn sounding stuff. This is the novel at its most impressive. But the end was exciting too. For a book that represents, as the back of the novel claims, “a new romance” for Hemingway, it’s very dark: Henry and Catherine’s baby dies and so does Catherine. No happy endings. War is like that, so is life. No wonder Hemingway shot himself in the head with a shotgun. More should have seen it coming, perhaps.


As I Lay Dying: William Faulkner

I tried to read Absalom, Absalom twice and was overcome with boredom each time. It felt like trying to see through an impenetrable cobweb. But Styron’s Stingo in Sophie’s Choice, the author himself speaking for the fellow Southern writer I imagine, gives such high praise to Faulkner, and I really wanted to give the big guy a shot.

There’s something about the Southern Gothic sensibility I find very attractive. It’s old-world, darkly funny, and there’s an endearing feeling of innocence that always seems on the verge of being corrupted. You’re watching human’s biblical fall with the foreknowledge it’s about to happen, and they toy with that, making it funny rather than sad or painful. Flannery O’ Connor stories are like that. There’s a ghost lurking somewhere. You don’t know if the author is laughing while writing, but they are, and so should reader. The amusingly tragic Bundren family plods along, suffering their flaws with a good spirit.

Each chapter has a different narrator doing a first-person description of the journey. To recap, the mother of the family dies in the beginning and her wish is to be buried in Jefferson. The plot of the book is the journey. I think Nabokov resented this easy structural format, as he liked oblique references that don’t announce themselves. He thought writers who use italics to identify for the reader that a character is thinking something were hacks. He was demanding!

But Faulkner plays with internal dialogue, what a character says to himself, versus the images and content of what flashes through a character’s subconscious. The former is made up of speaking language, the latter can use diction the character doesn’t possess because it’s about the images passing through his mind, not the way he himself would describe them. This is a neat trick that allows Faulkner to use words that these uneducated country Southerners wouldn’t know. Bellow characters are either autodidacts or professors, allowing the author to speak almost as himself through the characters. This is another way of doing that.

I found the book to be very funny at times! The father is such a good hearted idiot and it’s charming how the people around him resent him but can’t resist helping him. I became accustomed to the way they talk, like being in a foreign country for a while where their accent stops becoming novel. I think the dialogue, of which there’s a good deal, is better for the content than strictly the captured patois. For poor country people there’s a lot of religious and existential musing. This is right. It’s a solid reminder that technological advancements or formal education have no real bearing on intelligence. I think people commonly believe that the masses become more intelligent as time goes on and they partake in advancements in various fields, suggesting people were more commonly stupid. Nope!

This book was not very long, and the way the pages were broken up made it breeze by kind of fast. I felt like the chapter always ended with four or five lines on a page and the rest blank, then the next page started a third of the way down. The whole thing was 260 pages. I find it’s very easy to continue another chapter when you see it’s only a page or so long, and most of them were very short. I read the book in four days. Apparently it was written in only 6 weeks. If only such efficiency was everywhere!

There were old or local words I needed to look up to understand exactly what was happening at times, and straightening out the characters at first required going back to reread some little sections, but going backwards in the book was rewarding and I expect I’m going to pick up the book again soon for pleasure.

Faulkner, cool guy! He joined the high to the low brow very successfully, something I demand of novelists. Intelligence and humour, too. Nabby would disprove of the novel’s form, and I get that, but I love some of Faulkner’s sentences.  The guy could turn a phrase.


10 Strategies to Win Back Leaf Fans


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Between the lockout and our losing hockey team, Leaf ownership might not want to test the Leaf fan’s notorious loyalty. Of course winning works, but it’s hard! In light of Saturday’s long-awaited return to NHL hockey, here are 10 other ways Leaf ownership can win over fans:

1. Schmaltzy heritage gestures should be replaced by something meaningful, especially in season where our outdoor “classic” against Detroit was cancelled. Play one game a year in Maple Leaf Gardens against the Habs.

2. To whip up cheer and excitement for the new Leaf season, burn effigies of old and new senator players, from yashin to their current Great Satan daniella.

3. The team mascot is currently a silent dancing bear named after Carlton Street where Maple leaf Gardens is located. This is safe and homely—good for kids. Replace stupid bear with a team of trashy bimbos in bikinis who shoot out t-shirts from hilarious high-powered guns during stoppages of play. Everybody loves this.

4. Retire senile Joe Bowen. His digressions are insufferable and his contribution to leaf lore, the idiotic catchphrase “holy mackinaw,” has been embarrassingly forced for years. Hire Leaf legends to comment and analyze, like in the NFL. Wendel, Dougie, and especially Mats. Do not let Sundin quietly enjoy his retirement with his beautiful wife. His weakness is his classy nature and his golden heart: bring him back by targeting these mercifully. Also, give the mic to colourful heart and soul guys Domi and Tucker. They must have countless insights.

5. The Burkie Dog concession stand in the ACC will be replaced by Nonis Nachos. Whereas the Burkie dogs represented the loud and colourful personality of our former GM by being loaded with crazy toppings, the Nonis nachos will be plain nachos without even cheese or salsa.

6. Fight the ownership’s reputation as bloodsucking corporate parasites by giving away two platinum tickets to the home opener to a couple of Toronto’s most decrepit and sympathetic homeless people. Focus cameras on them. There will be a very touching and rousing ovation from fans. Tell the announcer to have an endearing line prepared for when they’re on screen, but make it sound off the cuff. If those in neighbouring seats aren’t getting sushi but are actually watching the game, provide them with nose plugs, but do not refund their tickets no matter how grossed out they are.

7. To ensure a playoff spot, Trade Lombardi for a fourth round draft pick. Then, if the organization has any leftover Lombardi jerseys that didn’t sell, give them away to the homeless guys described above as a game day souvenir that keeps them warm through winter. Charity is great for branding.

8. Change the official Leaf slogan from “passion is everything” to “winning is meaningful, too.”

9. To increase fan confidence in team defence, release a video of Dion Phaneuf’s summer training program, including backwards skating sessions and forward skating sessions.

10. Stop showing our old Stanley Cup champions on the ACC screen and on TV. It looks like a WWII veteran’s commemoration. It’s embarrassing—hide the great Johnny Bower, but for all the glory he and the others have provided this feckless organization give them a complimentary seat to the game and a generous deal on parking and beer.

Morsi Code: Egyptian President’s bile easy to decipher


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The National Post published an article in today’s paper with three year-old quotes from Mohammad Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was democratically elected to the Presidency of Egypt—as if how he got into power has any bearing on the man himself. During the Egyptian Presidential race, many here and there called Morsi a “moderate,” and many still do. Perhaps seeing how grim the situation could become some ignored all the painfully obvious evidence pointing the other way. Suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood was really a gang of Islamic fundamentalists there to impose Shariah law was considered not just misinformed, but uncouth. Why add unnecessary negativity to the stirring promise of the Arab Spring?

Here are Morsi’s own words from three years ago: “We must never forget, brothers, to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews.” Notice his subversion of the phrase “never forget,” probably unintentional, but maybe not. He throws in a comrade cadence too. He goes on. The article states Egyptian children must “feed on hatred,” adding, “Who is our enemy? The Zionists. Who occupies our land? The Zionists. Who hates us? The Zionists. Who destroys our land? The Zionists.” Western defenders of Morsi, if such a thing is currently conceivable, will now point to some time he uttered an uplifting humanistic message. Such paltry, pathetic apologies happen all the time. In effect, it allows a politician to whitewash any abominable speech, or even straight up war crimes, by cancelling it out with a cheery platitude. Simple! But it’s impossible to simultaneously believe in peace with your neighbours when you identify them as enemies to be warred upon ceaselessly. Unless you think Morsi was just lying to placate the rabid part of his base (which is admittedly conceivable but very unlikely, and very much reprehensible still), there is no question about his real feelings towards Jews. That such an obvious statement needs to be made points to discouraging gullibility. Hopefully these loathsome comments change that.

But in case there was any ambiguity left, Morsi continued by harking back to traditional anti-Semitic themes, Zionists as “bloodsuckers” who attack Palestinians, and Jews as not the descendants of Abraham and Sarah but of “apes and pigs.” Well, sorry to break the mood but he is half correct. I am reminded of perhaps my favourite Tolstoy humour from Anna Karenin: “Oblonsky was fond of a pleasant joke, and sometimes liked to perplex a simple-minded man by observing that if you’re going to be proud of your ancestry, why stop at Prince Rurik and repudiate your oldest ancestor—the ape?” To say nothing else about him, Morsi is a simple-minded man who apparently doesn’t go for evolution, believing instead that he came literally from Hagar, not an ape. So Jews as descendant of apes, yes, like everybody, but, glatt kosher, Jews are most certainly not the descendants of pigs. Those anti-Israel people who wax philosophical, rightly pointing out how criticizing Israel isn’t necessarily synonymous with anti-Semitism, often forget how frequently, and in what prominent places, it is.

The Obama administration’s reaction was “blistering.” Not only do they “completely reject ” Morsi’s statements, but, in their opinion, “it’s counter to the goals of peace.” How clairvoyant. And yet, as self-evident as the American response seems there isn’t much else that can be done or said for now. The vapid response is unavoidable. America can’t intervene militarily, and calling Morsi out isn’t productive. It may not be currently politically expedient for Morsi to act on his real feelings, but at the very least these unambiguously deplorable statements should eliminate even the most naïve hopes that he is at heart anything but a despicable anti-Semitic warmonger, whatever token peace talk he might have once uttered notwithstanding.

(Sure enough, shortly after completing this article I read the latest follow up: Morsi’s comments were taken out of context. While inevitably the US and Egyptian spokespeople scrambled to diffuse the situation, no comforting other context was offered. In case the claim that his speech was taken from an address in response to “Israeli aggression against Gaza” doesn’t fully assuage you, Morsi assured [the reporters] “of his respect for all monolithic religions, freedom of belief and practicing religions.”

Christopher Hitchens on Literature


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Christopher Hitchens was best known as an outspoken atheist, and atheists are often known (absurdly) as being consumed by a vacuum, as if the rejection of the biblical god means they do and think nothing else. It’s strange, but I have often encountered the rejoinder to religion’s disparagement, “but atheism offers nothing.” Of course! Nobody claims any different. It’s important to reject conventional notions of god insofar as the old myths inform new and otherwise stupid laws, customs, morals, wars, etc. But the world is full of fantastic stuff, and the god conversation gets very boring very quickly. Among other things, Hitchens is underappreciated for being fantastic on literature. Check it out.

On Saul Bellow’s Adventures of Augie March:

Hitch wrote the intro to a 2001 reprinting of Bellow’s classic. He very nicely reframes the importance of bringing Yiddish out of the American Jewish ghetto in a time before guys like Roth, Heller, Woody Allen were around. Hitch tours the book, describing nicely the protoganist’s central theme, “He decides to march himself against the continent, seeking no one’s permission and deferring to no idea of limitation. His making, like his omnivorous education, will be his own.” This nicely encapsulates what makes Bellow’s vision American, and, this done by an immigrant, what was new about it at the time. Hitch is refreshingly not at all priggish, something unfortunately associated with literary criticism: “To be blunt, Mr. March is led around by his cock.” Hitchens’ point is that the Bildungsroman requires the character be shaped by love, poverty, and war (incidentally, the name of the anthology wherein these writings are contained), and Bellow carefully includes plenty of episodes about Augie’s occupational hustles, romances, and his later foray in the navy. For the introduction of a book Hitchens gives much away, and perhaps it’d be better placed at the end of the novel, but his essay shows a deep love for Bellow’s language and heart, a charming affinity for many of its characters and episodes, and a great understanding of its place in history.

On Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way:

Hitchens is good on Proust, even if general. I like his summary of Proust’s achievement: “His work par excellence exposes and clarifies the springs of human motivation. Through his eyes we see what actuates the dandy and the lover and the grandee and hypocrite and the poseur, with a transparency unequalled except in Shakespeare or George Eliot. And this ability, at times so piercing and at times even alarming, is not mere knowingness…not…the product of cynicism. To be so perceptive and yet so innocent.” This nails Proust. Like Tolstoy, who shows you how everyone operates without telling you how to think about them or without revealing the author’s own opinion, it took me a while to see that Proust was having a private laugh at these people. Perhaps this had to do with me reading in translation, or is the fault of my own ineptitude. Proust doesn’t barge into the text and tell you how to judge, nor do his characters.

Oddly, without being able to speak French himself (like this writer, sadly) Hitchens sheds some good light on the various translations. “The whole point of downstairs peasant wisdom, as quoted with amusement by those upstairs, is that it be brisk, vulgar, and memorable.” This in response to a dirty, funny limerick that is five lines in one English version, three in another, and only two in French. Oh, to understand the original!

Fine fine, I’ll include them both for fun and to show how radically different the same thing can be translated:

Moncrieff translation:

“Dear, dear, it’s just as they used to say in my poor mother’s day:

‘Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails,

And dirty sluts in plenty,

Smell sweeter than roses in youg men’s noses

When the heart is one-and-twenty.'”

The Davis Version:

“Oh dear! It’s just as they used to say in my poor mother’s patois:

‘Fall in love with a dog’s bum,

And thou’ll think it pretty as a plum.'”

Proust can’t be discussed without talking about time. Hitchens relates how as a child he was told that Oxford-to Woodstock was 10 miles apart, and he always imagined any future distance of 10 miles to be essentially this small journey. It told him, warmly, that he was nearly home. Proust is all about time and mnemonic devices that unleash floods of memory, but it’s also about “slowing [time] down, if not exactly holding it up, so as to enable himself to take longer sips of the precious but evaporating fluid.” Nicely put, Hitch.

On James Joyce and Ulysses:

Hitchens knocks this one out of the park! My favourite for sure. He nails Joycean double and triple entendres while describing neatly the humour, the fun, and the humanity in it. Wordplay is often considered snobby or stuffy, and this review rightly makes Joyce seem like a devoted humanist as lewd and funny as he was sophisticated!

He begins with a “Joycean” joke. A surly English overseer sees what he thinks is a bum Irishman approaching him for work, shabby and pipe in mouth. The supervisor says, “You don’t look to me like you know the difference between a girder and a joist.” “I do too!” The Irishman says indignantly, “The first of them wrote Faust and the second one wrote Ulysses.” This is paraphrased for brevity, but the point is, at Hitchens puts it, it doesn’t just revenge itself on the English caricature of the Irish as stupid (of all things…the people of Yeats, Swift, Shaw, and Wilde!), but this mutable brand of English is very much Joyce’s native language. He goes on in it indefinitely.

Hitchens is especially great describing how much masturbation and other bodily functions (burping, shitting, farting, nose picking, a lot more) figure into the novel. It’s not just vulgar: Joyce inverts the historically accepted search for finding heroism in war and killing by placing the body centrally in the human condition. Of course, added to this is the impossibly sophisticated “ventriloquizing” of Shakespeare in young Stephen’s  round table discussion of art, and the general theme of Greek and Jewish culture coming together in the uniting of Leopold Bloom, the Earthy wandering Jew figure, with Stepehen Dedaulus, the intellectual with the Greek name. “The great Victorian Matthew Arnold thought that the true cultural balance was between Hellenism and Hebraism, or between the polytheistic, the philosophical, and the aesthetic and the spare, stern monotheism of the Old Testament.” In Ulysses, these two traditions in the climax of the book, and of Western literature, are enshrined together when the two men piss side-by-side outside Leopold’s house after a very long day/novel. This wonderfully parodies Homer’s “golden bow,” the bow and arrow Odysseus strings before killing the suitors. (Joyce describes the piss stream, the “golden bow,” at length.) Joyce profoundly and humorously prefers a glorified porch piss to killing, even if the suitors had it coming (it was sanctioned by Zeus’s thunderbolt, a divine authority Joyce is unwilling to abide by).

Hitchens points out that on the day Ulysses takes place, June 16, 1904, papers reported “…a war between Japan and Russia that would curtain-raise the events leading up to the great war of 1914.” Also, it was the first time Joyce got a hand job from Nora Barnacle, who he’d go on to love and marry. This accounts for the date.  Hitchens includes Joyce’s description of the formative moment: “You who slid your hand down inside my trousers and pulled my shirt softly aside and touched my prick with your long tickling fingers and gradually took it all, fat and stiff as it was, into your hand and frigged me slowly until I came off through your fingers, all the time bending over me and gazing out of your quiet saintlike eyes.” Joyce would go on to inspire first-rate writers like E.L. James. Hitchens calls Ulysses, “A mastur-piece.” Yup.

In sum:

In the introduction of Hitchens’ anthology, he states, “I wake up every day with a pervading sense of disgust and annoyance.” He muses on how good his life is, but despite all the things he loves, it’s natural, and in a lot of way more practical, to write about what’s horrible and needs fixing. This describes much of his political and religious musing, but this isn’t all there is to the man! He writes lovingly about Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh, Borges, Bob Dylan, Huxley, and more. When it comes to the omission concerning probably my favourite writer, he says,”If you ask me why there’s no Nabokov the answer is quite simply because I am not ready. This is a love that matures in the cask, if you will, and deepens with time.” He was full of love and humour, and supremely wide in scope.

Despite all this, I bet there are religious people who still believe that, as an atheist, Hitchens, who like Augie was of an omnivorous education of his own making, was lacking in pleasure and moral ballast. To these imbeciles I can say nothing more, and I doubt they’ve read this far, if at all. But to the rest, I am glad to shine a light on the darkened corner of a man’s ouevre who, despite dying, hasn’t totally left the spotlight.

May he be remembered with Hitchensian breadth.