Sunday 29 September 2013

ADDED VALUE. From heroin to customized driveways

A shipment of carpets from Pakistan was confiscated at the Toronto airport. The carpets had heroin woven into their fibres (Metro 26 Sept). Can you imagine buying a carpet and finding it comes with a heroin high? Wonderful! Like buying a dress and finding Miley Cyrus woven into it. The residual rights of her songs would add considerable value to that dress. Not to mention the twerking advantage.

Let’s look at other items with added value.

What about an afternoon at an Angelstone Show Jumping event, which comes with a date night? According to the ad in Metro, this is what you get for a 2000 Dollar investment: limo service, ringside seats (are these boxing horses?), champagne, and dinner at a Love Seat for Two People. As the ad says: No better way to experience the sport. On second thought, the added value is iffy. Note the gender neutral phrasing “two people” – what if the other person isn’t the gender of my choice? Oh, you mean the date isn’t included in the 2000 Dollars?

Let me suggest a more solid investment and a better sport: become the CEO of a company that’s going under. With any luck you can add a great deal of value to your salary, such as the 55 million golden handshake Thorsten Heins got from Blackberry (

On a more moderate scale, students of literature can add value to their education by enrolling in David Gilmoure’s course, which guarantees that you read only the best writers -- serious heterosexual guys-- and don’t waste your time on Indians or women like Atwood (Globe, 26 Sept). It always pays to have your judgment honed. Residual benefits in later life: you won’t waste your time on culture and go straight for that golden handshake.

Fashion trends play right into our value added theme. Apparently Prada showed stellar graphics on the runway. Great! When you are through with wearing that dress referencing African art, you can hang it on the wall. Saves on decor and on closet space, too. Residual benefit: use your walk-in closet as an extra bedroom.

Yup, if you are in the market for real estate, you may have noticed: the size of bedrooms has shrunk dramatically. But never mind bedrooms. Let me give you a hot, hot real estate tip: driveways are in. The old asphalt thing is totally done.  That’s why David Ulick of Pasadena gave his driveway an antique finish with reclaimed red bricks ( Sounds like a bumpy ride to me, but hey! Ulick thinks he has added some serious curb appeal to his house. And maybe an extra bedroom, too. Wouldn’t you want to sleep in your car if your driveway is designer style and maintains heritage?

Thursday 26 September 2013


Headline in the Globe, 25 Sept: Baby Boomers rediscover Marijuana. Apparently teenagers are already aware of this trend among the old folks and have therefore decided that smoking up is no longer cool. There was a sharp drop in use among 15-24 year olds. “It doesn’t seem to be as much fun for the kids anymore,” Alison Myrden observed.

Hey, there’s a lesson here for all you opinion makers!

Facebook executives, watch out. According to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, the old generation has massively taken to the social network (“OMG Mom’s on Facebook!”). In other words, posting on the Page is no longer cool.

If the practices of boomers have that kind of dampening effect, why don’t we get them to drive recklessly? Perhaps it will make defensive driving cool. And if that works, we should also encourage Boomers to twerk and hope for a sharp drop in the number of young offenders against good taste. Next, we could ask the old guys to spray graffiti and totally disgust youthful vandals.

The dislikes of Boomers are marketable as well. They could be helpful to industries hoping to expand their sales to the coveted 15-24 age group.

I suggest publishers spread the rumour that Boomers hate books. It might attract a youthful readership.

And a word of advice for Harper’s strategists: Whipping up boomer interest in Justin Trudeau might help you kill the Liberals.

Finally:  Would Blackberry have recovered its market share and flourished, if Boomers had scorned its product?

Sunday 22 September 2013

HOW TO BECOME A CHAMPION. Blood, water, and surgery.

The other day the Globe & Mail ran a headline that got my immediate attention: Ultimate Dieting. But this diet, it turned out, isn’t for ordinary shlubs like me. It’s for champions -- Ultimate Fighting Champions, to be exact. To get into the lightweight division, Jesse Ronson needed to lose weight, or rather water. That meant going thirsty, peeing often and sweating for hours in the sauna. How did he feel about that? Not good. Side effects included fatigue, cramping, irritability, and nausea. The Globe article doesn’t mention where Jesse’s significant other was during the purge. Maybe she joined him, and they cramped together and took turns being irritable & looking at each other nauseated. Or maybe Jesse suffered alone, and that’s the price you pay for being a champion.

I myself am looking for an easier way to get to the top.

How about blood loading to increase stamina? This method involves raising your oxygen level with transfusions of your own centrifuged blood. That’s like growing your own weed, right? You know it’s pure, and you cut out the middleman. Unfortunately, like growing weed, blood doping is illegal. It was outlawed in 1986, although they forgot to tell Lance Armstrong.

So I’m too late for that particular short-cut to championship, but if I hurry, I can still get an eye operation. That hasn’t been outlawed yet.

Champion baseball players need exceptional eyesight to process information on fast balls moving at 90 miles an hour. 20-20 vision, which I wish I had, is not good enough for champions. According to, a lot of players have their sight surgically corrected to 20-12, so they can see at 20 feet what normal people see at 8. In my case that would mean I can look into the mirror and, without putting on my glasses, see the crowfeet radiating from my eyes.

No, it would be easier (not to mention, more democratic) if the Special Olympics broadened their definition of handicap and created a division for myopic, overweight people, 65 and over: the M-O-65+ division. But I bet you some people would cheat their way into qualifying for M-O-65+ with myopic-eye surgery, illicit weight-gain clinics, and fake birth certificates.

You know what? Fuhgeddaboudit! I’ll go on living in a short-sighted haze and will be rewarded every morning when I look in the mirror and see my face unlined and unblemished. Ultimate youth!

Thursday 19 September 2013


The language of newspapers has become so demanding lately that I had to consult on-line dictionaries. Let me share my findings with you.

Iconic. Rogers had a full page ad in the Globe (18 Sept) announcing the iconic new phone you’ve been waiting for. What – iconic already? On the day it hits the stores? Would that be iconic as in conventional and formulaic (the definition in No, can’t be. Maybe they mean it’s a cultural icon which, according to the Wikipedia, represents the values, norms, and ideals of a group. What group? Rogers? Sorry, I’m not rah-rah enough about the company to pay for their icon. Unless of course they want to hire me. If they need a word checker, I promise to be seriously iconic with them.

Whisper. To speak softy for the sake of intrigue, or to speak privately to keep a secret ( As in whisper jet, the aircraft Porter wants to use at its Toronto island airport? Hmm. Definitely too loud to be kept a secret. An intrigue against downtown condo dwellers perhaps?

World class. Ranking among the foremost in the world ( Like En Famille Reserve Chardonnay? That’s what wine expert Beppi Crosariol calls the BC wine: world class. Did it win the International Wine Challenge or the Concours Mondial?  I checked. It won a bronze medal at the Riverside Wine Competition. More West Coast class than world class, if you ask me. In any case, I’m not sure my stomach is up to drinking something with a note of cold butter and charred pineapple. If that’s essential to achieving world class flavor, I’m afraid I’ll have to stick with inferior French wines.

But wait: I’ve been looking at the wrong dictionary. I should have consulted

Nope, they don’t have definitions for iconic, whisper, or world class, but now I totes know everything about yummy mummy and futch. And it’s too good to share with you!


Sunday 15 September 2013


Why Having Too Little means so Much is the title of a new book by Eldar Shafir (Globe 14 Sept). He informs us that we only have so much bandwidth available in our brains. Scarcity hijacks a lot of it, and that explains why poor people make poor decisions.  Scarcity of money takes up all of their bandwidth.  Shafir is critical of government agencies that offer welfare payments but impose a high cognitive load on the poor, such as making them fill out forms and adhere to office hours. You see, the distraction of poverty can cause subjects to drop about 13 IQ points in a matter of minutes, which makes filling out forms between 9 and 5 practically impossible.

Thanks for explaining that to me, Professor Shafir. Now I realize why I can’t get my IQ up. It’s the serious distraction of choosing a handbag, which imposes a high cognitive load on my brain. As Sarah Hampson explains in the Globe (14 Sept), a bag isn’t just a bag. It is the New Boyfriend this year. A Beau Bag is the ideal companion to tote around town, but he’s an expensive escort: $500 and up. Okay, maybe Sarah is joking, but due to a scarcity of handbags and boyfriends, my IQ has been dropping like a stone, and humour is becoming hard to discern. The handbag/boyfriend choice is highjacking a lot of my bandwidth.

Clearly I need to draw a line in the sand, like Obama with chemical weapons, but more effectively. He lost traction after Putin highjacked his bandwidth with a piece in the NY Times.

Why the hell would Putin want to publish anything in the NY Times? To get on the bandwidth of American voters of course, those poor sods who are already juggling mortgages worth more than their houses and are being told that Americans are nothing special. If that cognitive load isn’t a serious distraction and will make their IQs plummet, I don’t know what would be.

Well maybe the fact that Twitter is planning to put out an IPO. They already have 500 million registered customers. With a widely enforced 140 character limit, there’ll be a scarcity of words that will highjack the human bandwidth. This in turn will cause a drop in IQ at the rate of 13 points in a matter of minutes. That would add up to dropping 780 IQ points in a matter of hours and reaching zero IQ in a matter of – well, you calculate it. My bandwidth has just run out.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

NOT THERE. A lesson on how to apply politics to your life.

After much diplomatic back and forth and after some serious scowling by Charlie Rose during his interview with Assad, there is a good chance the Syrian president will destroy the chemical weapons he supposedly does not have and did not use. Life application: You know those New Year’s resolutions you make and break? Why don’t you do like Assad, and resolve to give up the vices you do not have? For example, if you’ve never smoked pot, now’s the time to renounce that dangerous habit. Or if you’ve been a vegetarian for the last ten years, what better time to renounce foie gras and protest cruelty against geese! You get the idea?

On the national stage, Quebec is about to draw up a Charter of Values, listing what not to wear because those items of clothing might give away your religious convictions.  There’s a great idea. Let’s draw up a charter of fashion values that puts us all on an equal footing. There are civil servants who sport dresses and high heels at work. Wearing potato sacks and gender neutral running shoes should be mandatory for them. Otherwise they might indoctrinate citizens and keep them from identifying with the sex of their choice.     

Meanwhile Toronto Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam persuaded three builders to donate money to Bixi Bikes to make up for the parking spaces they won’t provide (Metro 11 Sept). Watch out, tax payers. Next thing you know, Kristyn will persuade you to pay more taxes to make up for the garage you don’t have or the basement you have neglected to finish.

I say: Let’s send Kristyn to Ottawa and see if she can get senators to donate money for the time they are not attending sessions. And applying that to life, you could donate money to Rogers for the channels you are not watching. Oh, you’re doing that already?

Sunday 8 September 2013


Reading the Scene Pages of Metro (4 September) is so instructive. Just follow director Joe Swanberg’s advice, and you will be best buddies with your DRINKING BUDDIES. It’s all about improvising, you see. No need to know about the scenes in advance, except in a vague way. As a nice lead-in, Joe starts pulling stuff from his own life. Then the stories of the actors enter into the picture. The idea is to be completely laid back about the process. Just kind of talk and share. It’s a collaborative performing and writing process.  This has to do with the nature of the set, which is not just props and cameras, as you mistakenly thought, but something much more creepy or spiritual or germ-like or whatever – a living organism, at any rate, that responds to stimuli. Not sure  – are we talking chemical stimulants here? Joe is reticent about that point, but it’s definitely not yelling. He doesn’t say if he expects to amuse the audience with his comedy film, but he is very definite about the cast finding it exhilarating and having a good time. And that’s all that matters, right?

By contrast, the buddies on the TV show PACKAGE DEAL are getting a raw deal. They have to do their stick in front of a live audience, meaning they actually have to know the scene they’re in, and not just in a vague way. And no talking or sharing except with the audience. And, yes, producer Andrew Orenstein not only promises to amuse the viewers. He swears the jokes are quicker and faster and funnier, and yet the show was bumped for hockey! I guess in addition to being funnier, you also have to be more violent. What those sit coms need isn’t a laugh track. They need a board-slamming, jaw cracking, we-want-blood howling track. And somebody tell Joe Swanberg –  yelling doesn’t harm either.  


Wednesday 4 September 2013


Here is a summary of Armadale, a Victorian page-turner by Wilkie Collins:Two men are both called Allan Armadale, but one goes by the name of Midwinter. From a written deathbed confession, Midwinter knows that his father has killed the other Allan Armadale’s father. A mysterious woman, aged 35 but looking like 27, fuelled the flames that led to the murder by faking a letter. She gets away with another murder, marries Midwinter aka Armadale 2, and thus becomes Mrs. Armadale. Her plan is to kill Armadale 1, claim to be his widow and inherit his estate, and so on and so forth. The convoluted plot is full of devices that keep the reader guessing. Let's have a look at the tricks Collins uses -- would they work today?

  • Adopting a false name. Possibly, but your character will have to do more than print up a new business card. He’ll need to come up with fake ID if he wants to go to Italy or get married.
  • Letters that are lost, intercepted, or conveniently delayed. Nope. Forget about letters. Or emails. Ever tried to intercept, lose, or delay offers of Viagra? It doesn’t work.  
  • Letters dictated by dying men and kept secret for years. Nope. Look for them on Facebook before the week is out.
  • Letters in fake handwriting. Nope. You might try faking a texter’s habitual spelling mistakes though.
  • Diary entries. Nope. What’s a diary?
  • Getting away with murder by drowning or poisoning. Nope. The autopsy will tell.
  • Other convenient deaths resulting in large inheritances. You wish, but novelists today are bound by the iron rules of likelihood.
  • Chance encounters in London, or even planned encounters (if they involve secretly tracking a person arriving in London). Nope. Not unless you know the airline and flight number. But remember: no intercepted letters!
  • Chance of remarriage due to wife’s death in childbirth. Possibilities sharply reduced, but fully offset by the higher chances of divorce.
  • Thick veils to conceal identity. Nope. Unless your protagonist is Muslim and into wearing bourqas or niqabs.
  • 35-year old woman looking like 27. Yes, but with botox, fillers, and cosmetic surgery used everywhere, lying about one’s age no longer works as a plot device.
  • People keeping their mouths shut because they are ashamed or want privacy. Nope. Or let’s say, it’s going to be a hard sell. This is the age of twerking after all.
So with all the easy tricks off-limits, what is a contemporary writer to do? Move the action to Victorian times, of course.

Monday 2 September 2013

AI WEIWEI. Oy vey vey.

Went to the Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the AGO. Loved the art, hated the ideological pushiness. I know, I know: the personal is political, but I go to an art gallery for the esthetic pleasure, not for a lesson in political philosophy. Especially if it involves smashing Han dynasty pottery – tell me again, how does that differ from the Cultural Revolution? Oh, it's performance art.
So all that political activism at the AGO made it hard for me to focus, but I got it eventually. Ah, the smooth wood surfaces, the perfect fit! The dance of polished footstools, the rebar landscape – soul touching. But who smoothed the surfaces, who did the joinery, who laid the rebar landscape? Not Ai Weiwei. He’s just an ideas man. He leaves the execution to others. The moment I heard him say that, I slapped my forehead. Why didn’t I think of that?
Why am I spending hours at the computer, writing novels when I could be the ideas woman, come up with a high concept and let others put together the sentences. Fine, you say. You don’t care who writes the novel, as long as it’s a page turner. By all means, keep turning the pages, but while you’re at it, I expect you to listen to my literary theories.
I recommend that process also to plumbers, electricians, and roofers. In fact, cut out the middleman. You don’t need workers.  Just give the homeowners the concept and let them grope in the drain, check for live wires, and lug shingles up to the hot roof, while you give them a lecture on unions and labor relations. Same advice goes for restaurant chefs. Let the patrons do the cooking, and during the meal, lecture them on the 100-mile diet.  People may go to a fine restaurant for the culinary pleasure, but hey! All art is political – so raise people’s consciousness while you have them at the table.

Just spreading the Ai Weiwei message. No, wait: YOU spread the message. Go ahead: tweet, share, post it on Facebook. I’m just the ideas person.