Sunday, November 30, 2003

How Terribly Strange To Be Seventy

I just saw Simon and Garfunkel live and you did not. You are sick pig with jealousy.

I have loved those boys since I was a little kid. My parents had all their albums on vinyl and played them often. Without Simon & Garfunkel, there would be no Belle & Sebastian, so fuck off to all the too-cool for anything hipsters in the room.

My seat was in the second least expensive portion of the Air Canada Centre, which meant, after service charge, I paid $99.75. I would describe the quality of sound and of viewing as way better than I expected.

On their album Bookends, in the song "Old Friends," S & G sing:

Can you imagine us
years from today,
sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
to be seventy.

Both Art and Paul are 62. They opened with that song. So poignant.

I could complain and point out the reunion was about money, not love and grooviness. I could note that if Art Garfunkel was a sandwich, he would be ham and cheese. But I got to see them live and hear "The Sound of Silence." And sometimes that’s more enough.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Grab Bag

Working very hard the last few days. I offer "seen elsewhere" material until early next week.

From a recent David Olive article for the Toronto Star relating to the Black brouhaha: "Gotlieb, 75, was given the sinecure of Saturday Night publisher soon after Black acquired the magazine; and the former ambassador's wife, Sondra, was offered a venue for her tedious pensées on high-society etiquette in Black's National Post." (italics mine)

From Slate, on the recent Victoria Secret TV show:

This last is sported by our hostess Heidi Klum, the German supermodel who broke through as the Sports Illustrated swimsuit girl of 1998. In the five years since, Klum has done us the delightful favor of becoming Zsa Zsa Gabor, a blowsy, self-mocking hausfrau with historically important hooters. You know things have gotten pretty extreme on the body-image front when Heidi Klum looks blowsy, but there was something cheery about the sight of an actual stomach, that horizontal curve of flesh like a smile below her navel. Most of these girls have, in place of abdomens, sheer expanses of frontage, like extruded polystyrene surfboards. But if you can put aside the radical theory that they are actual members of your species (let alone gender), they are wonderful creatures to behold, alien marvels whose legs alone are taller than my entire boyfriend.

From YahooMail:

What is AddressGuard?
AddressGuard is a benefit of your Yahoo! Mail Plus subscription. It lets you create disposable email addresses to use whenever you do not want to give your real Yahoo! Mail Address.

Messages sent to any of your disposable email addresses will be automatically forwarded to your Yahoo! Mail account, and you can decide to direct these messages to a specific folder.

If any of your disposable email addresses start getting too much spam, you can simply delete it and messages sent to this address will start bouncing instead of filling up your account

Somewhat cryptic message underneath the translucent CD divot of "The Sophtware Slump" by Grandaddy: "Good special thanks to ‘real job regular life’ people who practicing their art (thing they love) simply can’t could not afford to (no money) reality really, there is still so much gold in your days. We share parts. Hope it meant to you some good. This music. Thanks for participating as the Listeners."

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Poetry Corner

Yet more evidence proving that Spam poetics could have made a killer newspaper column.

Speaking of which, I received this in my inbox, not minutes ago:

imaging actinide excessively popular meat microword explainable illustrative saxifrage hospitably methods hungered anglo mazes crater schooner materialize blushes polarograph scratchpad saws excise crack advise imbue pomp exorbitantly

exhumation exhales tanager mattress plebeian bentham scares bosom crayon temperately exasperates adorable counteract bodied bolivia excretes cosmetics posh matinee breachers postmultiply polarography mentioned acrimony acquitting metal exhaustive

executive target bellatrix coursing teaming exemplifier coverlets sawtimber bowing potentiometer teamster scalding satiate crabmeat tappet exceeding mechanize bohr illustrative alabama megabyte admissions tapped anthony idly icy bough

branched tears mediated postmasters microprocessing poking accompanying popularization arrhenius pollute idealizes hustles boa hums hypothesize courtly scalding screwed bombarded covert exalting portico estoppal matrices exchange taken scud pow boss exempt bourn scribing achieve horrifies horrendously berman boater breakfasted midsts schelling ali boatsmen scandalous box posthumous plays postmaster idiocy militarism exempted

correlative hornets satiate boatloads than arachne scoffer sawed humorously expanse postmortem ache acropolis tampon existent tantalum bailey courtly tasters posters possessors bergstrom taxicab hotel advisory explored credible

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Snake Coyle

Coyle is the guy behind Dissecting Leah, a blog about Ms. McLaren. He quit doing the blog in September, and his last entry (see link above) gives a long, depressing, but mostly accurate list of his frustrations with the Great White North. Here is an excerpt, followed by no commentary on my part, because none is necessary:

Canada is a country overflowing with talent and yet it's products are - by and large - miserable at best. Why is this? I've lived in this country for most of my life and the people I know are smart, funny, interesting people. How is it possible that our nation consistently produces fifth rate cultural products?

The reason is simple. The reason is that the people who control culture in this country don’t give a fuck about it. And they don't have to.

It's not that they're evil, malevolent people, who eat babies while conspiring to keep our nation down; but rather the people who run our country's broadcasters, publishers, production companies and other media outlets are themselves a bunch of cynical business-people who just wouldn't know talent if it bit them on the ass and then later emailed them a message saying "I bit you on the ass earlier today, from Talent."

The truth is that the people that make these decisions get to keep their jobs because of legislation enacted by the government (these guys all know each other on a first name basis) which is designed to protect some ominous thing called "Canadian culture", when what it really does is protect these corporations from real competition… both from within and abroad. The result of this is that it tells the up and coming cultural producers to go fuck themselves. They don't need to sell interesting books or magazines or movie tickets or anything, because their subsidized paycheques will all just come out of taxpayers pockets, so they can all afford to work with the talentless hacks they've always done business with.

And that is precisely the message that Canada is giving it's artistic community: Fuck You.

So do you have an amazing idea for a movie? Fuck you, young promising director, the money's going to Paul Gross to make a shitty movie about curling, or whoever the fuck made Ginger Snaps.

Do you want make an interesting and funny TV show for CanWest Global? Fuck you, brilliant, unemployed producer, we're making Train 48.

Do you have a good idea for a novel? Fuck you, you unpublished nobody, this agency only works with "referrals" who write books about rural Saskatchewan.

Do you want a host a radio show for CBC radio? Fuck you, interesting person, we only accept people lacking personalities around here.

Do you want to write a hilarious weekly column for our newspaper, a Dave-Barry slice of life piece that will make everyone smile? Fuck you, you over-educated loser, the job's going to Rebecca Eckler.

Imagine that the NBA worked this way. Imagine that Shaq went up to the GM of the LA Lakers and said "I want to try-out for your team" and the GM responded by saying "Sorry, Shaq, thanks for applying, but the position is going to my nephew. He doesn't know much about basketball, being a 5'6 one-armed white kid from Oregon, but he's a quick learner." Just think about it for a second. Pretty funny, isn't it?

Now stop laughing, because this is the society we live in and it's pathetic, and it's not going to change

(Thanks to Bookninja and especially Peter Darbyshire for alerting me to this.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2003


I’m very anti-celebrity culture. You might not agree with my stance, but most would concede that a balanced media diet is a good thing to strive toward. Too much celebrity trans-fat is a terrible thing. Still, obviously I’m fascinated with the whole MJ thing, but without a TV, I miss most of the absoludicrous coverage. Lynn Crosbie has written intelligently about MJ in her Saturday Globe column (not her most recent blab, which was pretty good, but a column from a few months ago that really gave him the gears) and so has… well, that’s the only person I can think of immediately.

At the other end of the spectrum, I found a link to a transcript of the CNN show Reliable Sources which aired November 23. Now I haven’t watched Entertainment Tonight in a long time, so perhaps I’m too far removed from the world of infotainment to judge it accurately. But, well, um, just read this, which refers to the coverage of MJ turning himself in:

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, "CELEBRITY JUSTICE": It's wild and it is a scramble. And I'll tell you, you show up there and you're in a suit and high heels and you're running and your hose is getting ripped and people are pushing and shoving you. My photographer was nicked by the actual caravan as it went into the sheriff's booking center.


Well, I might feel a little silly at times, but I think it is a very legitimate story. And when I was up in Santa Maria covering the civil case, where Marcel Avrahm (ph), the promoter, was suing Michael Jackson, I shouted out a question and Michael Jackson answered me.

And for a second, his mask dropped, figuratively perhaps, and literally, and he said, to hell with Gloria Allred, because that's who I asked him about. And for one split second, we saw the real Michael Jackson behind the facade. And I think it was worth all that scrambling to get that authentic, genuine moment, because all these celebrities come out there with their mask and with their persona that they don't want us to crack, and we have to chase after them to crack it

Real Woodward and Bernstein territory. Amazingly, it gets worse:

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But if one parent out there sees something in this coverage that says -- that sets off an alarm bell and says, you know, the guy down the block, Uncle Jack there that little Johnny is always visiting, maybe I won't let him go on that fishing trip, then we've done a service.


And there is a bedroom within the bedroom where -- that's apparently where his sleepover guest stayed, his young boy sleepover guest. I mean, if anybody looks at that and says, gosh, that reminds me of somebody else's bedroom that my child has contact with, then we've done a service. Child molestation is a very, very serious issue in this country

Thankfully, the host of the show, Howard Kurtz replied, "Right, although I would hasten to point out that television networks don't often cover it as an issue unless a major league celebrity is evolved."

Two other things from the transcript:

WOLCOTT: Also, I have to say that my favorite new TV personality is Michael's personal magician, Majestic Magnificent. I mean, you would think calling yourself Majestic would be enough. But no, he's majestic and magnificent.


According to the November 23, New York Times, Mark Geragos, Jackson's lawyer got 620 calls on his pager from reporters in one 24-hour period.

By the way, I forget where I found this old MJ interview snippet, but I assure you, it is real:

Q: Did you approach Invincible with a single theme in mind?

A: I never think about themes. I let the music create itself. I like it to be a potpourri of all kinds of sounds, all kinds of colors, something for everybody, from the farmer in Ireland to the lady who scrubs toilets in Harlem.

And they say he’s lost touch with the common people.

Monday, November 24, 2003

That Will Be Me in My Dotage

This old man is years behind in his New York Times reading. I can sympathize.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Chant With Me

I love saying Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. Come on. Say it.

Casiotone For The Painfully Alone.

See what I mean? The music, according to the Vancouver-based Scratch Records mailing list, is "chock full of book-smarts, lovesick mood swings and calculated damage; simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking, comforting and jarring, all created solely with battery operated keyboards and electronics as instruments." One album is called "Pocket Symphonies For Lonely Subway Cars." Love it.

P.S. If you’re looking for the longest album title I’ve seen (longer than Death Cab For Cutie’s "We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes" you’ll want Bear Vs. Shark’s newest, "Right Now, You’re In The Best Of Hands. And If Everything Isn’t Quite Right, You’ll Know In a Hurry." Such verbiage inflation is only tolerated in the nebbish world of indie rock.

P.P.S. I recently finished reading the quite excellent novel Bear V. Shark by Chris Bachelder. More on that soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Shut Up! Shut Up! Shut Up Already About Metrosexuals! Please!

I realize I’m part of the problem, not the solution. Still, here is Richard Roeper on the topic (October 22, 2003, Chicago Sun-Times):

Now we're supposed to call such men "metrosexuals." And if we're to believe all the magazine articles and newspaper references and TV reports, our towns and cities are suddenly being overrun with untold thousands of these well-groomed, accessorizing, wine-sipping aesthetes who also dig football and lust for Halle Berry.

Yeah right. I saw tons of guys like that at the Bears-Raiders game a couple of weeks ago, and at the Cubs-Marlins games last week, and at Lizzie McNeil's pub the other night.

Of course, there are some men who fit the basic description of a metrosexual. No doubt you've had the experience of meeting someone you'd swear is gay, only to have him turn up at your Christmas party with the wife and kids.

But there have always been men like the Niles Crane character on "Frasier." I don't believe there are any more of these so-called metrosexuals today than there were 15 years ago. It's just that now we have the media, and various marketing machines, forcing this stupid term on us in story after story. It's not like they tripled in population just because "Queer Eye" is a hit and cosmetics companies are trying to sell beauty-man products

Further to Roeper’s 15 years ago assertion, I found an interesting nugget in the 1972 classic-for-all-the-wrong-reasons book Subliminal Seduction. Here, author Wilson Bryan Key discusses Cosmo:

A typical article was titled, "She-Man, Today’s Erotic Hero." The "She-Man" wore feminine clothes, behaved submissively, and carried a pouch (purse). The "She-Man" was a "better lover, not ashamed or fearful of that part of himself which borders on or overlaps being feminine." The Cosmo male image, "loves woman as a man who envies them."

Finally, this treatise on metrosexuality, courtesy of Weisblogg.

Meanwhile, back in the non-metro world, thanks to Jeff MacIntyre for discussing Modern Dog Magazine. Also, I’m impressed at the speed in which Blogger responded to the Onion thing.

Friday, November 21, 2003

This Just In…

Imagine if you will: The year is 2003. Mid-November, to be exact, and a columnist from the Globe and Mail is pondering the vexation that is SPAM. Let us put forth a number of hypothetical intellectual considerations (all of which reasonable). We assume the author of this column, prior to penning the piece, will have deduced the following:

1) Roughly 99.9786574 percent of those reading the column will have already experienced the frustration of SPAM in some form or another.

2) Of that group, at least, say 85 percent have probably already read at least one article detailing the hassle, frustration, lost productivity and bandwidth waste related to unsolicited email.

3) From 1 and 2, we might conclude that a columnist in so lofty a forum as the Globe and Mail should tell us something we don’t already know.

4) Recent writings on the topic might (nay, should) be considered. The sworn enemy of the Globe, the National Post, recently wrote about Scott Richter, the world’s fourth largest spammer (or "commercial e-mail distributor"), in the October issue of National Post Business Magazine. Some worthwhile insights there. As well, George Emerson, in ROB, in May of this year, wrote about how the "SPAM crisis" in the workplace is as laughable and as overblown as Y2K, affecting only 15 percent of the population who qualify as "power e-mailers." Everyone gets flooded with crap through hotmail, but most workplaces are immunized. I can’t summarize the Emerson article here, but it’s an excellent article that proves conventional wisdom on the topic is faulty at best.

So, taking all these factors into consideration, how should the columnist proceed? One idea would be to stake out a bold, brave, contrary position, such as "SPAM is good" and then laud the strange, creative and downright bizarre attempts at parting a fool and his or her credit card number.

Here’s another promising direction: recently, myself and Clive Thompson, among many others, have been collecting SPAM poetics, those extra sentences inserted into garbage messages designed to try and trick filters. That would make an interesting column, methinks. The new poetry, for free.

Barring that, skip the topic entirely, since it’s been done to death.

What should be avoided, one would think, assuming the person writing the column had performed some due diligence, is to bore us stupid by providing a mundane re-cap of attempts to legislate SPAM out of existence, an incredibly over-discussed and utterly barren topic. This just in, Kate Taylor gets SPAM too. Wow, stop the presses everyone:

When I tell people about my recent spate of spam, they express one or the other of two opposite reactions. One group of sheltered souls, who have unusual e-mail addresses and a short list of correspondents, have never bought or subscribed to anything on-line and have never released their e-mail address to a commercial Web site, are appalled. The other group of jaded cynics -- mainly my Globe and Mail colleagues -- laconically go one better: 300 in a week, why I probably get 300 a day, they say.

Journalists are particularly susceptible to spam because they are in the business of gathering and distributing information and so can't filter e-mail too heavily.

(Above excerpt from the Wednesday, November 19, 2003 Globe and Mail.)

What sort of blinkered vanity drives a person to think we care about their inbox?

From what I understand, Kate Taylor was an excellent theatre critic, and her novel, Mme. Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, was met with favourable reviews. So we know that Ms. Taylor is an accomplished wordsmith, and someone with plenty of talent and ability. Indeed, the sentence construction and craft of her column isn’t in question, but rather, the dull content. The ability to write well and the ability to write a good column are two mutually exclusive ideas.

Now, the bigger question emerges: why is the Globe allowing her to faceplant twice a week? (For a fascinating, politically astute analysis of why the Globe and the Post continue to cram their respective newspapers with columnist after columnist while closing foreign bureaus, read Rachel Pulfer’s article in the September/October 2002 issue of This Magazine.)

A friend of mine, up until recently, wrote a weekly column for the National Post. He thought quite seriously about the column, how he should approach various issues, how he could best react and respond to the ideas and events du jour and push the agenda or dialogue forward instead of simply re-hashing the status quo. He sweated his copy most weeks, following the dictum that good writing is never easy.

A column is driven by relevancy and the ability to say something new about a topic already familiar, or introduce us to something we know nothing about and make us care about it. Perhaps I’m in the minority of folks who have read about SPAM once too often, but in 2003, you really don’t have to explain to your readership its origins:

Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam. . . . Most commentators believe the term, originally the brand name of a processed meat, was borrowed as a nickname for unsolicited commercial e-mail because of an old Monty Python skit in which a gaggle of Vikings drown out all other conversation with a rising chorus of "spam".

For examples of columnists with confidence, strong voices and ability to burn, might I suggest reading Lynn Coady or Carl Wilson or Adam Sternbergh or Ben Rayner. Even Eckler can trick you into reading an entire column about some quirk of modern life inflicted upon her by cruel fate.

And yes, I’m aware the mark of a good columnist is their ability to provoke others into responding to their words. But as you can tell, I’m critiquing her lack of ideas, as opposed to her zany opinions on the urgent matters of the day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

If I had the extra time and inclination, I would spend half an hour a week trawling through, searching for bizarre adjacencies, consumer suggestions and their seemingly unending supply of ridiculous hunks of shit for sale.

I have written at least a half-dozen times about Amazon and I’m willing to bet a monthly column in a print newspaper or magazine would make an interesting read. (I’m not volunteering my services, I’m just saying, the website has enough breadth and depth of strangeness to fuel musings at that frequency.)

Anyway, as best as I can gather, I was presented with SkyBox, a "personal beverage vendor" from Maytag because I searched for Maxx Barry, author of Syrup, a less than effervescent look at the cola industry. I can think of no other reason that the algorithm would calculate that I, a literate, mentally engaged individual would wish to customize a mini-vending machine full of soda pop or "adult beverages." Feast on this, from the ad copy:

Want to hear that satisfying vending-machine "ka-thunk" when grabbing a cold beverage at game time? Now you can--while you and your buddies are crowded around the big-screen TV. The SkyBox by Maytag brings the concession stand right to the living room, so you can savor the excitement of punching a soda machine without having to feed it coins or dollar bills.

Blow me, Jeff Bozo (nee Bezos).

As I sit here and mentally hamster wheel, I seem to remember a somewhat recent book about the weirdest stuff ever sold on eBay. So, why not also, in the hypothetical publication featuring the column (for now let us call it Ryan: the magazine for Ryan), have a police blotter-style report on the unusual items bought and sold on eBay from the preceding month. Yes, it doubles as a plug for the site, but listing wacko auction dealings in a clinical, cold, plain manner, as if it were any other batch of statistics, would probably have some neat resonance.

A website or blog entry once a month detailing eBay and Amazon wouldn’t have the same impact. Report on one medium in another medium and it immediately has greater import. Trust me on this.

Monday, November 17, 2003


* According to the Hamilton Spectator, a dead woman was discovered Friday in a home in Welland, Ontario. Police believe she might have been decomposing for up to nine years. The kicker is that caregiver Katerina Compel failed to report the death but continued to live in the house. Here is Sergeant Mark Flegg with some words of advice:

"There's certain things you should do when someone passes away, and totally ignoring it is not one of them," Flegg said.

The other heart-stopper in the article: "Niagara Region police were called by the woman's Mississauga relatives last week and asked to check on the welfare of the elderly resident, who relatives hadn't seen since about 1995." To quote Homer Simpson: "Aw, Dad, you’ve done a lot of great things, but you’re a very old man, and old people are useless."

* Conrad Black and his venomous henchman David Radler are in trouble. I love it.

* On Saturday, Dana Milbank in the Washington Post reported that Bush is a page one posterboy in the UK:

After coming to office with a vow to restore dignity to the White House, the president yesterday took a brief sabbatical from that effort: He granted an exclusive interview to a British tabloid that features daily photographs of nude women and articles akin to those found in our own National Enquirer.


Bush, meanwhile, has given no solo interviews this year to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Time or Newsweek. And he hasn't given an exclusive interview in his entire presidency to the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and dozens of other major publications.


Word on Fleet Street is it's an obvious payoff to the Sun's owner, Rupert Murdoch, the conservative publisher behind many Bush-friendly news outlets such as Fox News. Officials at the White House acknowledge that it was a reward to the Sun for its unstinting support of the United States regarding the war in Iraq

* I used to think Sasha Frere-Jones wrote in English, but his recent article about the Strokes gives me pause: "Musical tropes like the ostinato and drones are canny, simultaneously invoking the choral sound of the human voice and the blank backdrop of a scrim." Part of me likes this kind of rock-crit belch, and part of me hates it. For the remedy read the annual Da Capo Best Music Writing. The newest anthology just hit stands, edited by Matt Groening, of Simpsons fame. Always clear and strong writing.

* This action is mind-blowing to a research nerd like myself.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Eye Spy

Yesterday, eye weekly went after 24 hours:

Though it's less than two weeks old, we're ready to declare 24 hours the worst-edited paper in Toronto. The gang of five old men hired by Sun Media to target women with the new free commuter daily have reached depths of incompetence unrivalled by any publication we know of -- high school newsletters and church bulletins included.

It's difficult to even see the crap-lite content through the fog of innaccuracies [sic] and errors: Sarah McLachlan becomes "Mclahlan," and model Iman becomes "Inman" on the cover; a story about the Dixie Chicks is illustrated with a photo of Naomi Judd; one piece about IBM runs twice in the same issue, with differing typos; the headline "Church to aid molestation victims" runs over a story about a US soldier refusing to serve in the army.

It's difficult to judge the most colossal of
24 hours' errors, but our money's on the screw-up so nice they made it twice. On Nov. 5, a story headlined "Literary faces pull for Miller" reported that various writers had declared support for John Tory (the headline had it right: they supported Miller). The next day, an incorrect correction tried to clarify by affirming "It's Tory, not Miller." Finally, on Nov. 7 (like the proverbial monkeys banging out Hamlet), the rag printed the correct information.

Difficult not to take some schadenfreude from such sublime incompetence. (Although eye did spell "innaccuracies" inaccurately.)

In other news, I (finally) watched Escape from the Newsroom last night. Disappointing, save for Jim Walcot insisting that terrorists flew planes into the WTC on "October 11." However, I did get to see some television commercials, something of a rarity for me (I haven’t had a teevee for about three years). Two things:

1) Why did K-Mart decide to re-write Right Here, Right Now by Jesus Jones (the thinking man’s EMF) and make it their theme song and trademarked slogan? More importantly, why didn’t I hear about this sooner?

2) That car commercial with all the Mega-Blocks is cool. It’s no White Stripes video, but it’s nifty regardless.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

You Say Tomacco, Etc.

From today’s Post:

Scientist hits a Homer with 'tomacco' creation
Scott Stinson

An Oregon scientist inspired by Homer Simpson has successfully created "tomacco" -- a tomato plant that contains nicotine.

But Rob Baur is now worried that he has produced "the ultimate Frankenfood" and that it could, in fact, be deadly to eat.

Mr. Baur says the idea to cross-breed tomatoes and tobacco came from an episode of The Simpsons that first aired in 1999. After inadvertently challenging a southern colonel to a pistols-at-dawn duel, the Simpson patriarch decides to flee to his childhood farm with his family to live off the land.

He accidentally mixes tomato and tobacco seeds and after applying borrowed plutonium to his fields -- "a little boost for Mother Nature" -- grows the tomacco hybrid. It tastes awful, but is highly addictive, as several farm animals and his son, Bart, soon discover.

Mr. Baur, 53, vaguely recalled reading about cross-breeding the two plants during a university class in the 1970s. The idea kicked around in his head for a while, then he set to work. He grew both plants, then cut the tops of each and switched them around. Both promptly died.

Undeterred, and without a source of plutonium handy, Mr. Baur grew the plants again, this time hollowing a portion of each out and grafting them together. The plant took form, and after weeks of pruning, he now has a large tobacco root that has sprouted a tomato branch. The branch has yielded one ripe fruit, and tests have shown the leaves contain nicotine -- the fruit will be tested for nicotine tomorrow. The scientist says he expects the fruit will contain much higher levels of the addictive ingredient


Mr. Baur's friends want to know what he will attempt next. Would he consider moving straight into recreational drugs?

"A few people want to know if I could make toma-nnibis or marij-tomato. I don't think so."

And he hasn't ruled out mining his collection of Simpsons DVDs for further ideas.

"There's always the Flaming Moe," he notes, a reference to the drink invented by bartender Moe Sizlak that briefly makes him the toast of Springfield. "I'm sure there's a recipe on the Internet somewhere."

Meanwhile, everyone is no doubt going crazy over the Onion's poke at the blogosphere.

Finally, great writing should impact the reader, make the person think about the ideas raised, the issues tackled, etc. Sometimes a photo manages to impart the same effect, with its proverbial 1,000 words. For the past five days, I have been trying to figure out why the Saturday Globe and mail Style section used a photo of a couple making out on the floor of a butcher shop to illustrate their story on the value of "quickies." Putting aside the fact that I am mostly vegetarian, I don't see anything sexy, and more importantly, anything harried about the scene portrayed. Why is the cold hard floor of a butcher shop a good place for brief sex? Are the disgusting surroundings supposed to act as an inducement to hurry up? Is this aping a scene from a film I've never seen?

Awhile ago, Clive at Collision Detection offered a bottle of expensive liquor to the first person who proved they actually bought a Segway. And so, in that spirit of giving back something to the blog community, the first person to intelligently and logically link the text of the Globe article to the butcher photo (and meat market doesn't work, I already tried) will earn a bottle of Labatt 50. (The disparity in alcohol prizes reflects the income spread between Clive and myself). Email with your answer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Formulaic Pop

Many months ago I discovered Hit Song Science. Polyphonic HMI, a company based in Barcelona, took it upon themselves to develop an artificial intelligence app that could debone a song and:

isolate individual patterns in key aspects of the music that humans detect and that help determine whether or not they like a given song. For example, the dictionary describes melody as a series of notes strung together in a meaningful pattern. But determining what is "meaningful" is a very human and very subjective experience. This technology is able to detect what those melody patterns are as well as decipher patterns in other aspects of the music such as beat, harmony, pitch, octave, fullness of sound, brilliance and chord progression.

A music executive who is working with the technology said the program also identified the "gold content" of a song. This is the part that is supposedly the most likable and can be sampled in television commercials, films and other songs

But the Bigge Idea is not here to reheat an Associated Press story from February, but instead provide a hitherto overlooked adjunct to the Hit Song Science. Thanks to friend and bass player Brendan (who joined Convex, a band featuring yours truly on guitar and vocals, in May of this year), I learned that KLF wrote the book, literally, on hit songs, called The Manual. Check this out:

Unwrap pop's layers and what we are left with is the same old plate of meat and two veg that have kept generations of pop pickers well satisfied. The emotional appetite that chart pop satisfies is constant. The hunger is forever. What does change is the technology this is always on the march. At some point in the future science will develop a commodity that will satisfy this emotional need in a more efficient way. There was a period in our own prehistory when Top Tens and Number Ones didn't exist, when tea time on Sunday wasn't synonymous with the brand new chart run down. For the time being we have our Top Tens and Number Ones and while science marches to the beat that will finally destroy it all, it also comes up with the goods that will satisfy our other endless appetite, that of apparent change. All records in the Top Ten (especially those that get to Number One) have far more in common with each other than with whatever genre they have developed from or sprung out of.

The entire document (a freakin’ novella at 33,000 words) is as brilliant as the passage quoted above, if not moreso. The KLF actually published this thing as a book back in the early 1990s and promised to refund your money if you were unable to achieve a number one single in the official (gallup) U.K. charts within three months of purchase.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Scene and Heard

Gonna hyperthrust through a bunch of items to clear the info cache.

* On Wednesday, October 8 I predicted a Globe columnist would weigh in on the snark debate within a week or two. On October 29 Kate Taylor stepped up to the plate, and earned a B- for her efforts.

* Toronto freelancer Nathalie Atkinson emailed an alert about Saturday’s Globe, specifically an article in the Toronto section by Peter Cheney about Schwartzdale. It appears that Cheney didn’t attribute information about parking fines and the cost of neighbouring houses to Toronto Life. This kind of thing falls into a gray zone of sorts, since plenty of writers (myself included) "borrow" facts from other publications. Still, it smells a bit off, as they like to say.

* I tried the new Lay’s Toronto College Street Pizza flavoured potato chips today. The concoction is part of Lay’s Tastes of Canada initiative, along with Cape Breton Sea Salt & Pepper (which, in the interest of journalistic thoroughness I will try tomorrow). You can vote for the next two flavours at Isn’t there a CBC radio show called Sounds Like Canada? This is the snack food equivalent: sounds exciting, but the execution is a little bland and disappointing.

* Got the new Walrus on Friday, and it looks much better than issue one. (I received a second issue despite canceling my subscription, so my thanks go out to Ken Alexander for his largess). I haven't read much of it yet, but I did see that Douglas Bell has a funny piece about ranting before breakfast, although he fails to mention that he workshopped the article in front of a receptive Trampoline Hall audience in August of this year. I’m all in favour of repurposing (that’s how smart freelancers manage to make a living) but you need to acknowledge you’re recycling, Bell.

* Today I inhaled the odour of democracy (the basement of a stinkhole community centre / holding pen for the dispossessed just south of my apartment that doubles as a voting spot) and heard the sound of democracy (a bunch of bicyclists with placards for some doomed councilor making duck honking sounds with their bells).

* David Miller won! Yes! In your face Tory. Nayh.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Animal Parts

Last Thursday, J.D. Sparks, in the Dallas Observer, wrote about Neuticles:

Neuticles are testicular implants for pets. Produced by Missouri-based CTI Corp., the implants are available in different styles and sizes to fit cats, dogs, horses and bulls. Business has been strong, especially in Texas, where more Neuticles have been sold than in any other state except California.


Prosthetic testicles, it turns out, are big business. More than 100,000 animals have received Neuticles. The company sells an estimated 1,000 sets a month at an average of $110 a pair. More than 8,000 clinics across the nation and in 32 countries have ordered the product.

Neuticles come in two styles--original and natural. The less expensive "original" model is made of polypropylene and has a firmer, almost plastic rigidity, while the newer, "natural" brand is molded out of solid silicone and has a softer, spongier feel at twice the price. They come in five sizes, and the average kidney-shaped testicle fit for a collie measures an inch and a half long

Speaking of balls, here’s a bold marketing move, courtesy of Allison Kaplan in the Pioneer Press:

Hyper Cow, a new brand from Maplewood-based milk producer Schroeder Co., wins the dubious distinction of being the first caffeinated milk beverage.

Available starting Saturday, it will be sold exclusively for the next few months at Super America. It comes in three flavors: Straight Up Strawberry, Chocolate Shock and Mean Mocha Cappuccino. There is as much caffeine and sugar as in a can of regular Coke and a lot more calories — approximately 400 per 16-ounce bottle. But the main ingredient is 2 percent milk.

"We're giving teens the caffeine they want but also vitamins, calcium and protein," says Jill Schroeder, brand manager

Today's Scorecard
Free market: 2
Human Race: 0

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

First Past the Post

The Review & Books section has returned to the National Post! It seems that hiding the Review at the end of Section-A and condemning book reviews to the rump of the Travel section (?!?) wasn’t working. I want to make it clear that I fully support this decision, but I continue to be frustrated that innovation at the Post comes under the guise of restoring successful sections of the paper that were cut during the great purge, as opposed to creating new ones. Come to think of it, it’s like a neo-con government that cuts public services so harshly that it’s eventually forced to back-peddle and mend a few gaping holes in the social safety net -- at which point the electorate is supposed to act happy about having what we once took for granted as a standard level of amenity restored. Or, if you want a more literary referent point:

Bad news coming, thought Winston. And sure enough, following on a gory description of the annihilation of a Eurasian army, with stupendous figures of killed and prisoners, came the announcement that, as from next week, the chocolate ration would be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty.


For the moment he had shut his ears to the remoter noises and was listening to the stuff that streamed out of the telescreen. It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grammes a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grammes a week

On the subject of the newspaper war, let me be the first (hopefully) to observe that the new commuter daily, 24 Hours, resembles a Home Depot flyer crossed with news tabloid Paris-Match. Good luck with your decision to set fire to your money, Quebecor.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

It’s Miller Time

Like some sort of idiot, I underestimated the popularity of the David Miller / Jane Jacobs extravaganza last night at the Gladstone. (I also thought the room it was being held in was bigger). I got there at 7:50pm and there was a lineup, in the rain at least a block long and the event sold out minutes later. There were so many excess people that we filled the main bar of the Gladstone. Despite promises of wiring sound to the overflow crowd, it became clear such a thing wasn’t going to happen so I went to leave. Walking by the sidedoor of the Gladstone, I noticed a clutch of people huddling and listening. Some kind soul had propped open the emergency exit, and since I’m tall, I was able to see and (mostly) hear the first hour of the fracas. Playwright Deanne Taylor had a funny bit about Toronto’s lack of self-esteem, while the other three panelists (Daniel Macivor, Nino Ricci and Luis Jacob), said some stuff that had the potential to be interesting.

During the intermission, some kind soul snuck us in.

Miller won the crowd over during his lecture on Beauty and The Aesthetic City, mostly by admitting he had no idea what the topic meant. Like many people my age, I have deep skepticism toward politics, but Miller seems like a decent, intelligent guy. The fact that he actually knew something about Parkdale -- citing the success of 1313 Queen West -- was impressive. More important, however, was the endorsement he received from Jane Jacobs, who sat patiently in a warm smoky bar for two hours before being allowed to speak. She talks softly and with some frailty, because she is very old, but it was exciting to be in the same room as the author of the brilliant The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The best thing she said was: "We need someone who can outsmart the Provincial government and the Federal government."

In that regard, I trust Miller more than the unfortunately named John Tory. But whoever wins, Toronto will be in a better position than it has been in a long time, since Lastman couldn’t outsmart a wet brown paper sack.

(For further municipal thoughts from the Toronto blogosphere, visit Last Chance City).