Saturday, December 20, 2003

Accurate to Within Two Provinces

Anyone who managed to puzzle their way through the first three confused paragraphs of Noah Richler's year in review of CanLit in the Saturday, December 20th Post eventually found their way to this:

The Saskatoon short story writer Lee Henderson proved the year's best literary critic, and we are far enough away from disputatious times, now that Porcupine's Quill editor and novelist John Metcalf, who published his memoir, An Aesthetic Underground, was this year safely absorbed as CanLit's Crank Emeritus, sadly obnoxious to no one anymore

Lee Henderson lives in Vancouver, unless he very, very, very recently relocated. If he did indeed move, then my apologies to Mr. Noah. What exactly Henderson did to earn this distinction is unclear, and gosh, it would have been nice of Noah to explain the criteria.

By the way, Noah has a tendency to get confused. His column last year about Trampline Hall said the next lecture would be held at the Crocodile Club or the Alligator Club (I forget which) instead of the Cadillac Lounge. I seem to remember reading that Noah has a stipulation in his contract that he can't be edited. Rare is the writer who deserves such a thing. Getting things totally wrong completely undermines his credibility, so I for one encourage him to continue to be hoisted by his own petard.

Monday, December 15, 2003

I Guess a Big Penis Requires a Big Word

Near the end of the year is when the Oscar contenders hit theatres, the theory being that the judges will be more predisposed to movies they’ve seen recently and can thus remember. Perhaps working from a similar theory, Lynn Crosbie waited until Saturday past to offer us her most egregious use of a $1,000 word in 2003. Here is the passage in question:

"Fully aware that if Pamela's body was not exactly news, Tommy's acromegalic penis was, the couple eventually publicized the tape, brokered a distribution deal, ultimately playing chicken with other amateur porn stars, and stopping smartly at the cliff's edge."

Over at Merriam-Webster, I learned the following:

Main Entry: ac·ro·meg·a·ly
Pronunciation: "a-krO-'me-g&-lE
Function: noun
Etymology: International Scientific Vocabulary
Date: 1889
: chronic hyperpituitarism marked by progressive enlargement of hands, feet, and face
- ac·ro·me·gal·ic /-m&-'ga-lik/ adjective or noun

Orwell, in his essay "Politics and the English Language," gave us six rules to avoid bad writing:

1) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous

Crosbie has decided to invert Rule Number Two at every opportunity in her Globe column, and yet I am not criticizing her, merely pointing out that she is surely losing a few people each week with her especial word choice.

Main Entry: es·pe·cial
Pronunciation: is-'pe-sh&l
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French
Date: 14th century
: being distinctive: as a : directed toward a particular individual, group, or end (sent especial greetings to his son) (took especial care to speak clearly) b : of special note or importance : unusually great or significant (a decision of especial relevance) c : highly distinctive or personal : PECULIAR (had an especial dislike for music) d : CLOSE, INTIMATE (his especial crony) e : SPECIFIC, PARTICULAR (had no especial destination in mind)

Friday, December 12, 2003

Pre-Vacation Info Timbits

I’m off to Vancouver for two weeks on Monday, and I probably won’t be blogging much, despite my best intentions. Here are some snack-sized chunks for everyone…

* This is a weird iPod story. While I’m on the topic, I noticed a recent bus shelter poster advertising that the iPod holds 10,000 songs (that’s the 40 GB version). I used to use 360K floppy disks on my IBM clone XT, 8MHZ. That was 1989 or so, but still, the advances in storage are difficult for me to fathom sometimes. The kids today, they take these things for granted, when I was their age, etc. All I want to say is that losing an iPod is the modern equivalent of the fire that destroyed at least 400,000 scrolls comprising the Library of Alexandria.

* As my roommate commented recently, "You know you’re getting old when one of your favourite bands releases a Best-Of album." Thankfully he was not referring to REM, but Dayton, Ohio’s Guided By Voices. I’ve seen the band almost 10 times live and I used to belong to the Postal Blowfish newsgroup digest, sometime between (and I’m really guessing here) 1995 and 1997. I think back to the obsessive postings and general geek-a-tude of that list (one guy went to Robert Pollard’s house unannounced, knocked on his door, and hung out with the man himself) and shake my head. At one point, someone posted a brilliant letter, written by Matador’s Gerald Cosloy, directed at the group, explaining why the label could only release so much GBV product per year. I wish I would have saved it – truly a brilliant, William-Shatner-on-SNL-turning-on-the-Trekkies moment.

* Slate has a pretty good article about Carl Stalling. The Carl Stalling Project, a CD full of his music is one of my top five favourite albums of all time. The extensive liner notes are worth the purchase alone. (Avoid the sequel -- Volume Two -- which sucks). Also grab the Raymond Scott album Restless Nights and Turkish Twilights. I don’t recommend buying his Soothing Sounds for Baby box set, but if someone you know owns it, borrow it immediately.

* Is Russell Smith single again? It seems like he’s writing about pornography almost every Thursday in his column.

* This, from the Scratch Records mailing list:

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE-Cause=Time 7î (Arts & Crafts) $7.99. Extremely Limited Edition and Numbered single from the U.K. features an exclusive b-side track "Da Da Dada." Did anyone else notice the over-abundance of "rock" poses that were dished out when they last played Vancouver? Maybe it was our pot, but I’m guessing all of that shit was on display to cater towards all of the "cool" people who couldn’t shut their yappy mouths during the set and instead decided to be twit-shits with voices.

* I often click on the AP stories on Salon and elsewhere, and I’ve been noticing that the rigid Associated Press format is occasionally being jettisoned for certain stories. Check out the intro to a story entitled "Jackson takes strange ride around Vegas" by Angie Wagner:

Nov. 22, 2003 | LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The whole world seemed to be wondering where Michael Jackson was. Helicopters and reporters were swarming his ranch. Fans were waiting patiently for any glimpse of him.

He was wanted on a warrant accusing him of child molestation charges, but the King of Pop was on a sound stage, finishing up his music video.

The song? "One More Chance."

Isn’t that weird? The robotic tone mocked so well by The Onion is no where to be seen.

* Finally, check this out -- Lucas With the LidRock Off:

LidRock is a breakthrough entertainment distribution platform that enables CDs, CD-ROMs, DVDs and other entertainment assets to be delivered to consumers on fountain drink lids. LidRock's patented and FDA-approved packaging enables movies, music, video games and other multimedia content to be distributed to consumers anywhere fountain drinks are served. LidRock is a division of Atlanta-based The Convex Group, Inc.

Thursday, December 11, 2003


There used to be something called Deconstruct in National Post Business, a double-page spread that explained the history and economics underpinning said item. The book, the bra, even barbed wire was duly exposed.

I was working on the paper clip for the April 2003 issue (an office-themed issue) but, unfortunately, despite winning National Magazine Awards for the deconstruct concept, NPBIZ decided to discontinue the feature (or put it on permanent hiatus, whichever you prefer).

Luckily I got paid for my work, but it seems like such a shame to waste all that research, so I’ve put the article online here.

Monday, December 08, 2003

So Very Tired

If I could audioblog, I would offer a 15-second-long sigh of fatigue. Instead, I offer this nugget from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:

I make this noise when there is too much information coming into my head from the outside world. It is like when you are upset and you hold the radio against your ear and you tune it halfway between two stations so that all you get is white noise and then you turn the volume right up so that this is all you can hear and then you know you are safe because you cannot hear anything else.

If you only read one book this year, don't bother. I mean, really. Go away. The rest of you should make sure to read Curious Incident.

Anyway, I hope to blog bigge time on Wednesday or Thursday.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

I See Paris

Dennis Cass has a sharp insight in Slate regarding the new Paris Hilton reality show:

Or perhaps I'm all wrong and the problem is not with the show, but with me. I have to confess to coming to The Simple Life with an inordinate amount of pop cultural baggage. Typically the scandal surrounding a reality show breaks during its run, not several weeks before, and if anything, the disgrace helps round out what are often tragically flat characters. The original Joe Millionaire was much improved by the revelation that Evan Marriott was as an aspiring professional wrestler and part-time underwear model and that co-star Sarah Kozer had had a brief career in bondage videos. But between Richie's heroin bust and Hilton's tabloid life, I am drowning in subtext before the opening credits have rolled. Furthermore, when it comes to television, Hilton has already been prominently featured in an E! True Hollywood Story; a VH1 Fabulous Life Of; an E! It's Good To Be; as well as a brief turn in VH1's All Access: Awesomely Bad Girls. The end result is The Simple Life has the dubious distinction of being the first new show that you feel is already in repeats.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

We May or May Not Regret the Following Errors

In Monday’s Globe, a review of the Simon & Garfunkel concert appeared, meaning the reviewer J.D. Considine had to write and file the review Sunday night, before 11pm or so. (There is a great scene in the documentary Don’t Look Back of a reporter in a phone booth dictating a Bob Dylan concert review to his editor, including punctuation.) Given that even in the best of situations, fact-checking at newspapers is lean, a late-night addition only increases the chances for error. Considine reported that:

In that sense, the best part of this reunion isn't hearing the two reanimate such hits as Bridge Over Troubled Water, Mrs. Robinson or The 57th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)…

It is the 59th Street Bridge Song.

On the other hand, hearing the magic these two can conjure from just their voices and a single acoustic guitar — as on Kathy's Tune and an unexpected Leaves Turn to Brown…

Actually, the tune titles are Leaves that Are Green and Kathy's Song.

Despite the time pressures, Considine did get a number of things correct:

Mr. Garfunkel's tone may have been intact, but he had to fight for a few of those high notes, and Mr. Simon's vocals were sometimes overly stylized.

More annoying, the duo seemed uncomfortable with the general brevity of their back catalog, and padded out a number of tunes with slick, soft-jazz noodling (provided by the ace backing band, not S&G themselves, thankfully).

Considine also mentioned how great it was to hear "Mr. Garfunkel add his voice to a few tunes from Mr. Simon's solo career."

Considine also offered an incorrect opinion:

To the press, Simon and Garfunkel have been cagey about whether or not this reunion tour will be followed by a return to the studio. Given the razzle-dazzle clutter of some of the tour arrangements — a theremin solo in The Boxer? — it may be better if things ended here.

The theremin solo was cool. End of discussion.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

My Gourmet Potatoe Includes An "E" for Extravagant Stupidity

The lowly potato is going upscale. In last week’s Dominion supermarket flyer, an entire page was given over to their Fresh Obsessions "Potato Boutique." Dominion (one of the few supermarkets located in downtown Toronto, and the best place to people watch in Little Italy) now has a dedicated in-store kiosk with bins of loose potatoes for Baking, Boiling, Mashing or Roasting. Because until now, you were too much of a lout to determine what kind of potato best suited your cooking needs. You can read the text through the above jpeg link, which is so stupid it saves me time mocking it, but be sure to pay special attention to the following phrase:

Specially designed, opaque paper bags maintain potato freshness.

As opposed to the ubiquitous translucent paper bag?

I showed the ad to my friend Rob, who immediately mentioned a Kids in the Hall sketch that deftly mashed a very similar concept.

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).

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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Eggy Eckler

Eckler recently (September 24) got hoaxed by Jesse Brown -- posing as Stuart Neihardt -- a fellow wanting to start a magazine for the average guy:

The target audience for Stu are men aged 18 to 55, with a personal income of $18,000 to $40,000 or a household income of no more than $55,000. "The Stu reader," says the release, "knows he'll never date a model or have rock-hard abs, and he's OK with that."

The first issue (with the super-low cover price of $1.89) features stories such as "No-Maintenance: The Stu's guide to dating the hot girl's less-hot friend," a feature on "High-pleasure positions that let you gratify her without breaking a sweat," an interview with Wayne Knight, Seinfeld's Newman, and a feature on how to get your dream wheels for under $600

Double trouble alert: Colby Cosh, writing one day previously, in the September 23 Post, also got taken in by Stu.

Most journalists have been tricked (myself included). It happens. What I would like to point out however, is that Brown has hoaxed before – he has a column in Saturday Night, replete with photo, detailing his antics. Now obviously Eckler doesn’t read Saturday Night (which is inserted free inside the Post six times a year) but someone proofing the National Post should be. The Post sent a photographer to Montreal to clicksnap Stu Neihardt, nee Jesse Brown, and surely one of the folks involved in overseeing the article should have recognized him.

That or nobody at the Post likes Eckler, and decided to let her wear some egg. McLaren was close to being fooled too, but -- tragically -- was tipped off by Eckler, according to Antonia Zerbisias in the September 26 Toronto Star:

Neihardt/Brown almost got CBC Radio's As It Happens and The Globe and Mail's Leah McLaren, who had planned to meet up with Brown/Neihardt next week in ordinary guyville, Scarborough.

As It Happens figured it out after pre-taping an interview yesterday with "Neihardt" when producer Mark Ulster made phone checks to one of the advertisers and the printing company that Stu was supposedly dealing with.

As for McLaren, she got saved by me, at least indirectly.

(Believe me, this would have been a much better column if she too got conned. Brown practically begged me to hold off on writing this so he could reel her in, calling her "the great white whale.")

But, because I called Eckler for comment yesterday — "Oh my God no! You gotta be joking! Whatta weirdo! Whatta freak!" — and she's close pals with McLaren, she phoned her and tipped her off

The funny, kinetic Brown, by the way, is the best thing in the moribund Saturday Night, a publication that most people think is still dead. I was at Word on the Street two days ago and was relieved beyond belief to see that the magazine will be redesigned as of next issue, since it’s currently an uninspired visual jumble. I know every issue of SN contains good journalism, but the layout makes it exceedingly difficult for me to leap into an article and start reading.

A redesign? What’s that lapping and slapping at your heels SN? I believe it’s the slow, methodical but deadly sound of the Walrus.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Tofu Phooey

This week I learned that in March of 2001, there was a Jeopardy question (well, to be precise, a Jeopardy answer) about tofurky, the mock Thanksgiving meal created by entrepreneur Seth Tibbott. I also discovered references to the bland, overpriced product (don’t me started about my one and only culinary adventure with that jaundiced tofu blob) have appeared on Jay Leno, Just Shoot Me, Felicity and the X-files.

Tofurky is advertised as America’s Number One turkey substitute. As I like to joke: Quick, what’s the runner-up?


Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Coffee Talk

Had a chance to watch Best in Show again recently, and since I rented the DVD, I was able to pause, transcribe, rewind, transcribe, pause, etceteras, a wonderful little scene that goes a little something like this:

Meg Swan: We met at Starbucks. Not the same Starbucks, but we saw each other at different Starbucks across the street from each other. And Hamilton got up the courage to walk across the street one day and … approached me.
Hamilton: Yeah. I’d seen you at law school before.
Meg Swan: Yeah.
Hamilton: And I know that sometimes I’d be in one Starbucks and then you’d be in the other Starbucks and then I’d think maybe, you know, I should go over to that Starbucks the next weekend and then you’d be at the other Starbucks so we kinda crossed paths.
Meg Swan: [Cackles]
Hamilton: I know it sound so stupid now.
Meg Swan: He’s so good.

As the scene continues Meg and Hamilton (played by Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock respectively) discuss what they were drinking at the time. We learn that Meg was drawn to Hamilton’s choice of Grande espresso, which she thought was "sexy." On the fateful day, Meg was working on her Mac, and Hamilton had his under his arm, and he spotted her J. Crew catalogue and it was brand-name love at first sight. As Meg puts it: "We were so lucky to be raised amongst catalogues."

It’s my favourite few minutes in the film, in no small part due to the fact that there are kitty-corner Starbucks at Robson and Thurlow, in Vancouver. (Best in Show was shot in Vancouver – coincidence?) The scene has a certain deftness in conveying the idea that you are what you own, a No Logo moment, only, like, funny. The whole Starbucks thing dovetails with something Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr. Burns (among many others), said in a Q&A interview last year:

HS: You see a yearning to get more of that again in these Main Street-style malls that are being built, which are trying to summon the semblance or a simulacrum of community without actually the essence of it. So there's clearly a feeling that we need more of this but we don't know how to get it at this point. "Let's all read the same book" is as close as we can come.

Salon: And wear the same clothes, and drink the same coffee. Yet you've bemoaned the lack of a Starbucks in an airport when you're stuck there for an hour and a half waiting for your luggage.

HS: I sure do. Because Starbucks is not the problem. The problem is the fact that the only place in town where people sit for any length of time and maybe talk to each other is Starbucks. That's the problem. The problem is that Starbucks filled a hole -- Starbucks didn't invent that hole. There might not be so many Starbucks if there were more plazas, if there were places that older cities discovered were good ideas for people to hang out, where they don't have to spend $3 to get in.

I struggle with this idea, because occasionally I visit the great Satan, even though I hate myself (briefly) afterwards and have chided Naomi Klein for doing likewise.

Unfortunately, the big ol' plaza at Yonge and Dundas has yet to solve the problem. More on that in a few weeks...