The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: July 2008

Escapology: Miriam Toews and Michael Redhill

Advance copies of our September issue arrived the other day, which means it’s probably about time that I say something about July/August, soon to disappear from shelves. The 2008 edition of our annual Summer Reading Issue is centred around the idea of escape. We have, among many others, Don Gillmor on his brother’s final, tragic escape; Wendy Dennis on fleeing Toronto for Austin, Texas; and Stephen Henighan giving Mozambique its best treatment since Bob Dylan’s Desire. (more…)

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Posted in The Shelf  •  No Comments


Jean Clotte’s Cave Art, out this month from the inimitable Phaidon Press, is the sort of book that convinces you to care about something you never have before. In this case it’s the titular cave art, which, despite the best efforts of a documentary on the Discovery Channel years ago, I was pretty sure was just scribbling. But no! It’s called art for a reason, and, as Clotte’s book meticulously explains, it’s essential to an understanding of both artistic and human history.

Chronicling the evolution of cave art over time, Clottes structures his book around three central periods, each explored by a detailed account of a representative cave: the Chauvet Cave begins a discussion of the period of 35,000 to 22,000 years ago, the Lascaux cave for 22,000 to 17,000 years ago, and the Niaux Cave for 17,000 to 11,000 years ago. It’s a clever approach, and as a result the book’s structure is one of its real strengths. By associating these eras with strong examples that are considered in tremendous detail, Cave Art gives one a sense not only of the broad strokes of a period’s development, but the finer details that make each unique. (more…)

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Posted in The Shelf  •  No Comments

The Girls in Their Summer Clothes

Here’s an observation from the annals of the obvious: everywhere you go, strangers talk about the weather. And if you live in Toronto, where I do, they always talk about how absolutely crappy the weather is or recently has been or will be in the immediate future. The winters are long and slushy, with winds that rip through your clothing and through your skin and through your bones and feel like they are carrying pieces of your soul out the other side of your body and leaving a biting dead cold behind. The summers are like a sauna in which you’re trying to commute to and from work, choking on the soupy heat, while some moron with feathered hair keeps spraying more water on the rocks and asking if it’s hot enough for you. So in winter everyone you share an elevator with brushes sleet out of their hair while they whine about the cold and make a lame joke about global warming not being all it’s cracked up to be; in the summer they just sort of slump and ask if you’re lucky enough to have an air conditioner at home.

The summer has some clear advantages, though. In winter,1Which has hockey, which would in other circumstances be an insurmountable advantage. when you’re slopping down the street with wet socks trying to see if you can still feel your nose — yup, it’s still there, and it hurts like a bitch — all the members of the opposite sex, as well as members of other sexes, are wearing scarves and hats and puffy sweaters under even puffier coats and heavy pants and boots and basically unless you have some kind of wool fetish2Which, if you do, good for you, weirdo. means it is the least sexy time to be around strangers.3All the obvious crap about fireplaces and ski chalets you’re busy getting ready to fire off a comment about notwithstanding. In summer, on the other hand, very attractive people wear very little clothing in very many of the places you go on a given day. This is a consolation for the doggier elements of these hot days that is hard to understate.4I know, that’s one from the annals of the obviouser. So? (more…)

Posted in Act Like A Man  •  10 Comments

Socialnet Trend Cheat Sheet

What to wear (Seesmic), what to scorn (GPS, Rogers), and what you’ll read
The Googlepus of tech.
Seesmic and
Video interaction isn’t for everyone but it is desperately fashionable to have at least tried it. Seesmic is video conversation. It is a small but now fairly well-formed community that includes every age and ability from peepaws to fidgets, hackers to luddites. Deepak Chopra and Harrison Ford have both made appearances so it must be important. I only use it with my dog Jesus as my avatar. Magicalpowermako (a masterful Seesmic poster) uses disturbing puppets. So, grab your kitty or your toilet and join the debate about shirtless posting.

12seconds is like Seesmic with a 12 second time limit. I prefer these short bursts because poorly-lit talking heads reminds me of my childhood without cable TV. It has a teeny-weeny user base so it is very easy to join 12seconds and make friends and become a top poster.
The biggest critique of Twitter it that it does not follow the Open Micro Blogging protocol. You know, Twitter is down with THE MAN. Here comes sweet little Canadian to the rescue. Open source and portable it is the first Twitter clone to actually do something Twitter can’t. (more…)

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  2 Comments

Do You Hate Literacy Too?

Shannon Doherty, Next Joker

Talking to people who have no knowledge of and/or hostility towards socialnets and cloud computing I feel like I did when I was hiding by a sewage lagoon as a kid to avoid mulletted Tammy Gough who promised to break my neck because of my Smart Set peach satin pirate shirt, chicken legs and granny boots.

There is no utterable translation of my position. Despite being physically proximal our cultures seem uncomfortably divergent. I’ve learned, thanks to the Goughster and her threats, to pass. To engage in idle chitchat about raccoons ripping apart my roof and lawn maintenance. To shut my mouth when someone asks what the hell is the big deal about iPhones or, nostalgic yearnings for the good old days when kids had attention spans and thinner bodies because they never had any Internet.

In my head I scream (and later Tweet): would they lament the invention of the printing press in the same way? (more…)

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  No Comments

Master Musicians Indeed

In Turn completes its coverage of Morocco’s Master Musicians of Jajouka with a review of their Toronto performance. Photos by Joel Trenaman. (Read the interview/show preview.)

Bachir Attar on the gimbri

The nine men of Jajouka arrived at the Phoenix Concert Theatre for a July 15 performance—their first in Toronto in fifteen years — to almost otherworldly expectations.

A tradition passed down over thousands of years. The originators of the world music genre. Spiritual expression rooted in transcendental mysticism. These are some of the heady descriptions that have followed the Master Musicians of Jajouka around the globe for decades.

A week before the show, featured performer and hereditary standard-bearer Bachir Attar told my fellow blogger that, “This music can build, for the human being, mercy in the heart.” So, for a night, I put the details of the history and debates over rightful group representation out of my head, and focused on the visceral experience of a cultural legacy. (more…)

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Posted in The Haulout  •  No Comments

Navigating the Maze of Knowledge

Last Saturday, Toronto was enveloped in muggy greyness. I was riding my bicycle along Bloor Street West, after being doused in unspectacular rain in High Park, and the street was less appealing than usual. Two women were yelling at each other outside a store with sad appliances in the window, the kind of appliances that break when you get them home; the police were cordoning some building off; and the whole street—which occasionally vibrates with a kind of transglobal charm—was entirely charmless.

“Amazing knowledge!” a man called from the sidewalk as I rode past. I laughed, and kept on down the block to the Salvation Army, where all the summer dresses were polyester testaments to humanity’s ability to create dreadful fashion; the kind of fashion that evokes a physical response, a shiver or a cringe. Stepping back out into the humidity, I followed my curiosity, and walked my bike up the block.

“What kind of amazing knowledge?” I asked the man.

“No, a maze of knowledge. Entry five cents.” There was a table on the sidewalk with a smiling woman and a yellow piggy bank. They were positioned in front of a door with black curtains. I rummaged through my pocket for a nickel and the man waived me along. “It’s free for people with purple shoes today.” (more…)

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Posted in The Haulout  •  5 Comments

Chicken Soup for the Seoul

Samgyetang soup

JEJU-DO—The sun is broiling, the humidex is high, and in Korea that means it’s time for a nice, hot bowl of chicken soup. Just as people in the West associate certain foods with holidays, so do Korean people enjoy special meals during particular seasons. July 19 in Korea was Chobok, the first day of Sambok, a period that spans the three 복날 (pronounced “bok-nal”), or “dog days,” which Koreans believe are the hottest of the summer, and which are usually spent eating things that most North Americans would consider perfect fare for a cold winter night.

The consumption of hot dishes to beat hot weather is tied to Asian medicine, which suggests eating hot foods causes perspiration, cooling the outside of the body, while warming and rejuvenating the inside, thereby fighting fatigue brought on by the scorching heat. The Sambok tradition dates back hundreds of years to the dynastic period, when farmers believed that exhaustion caused by working too hard in the heat would lead to a bad harvest; they took the Sambok period off to vacation in a cooler locale, often somewhere in the mountains or by the seaside. (more…)

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Posted in World Famous in Korea  •  2 Comments

It’s not fair. I followed the rules. So why am I the one who feels cheated?

PARIS—It’s not fair. I followed the rules. So why am I the one who feels cheated?

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme, at the outset of this year’s race, was doing and saying all the right things to convince the casual sports fan that this was the year that the Tour would break free of the doping scandals that have diminished its reputation over the past ten years.

And then, the Italian star-in-the-making Riccardo Ricco, winner of two stages, holder of the Tour’s polka dot jersey (top-ranked climber) and white jersey (top-ranked rider under 25), a popular rider with a decent chance of finding himself on the podium next weekend in Paris, flunked a drug test. He was later charged by the French gendarmerie with possession of a controlled substance.

And so here we go again. Guess we know why Ricco was so fast in the Pyrenees. (more…)

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Posted in Sportstrotter  •  No Comments

Daily Toast: July 17th 2008

Daily toastThe great walled cities of Iraq—nothing ancient here. From Subtopia. Link.

Go sit down and read a book! From Boing Boing. Link.

Lawrence Lessig’s take on swiftboating on Link.

The environmental impact of the Irish and Scottish settlers in Canada and New Zealand. A podcast from World’s Fair. Link.

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Posted in How to Read  •  No Comments

Searching for Purple


Hercules gets the initial credit for discovering purpura. He was strolling along the seashore with a svelte nymph, Tyros, and his dog was trotting along ahead in the sand. When they caught up with the dog, its muzzle was smeared with a brilliant, deep red-purple colour—a colour neither of them had ever seen before. Tyros begged Hercules to make her a garment with that hue (in fact, she told him she wouldn’t be with him unless he produced it), so he began collecting shells from the beach.

Shells? Yes, the famous Tyrian purple dye was made from snail shells: from the murex mollusk (shown above), a type of sea snail. It would take 250,000 murex shellfish to obtain one ounce of Tyrian purple, so the dye was highly valued. Purpura (its latin name) became the colour of royalty. It was produced in the city of Tyre, by the Phoenicians (whose name came from the Greek word phoinos, meaning “blood red”). They had been producing dyes in Tyre, and beyond, since 1000 BC.

“The Tyrian colour is most appreciated when it is the colour of clotted blood,” Pliny wrote, “dark by reflected and brilliant by transmitted light.”

By 400 AD, the murex mollusk was on the brink of extinction—a colour vanished from the world, perhaps.

Can a colour really go extinct? (more…)

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Posted in The Haulout  •  7 Comments

Daily Toast: July 16th 2008

Daily toastDiscussion about the Kindle and Sony ebook reader on the Oxford University Press blog. Link.

The spread of information from blog to blog. From Data Mining. Link

Movable type hoax. Interesting—maybe. From The Technium. Link.

The magazine layout process in a time-lapse video. From magCulture. Link.

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Posted in How to Read  •  No Comments
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