Sunday, 28 July 2013

IN THE APP STORE: HOT DATES AND COOL BUDGETS

 
View crotch shot. Swipe right. Open chat window.

That’s the procedure, I gather from John Mazerolle’s inspired review of the dating app Tinder (Metro 25 July). Thank you, John. You gave me the courage to look at other time and face saving wonder apps. Here is a selection from the abundant store of apple.com.
  • iMovie -- allows you to make your own movies. No, wait, your own trailers – but that’s good enough. Never mind the actual movies. Don’t bother with content, which is an outdated concept. Just make sure you have thrilling titles flash across the screen accompanied by an epic sound track. Tap, swipe, drag, add some Ken Burns-style panning effects, and you’re all set for going viral on YouTube  and off to a great career as a director of trailers. -- I myself am more into words than pictures. So I took a look at
  • Pages, which promises writers success in three easy steps: Choose a great design. Write some clever words. Drop in a few images. Yes, but where do I get the clever words from? Don’t worry. It’s all in the keyboard. It will make writing natural and fun and allow you to use both thumbs. I guess that’s the trick! Don’t let your other fingers get in the way of clever words. And you know what – with Pages you’ll never have to worry about grammar again. They guarantee an amazing style. Oh wait, they mean “style” as in amazingly shaped letters. So I guess I still have to add nouns and verbs myself. Bummer. --But some people are more worried about numbers than words. If you find yourself on the brink of bankruptcy, apple.com has just the thing to get you out of that tight spot:
  • Numbers. Just go to the heading: Everything is flexible, where you’ll find that it all amounts to easy. The programme provides you with intelligent tables and brilliant cells. So get rid of your accountant, that old grouch. No, wait, I just see here: you still have to input your own data and organize them, but it can’t be hard, judging by the next heading: Entering data is exponentially more fun. More fun than what – pulling teeth? Never mind. Let’s just say, it’s less like work and more like play. Want to know what it would look like to be debt-free? Slide your finger to increase or decrease value in a cell. But will it satisfy your creditors – that’s the question. I say: go with those eye-catching spreadsheets and custom coloured charts, and trust apple.com’s promise: Your creditors will see the data your way.
Unless they’ve been visiting the brain shop aka Cottage Center for Brain Fitness in Santa Barbara and turbocharged their neurons. In that case, they’ll be able to see right through your app magic. Patricia Marx (NYer 29 July) has been surveying the industry combating cerebral slack, and let me tell you, if you’ve got the money, they’ve got a brain training programme for you. The one that really impressed me was emWave, which builds up coherence and makes sure your personal energy is accumulated, not wasted. Wow! I wonder if apple will come up with Numbers 2.0, in which personal funds are accumulated, not wasted. Because that’s the kind of coherence my accountant wants -- that old grouch.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

TANGIBLE REWARDS. FROM GOLD STARS TO BETTING ON THE ROYAL BABY.


It starts with gold stars on the fridge – we are conditioned as children to expect a tangible reward for good performance.

Citizens of Dubai have now graduated from tinsel stars to real gold. Their government has started a programme, Your Weight in Gold, rewarding successful dieting (gulfnews.com). This is to keep people from overindulging in the wake of the Ramadan fast.

The Catholic Church should learn from that, or from their own history. In the Middle Ages they sold indulgences -- time off, that is, for good behaviour. You paid your money, and you got a piece of paper with the exact number of years you didn’t have to languish in Purgatory. Now, the Church offers only vague promises of bliss in heaven and discreet reminders about the fires in hell. Listen up, Pope Francis, people want to know exactly what they’ll get for the money they put into the offertory basket. What’s the heat of the hell fires in degrees Fahrenheit? If we go to heaven, can we get a set of drums instead of harps and jet propulsion instead of wings if we pay a premium?

When I shop at VON’s with my rewards card, the receipt specifies how much I have saved on my grocery bill. Why can’t the Church tell me how many years of hell I've saved by going to confession?

I know all you atheists out there are yawning by now. Heaven and hell means nothing to you. You want your reward here on earth.

Okay, then quit smoking. Reward: higher wages, as Julie Hotchkiss writes in the Wall Street Journal: blogs.wsj.com.

Or be virtuous, and breastfeed your baby. What’s in it for you? Free pizza. That’s how waitress Bodi Kinney rewarded a mother breastfeeding in her restaurant (Globe,12 July).

I like that: a reward with a precise value attached. And so I’m asking nutrionists: What do I get when I’m virtuous and eat the greens that are good for me? How good are they, exactly? How many months and days did that salad add to my life?

No answer. It’s like playing a game of chance. The reward is uncertain. And speaking of games:

You’ve missed your chance betting and cashing in on the royal baby’s sex, but you can still go on Ladbrokes.com and place a bet on who is going to publish the first photo of the prince entering or leaving a nightclub.

Yes, that means waiting a long time for your reward. But then you never know. If you had put your money on a new Anthony Weiner sex scandal last week, Ladbrokes would probably have offered you 500-1. But now you’d be hearing the sweet sound of CHING-CHING. ‘Cause Timothy Weiner has been showing off his private parts – again. And is apologizing – again. And promises never to do it – again. 

I wonder: is anyone taking bets on Eliot Spitzer? And what are the odds?

 

Friday, 19 July 2013

WEIRD TIMES, NO?


Yesterday I did my daily slumming through the pages of Metro, which is better for my psychological health than any therapy session. I read what other people do, and thank my good fortune that I don’t.

Let me share with you some of the stuff in the paper (18 July):
  • Some Michelin-rated restaurants serve up raspberry leather, an edible fruit puree. This is not out of range for the ordinary home cook.  It takes only 2 hours to prepare, which the author describes as amazingly quick and easy. You see my point about weird? The preparation involves: a blender, a non-stick silicone mat, a rimmed baking sheet, and a food dehydrator. Four of those five gadgets are unknown to me. But that’s probably because I’m normal.
  • There is a new book out: Livin’ the American Dream, USA style by Karl Welzein. No wait, that’s not his real name. By Dad Boner. No, that’s not his real name either. It’s actually Mike Burns. So why does he call himself Dad Boner? Because getting two appetizers at Applebee’s gives him a boner. Weird, no? His American Dream includes arms on swoll. Huh? Not sure I want anything swoll on my arms. But then I’m normal.
  • Meanwhile a Boston radio station is looking for Taylor Swift’s Number One fan. Apparently they’ve found him: 39-year old Charles Z, who dreams of sniffing Taylor’s hair, because he’s into that. That’s all the explanation we need, right?

But weirdness isn’t the exclusive domain of tabloids. The most recent New Yorker (pre-dated 23 July) contained an excellent selection as well:
  • Groupon founder Andrew Mason, described as sporting an unnatural orange-gold glow, celebrated babies whose parents used his coupons for their first date. Groupon, he claims, incentivized procreation.  I hope for the sake of those babies that it doesn’t incentivize an orange-gold glow in their skin.
  • Remember the sex scandals that derailed the careers of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer? I’m sure they’d like you to forget, but that’s against the advice of psychotherapist JoAnn Magdoff. It’s better to dig in and study the details, she says: The details put a kind of container around it. They know just how far it went.” Okay. If you say so, Dr. Magdoff.
  • Meanwhile B-movie producer Roger Corman has embarked on a new career as painter. His wife explains Corman’s method: He does a lot of looking at his canvas and swearing. Yes, but what about putting brush to canvas? Well, Roger is a master of stopping short. As the article explains: The whole idea of B movies is to strip out the boring stuff – plot, character development, etc.
Hey, there’s an idea: I’ll start writing B-novels, which presumably involves nothing more than looking at my computer and swearing.But I’m not sure I can pull it off. I’m just not weird enough. I may have to fall back on plot, character development, etc.

That’s the price you pay for normalcy.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

TOO HOT?


Let me tell you, people: Toronto has the most even climate I know of. The weather is the same year-round: unbearable. Too cold, too much snow and ice in the winter. Too hot, too humid in the summer. Not to speak of the floods, which enliven the spring, but may stretch into the fall.

Right now we are sweltering in heat. How hot is it? Two-year olds can’t muster the energy to throw a temper tantrum. Bums, taking shelter in public libraries, are starting to read books. Bearded men are becoming a rare sight. AC repair men are becoming a rare sight. Elderly men and women in air-conditioned nursing homes have more visitors in a day than they had all last winter. You get the idea.

Sounds discouraging, doesn’t it? But the heat has advantages for some of us.
  • Alcoholics: Doctors encourage us to drink plenty of fluids. There you go!
  • Fund raisers: Now is the time to go on GoFundme or Indiegogo. No one will have the heart to deny your plea for money to air-condition your house.
  • Housewives/husbands: The city is asking us to conserve energy. Don’t turn on any of your appliances. No vacuum cleaning. No cooking. No laundry. Go to the local mall, laze in its air-conditioned breeze, and spend the money you saved in electricity.
  • Kids: It takes more energy to fight your outrageous demands than it takes to give in to them. Take full advantage of heat-lethargic parents.
  • Authors: Writing drivel takes less energy than writing caustic criticism. No one will blame you for falling below your accustomed level of wit.
Right?   

Sunday, 14 July 2013

MAKE ME UNCOMFORTABLE, PLEASE! THE ECONOMICS OF MASOCHISM.


Lauren Sandler has a new book out: One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child. She defends limiting the number of kids because more women are breadwinners today and fully engaged with their jobs. They don’t want to spread themselves too thin, she says. Plus, they want to have more fun than parenting can offer. Wrong, and wrong again, Lauren. Listen to me:

First of all, mothers can be breadwinners AND have babies. I mean, look at Angelina Jolie. She earned 4 million Dollars for photo shots of daughter Shiloh in 2006, and 14 million for her twins in 2008.  I don’t call that spreading yourself thin. Oh, but she is a celebrity, you say. Well, then what about Jamie Lynn Spears: 1 million for her baby daughter in 2008. You think I made a mistake – I meant Britney Spears? No, I’m talking about Jamie Lynn “Nobody has heard of since” (Globe, 12 July). So, don’t believe a word of One and Only. First of all, dropping babies is a fully engaging and well paid job. And, secondly, it hurts. Yes, you heard me right. That’s a big plus. Hurting is IN, or why do you think women wear stilettos?

But you’ll be glad to hear that gainful suffering isn’t just for women. Daniel Merriweather, an Australian song-writer, has jumped the gender gap. He is set to collect a lot of royalties from his song, Water and Flame, which has been picked up by Celine Dion. And you know why? Because that song has every ounce of his heartache and pain in it (TO Star, 7 July). You see a cultural meme taking shaping here: the economics of masochism. Hurt and get paid!

But just as in other financial transactions, you can hurt now and get paid later. Metabolite blood tests are here, people. They can determine your life expectancy, give or take a few years. The possibilities of hurting right now are limitless: Cry yourself to sleep pondering your best before date. Write a tentative obituary. Design your coffin and flower arrangements. Just don’t do your planning while crossing a busy street. Getting hit by a car isn’t covered by metabolite tests.

A new bar in the New York Hilton on 6th Ave also offers equal opportunity pain, if you dislike winter as much as I do, that is (Metro, 10 July). Called, Minus Five, because the temperature is kept at -5 degrees Celsius (22 Fahrenheit), the bar offers ice walls and ice benches, allowing patrons to wear gloves, boots, parkas and other ungainly articles of clothing that hurt your image. Naturally you will want to drink your vodka straight up – I mean, standing up to keep your butt from freezing. Unless you understand the economics of masochism and plan on selling images of your blue butt online.

Bonus points if you are Canadian! You can hurt and still feel patriotically good – because the ice around you is guaranteed 100 per cent Canadian.

They must be running short of the stuff in Alaska. If so, I hope the Feds slap an export tax on the Canadian winter.

 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Riding the Trending Curve with Nigella Lawson




Sarah Hampson (Globe, July 9) sympathizes with celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, whose husband recently wrung her neck, but described the move as a playful tiff. This sort of thing is bad, Hampson says – for Nigella’s neck? For her marriage? No, for her brand.

OMG! I’ve missed out on another trend. Here I am, stuck with my dusty old personality, while other people have long converted theirs into a registered brand.  

OBVI, I need to update my personality to something that can pop up on your website, something recognizable that will make you say: There’s that F*** blogger again. Come to think of it -- would that be the right brand name for me: The F*** Blogger? Naw, too generic. F*** pops up in practically every teenage sentence.  

Mother F*** Blogger? I think I’ve missed the boat on that one. As a mother, I mean. I didn’t lean in enough.

I was stumped for a name until I read Nigella Lawson’s comment: I still go to the supermarket with no makeup on, like a bag lady. Thank you, Nigella. You’ve just branded me: the lady who goes to the supermarket with no makeup on. Look for my new masthead, people: THE BAGLADY Blogger. No, make that THE BGLDY Blogger.

That’s settled then. Whew. I’m back on top of the trending curve. But wait. Just reading a bulletin of the American Council on Exercise (ACE) which tells me that I must have a personal trainer. According to ACE, this involves finding a guy with whom you can connect, who has the right chemistry, whom you trust, who truly understands you. No wonder Nigella Lawson’s marriage ended in disaster. She probably looked for a husband when she should have been looking for a trainer!

To be honest with you, I’ve made the same mistake myself. So now I’m stuck with a dusty old husband instead of the must-have personal trainer. I immediately scoured the trending topics on the ACE web site, which contains such intriguing headings as The Little Black Dress Workout. No, it’s not what you wear during the workout. It’s what you are trying to fit in after the workout. The accompanying video looks strenuous. Maybe I’ll stick with the bag lady brand for now and skip the personal trainer, at the risk of falling off the trending curve and never landing a sponsorship deal with Lululemon.

But maybe anti-ads are the new trend. Or why would the Canadian embassy in Colombia offer this advice: We recommend looking for a trip that does not include a stop in Canada (Globe, 10 July).

OK: I recommend websites that do not include this blog.

Am I on top of the trending curve, or what?

Sunday, 7 July 2013

THE LIFE DELUXE. FROM STREET FURNITURE TO LANDSCAPE FURNITURE.


Still roughing it in crawl-space tents and sleeping bags? That’s so last century. Luckily Leah McLaren (Globe,6 July) brought me up to date on the deluxe trend in camping in Englandpop-ups with floors, beds, mirrors, and throw rugs.

Which reminds me of all the neglected areas in our lives here that could do with some glamour.

Dog houses, for example, are deplorably plain and without architectural appeal. No glass and steel facades, no studio space, no landscaped patio -- nothing at all for the esthetically minded dog.

As for the main house: utilitarian garages and basements have, thank God, been converted into man caves and entertainment centers, but attics and chimneys remain an uncharted wilderness. This shocking state of neglect was brought to my attention when a raccoon decided to take up residence in our bricked-up chimney. I was deeply embarrassed when I thought of the dusty chimney lining that greeted the new arrival. To no one’s surprise, she willingly left those dingy quarters for an airy cage offering a gourmet meal of tuna and a trip to another neighbourhood. Learn from my experience, people, and do not disappoint visiting squirrels and raccoons. Spruce up your attic now!

Driveways are another bleak area, a blind spot in our decorating scheme. We must make more of an artistic effort. Invite your local graffiti artists to bring out the spray cans! A few gang symbols will show that you are actively involved in your community.

Newpaper boxes and garbage receptacles are now called street furniture and an effort is under way to beautify them. But traffic lights are still embarrassingly drab. I’m so tired of that same old colour scheme. Can’t they think of anything except red-amber-green? It’s time the city gave citizens a choice. I for one would prefer softer pastels, but rainbow colours might be appropriate along the Pride Parade route, and dignified shades of grey and pinstripe would be great for the financial district.

Now that the construction season is upon us, and stop-and-go traffic during rush hour allows us to contemplate the paint on cranes and heavy equipment at leisure, I think we need something more soothing than alarmist yellow  – moss green or aquamarine might have a calming effect.

It takes years for condos to be completed. Has anyone given thought to the construction workers who are forced to use ghastly blue port-a-potties day in, day out. There is definitely room for improvement here: a little teak would go a long way. And pagoda-style towers might add a nice touch.

Which brings me to the most neglected of all public areas – the farm country we pass on our weekend outings. The arrangement of cows at pasture has always struck me as totally unsatisfactory – clumps in one corner, nothing in another. And don’t get me going on trees -- they have no fashion sense whatsoever, bringing out the same bark and leaf pattern year after year.

Yes, we have a long way to go, converting cows and trees into suitable landscape furniture. Join me now in petitioning your local member of parliament to remedy this appalling situation.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

EMAIL REVELATIONS. MIRANDA JULY AND ME.



Miranda July has a new project called WE THINK ALONE. She asked a number of famous women -- Kirsten Dunst, Catherine Opie, Sheila Heti -- to share with her their emails on certain topics. You, too, can read them. July’s motto is: Let’s make everything not-private.

With 171,000 results in 0.23 seconds after plugging my name into a Google search, I consider myself famous enough to start my own project and share with Miranda July and my readers the emails I’ve received on the tantalizing topics of sex, money, and friendship.

Friendship:
  • LinkedIn sends me frequent updates on people, many of whom are unknown to me, but nevertheless reach out to let me know about their professional development. I’m so touched, whoever you are. And good luck getting a job.
  • The Facebook people recently sent me a friend-request from someone I usually meet at the corner cafĂ©, but they are anxious to wean me from that 19th century mode of communication. They just know that my friend and I would have more fun looking at the same newsfeed than looking at each other’s same old/same old faces.
  • A friend sent me an email with the subject heading “Oh, dear”. What’s it about? Don’t know. Was afraid to open it.
  • Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway, and Britney Spears all appear in subject headings in my inbox, but disappointingly none of them want to “like” me.  They just want me to go to a weight clinic they “like”.
Sex:
  • I had two notifications recently with the subject heading: Returned Mail. See transcript for details. Sounds like missed opportunities to me. That’s so sad, don’t you think?
  • The chair of the Writers’ Union wished me a “howlin’ good Canada Weekend”. Sounds painful. But could be M&S sexy, no?
  • I get frequent offers to have my penis enlarged  – I forward them to the husbands of friends, who might benefit from an improved performance. This should really go under the heading of “friendship”, but I’m short on “sex” entries. I know: I'm disappointed too.
Money:
  • Klingne Takacs and other people with unpronounceable names invite me to become their mystery shopper.  Where? In unpronounceable places like Nyiregyhaza or Cwmbran?
  • Antiaging Central offers me a discount on intelligence boosters and an even deeper discount on stuff that guarantees energy, longevity, and weight loss. I suspect this has something to do with my on-line pics, which make me look old, stupid, and fat.
  • The World Bank Payment Director is angry with me for not replying to his earlier email, in which he offered me millions of dollars.
  • The Bank of Montreal, meanwhile, wants my account information – I don’t think I want to do business with people that can’t keep track of my account number.
  • Streamyx has only a brief message for me: “Urgent Finance needed?” Not sure I do. What’s an “urgent finance” anyway? Will it boost my intelligence? Or is it just a typo for “urgent fiancĂ©”? In which case: No, thanks. I’ve never liked urgent men.

Anyway: move over, Miranda July. I have a better project than WE THINK ALONE. It’s called WE DELETE ALONE.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Foreign Aid. Charity to warm your heart



One of the great freebies the US offers to third world countries is democracy, but it seems neither Iraq nor Afghanistan want it, those ingrates! So Barack Obama has decided to roll out an entirely new gift for backward countries: gay rights. What’s the response? More ingratitude, not to say snark. Senegalese President Macky Sall had the nerve to offer the US a gift of enlightenment in turn. He pointed out that his country has abolished capital punishment, hinting that he’d be willing to share this practice with the US (newsday.com, 28 June).

So maybe it’s better to stay away from ideological gifts and offer more practical freebies, like Jason Sadler who wanted to send a million T shirts to Africa in 2010. But that turned out to be another dud. Apparently Africans don’t want free T-shirts. They prefer to make their own and be paid for the job.

Why are these people so difficult? What DO they want? Volunteers maybe?

Luxury cruise line Crystal Cruises thinks that’s where it’s at: voluntourism. The line offers passengers the opportunity to spend a few hours as volunteers at a Dubrovnik old folk home. I think that’s a dynamite idea – I mean what can go wrong if the good folk of Dubrovnik don’t speak English and the volunteers don’t speak Croatian? There is no fear of cultural misunderstandings as long as everyone keeps smiling. An even better solution would be to visit only old folk who are in a coma. That way volunteers can go away with the warm feeling that they haven’t intruded on or disturbed anyone.

But no, some cynics think that volunteers are only doing their good deeds for something in return. They point to the Pergau dam scandal, when England promised aid to Malaysia in return for an arms deal. Come on people, that was twenty years ago! Nobody does that anymore. Granted the Canadian aids agency CIDA is now only a splashpage on the site of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (Globe. 28 June) – but that doesn’t mean that there is any connection between aid and trade.

And look at the selfless help celebrities are offering to Africa: Jolie and Clooney in Sudan, Oprah in South Africa, 50 Cent in Somalia. Oh, wait. I see the rapper is pushing an energy drink on his Facebook page, although you don’t absolutely have to buy it. Not at all, you can look at the ad and “like” his meal plan for Somalia completely free and without any obligation.

You think those celebrities get something in return for their charity— like attention? Please. Save your suspicions for Al Quaeda, who is bringing its charity to the US, offering training camps to young people in South Carolina and Michigan absolutely free. They promise to teach them such valuable skills as kidnapping, murder, and setting explosives. Check out the Soldiers of Allah in the video on military.com.

You don’t like this kind of summer camp? Okay, there are other manifestations of charity -- countries that open their arms to refugees and offer them a home, like Ecuador which offered asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden. No, wait. That was yesterday. Today they are backpedalling. Could it have anything to do with the US waiving preferential trade rights, you ask? Oh, you sad, sad cynics!  I just hope Canada won’t be backpedalling on its plan to offer refuges a welcome package: a free GPS in the form of a handsome set of ankle bracelets in case they get lost in Canada before their immigration hearing (Globe, 28 June).

No, I for one continue to believe in human goodness. Every day I get the most generous offers from people in Senegal who want to deposit millions in my bank account, and from writers all over Europe and the US who offer to enlarge my penis, although I suppose I’d have to grow one first.

To all these charitable folks, I say: Thank you for your kind thoughts, but I’m one of the lucky ones who can do without your help.