The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: November 2008

Blizzard Survivalism 2.0

Facing down the storm

KEMBLE—As a daughter of Bruce County, I am an expert on storm survival. At fifteen I wore khaki shorts and Bass Weejuns without socks when the snow drifts were thigh-high just to show winter what for.

A storm is on the  way so I am preparing.

Up until this week I wasn’t sure, but now I am. Reality is disintegrating. First Bell got a free pass on throttling internet data and now Twitter has turned off SMS for Canadians.

The mayor of Toronto, David Miller, and a bunch of his fellow droners tossed up a utopian smokescreen by holding a two day Web2.0 conference. Use of the term ‘civic engagement’ was so wanton and reckless that they effectively drained all meaning from it.

The last straw came this morning when I realized my new unibody Macbook Pro does not get as hot as my previous model and so now I can no longer use it to warm my feet as I drift off to sleep at night.

Plus there’s all that economic depression (which I predicted) and Prime Minister Steven Harper wrangling. Not to mention a sensational new grab bag of reasons to get horrified and feel historically distinct from brown people by gossiping about their violence and pretending we’ve got nothing to do with causing it. (aka Mumbai)

So what’s a country girl to do?

I’m breaking out my shorts and penny loafers.

Time to buy stock with enthusiasm and go house hunting for dives. I’m making a pipe of the tweets I want sent to my free email-to-SMS phone address thus subverting Twitter’s SMS pull-out. I’m emailing my ISP each time my Skype chat is throttled down to an echo-chamber. I’m running Photoshop and Final Cut Pro just before bed to really heat up the processors in my Mac.

And, most important, I’ve elected Roky Erickson as my Mayor and Prime Minister – or rather my interpreter now for the oh-so-distant spectral realm of Canadian professional politician.  As Roky has explained to me:

We can for a long time talk and talk but no matter how long we may talk,
We are not talking.

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  No Comments

Q&A: Lynda Barry, Part II

In this conclusion of the Four-Colour Words interview with What It Is author Lynda Barry, the novelist/cartoonist/teacher/guru talks about the ins and outs of her writing classes, worries about the editing process, wonders about where characters and creepy pictures come from, and gushes about how awesome comics are.

* * *

Have you thought of doing drawing classes the same way that you do your writing classes?
I have, if I could find a way to do it. I said to the audience [at her book festival talk], “Think of your first phone number,” and for most people it’ll come spontaneously and then they have a feeling about it. That’s what I’m trying to have happen when you write—unexpected memory. The memory is so strong that you write about it without thinking about your writing, just like people said their numbers out loud but nobody was going, “Now, did I use the right voice when I said that?” You know what I mean? It just happened. So with writing, I can demonstrate much more easily and privately that state of mind that I’m talking about. What I do in my class is, I have them start with unexpected memories and then by the end of the two days we’re writing fiction. Once they’re used to how that feels I pass out envelopes that have pictures in them, like from National Geographic, and they’ll be somebody in a flood, or somebody running from a house on fire, or somebody just sitting there smoking a cigarette. But the students are so used to it that I can say, “All I can tell you about this picture is either you’re in it, or this is what you’re seeing,” and I ask them to go through the exact same exercise we do when we’re writing from actual memories. What’s amazing is how seamlessly they’re able to get into it. With drawing, I haven’t yet quite figured out how to do that same thing—to make people able to instantly make spontaneous images. (more…)

Posted in Four-Colour Words  •  2 Comments

Last Year’s Man

PARIS—One year ago, when The Walrus accidentally gave me permission to write about the wide world of sports on their website, I announced a set of goals for the upcoming season.

Now, every good sports writer knows that revisiting one’s archived opinions and predictions is the recipe for a healthy serving of humble pie, with a generous scoop of regret-flavoured ice cream. It’s trouble, is what reflection is (who was it that picked the 63-99 Padres to win the Series? Oh, right). (more…)

Posted in Sportstrotter  •  4 Comments

I kind of don’t get Ninja Bugeicho

Sanpei Shirato’s Ninja Bugeicho, one of the foundational texts in Japanese comics history (or so we’re told), is available to English-speaking audiences only in a rarely screened film version directed by Nagisa Oshima. The movie approximates the books fairly closely—each shot is a panel from the original art, with actors reading the dialogue—but the experience is still kind of like what would happen if, say, we were only able to know about Peanuts by listening to Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas album. Yeah, it’s a great record, and this is a fine film, but the gaping absence of that original material can’t help but leave me a little bit flummoxed.

Part of my bewilderment probably results from the movie not making much sense in the first place, though to its credit it’s often that brand of not-making-sense that is, at times, euphoric, or at least wtf-rrific. It tells the story of Jutaro, a young samurai who vows to avenge his slain father, a lord during Japan’s “age of turbulence” in the 16th century. He meets Kagemura, a mysterious ninja who leads a clan of other mysterious ninja whom he’s encountered in dire straits, much as he’s done Jutaro. These include the tortoise man, the triplets, and the electric man, “who kills people through the intermediation of water.” (more…)

Posted in Four-Colour Words  •  11 Comments

The Ties That Blind

PARIS—Let’s get one thing straight here: there’s nothing wrong with kissing your sister. In fact, I’ve frequently found your sister to be a pretty quality smoocher, on the whole.

Likewise, I have no ideological problem with ties in sports. Sometimes the old “kissing your sister,” as they call it, is a perfectly satisfactory result for two teams, when neither can produce a particularly convincing argument for victory.

Of course, not all ties are created equal. France’s national football team finished off a dismal 2008 campaign with a 0-0 tie on Wednesday night, in a friendly against Uruguay. The match was so dull and devoid of good chances that I turned it off after 70 minutes. (more…)

Posted in Sportstrotter  •  No Comments

A Bhutanese Road Trip

This time of year in Bhutan is chili-drying season: nearly every house we pass has bright red chili peppers drying on their tin roofs, or hanging from their windows. I am traveling by road out of Bhutan towards India. The gravel road hugs steep mountains, and is just big enough for two cars to inch past each other at a slow crawl. No guardrail. This is the main avenue for goods from India and beyond to flow in — the tiny plastic cars and cartons of Appy fruit juice available for sale in the capital come up this difficult track.

We stop for granite boulders to be cleared from the road. This road is being widened with the help of the Indian government and legions of Indian workers, who seem to be widening the road largely by hand, pounding the stones into smaller stones. Young women work chipping away the mountain, with babies tied to their backs, sarees covered in white dust. I watch faces: an old man’s weathered face gazes back from the edge of the “Strong and High Bridge.” Children drag bamboo poles several meters long to who-knows-where, their faces turned towards the ground. The young Bhutanese guy I am traveling with slides his mix CD into the car’s player. It’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Californication.” Another old man drags a yoke for his oxen along behind him through his harvested rice field, the wood of the yoke curved and weathered by perhaps centuries of use. Tidal wave won’t save the world from Californication. (more…)

Posted in Shades of Green  •  1 Comment

Mirror’s Edge with Jesuspenis

I’m Jesuspenis and I’m taking over for Chantelle today because she is sucky and heartbroken still. Grrrr.*

I’m an expert on anthropomorphism and Twitter because I am both a four pound yorkshire terrier and a Twitter identity. So I get used phatically all the time on Twitter by Chantelle.

Some examples of my incredible tweets:

I’m staring at you. 9:18 AM Apr 20th

the rain really screws up my foot-hair 1:12 PM May 2nd (more…)

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  No Comments

A Conversation with Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry visited Toronto recently to speak at a book festival, and to teach her class on creative writing, “Writing the Unthinkable.” In her lively festival talks — which felt more like happenings than your typical button-down, staid author’s reading — she presented excerpts from her latest book, What It Is, asked the audience to shout their first phone numbers out loud, and sang “You Are My Sunshine” with her mouth closed. She also bemoaned her sometime status as a publishing industry “gateway chick” — she says she’s like the last girl guys go out with before they realise they’re gay, only in her case it’s publishers realising they want to “date” something completely different than Lynda Barry books.

That’s changing now that she’s settled with Drawn and Quarterly, who plan to collect all of Barry’s longrunning, seminal alternative comic strip, Ernie Pook’s Comeek, and who recently published What It Is to tremendous acclaim. A memoir-cum-workbook, What It Is incorporates collage, cartooning, and longhand writing in an effort to explain and disseminate the author’s creative process—which, loosely, focuses on one word, image, or memory to begin with, then spirals out from there. Lynda Barry was gracious enough to browse through a copy of What It Is with me, all the while speaking about her craft, about the creative state of mind, and about the collage material she used from her neighbour’s mother, Doris Mitchell—as well as a little bit about Family Circus. This is the first part of that conversation.

* * *

What It Is goes back to all the different modes you’ve worked in, in terms of the different techniques like pen and ink and watercolour and so on, but to me it feels connected to One Hundred Demons.

Oh, it absolutely is. It’s the sister book.

There’s that autobiographical aspect, and in the prologue to that book you actually talk about the process of putting those demons to paper.

The method that I used to write One Hundred Demons was to put a bunch of nouns and -ing words, gerunds, in a paper bag and pull them out. It was all based on that method I learned from my teacher, Marilyn Frasca. Right after One Hundred Demons came out my next plan was to do this book, but the publisher came out and admitted he was gay and he didn’t want to do another book with me [laughs]. But my plan all along was to do this, to try to do an instruction book, because it really is like following a donut recipe, and it was really fun. In What It Is I have a word list that I encourage people to just xerox and cut up. So that’s how I did One Hundred Demons. It wasn’t anything that I sat around and went, “I should think about smell, and come up with a story about smell.” No, I happened to pull that word out. Sometimes you pull a word out and you’ll just go, Nooooo! but I really stuck to my vow that I would do it no matter what. (more…)

Posted in Four-Colour Words  •  8 Comments

There’s Gold in Them There Trees

How do you patent indigenous knowledge? Most pharmaceutical companies have stopped trying.

It’s easy to think of indigenous tribes as backwards and ignorant, but they know a lot of amazing things that we don’t. Instead of English Lit or Poli Sci, they get fast-tracked into a far more challenging major: How To Thrive In The World’s Most Savage Environments. The producers of Survivor ought to add a local to the next series — they’d win every immunity challenge, clean the Westerners’ collective clocks, and probably still gain some weight while they were at it.

In my travels I’ve seen an Australian aborigine, a Peruvian Amazon guide, and a Ugandan translator casually demonstrate that where I saw blank and forbidding jungle, they saw a hardware store, arsenal, pantry and pharmacy. Need some soap, or disinfectant, or poison, or polish, or a snack? Mother Nature can and will provide.

So: on one side of the rich-poor divide, you have a small and diminishing group of tribes who happen to be the last repository of thousands of years of collective botanical research. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies around the world are on a relentless hunt for biologically active compounds they can turn into lucrative drugs. Should be a match made in heaven, right? I wish. (more…)

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Posted in World Fast Forward  •  No Comments

This Is Not Just A Test

Exam testing informs every aspect of life in South Korea, and it doesn’t stop even after you’ve finished university

Typical Korean students

Last Thursday was test day in South Korea. Traffic stopped. Airplane schedules were altered. The military was told to shut up. The best rice cakes in the land were distributed, consumed, and most likely thrown up in anxiety. For nine hours, the universe froze.

The most stressful test of my life was my fourth-year university Anglo-Saxon exam, which required me to translate a chunk of the original text of Beowulf, and for which I studied hard for maybe three days. The stress stemmed primarily from my desire to protect my ego by way of my final average; ultimately, the exam meant nothing.

In South Korea, tests determine the outcome of every major event in your life, and the nationwide university entrance exam (officially, the “College Scholastic Ability Test”), which takes place annually on the third Thursday in November, is the mother of all tests — the doorway through which kids must pass to transform from mute, bespectacled children whose personality is subsumed by their identical school uniforms into burgeoning adults who can wear and drink and study what they want. (more…)

Posted in World Famous in Korea  •  1 Comment

Goats are a Social Network

Microsoft’s just relaunched as a social network. It was very easy, all they had to do was copy Friendfeed badly.

Commenter Edwin Khodabakchian summed it up when he wrote: Interesting move. At least they are trying.

But’s reinvention has given me a great idea! What if I took my favourite animal – the goat – and relaunched them as a social network. After all, if Microsoft can do it with it’s dead fish then curious, rectangular-pupiled goats are a shoe-in.

From farming goats I learned that they are natural aggregators. They collect everything they see with their mouths, with no discrimination. On the other hand, for four years has aggregated nothing. So this feature would be much easier to implement with goats.

Goats are extremely useful and efficient machines. As revealed in this Wired video, goats can clear land quickly and without pollution. They even have tidy droppings. is a useless and inefficient machine because it does nothing and no one uses it. Microsoft in general has built it’s reputation entirely around it’s aggravating messy shit. Once again goats win out.

Finally, if worse comes to worse, you can eat a goat. An edible social network could really take over the world, I should think. And just now I tried to eat and nearly puked. If it weren’t for the new rounded corners on the unibody Macbook Pro I would have.

Final socialnet probability tally: Goats=100,

Prove to me that goats aren’t by far the better choice to be relaunched as a social network. Go ahead – I dare you!

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  3 Comments

Behind The Blog Curtain

The purpose of this blog is to allow me to do what I enjoy doing more than anything else in the world. Let me describe it briefly for you.

I take popular culture — both past and present forms — and use it as a lens through which to contextualize electronic communication technologies (ECTs) within a framework of race, class and gender analysis.

So why the hell do I enjoy this so much? (more…)

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  3 Comments
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