February 27, 2006
Thought for the day

"The Lord is not so needy that he needs a government grant to get his message out."

Charleston Daily Mail editorial

Margaret Atwood is charming

Margaret Atwood, probably Canada's preeminent novelist, offered this to a WashingtonPost.com questioner curious about her country during a recent chat:

Yes, Canada is a distinct place, quite different from the United States in its history, in its geography, and in its demographic makeup. Its social attitudes are also quite different. And its political system is different as well. It is a bilingual country with two official languages. It has a higher percentage of native people than does the United States. It has a lot more rocks in it. It also has a great many lakes, rivers, streams, bogs, and bodies of water generally.

We have a political party called the Conservative Party of Canada, but most members of it would probably be considered screaming liberals by U.S. standards. Because we have a minority government right now, and four major political parties, the present government cannot do anything without the consent of at least one of the other parties. We do not have a president, we have a prime minister. Our head of state is the governor general. What else is different? The spelling.

Oh, and "P.S. We also have a lot more bears than you."

Atwood was online to discuss an article she'd written about instructing a group of Inuit women in writing. Her co-instructor was poet Sheree Fitch. I interviewed Fitch years ago for a small publication something like the Washington City Paper. I'd like to go back and read what I'd filed on her, but that was about four computers and two cities ago. (Oddly enough, I read that the poet divides her time between Nova Scotia and the place I now live, Washington, DC.) What do I remember? I believe Sheree Fitch was charming.


I never got particularly worked up over the "Christmas wars." I would accept all greetings of goodwill—"Merry Christmas," "Happy Holidays," etc. It seemed like we all meant the same thing.

But perhaps some secularization has gone too far. IHOP is now advertising its "National Pancake Day Celebration." National Pancake Day? That's a new one. But wait, National Pancake Day is this Tuesday... Which just happens to be Shrove Tuesday, an important day for Catholics—it's the last day before Lent. It's true that it is commonly a day for eating pancakes. IHOP helpfully notes that "National Pancake Day always falls on Fat Tuesday." And "Where else would you celebrate National Pancake Day than IHOP?" Indeed.

It gets a little funnier. On IHOP's home page, beside an ad for the company's National Pancake Day Celebration is an ad for its Cinn-A-Stax. They are "Cinfully delicious." They're only available for a limited time, though. Forty days, perhaps?

February 25, 2006
Thought for the day

"Muriel Spark is a sneaky old lady. There I was, going through Aiding and Abetting and thinking to myself, Oh dear, the old girl's a bit past it -- when all the time she'd been having me on. Leading me up the garden path.

The book, I thought, was turning out a bit dull and old-fashioned. And not terribly well focused. But then she suddenly ups and hits you with a few surprises. It's an experience rather like asking an awfully respectable old lady if she needs any help in crossing the road, only to be told Fuck off, sunshine, I can manage very well."

Michael Allen

February 16, 2006
On Books

My latest American Enterprise column is now up. I review Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons, which is released next week:

Americans are never satisfied with just one, or even two, of a thing. Coca-Cola and Diet Coke aren’t enough. We want Vanilla Coke, Black Cherry Vanilla Coke, Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Coke with Splenda. Not to mention all those caffeine-free versions.

It’s the same in politics. We don’t want to be merely conservative or liberal. We want to choose between being left-liberal, progressive, or neoliberal, and libertarian, paleo-conservative, or neoconservative.

Add “crunchy con” to the latter list, courtesy of Rod Dreher...

February 11, 2006
Quite independent

I received an e-mail a while back from one of my favorite bookstores, Olsson's, a small independent chain here in DC. Amidst the information on new releases and upcoming events was a note on the "many well-documented benefits to our communities and to each of us to choosing local, independently owned businesses." There certainly are many. But I'm not sure the bookstore did a good job of enumerating them. The e-mail remarks that "unlike online businesses, local businesses pay sales tax and keep more money in their community." Really? I think they mean the customers pay sales tax. Given how much business local bookstores are losing to online retailers, it seems odd that one of them would remind us why.

February 10, 2006
Thought for the day

"Of all the repellent interpretations of 9/11, Jay McInerney builds his new novel, a follow-up to 1992's Brightness Falls, around one of the slimiest: Sept. 11 as soul-cleansing for privileged New Yorkers."

—Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly review of The Good Life

February 06, 2006
Simply bizarre

I can understand The Washington Post providing information on the Senate vote on Samuel Alito. I can even understand them breaking down that vote--by party, by state, even by gender. But by astrological sign?

I wish I had his job

If you love classical music, you really should go see the documentary Music from the Inside Out, which is just getting a wide theatrical release. Or at least read my review of the film in Brainwash, and leave yourself open to persuasion:

The film explores the lives and (musical) loves of members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The century-old group is a fitting choice: It brought music to the masses in 1940 when it provided the soundtrack to the Disney film Fantasia. There have been scores of movies and books detailing the lives of music makers. But they mostly focus on the big names, the top soloists, the great conductors. Anker's film features none of these. It's the story of the mostly unknown musicians who, together, make up a great orchestra. Their voices haven't often been heard. Music from the Inside Out investigates what music means to the people who make it.
Filmmaker Daniel Anker was on hand after the opening night showing here in DC. He said he actually shot footage with Yo-Yo Ma and Lang Lang, but decided not to use it. I think that was a good choice: it kept the focus on the team players that make up the orchestra. We often hear from Yo-Yo Ma (and rightfully so). We don't often hear from the members of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Someone asked about the music in the film. It was a combination of pieces the orchestra was playing at the time, and selections chosen by Anker, an amateur clarinetist. (That's one of my instruments, too.) "All of my favorite moments in music are in this film," he said. Some of mine, too: Bach's Cello Suite No. 1, Scheherazade, Schubert's Quintet in C Major. I'm quite jealous of the opportunity he was given. "I had one day with the orchestra where they played exactly what I asked them to play," he told us. "You could make two films for the price of that day."

Unsurprisingly, Anker said he had trouble convincing distributors and such that the film might have an audience. From what I could tell, most of the people at the showing I attended were musicians. They laughed rather loudly at some bits that weren't that funny. It was also one of those movies you see a lot of people attending alone. I was. But most of the others were men. Again, probably musicians.

Anker is relying on word of mouth to promote the film. So here's my bit. Go see it.

February 05, 2006
Thought for the day

"Doing a movie or a play is like running a marathon. Doing a television show is like running until you die."

--David Mamet (thanks, R)

February 04, 2006
Thought for the day

"[I]f you want to tempt your gluttony, you can do it at our restaurants. If you want to tempt your lust, you can do it at our nightclubs and strip joints. If you want to tempt your greed, you can try your luck at the casino. If you're feeling a little bit of sloth, you can hang out in one of our lounges. Our entertainment industry is something we have as a natural resource, and it's a fit, and we're hoping to promote it."

--Mark Boscariol, Windsor bar and restaurant owner
(And some people worry about the Canadian election results.)

February 02, 2006
On Books

My latest American Enterprise books column is now online. I review John Carey's What Good Are the Arts?, an odd little book on aesthetics by one of Britain's most eminent critics.

February 01, 2006
Thought for the day

"[S]imply the thing I am
Shall make me live."

--Parolles in Shakespeare's All's Well that Ends Well