Thursday 27 June 2013


Graduation and worries Wouldn’t you think the people with the highest graduation rate are the happiest? No, quite the opposite. They worry more about the future than those with lower graduation rates (Globe, 26 June). Here is how researchers explain the phenomenon: the achievers are more stressed out because they lack emotional intelligence.  I think I’ll go with Bertrand Russell’s explanation: “The stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

Boring is beautiful, according to a headline in the Globe, 26 June. Montrealers have had enough excitement, what with two mayors felled by corruption scandals. They like their new (interim) mayor, Laurent Blanchard. He is colourless and boring, and he promises integrity and stability, adding “I don’t think Montrealers want more than that for four months.” Huh? After four months they want bunga-bunga, or what? Oh, I see: the interim mayor will only stay on until the elections in November, and as another francophone famously said, Apres moi le deluge. That’s 18th century French for What,me worry?

Give and take. In the case of a Toronto charity called Opportunities for the Disabled, it’s more take than give: 500 Million in yearly revenues versus 2 documented recipients in Toronto (67 in British Columbia).  Executive director Sean Stone has now moved his operation to the East Coast but, according to Metro, 16 June, he “couldn’t provide proof of any good works” there. Will his next move be to Ecuador? I hear it’s a great country for asylum seekers.

Surveillance and sousveillance (no, not a typo). You’ve read about the US surveillance scandal? My advice: equip yourself with augmediated vision (no, not a typo either -- another word brought to you by the amazing IT wordsmiths). Augmediated vision will allow you to get even and surveil the surveillers right back.

Mankind/Machinekind.On the other hand the time will come when we must fear our gadgets. We may be able to master them a few years longer before they surpass us in intelligence. And that will be the end of their subservience. The Solution: a merger. We’ll all become cyborgs. After all, opposites attract. We’ll have cyborg wedding planners, Cyborg Pride Parades, and of course international beauty pageants for cyborgs. Check out this sexy pic of Steve Mann with EyeTap. I think he is a strong candidate for Miss Cyborg 2020.

In the meantime, let me ask (with Steve Polyak): “Before we work on artificial intelligence, why don’t we work on natural stupidity?”

Sunday 23 June 2013

SURPRISE, SURPRISE ! Or maybe not.

Some actions have unexpected consequences, like giving a basket of fancy foods as a wedding present. Presumably the giver expected a thank-you note from the newlyweds. Surprise! The bride texted him that this was a cheap and embarrassing gift and asked to see the receipt (Hamilton Spectator, 19 June).

Other surprises:
  • Funky restaurants and bars turn a once seedy strip of Toronto’s Queen Street into a trendy neighbourhood. Expected: rejoicing. Surprise! The city decides to restrict new restaurants in the area (Metro, 19 June)
  • A taxidermist botches her first assignment. Expected: Stuffed animal is stuffed into garbage can. Surprise! It is auctioned off for $ 500 and goes on to YouTube fame as The Stoned Fox (Globe, 20 June).
  • Bob Rae resigns his seat in parliament. This is the guy who abandoned the NDP for the Liberal Party.  Expected: Scorn for a deserter. Surprise!  He was elected interim leader by the Liberals. Not bad for the ex-premier of Ontario, who was turfed by voters after a disastrous four years of government.
  • Menchie’s, an American firm, sells frozen yogurt in Quebec. It comes with a plastic spoon labeled “Sweet Moosic”. Expected: the sweet music of ching-chinging cash registers. Surprise! Menchie’s receives a letter from Quebec’s language watchdog warning them that the name “Sweet Moosic” isn’t French and thus violates the French Language Charter (Globe, 22 June).
  • Students enter high School. Expected: Their knowledge increases over the next four years. Surprise? Their health declines, according to a study undertaken at Waterloo University. A comparison between grade 9s and12s showed that smoking went up 170 percent and binge drinking jumped 167 percent.
  • Obesity is declared a disease. Expected: increase in treatment benefiting the obese. Surprise? According to the Globe, 20 June, the result will be an increase in research funding, benefiting researchers and pharmaceutical companies. No doubt, the funded studies will show (Surprise?) that fighting obesity requires expensive medication developed by pharmaceutical companies.
  • I started blogging a year ago.  Expected: going viral. Surprise? Only 5,399 page views to date, which means that I rank 3, 475 263rd in the USA. More surprise! According to urlmetrics, that translates into a monetary worth of $ 617.34.  Excuse me, gentlemen, I’m worth at least $ 100,000. You forgot to add in the cost of my university education and the work I had done on my teeth. -- Oh, you don’t count the cost of personal improvement? You go strictly by clicks?

Thursday 20 June 2013

POLITICIANS GIVING BACK. A variety of approaches.

First, let me clarify: I’m not talking about giving back to your community by working as a volunteer, and I’m not talking about the forced giving back called tax return. I’m talking about the special kind of giving back practiced by politicians. For example,

Conservative Senators Duffy and Wallin who paid back the living expenses they mistakenly claimed -- unlike that ingrate, Liberal Senator Harb, who plans on paying back the investigating committee by suing them.  Maybe that’s the difference between Conservatives and Liberals. No, wait:

Liberal ex-premier Dalton McGuinty did pay back his constituents in Brampton when he cancelled the gas plants they didn’t want. No, wait. That wasn’t paying back. That was paying in advance, for their votes. And actually it wasn’t McGuinty who paid the 600 Million it cost to break the contract – the tax payers will pick up that bill.

Maybe Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is a better example of a politician paying back. He voluntarily returned the $ 20,000 speaker’s fee he charged the Grace Foundation. Mind you it took him four months to come around to the idea that it isn’t nice to rip off a charity. Also, it isn’t nice when you are in politics and the media start dumping on you. So maybe this story doesn’t come under the heading of “paying back” and I should keep it for another post on “damage control”. In any case, I’m thoroughly confused by the whole affair. I thought politicians feed at that particular trough -- the speaker circuit-- only after ending their parliamentary career, or am I thinking of another trough -- lobbying, which is legal, although smoking weed and other stuff still isn’t.

That’s why I expected Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to give back to his city, I mean, restore its former reputation as Toronto the Good and Stodgy, but all he was prepared to give his constituents was the middle finger ( 25 July 2011). It’s a substantial finger – nice and pudgy like the Mayor himself, but I don’t think it’s a winner in the paying-back category.

Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum at least promised to restore public confidence. But after he was arrested on corruption charges, his speech writers ran out of steam and hot air. The best they could come up with was that he had put Montreal “back on the right track”. The laugh track?

Gilles Vaillancourt did better, I’d say.  The ex-mayor of Laval, arrested on charges of gangsterism, used young people as mules to move kick-back cash to Swiss banks – So at least he made a personal effort to reduce youth unemployment

Way to go, Gilles!

Sunday 16 June 2013


In 1992, Queen Elizabeth lived through an annus horribilis, a whole year of horror. So I’m not complaining. I had only one really bad day -- last week when my car stalled in the centre lane of a busy highway. A crowd of angry commuters maneuvered around me, trying not to hit my car. Some of them looked like they wanted to ram it. Fear of skyrocketing insurance rates was all that stood between me and their bumper.

Of course I called the CAA. That’s the “AAA” for my American friends. Der Autoabschleppdienst for my German readers. The break-down service for Queen Elizabeth, if she had to worry about stalled cars.

The CAA promised to send a tow truck within 30 minutes. Meanwhile a police cruiser pulled up behind me. To serve and protect, as the slogan said on the side of his car. Meaning to put on those flashing lights and protect me from would-be rearenders? No, stupid. Meaning that I was in the wrong place.

You can’t stay here, he said.
Yes, officer, but my clutch won’t clutch!

So he called the CAA. The dispatcher was unimpressed. The gist of her answer was: they didn’t have tow-helicopters, and so it was still a 30-minute wait unless cops could work miracles.

As it turns out, they can. A cheerful man with a tow truck showed up within 2 minutes and charged me the special police rate of 270 Dollars/10 kilometers.

I meant that ironically, but a brief search on the net showed me that I did in fact get a bargain. It’s not infrequent for people to be charged $ 800-1400, according to

And worse things can happen:
According to, a couple went off on a month’ holiday, came back, and found that their car had not only been towed but auctioned off.

Another man, whose car had been towed to a pound, signed over the ownership because the vehicle wasn’t worth the $ 900 they wanted to charge him. The car was auctioned off for $25, and the ex-owner is still being hounded for the difference, according to Forum.

But that’s still not the worst. On, Daniel San reported his mother’s white Jeep was mistaken for that of his neighbor and towed by a repo company. They did return it the next day, a little worse for wear.

Well that’s better than a roofing company tearing off your shingles by mistake, right?

Or Senators Duffy and Wallin living in the wrong house by mistake. They submitted expense claims for staying in Ottawa, thinking their primary residence was elsewhere.

Or Mayor Ford being caught on video smoking the wrong pipe, thinking I don’t know what.

And some Torontonians may think they are in the wrong city when they see this sign (thanks, Julius!):


Thursday 13 June 2013


Here are some travel suggestions:

For the aging extreme sport athlete (quoting The Globe & Mail, 10 June): After a grueling overland drive, relax in your luxury tent and enjoy a gourmet meal kept fresh in your battery-powered mini fridge. Wow! And I didn’t even know that you could use luxury in the same sentence as tent!

For the nomad: Retrace Jeanette Walls’ childhood trek with her alcoholic father and bohemian mother, moving from Arizona to California, Nevada, West Virginia, and finally the tenements of New York. Sorry, no luxury tent. Sleep on car seats, under the desert sky, in cardboard boxes, and three to a bed. No gourmet food either. Root through garbage bin. Sounds a bit harsh? Not if you listen to Walls. According to the Vancouver Sun (12 April), it made her the luckiest person in the world.

For the liberal arts student & job seeker: Enroll at the University of the Fraser Valley, where history students explore and map abandoned mining shafts on nearby Sumas Mountain. According to university officials, those activities convinced employers of the usefulness of an undergraduate education in liberal arts (Globe, June 10). Oh wait, this isn’t an article. It’s an Information Feature -- the stuff that used to be called advertisement.

Discover your inner duck: Sprout webbed arms and legs with a specially paneled nylon suit, jump over a cliff and surf the wind. It’s called wingsuit-flying and is guaranteed to make onlookers exclaim: It’s a duck…It’s a flying squirrel…It’s Superman!

For the autonomous driver: Get a car enhanced with Mobileye. It’s capable of driving at freeway speeds, but can’t make lane changes. And I thought only old codgers did that –  crawling along, preferably on the outermost lane at or slightly below the speed limit. With Mobileye you too can block the road and save your fellow drivers from speeding tickets. The traffic jam assist feature will get you through stop and go situations, but will require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel (NY Time, 9 June). Bummer. And I had planned on rolling down the window and shouting: Look, Ma, no hands.

Nothing here that tempts you? You are a couch potato? Okay, then just watch comedian Patton Oswalt on YouTube. He doesn’t get off the couch during his performance. Perfect match, perfect trip, no?

Sunday 9 June 2013


As I scour the media for recipes of success, I come to the conclusion that it’s all a matter of correlation. Health and wealth, for example. Here I’ve been fretting about keeping fit and eating balanced meals, which just goes to show how little I know about correlations. It’s money that guarantees your heart will work longer. Poverty correlates with higher rates of disease and death, according to the Globe, 3 June.
What about wealth and politics? I thought the motives for embracing socialism were complex, but actually it comes down to a simple correlation between money and biceps. Men with large bicepses and lots of money don’t want you to share in their wealth, while strong men who are poor believe in redistribution. Don’t tell me: poor people want more of other people’s money! But that’s what Kevin Lewis says in The Boston Globe, and I believe him.

More political correlations, as revealed by Metro, 27 May: Apparently a third of the people who were appointed to the Social Security Tribunal recently created by the Conservative government gave money to the Conservative party. Gosh and golly! There is a correlation between patronage jobs and donations! And I thought appointments were based on merit. Okay, maybe that was simple-minded, but some correlations are hard to see.
For example, the connection between a man’s prosperity and the stone lions placed on the steps of the China Tobacco building in Zoumajie. To solve that puzzle you need to know feng shui, the ancient practice of arranging objects to improve your health, prosperity and luck. The guys across the street from the China Tobacco Building immediately recognized the placement of the lions for what it was: the enemy at work. The felines were a secret attack on their prosperity. So of course they built a stone wall to block their unlucky stares (NYT, 9 June). Here is an even more mysterious correlation for you:
Why does your autocorrect function change cooperation to Cupertino? Answer: Cupertino is the California town that Apple Inc calls home. Get it? The machine has a built-in bias in favour of its maker. Still want cooperation rather than Cupertino?  I guess you aren’t thinking sufficiently like a machine. Luckily, Dmitry Itskov has an avatar in the works, but you will have to wait until 2045 for a lifelike, low-cost version of yourself that comes with a download of your brain and personality. At least that correlation is easy to understand. The avatar is just like you, but cheaper.
Guess who gets your job?

Thursday 6 June 2013


Until recently, only royalty and Hollywood stars were in control of their image. We saw and heard whatever their publicity managers fed to the media. Only their nearest and dearest knew what was going on behind the scenes – the nip and tuck, the screaming fights, the drunken bouts, the overdoses. But that was in prehistoric times, circa Elvis Presley. Now the nearest and dearest are kept out of the picture as well. Angelina Jolie’s father heard about her operation the same way you and I did: through the media. He was as surprised as anyone, according to

Ah, the mediating media, channeled by Jolie. Only she knows who she is. Which makes me wonder: Does she and her kids communicate via Twitter? Is the Brangelina duo a cozy media construct? Do the two lovebirds have actual first-hand knowledge of each other? Or do they just read the updates provided by their respective publicity reps?

But these are modern times, and even ordinary people want to control the narrative of their lives.  Formerly, if you had a problem with substance abuse, you confessed it to your partner, or your shrink, or your clergyman. Quaint, wasn’t it? Now you take your confession to a publisher, and your partner can read your version of the events in the book. If he has a different version, let him write his own book. In the last two months, the confessions of two hard-drinking women hit the market with a best-selling thunk: Jowita Bydlowska’s Drunk Mom and Lauren Davis’ The Empty Room. So if you feel a nervous breakdown coming on, or a desire for rehabilitation, don’t waste a good story on your loved ones. I mean, what can they do for you? Take your story to the media, and with any luck you’ll cash in on your misery.

Of course, image control for ordinary folks isn’t entirely new. The 70s gave us the Xeroxed Christmas letters, which let us all know exactly as much as the writer wanted us to know about his/her innermost feelings: nothing, that is. The Christmas brag & good news sheet has now been replaced by Facebook and Twitter, which allows for by-the-minute updates and frequent polishing of your image without requiring a copier or an expensive PR machine.

The latest narrative to be controlled are prom dances. Whatever you do, DO NOT sidle up to the girl of your choice in the cafeteria or try cornering her by the locker to pop the question: Will you go to the prom with me? That method sucks. It gives you no control over where the conversation will go or the spin she’ll put on it later when she talks to her girlfriends. No, remember that going to the prom is the climax of your coming of age story. You need to take control of that narrative by going public with your PROMPOSAL. Say it with a balloon-covered hallway or a rose strewn path to her house, or deliver the message via a flash mob. And of course document it on YouTube. Fix that narrative for eternity!

Abigail Pugh (The Star, May 26) explains it all to us. People prefer Facebook and carefully staged YouTube performances because it allows them to edit and retouch. You choose your identity like soup du jour and change it depending on your conversation partner. So much easier than face-to-face interaction. And safer, too.  

Hmm, is that why I’m blogging?

Sunday 2 June 2013


Angela has two problems. She needs a job. And she needs to get rid of her internal critic, a niggling voice telling her: You are a total failure. She is on her way to an interview with the director of The Cryonic Institute, and the voice is like a hum in her ear: This is going to be another failure.
...The Institute turns out to be a converted warehouse. The windows on the first floor are boarded up and spray-painted in looping tags. My internal message board starts blinking: Loser! Right. Only a loser would apply for this job.
I hesitate. A plastic bag dances by, drags past the tattoo parlour, hangs up on a hydrant, and blows across Tilman Street.  The place looks seedy, but what the hell, I’ve come this far. I might as well go through with the interview. It’s only a summer job. I push the button on the intercom. 
A crackling noise comes at me, and the door buzzes open.
“Charles Otis?” I say to the man who meets me in the hall.
“That’s me,” he says and shows me into his office. He has a film noir look: white lab coat, body listing sideways, cheeks furrowed like bark. Jekyll turning into Hyde? The lab coat gives him a surface-clean look, but when I go past him, I catch a whiff of old man.
            Otis lifts a piece of paper from his cluttered desk – I recognize the resume I sent him. 
“Angela Kelly,” he says, reading the header. “Good Irish name.”
            “My grandfather was Irish.”
Otis runs his finger down the printout. “BA. Double Major: English and Philosophy.” He looks at me for confirmation.
I nod. I shouldn’t have mentioned philosophy.  It invites awkward follow-up questions. What kind of philosophy? Moral philosophy.  “Like, religion?” someone asked me at a party. “Like, you want to be a nun or something?” Philosophy is a date-breaker and an interview spoiler. It doesn’t give out the right message. It projects the image of someone remote from the centre of things, someone without practical skills.  A useless tit. That’s the other problem with studying philosophy. It tightens the mechanism for self-evaluation. Everything becomes a matter of conscience. An inquisition starts up in the brain, probing the moral fibre, looking for tender spots. Every thought, every decision comes under investigation:  the items on my grocery list, mileage and gas consumption, choice of TV channel, choice of boyfriend, quality of seminar presentation, the new haircut, meeting parental expectations  -- and the verdict is always: guilty as charged.
“I see you worked at the registry office for a year,” Otis says. “You quit, or they let you go?”
 “I went back to graduate studies. Film History.”
 Otis bobbles his head approvingly. “So you think you’ve got the right qualifications for this job?”
“The ad wasn’t specific. It only said: computer skills required.”
“You have computer skills?”
“Up to a point.”
“This is basic stuff,” Otis says and gives me a beagle-eyed look, almost as if he was begging me to take the job. 
He is offering reasonably good money. Why is there no line-up of applicants? It’s the nature of the business, I speculate. The idea of freeze-dried corpses is disconcerting.  Or maybe the slummy location is putting people off. New message: Only a loser would want to work here, Angela  -- How do you change the internal setting and shut down the messenger in your brain?
“Let me explain what’s involved,” Otis says. He points to a bank of filing cabinets. “These,” he says, sweeping the tops with a proprietary hand, “--these contain the data and personal reminiscences of our clients. When they enrol, I encourage them to provide a detailed account of their life and to store keepsakes and photos with us to make it easier to energize their memories after reanimation.”
            He pulls out a few files to show me. They contain typed accounts and hand-written memos, newspaper clippings, souvenir postcards, bookmarks, baby bracelets, snapshots. Otis wants them converted to electronic files.
            I look around the office. There is no computer, no printer, no copier, just a battery of grey filing cabinets, a burled-wood desk right out of a 50s Sears Catalogue, and another relic from the distant past: a small portable TV sitting on top of a VCR. “I don’t see a computer,” I say.
            “I thought you’d like to use your own,” Otis says.
            “You mean you want me to work from home?” That would solve the problem of commuting. The area looks like the kind of ‘hood, where you can’t leave a car unattended without someone scraping a key across the door panel or punching out a window and rifling through your glove compartment.
            “I guess you could take the files home -- as long as we make copies first,” Otis says. “That’s my worry, you see. That’s why I want them digitized, to protect them against loss or damage -- fire, break-in, vandalism, that sort of thing. I want them preserved in electronic form, arranged in a systematic manner, searchable – you can do that for me, right?”
             “Are you saying I’m hired?”
“You look like the right person for the job. It’s yours if you want it.” Otis looks t me with a sniffling kind of eagerness.
“Thanks,” I say, but I feel no satisfaction.  It’s a sell-out, Angela, and you know it is. You are swapping valuable creative time for a menial job. Well, yes, I don’t like the prospect of working for Otis, or working at anything other than my screenplay.  It’s still in the gestating phase. It doesn’t have a story line as yet, but I have a theme, and it’s urgent to get on with it. I want to write the internal niggling voice out of my life, uproot it, wrench it from my gut and exile it to the printed page, get rid of the scruples plaguing me at every step and transfer them to a script. I need to put together a cast of characters who will take the load off my shoulders.  I totally believe in the redemptive quality of creative writing. I was going to spend the summer working on the script, but that was before Spence maxed out my credit card and totalled my car...
“Those people awaiting reanimation,” I say, “where are they?"
            “Right here.” Otis points to the floor, as if the corpses were tucked away underneath. “I’ll give you a tour of the Institute.”
            We walk from his office, down the corridor, to a gray metal door which opens into a hall with quivering fluorescent ceiling lights. It looks like a machine shop.  There’s an old assembly line running along one wall. On the other side are rows of tall, stainless steel cylinders. They give off the humming sound of refrigerators.
“You drain the bodily fluids and pump eight litres of ethylene glycol into the arteries,” Otis explains. “Then the bodies are stored upside down, suspended in liquid nitrogen at minus 320 F.” He points at the tanks. “Each of these holds six people.”
What! Strangers strung up together like pieces of meat? Without any privacy?
 “You store them naked?” I blurt out.
“No, in sleeping bags. Microtex. From Walmart.”
 “And those?” I point to the square chests that look like domestic freezers.
“Those are for pets. I draw the line at neuros – severed heads, you know. Some people argue that’s all you need to preserve -- the head, that’s where your personality resides. I see no merit in that argument. Severing the head is an indignity to the body of the departed. In a hundred years from now, when scientists reanimate you, they can provide brand new bodies if needed.  Or else they’ll be able to cure the old body of senescence. They’ll take care of the wrinkles, the impotence, the damaged kidneys, the hair loss – the whole shebang of imperfections, when they reanimate you.” 
Otis speaks with the fervour of a believer. The light of devotion shines in his eyes. I keep my mouth shut and bitterly despise myself for remaining silent and engaging in situation ethics for the sake of a job instead of challenging his assumptions. That’s so like you, Angela. You have no guts. I twitch my shoulders to shake off the psychic despotism of the inner voice.