Friday, October 31, 2003

Vegetarian Stuff

This from an article entitled Carnivore Control by Joanna Slater in the October 22, 2003 WSJ:

A number of buildings, old and new, in the wealthiest precincts of this teeming city of more than 12 million are going vegetarian and are enforcing an unofficial ban on meat eaters. Since cows are sacred to Hindus, most of India's billion citizens don't eat beef, but this is far from a nation of vegetarians. Mutton, chicken and fish are eaten in many parts of India. Here in Bombay, on the west coast, seafood is a favorite, particularly a pungent dried fish whimsically known as Bombay Duck.

In Bombay, however, there is also a small-but-influential minority of strict vegetarians. Many are prosperous traders, diamond merchants and property developers originally from the neighboring state of Gujarat, home of Mahatma Gandhi and some of India's most exacting vegetarians. Many are adherents of Jainism, an ancient faith based on the principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence. India has about 3.4 million Jains in total. The observant don't eat meat, eggs, or root vegetables, such as onions or carrots, that have been ripped from the soil

Some scattershot thoughts:

* Chuck Palahniuk natters on about Jainism in his new book Diary, which I am reviewing for the Toronto Star.

* I recently wrote about vegan bondage for fab magazine, and in the article I joke about level five vegans, who don’t eat anything that casts a shadow. Who knew there were actual, real-life vegans who are that selective about their vegetable consumption.

I also found the following chunk of insanity on the Tufurky website during my vegan bondage research:

While the words "vegetarian" and "vegan" never appear in the book, Murder in a Vacant House subtly presents the reality of these lifestyles. The mystery involves an area of the Northeastern United States in which the residents demonstrate a firm commitment to kindness toward animals, environmental awareness, and a concern for the needs of other human beings, as well as the willingness to enjoy a healthful diet.

Meat and dairy products are out of the question and there is no reference to them in the story. There are descriptions of many wonderful meals, and one of the favorite items on the menu is our very own Tofurky! If you want to enjoy a good murder mystery without the mention of foods that are contrary to your ideals, Murder in a Vacant House by Frances Arnetta will be a rare treat for you. Available at your local bookstore

Dead humans, fine. Dead animals, not so much.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003 Lives Here

I’m trying to get into the habit of taking photos, since it’s fun and easy and cheap as dirt, given that I have a finally bought a digital camera and rechargeable batteries. Eventually I’m going to move this blog to a proper web hosting situation, so that I can post photos and suchlike. In the meantime, I’m setting up a small gallery on to allow me to illustrate certain entries and share with you the oddball things I find in Toronto and beyond.

The first entry in the wacko category is a computer mouse tossed over a residential electrical powerline.

I thought it would be an easy task to discover what sneakers hanging from the lines meant, and from that extrapolate what it means when a mouse dangles (dongles?) in a similar fashion. Nikes swinging in mid-air has been going on since forever, it seems, or at least since the mid-1990s. At Straight Dope, Cecil answered this question back in August of 1996.


Cecil threw out the question to his AOL chatroom plus and collated the responses, including:

* I heard tennis shoes hanging over a power line meant you could buy crack there.

* I agree with the drug theory. I saw a news brief on Amsterdam, and there was a pair of shoes hanging in the ghetto where everyone does drugs. So I assume it means "stop here."

* It's a time-honored tradition to throw your sneakers over the power lines on the last day of school.

* Used to be a gang sign -- sneakers hanging over telephone or electrical wires were to designate gang turf

Concluded Cecil: "So there you have it. It's either a harmless prank, a rite of passage, or a sign of the end of civilization. You figure it out."

I wanted something definitive however, not something kinda helpful. There was nothing at, unfortunately. (Or at least, I couldn’t find anything there). So, I guess you’ll have to figure it out or leave it be a mystery and simply enjoy the snaps.

And speaking of mice (and terrible segues) that song in the car commercial that’s causing all the indie kids to shout sellout for the 95th time is "Gravity Rides Everything" by Modest Mouse from The Moon & Antarctica.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I’m a Shark Man, Myself

The question is simple, as are most profound questions.

Given a relatively level playing field – i.e., water deep enough so that a Shark could maneuver proficiently, but shallow enough so that a Bear could stand and operate with its characteristic dexterity – who would win in a fight between a Bear and a Shark?

                 -- from Bear v. Shark, a novel by Chris Bachelder

Monday, October 27, 2003

The OCAD Slab Isn’t Fab

The otherwise irrelevant club kid mag Tribe has a smart, surreal, absurdist mockery of the upcoming OCAD reno in their latest issue, which can be downloaded as a 2MB PDF. (Skip to page 18 to discover the magic.) For those who do not live in Toronto, or do not visit the downtown core because that’s where the bad, scary people roam, the college has decided to build a thick checkerboard slab over the existing building, on stilts. If it sounds stupid, it looks worse. But have I seen anyone taking this shit smore to task? Not until the Tribe two-pager.

Not to overstate the cause, but I actually laughed – out loud – at a couple of the Tribe photoshop suggestions on how to make the structure blend into the surrounding neighbourhood more effectively. (The giant Dalmatian head is the home run of the collection, in my humble.) Name the last time a triple-varnished magazine "charticle" made you risk losing some pee due to guffaws.

Coincidentally (I hope, lest such a thing become a trend) Bruce Mau suggested elevating the Gardiner in Toronto Life, back in June of 2002. As he put it:

We should view the Gardiner's supposed flaw, its height, as a virtue and exaggerate it. Instead of the current three or four storeys, the highway should be raised to, say, 15 storeys. The higher it goes, the more space it frees up below for parks or retail or housing. Even jacking it up to eight storeys would remove that gloomy lid and improve sightlines.

Much of the $12 million spent each year to maintain the Gardiner goes to repairing damage caused by winter salting. But a tube encircling the roadway, made of light, transparent plastic, would obviate the need for salt. That would allow the expressway to be engineered efficiently and designed as an object, as the most stunning downtown highway imaginable.


With an elevated Gardiner, Toronto would look like a stand of high-rise buildings framed by a tubular ribbon, with exit and entrance ramps as smaller ribbons floating from the big arc. Drivers would look down through the transparent tube to the modern cityscape below and wonder why it took us so long to figure out the Gardiner

This is what happens when you become a huge (figuratively and literally) international graphic design superstar – you can say stupid crap, and people will happily print it on glossy paper, even if it requires over 500 pages (e.g. his five kilo doorstopper Life Style) to illuminate the genius.

Speaking of Mau, I might not always agree with him, but when it comes to process, he’s the king (e.g. Tree City). Which is why I was intrigued by his recent ad in Now for the Institute Without Boundaries. I missed the October 17 deadline to apply, and I don’t have the $12,000 required for a year of tutelage under his point and click lordship, but the program sounds interesting. However, signing a confidentiality agreement, a waiver of all moral rights, and transfer of copyright for those students accepted did not sit well with me. Intellectual sweatshops are the newest (and thus, the least reported) arenas of exploitation in the knowledge economy. More on this "crazy" theory soon.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Foxy Fox

The Fox network has launched Skin, a soap opera about the porno industry in Los Angeles. As Marge Simpson once commented, in an episode set in the year 2010:

You know, Fox turned into a hardcore sex channel so gradually, I didn't even notice. Yeesh!

Speaking of Fox and their "news" channel, check out this article about an artist who has created a Media Deconstruction Kit:

The kit as designed by Packer and Smith uses Max/MSP and Jitter graphical programming environments to create an interactive interface for real-time media manipulation. Broadcast signals are fed into the kit, which Packer and Smith distort, change, and otherwise tweak into an output that often reads and sounds like usual news presentation but which has been altered into something markedly different. Talking heads presiding over news crawls become pixellated blurry abstractions. Press-conference footage is cut up and rearranged on-screen. Sound and dialog are stuttered and out of sync, or overlapped to become as disorienting as a Robert Altman movie.

Insert trenchant and concluding punditry here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Creative Waste of Space

I guess the section editors at the Globe and Mail don’t bother to consult with one another anymore, like divorced couples that stay together for the sake of the children, but no longer see the need to converse to keep up appearances. In today’s Globe (Wednesday, October 22, 2003), both Kate Taylor and David Macfarlane discuss Creative Places + Spaces, a recent conference about how to revitalize urban centres through the arts. If a newspaper intentionally decides to do this kind of thing, then either a) have Taylor and Macfarlane write about the same thing on different days or b) ensure the writers take appreciably different tacks on the topic.

As it happens, both columns (one in the Toronto section, one in the Arts) are basically the same, although most will find Macfarlane’s far and away the more interesting of the two because he provides personal anecdotes and doesn’t spend most of his column inches explaining Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class in tedious detail. (A book, by the way, that was already given plenty of press last year, making a lengthy summation somewhat redundant.) Taylor, in fact, spends so much time talking about Richard Florida that she leaves no room to talk about her own ideas or add any colour to her piece. Macfarlane, meanwhile, begins by sipping coffee in Balzac’s, the Distillery District’s coffee house and meanders around from there to good effect. Nothing dramatizes the difference in comfort level and columnist's confidence more than having two people write about the same thing.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Turn On the Bright Lights

A busy weekend (two zine fairs) and a hectic upcoming few days. (Apologizing for being harried is the blogging equivalent of being sorry about publishing a zine later than anticipated.)

Still, a few quick things.

First, as predicted by me, the redesigned Saturday Night (October 2003) looks much, much, much better. Thank you, Mark Loudis, new art director. But rather than have me praise the improved visual and economic fortunes of SN, I give you an excerpt from the Editor’s Letter:

The good news is, starting in January, we will be publishing 10 times a year, up from the six issues we have produced in each of the past two years. This development is exciting: it bespeaks a confidence on the part of our owners that it’s time to further grow the brand – as owners are apt to put it – and enables us to better reach our readership, expanding our purview . . .

Second, I received an invoice for The Walrus last week. An excerpt from that:

Thank you for your confidence and support. It feels as though a crippling logjam has been swept away and thoughtful discourse about ideas and issues has a broad channel through which to flow again.

Finally, everyone who voted for Arnold should be forced to read A Massive Swelling by Cintra Wilson, along with everyone else in North America, the best book written about the problems with celebrity culture. Period.

More soon. I have a stack of interesting stuff to share with you all as soon as possible. And I hope by next week to return to publishing my blog three times a week, to further grow the brand, so that thoughtful discourse about ideas and issues can once again flow through the crippling logjam known as the Internet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Bad Segue Way

Toronto’s Old Spaghetti factory has an employee handing out flyers for their restaurant – on a Segway. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen one live – I caught the two-wheeled action on Wednesday of last week. It seemed slightly less cool than I thought it would be, although Clive tearing a chunk from the gizmo helped remove some luster. As the employee slowly chugged along the sidewalk, I heard someone explain to a friend how the steering worked.

Now, here is the sentence where I should effortlessly move from observation A (Segway) to observation B (funny things about the Trailer Park Boys). But since there is no link between the two, this is instead a bad segueway. Although, now that I have pointed out my lack of a good segueway, there is at least a linkage between paragraph one and two. Without further ado, paragraph three . . .

I rented the first two seasons of the Trailer Park Boys on DVD recently, and while I have more extensive thoughts on how great DVDs are in general, that will have to wait because I’m busy with a pile of paying work. What I will detail are a few of Ricky’s malapropisms:

He worries about sasperilla (instead of salmonella) if his chicken fingers aren’t cooked properly. He says PFD instead of Ph.D. He talks about plutonium love, denial and error and warns that a situation is a real Catch-23. Finally, and this is more mispronunciation than malaprop, he mangles jalapeno into ga-la-pin-o. (This last one must really be heard to be fully appreciated).

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Listen to the Silence of the Radio Live Transmission

I wrote an article about Toronto’s Stupid School for CBC Radio Three back in May of this year. I was paid in late June, but I’m still awaiting publication. Given that my meandering observational piece is way too long for their website, I expect that if it does ever see the java light of day, it will be in a form much different than what I filed. Which means I don’t feel bad for the sneak preview. Besides, I don’t want it to get too stale, so I urge you to skim this over.

As for the ridiculous title for the blog entry, I finally saw 24 Hour Party People on Friday and have since embarked on what I expect to be a brief but intense obsessional appreciation of Joy Division, due in large part to the stellar acting of Sean Harris. The seemingly cold and clinical sound of their songs has been for me re-cast as both angry and vital, post-24HPP. In the parlance of Now People, "I finally get it."

Thursday, October 09, 2003

I Wanna Take You To A Gaye Bar

My inner Grade Nine boy chuckled upon receiving this bit of clueless parenting, courtesy of Rob at Swizzle.

(For those confused by the title of the posting, I refer you to this, courtesy of Jeff.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Why So Critical All of a Sudden?

Since my Sunday posting about the value of nasty reviews, I’ve come across two more ink spills on the topic. One was in last week’s New Yorker (October 6), where Rachel Cohen delves into John Churton Collins, who wrote a 41 page takedown of Edmund Gosse’s book -- From Shakespeare to Pope – back in 1886. (It’s an occasionally funny article that ruins itself with an intentionally opaque intro and a somewhat disappointing conclusion). The second was in the Sunday New York Times Book Review (October 5), where Laura Miller responds to Clive James responding to Dale Peck and Heidi Julavits. Miller wanders all over the place, making a few good points, the best being:

And although there's no point in wasting column inches in slamming an obscure work, it is sometimes necessary to quarrel with an author's reputation. In fact, most readers don't see the contemporary book review as suffering from too much free-floating bile; instead they think today's critics are too soft, trafficking in toothless puffery, glorified plot summary and unearned praise. As a result, readers pay less and less attention to reviews, and the question of whether those reviews are fair or not becomes increasingly moot. Negative reviews, however painful to the individuals who receive them, benefit the overall ecology of literary journalism by maintaining some balance of good faith.

(In searching for the Miller article online, I discovered that Neal Pollack recently squawked on the topic too.)

Given that the debate decibel level on this topic continues to rise, I humbly suggest you need wait only another week before the hipper Toronto columnists start to magpie the various snark threads and inelegantly weave their own little thought nests.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Sound Leakage

I wrote an article about Office Noise for current issue of National Post Business Magazine. If you blow 50 cents on today’s National Post (Tuesday, October 7), you’ll find my article Noises Off.

I started working on the article in December, then watched it get put on hold sometime in late February / early March. Instead of giving up completely and wheedling for a kill fee, I slowly did more research and found some amazing material, including The Soundscape of Modernity, courtesy of Collision Detection. Bless you Clive.

When the article was finally given the green light again, in early August, I discovered I had too much material, instead of my usual problem of not enough. So I’m offering readers two unused literary references to office noise, plus two great CBC radio links:

Noise, or the lack of it, is also considered a badge of status, used to indicate prestige and power. The less noise you have to endure, the more important you must be. In Scoop, a parody of journalism by humourist Evelyn Waugh, a hapless country garden columnist named William Boot, through the usual brittle comedy-of-errors route, finds himself gliding into the inner sanctum of Lord Copper, the editor-and-chief of the Daily Beast, a London ragsheet. From the hectic front desk on the ground floor (where pneumatic tubes transport messages throughout the building) to the pit of writers, past the secretary pool, Boot is led eventually to the personal quarters of Lord Copper: "The carpets were thicker here, the lights softer, the expressions of the inhabitants more care-worn. The typewriters were of a special kind; the telephone buzzers were muffled and purred like warm cats."

In The Satanic Verses, a character named Ellowen Deeowen contemplates the stories she wanted to share her deceased lover Saladin, including "a new high-rise office building in Brickhall High Street, across from McDonald’s; -- they built it to be perfectly sound-proof, but the workers were so disturbed by the silence that now they play tapes of white noise on the tannoy system."

And, as promised, here is a fascinating and horrifying report on Easy Rock in the workplace and an enjoyable, but less sharply observed piece about loud co-workers. Enjoy.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Sponge Bad Square Pants

For those unaware, there is a zany morning radio personality based in Tampa, Florida with the legal name "Bubba the Love Sponge" Clem.

That is all.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Tusk, Tusk

Bert Archer is a brave man. In this week’s eye he annihilates the debut issue of The Walrus:

Such high hopes, such modest expectations, all dashed on what we can now definitively identify as the unmovable rock of David Berlin's 46-storey, 7.8-density, steel-girdered, mirror-windowed lack of wit, mirth, imagination and editorial sense.

The cover doesn't bear talking about. But once past that grey-scale headstone, we get to the serious-minded editorial note of introduction, which only later, in the context of what is to come, reveals itself for the groundlessly self-important mission statement it is

I have no such bravery. Now, I’m not saying I agree nor disagree with him -- I haven’t finished reading the first issue. However, given that I would like to write for The Walrus ($2.50 per word!), expect no comments from me about the quality of issue #1. What I do hope is all those quivers from Archer will foster some strong, active debate in a literary community that tends to lack roaring beasts. As Stephen Henighan argued in his collection of essays, When Words Deny the World:

Unlike the United kingdom or the United States, where friends and acquaintances may cordially and vigorously disagree in print, Canada remains a colonial society; here friends must think alike and unanimity among the Family Compact of the chattering classes is still the hallowed aim of public utterances. In Canadian literary circles, the opinions you express continue to be a function of who you know rather than what you think.

Henighan overstates his case in places, but his main idea is accurate: writing bad reviews is a terrible career move in this country.

Meanwhile, those wanting some historical context for the nasty review should riffle through the newspaper recycle pile in the garage of an intelligent person until they find the September 7, Sunday New York Times. On the Op-ed page, Clive James briefly twirls the Moody takedown by Dale Peck and the Heidi Julavits plea against snark before providing a convincing defense of nasty:

Adverse book reviews there have always been, and always should be, lest a tide of good intentions rise to drown us all in worthy sludge. At their best, they are written in defense of a value, and in the tacit hope that the author, having had his transgressions pointed out, might secretly agree that his book is indeed lousy.


When you say a man writes badly, you are trying to hurt him. When you say it in words better than his, you have succeeded.

At one point, James claims destructive reviews are both enjoyable, and "useful acts in defense of civilization." However, most relevant to the Archer salvo is this thought:

But a snark blatantly attacks the author -- not simply to retard his career but to advance the reviewer's, either by proving how clever he is or simply by injuring a competitor.

I’m not sure Archer is trying to prevent civilization from imploding – it’s only a magazine, after all. I leave it up to others to determine whether Archer has succeeded in using better words than his adversary. But proving how clever he is, that agenda is made very clear.

As for advancing his career, well . . . if Archer is able to dissect magazine writing and editing thusly, why is he working at eye?

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Low Hanging Fruit

Everyone is dying to know, I’m sure, how it is I go about preparing material for the blog. Well, I have a big ol’ folder on my iMac, full of ideas and articles and links that might be suitable. Some entries I spend a few days working on, others are cooked up in a few minutes (hence the Stockholm Syndrome SNAFU).

But the folder is heaving, with over 100 files, so I want to clear out some of the rubble, since I can’t possible comment on even five percent of the material I have archived. To help me tidy, I offer a hit-and-run on interesting bits from the past few weeks:

Thursday, August 28, 2003 was the first annual Towel Amnesty Day, a PR maneuver by Holiday Inn. * On Tuesday of this week, my friend Graeme told me about Meatzza, a doughless pizza with a "meat crust," designed for idiots on the low carb diet. * Right wing lunatic Mark Steyn spoke lucidly and with passion recently about the decline of the National Post (bottom of page). * The battle between the One-Minute Film Festival and the World's Smallest Film Festival continues unabated. * David Wallis, the founder and editorial director of is editing an anthology entitled "Killed: True Stories You Were Never Meant to Read," which will be published by Nation Books next spring. * On September 12, a protester rolled a nut to Prime Minister Tony Blair's doorstep with his nose, completing a 7-mile journey across London aimed at highlighting the issue of student debt. * According to AP (September 7), a new action figure of a frumpy-looking librarian who moves her index finger to her lips with "amazing push-button shushing action!" is prompting librarians around the world to raise their voices in protest. * Ben McGrath, writing in the New Yorker (2003-09-01), coined the term "blews" to describe "something between a newspaper and a rumor-mongering blog." * McDonald's is testing an adult Happy Meal (called a Go Active meal) which will include a salad, an exercise booklet and a pedometer meant to encourage walking. * Jillian Clarke, a summer intern at the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois put the "five- second food on the floor rule" to the test and discovered that unless there is E. Coli on the ground, you’ll be fine. (Plain Dealer, 09/25/03). * Toronto restaurant aficionados can visit Dine Safe to see what happened when their favourite eatery was visited by the Health Inspector. * There is a word for "being in love" with someone, as opposed to "loving" someone, and that word is Limerence. * According to (09/04/2003), a Department of Motor Vehicles employee reported to police that she received a suspicious postcard from a customer that showed a banana being shot with the wording (banana=DMV). * The Globe reported on Saturday, September 27, that KidsFutures is about to launch in Ontario, a new loyalty program that will convert diapers, band-aids and laundry detergent into postsecondary tuition -- an announcement worth noting because it sounds like, minus the ill-considered customizable magazine. * Finally, the debut issue of Chill, a magazine so bad it’s bad, is available free through the Beer Store, a branding maneuver designed to try and get more people into the BS and out of the LCBO.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Organizers Were Refusing to Let Anyone Out

Given my penchant for skim reading, I managed to skip past seven crucial words in a Post article written by Aaron Wherry. The sentence fragment in question was "organizers were refusing to let anyone out." The result of my oversight meant that I accused Wherry of completely misusing the term Stockholm Syndrome in an article about the Pop Montreal festival. Truth be told, I misunderestimated him – he employed the term in a somewhat convoluted manner but did not use it incorrectly. The offending blog entry has been removed, because it makes me look dumb, something that has never before happened in the history of blogging. The Bigge Deal will be hiring a new fact-checker later this week, and will seriously reassess a recent decision to switch to decaf.

Luckily, not everything in my posting from yesterday was inaccurate – the material on the Stu hoax seems to have withstood sustained scrutiny.

I also wrote yesterday that:

In the last few months, Frank has enjoyed giving the gears to young Post music critic Aaron Wherry.

This sentence is also accurate. However, in the future I will leave the gear giving to the experts, and focus instead on heartwarming anecdotes about puppy dogs, rainbows, and the funny shapes that clouds make.