Sunday 28 April 2013


On 23 April, hackers using Twitter caused a sharp drop in the stock market. When the hoax became apparent, the duped computers self-corrected. The market recovered within minutes.

I never liked the idea of my Pension Plan being managed by traders who ARE automatons rather than accountants who merely LOOK like automatons. But now I see that the market isn’t controlled by computers after all.  The buying and selling decisions are made by Twitter.

Does that mean Twitter is poised to take over other decision-making processes and will soon interfere with my every-day choices? Yes, according to Andrew Somosi of SocialGuide! Twitter aspires to have an authentic one-to-one relationship with me, the consumer (Globe & Mail, 26 April).  AUTHENTIC. ONE-TO-ONE. TILL DEATH DO US PART?

I can see the following scenario unfolding in my house at dinner time.
Me. What are we going to eat tonight?
Twitter. Spinach & broccoli omelette.
My spirits sink, because I know the kids will throw a tantrum, but I accept the Twitter verdict. Halfway through cracking the eggs, however, there is an adjustment. The spinach & broccoli thing was a hoax perpetrated by fundamentalist vegetarians.
Twitter. Correction! Make that pizza topped with salami and bacon bits.
My spirits recover instantly – pizza is an easy sell. From depression to euphoria: 6 minutes. The eggs are cracked, mind you.

But what about decisions of national importance, like war or peace?
Twitter. War! The Enemy has WMDs.
Drones take off from an aircraft carrier and start dropping bombs, but wait. There are no WMDs after all. That was false information provided by The Dick Cheney Brigade.
Twitter. Hold the bombs!
War to peace: 8 minutes. But unless they develop bombs on Bungee cords and can yank them back, the collateral damage is done.

So, when Twitter takes over the worldwide decision-making process, we’d better introduce a mandatory delay of, say, 10 minutes before we act.
Which may prove awkward, however.  Let’s say you’re in a restaurant and choking on a fish bone.
Twitter. Heimlich Manoeuver!
Several patrons and your server (Hi, my name is Andy) rush to your table, willing to help, but their hands are tied: 10 minutes mandatory waiting time, while Twitter ponders whether you’re faking it to avoid leaving a tip for Andy.

Or there’s a grease fire in your kitchen.
Twitter. Douse the fire!
You have a handy fire extinguisher on the wall, but there’s that mandatory waiting period, in case Twitter has second thoughts. The fire could be a mirage, right?

Sadly, you may choke to death and your kitchen may be reduced to ashes by the time the Twitter tide has stabilized. But there is an up-side to all of this.

If we leave it all to Twitter, we can blame it all on Twitter and live a life of guilt-free stupor till death do us part.

Romantic, no?

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Smoothing out things: AN ALIEN CONSPIRACY.

Some efforts to smooth out things have been around for a while, like filling in POT HOLES, which is a spring rite, and filling in facial WRINKLES, which has become a rite of passage. There’s also AUTO-TUNE to smooth out the voices of pop singers, manipulating their pitch and nudging them toward the desired note.  Yeah, yeah, you say, we know all that. But do you know the larger context? These smoothing efforts are part of an ALIEN CONSPIRACY! Some outer space nation wants to norm us so that we will no longer be able to tell the difference between humans and robot body snatchers when the invasion starts!

Cher looks invaded already, as does Liza Minelli. Mick Jagger’s cratered face, on the other hand, has so far defied alien efforts to smooth out his wrinkles and make him look normal.  Ditto with Clint Eastwood of empty chair fame. He is past norming. His telomeres are way too short. Telomeres, in case you haven’t heard, are the shields that keep your cells from aging.

You see this is the latest trend (or the latest tool of ALIEN CONSPIRATORS): equal telomeres for everyone! Check out the NY Times of 21 April. They’ve started measuring them, and pretty soon your local hair salon will peddle telomere extensions. It could be the end of dying, meaning you’ll never inherit your parents’ nest egg.

On the positive side, you’ll never have to suffer through another election campaign, because what’s the use of voting after all politicians have been normed. The ALIEN CONSPIRATORS will standardize them to telegenic men and women spouting platitudes in the language of your choice. They’ve got Justin Trudeau in the bag already: dazzling white teeth, pablum in French and English. Harper is still struggling with the alien forces, withholding smiles except of the most tight-lipped kind. The aliens almost got him last Christmas (remember when he sat at the piano and sang nicey-nicey Beatle songs?), but he escaped in the nick of time and reverted to his old dour accountant self.

Speaking of Justin Trudeau and nice. Looking for the root causes of the Boston bombing, he came up with a cogent reason. It happened because SOMEONE FELT EXCLUDED (Globe & Mail, 18 April).  The ALIEN CONSPIRATORS will take care of that. They’ll make everyone feel included and connected at all times. Why do you think they created Facebook? The aliens will have you surrounded with FRIENDS. You’ll be horribly stuck in the sink hole of on-line friendship. You won’t be able to go on with your life.  You’ll be mired in a mass of cute cat and dog pics and smothered by the sweetness of babies. You won’t see the ALIENS for all your FRIENDS.

Another human quality the ALIEN CONSPIRATORS want to eliminate is the joy of bullying, although it will only work if bullies start reading books. Apparently the CONSPIRATORS have swamped the publishing world with anti-bully books. They’ve even persuaded publishers to start their own anti-bullying campaigns and gotten their full cooperation. After all, it gives the publishers a chance to look good AND promote their products. I guess the quality of hucksterism will stay put. The aliens will have to deal with that.

Another way of taking the snark out of bullies and norming us all into bland and benevolent beings are CHIPLETS, now developed in Xerox’ Palo Alto Research Center (NY Times, 21 April). They’ll provide supple, sensitive skin for our hands and make us sensitive all over.

Once the CHIPLET programme has kicked in, we’re done. We’ll all be indistinguishable nicey-nice.  And the ALIEN CONSPIRATORS will take over for good.

Saturday 20 April 2013


Men are more likely to pay for companionship than women, especially if physical interaction is involved. What evidence do I have for that?  None.  But why should I be held to higher standards than Dr. Raza Naqvi who is on the research team of St. Mike’s? He thinks crossword puzzles may improve your memory. Now that’s NOT EVIDENCE-BASED, he says, but I think it is the best we can do at the time (Globe&Mail, 14 April). So, the best I can do at the time is give you guys some advice. You want companionship? Pay up.

How much should you pay? Apparently 5-10 Dollars will do it. And this is truly EVIDENCE-BASED, meaning, I found it on the web. There is, first of all,

Phone sex. Someone posting on wants to charge $ 5 for twenty minutes. But you are probably too late to take advantage of that amazing bargain because several readers pointed out to her that $ 1.99/minute was the going rate. So five Dollars’ worth of phone sex will only work for you if you are suffering from premature ejaculation.

If you are more into LOOKING than talking, I suggest
A goldfish. A hotel in Dutton, England, offers a rental fish for 5 pounds a day. The management promises that the fish will deliver UNCONDITIONAL LOVE and wiggle its fins at you. Unfortunately it won’t talk dirty or otherwise (Daily Telegraph, 11 April).

Alternatively you could rent a
DVD of FINDING NEMO, which has fin-wiggling fish AND sound effects, but is, alas, non-interactive.  If you want personal attention, you could try

Celiac Supplies, a health food store in Brisbane. That’s if talking about health food turns you on. The owner charges five dollars for face time according to, but will deduct it from your bill if you buy her products. If talking about food doesn’t provide you with sufficient stimulation, you can always go to the

Luminato Festival and actually EAT with authors (Toronto Star, 18 April). Luminato promises a LITERARY ROCK FESTIVAL SETTING. I expect screaming teenagers, acrobatic performances, exploding tech-magic – no, wait, it says here: “Bring your picnic basket and hamper.” I guess that’s the MATURE LIFESTYLE version of a rock festival.

I hear you say: What about good old-fashioned
DATING if I want companionship? Well, I don’t know. It’s getting too complicated to figure out if yes means yes, and it certainly can’t be done in the 5 Dollar range. Unless, of course, you check out the FIFTY CHEAP DATES suggestions on

# 16 on the list is a visit to your local bookstore where you SHOW EACH OTHER YOUR FAVOURITE BOOKS. That must be the EXTREME mature lifestyle version of a literary rock festival.

# 18 on the list is BUILDING SOMETHING TOGETHER. If they mean IKEA furniture that comes with a bag of thingies you’re supposed to screw into boards  – don’t do it! This activity causes grappling, and not in a good way. It may also lead to high pitched screaming and throwing of objects. So, after you’ve built something together, DO NOT proceed to

# 11, a friendly competition AT THE RIFLE RANGE.

Or at least, advance first to
# 35 and CONSULT A PSYCHIC to find out if a 911 call is in your future.

Or maybe forget about cheap dates and wait for my next post: EXPENSIVE DATES.

Sunday 14 April 2013

HEAD GAMES: The trailer

You thought you had escaped HEAD GAMES because I haven’t mentioned it for a few days. Well, I’m baaack, but this time with the actual story.

The time: 1979. Jim Brooks, an architect on assignment in Argentina, has arrived in Toronto to report to head office.
The setting: a bar frequented by Latinos, where Jim meets up with Don Baker, an ex-colleague. Don is a great story-teller -- a bit of a bullshitter maybe, but always entertaining.

Jim spotted Don at a table in the back. He hadn’t changed much, same big gut, same stiff neck, and a face running to lard.  
They shook hands.
“So, how’s the project going?” Don asked.
“Alright,” Jim said. “Except for the usual problems. The corruption, the demands of the military junta, the red tape.”

Don sipped his drink, listening to Jim with an air of distraction. He kept scanning the people at the bar and looking at the door as if he was expecting someone.

I’m boring him, Jim thought. He changed tack and asked Don about his new career [real estate]. The question kindled a half-light in Don’s eyes. He broke out the real estate anecdotes, a few warm-up jokes, then something with a little more jangle, but sadly below the old standard. Not even close. No fireworks, no exploding laughter.
“Last year I listed a property a couple of blocks from here,” Don said, “a three-story Victorian with a shop on the main floor and two flats upstairs. They laughed at the office when I brought in the listing. Nobody is going to buy that dump, they said. The owner lived on the second floor, with a dozen cats. Her bedroom was a feeding station.  Litter boxes and cat food everywhere.  The tenant on the third floor was a wino. The place smelled of piss. Next thing you know: the cat lady has a heart attack and ends up in hospital. The Humane Society carts away her pets. I visit the old woman in hospital and make her a bedside offer: I buy the house myself. Let me tell you, Jim, she was glad to get rid of it. It was nothing but a headache for her.”
“And so you bought the place? That was charitable of you.” 
Don drained his Scotch. “Wait till you hear the rest,” he said, signaling the waiter for a refill -- his second refill. He was on a roll now. “So I get a new tenant for the shop and start renovating the old lady’s apartment. I slap paint on the walls and have the floors sanded and refinished. The wino comes padding down from the third floor to see what’s going on. ‘How’s life at the top?’ I say.  He breathes alcoholic fumes on me. ‘Crappy,’ he says. ‘The whole city is crappy.  A shit place to live in. You pass out on the sidewalk, and people step right over you, like you’re a dog. Where I come from, they don’t treat you like that.’ He was from Sudbury, he told me.  ‘So why did you leave?’ I said. ‘Got fired from Inco,’ he said. ‘It’s a company town. You work for Inco, or you don’t work. I should’ve stayed up north and gone tree planting.’ So I make him an offer. ‘You want to go back to Sudbury, Frank?’ I say. ‘Sure,’ he says, and starts reminiscing about family, classmates, neighbours. He goes all weepy on me. ‘Jees,’ he says, ‘we had a ball of a time. Jees, I wish I could go back there now.’ So I say: ‘Tell you what, Frank, I’ll buy you a ticket to Sudbury.’  I drive him to the bus terminal. I give him some pocket money and bundle him on the bus."

Don leaned back with a mission-accomplished grin. “So everybody’s happy. I go back and tell the crew to paint the upstairs as well. A month later I sell the house at a profit.”
“Good for you,” Jim said obligingly. He noticed that he was humouring Don. Something had happened to the familiar landscape, a tectonic shift. The gap in their ages had widened. It was no longer the difference between thirty and fifty. It was something larger and unbridgeable. Don had turned into an old man, to be humoured…

Saturday 6 April 2013

Forgetting who you are doesn’t excuse criminal activity, according to Dr. Helen Farrell ( Pleas based on Dissociative Identity Disorder rarely succeed in court. You can’t blame your Alter Ego for everything, but you can use selective amnesia in plea bargaining.
When former CIA officer John Kiriakou was under investigation, he said he couldn’t recall giving classified information to a journalist. Later the CIA found an incriminating trail of emails, which had apparently slipped Kiriakou’s mind. After some negotiations, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison. “Way too light,” Judge Leonie Brinkema said. I didn’t know judges talked Twitter style, but I’m quoting the NYer (1 April).
I personally sympathize with Kiriakou. I forget things too. Like whole languages.
I once took a beginner’s course in Hebrew and advanced as far as reading the first ten lines of Genesis. The only word I remember now is the Hebrew for chaos, tohu-va-bohu.  Guess I have a natural affinity to chaos. I also learned Bulgarian when I lived in a small village there. I accumulated enough words to follow directions, haggle for food at the local market, and exchange pleasantries with the neighbours.  But all I remember now is blagodaria, meaning thanks. I wonder how you tweet thanks in Bulgarian. BLGDR?  There are four or five other languages I have forgotten. So here’s a game you can play: Check out my novel, HEAD GAMES, which is set in Argentina, and spot the Spanish I no longer know.

Thursday 4 April 2013


Do you have a big occasion coming up – an anniversary perhaps, or a significant birthday? Do something truly special. Take a trip off the beaten path. Here are a few suggestions how to celebrate and bring excitement into your life:

The Revenge Tour. Visit your frenemies for a week at a time. Condo-dwellers are particularly easy marks. Coordinate bodily functions with your partner and occupy both bathrooms for extended periods of time. Never help out in the kitchen, leave your dirty laundry on the living room floor, plunder your hosts’ bar, invite them out for dinner and forget your wallet. And always, always bring along an instrument. A flute or a violin will do nicely, but drums are better. Play them at 3am and start a feud with the neighbours. There are so many ways of making your frenemies miserable and your vacation a success.