The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: January 2010

Last Tuesday, the National Post published what turned out to be a great justification for the continued existence of Women’s Studies programs, in the form of an “angry, divisive and dubious” (to borrow a phrase) editorial against the discipline.

Now, the opinions expressed by the Post’s editorial board are, very often, not ours; a right-wing editorial would not normally merit a special response from us. This is different. For one thing, the paper’s official position — it bears repeating, official position — on Women’s Studies programs is outright offensive, and woefully uninformed. It states, for instance, that “Women’s Studies courses have taught that all women — or nearlyall [sic] — are victims and nearly all men are victimizers,” which should seem a careless generalization to anyone with a Women’s Studies degree. It cites dated concepts as though they’re generally accepted premises within this (apparently homogeneous) discipline. There ought to be a variation of Godwin’s Law to cover poorly contextualized Andrea Dworkin quotations.

But it would be too generous to say that the National Post’s editorial writers know little about Women’s Studies. That’s not what bothers us: ignorant stereotypes are familiar to all feminists. No, what disturbs us is that the Post considers Women’s Studies’ aims pernicious. The following quote is not, in fact, lifted from the Onion: “The radical feminism behind these courses has done untold damage to families, our court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and even the ordinary relations between men and women.” Women’s Studies isn’t a corrective to an unjust society, you see — it’s a conspiracy which is responsible for such horrors as “employment equity,” “mandatory diversity training,” and “universal daycare and mandatory government-run kindergarten.” And thanks to feminism and the unbiased, professionally run, and state-subsidized education system it supports, your children may grow up believing that the differences between males and females are “relatively insignificant.”

This is, in our view, utter rubbish, and it is very much not OK. When a group with a longstanding, deeply entrenched systemic advantage — “privilege,” in the parlance of Women’s Studies and programs like it — speaks heatedly of its “rights” vis-à-vis a less privileged group, it’s usually seen as an expression of bigotry. “White rights” are generally invoked by white supremacists. The words “Jewish conspiracy” or “immigrant takeover” are surefire conversation stoppers. Heterosexuals who object to gay pride parades on the basis that no “straight parades” exist are, if not completely homophobic, not all that bright. In either case, the opinions expressed aren’t just stupid; they’re alarming. We don’t see why things should be any different when it comes to gender, and yet the “pendulum has swung” argument is somehow viable when women’s rights is the issue at stake. (more…)

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Posted in Online Exclusive  •  79 Comments

Weekend Links No. 7

Recommended reading from The Walrus Blogroll

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1. “Beyond the Poverty” by Olivier Jarda with Taylor Marie Young | The Mark
The phrase “the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere” has been used more than any other to describe Haiti in the aftermath of the recent devastating earthquake. While this statement is factual, Jarda and Young argue that it implies a moral superiority on the part of media commentators, most graphically displayed by Pat Robertson’s “Haiti is cursed” rant.

2. “Canadian Reactor Division Is on the Block” by John Lorinc | Green Inc.
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the crown corporation in charge of Canada’s nuclear technology, is looking for investors to help sell its heavy water reactors around the globe. AECL has had its fair share of nuclear troubles recently (ex. the Chalk River/medical isotope debacle), but Ottawa is looking to expand the brand and return Canada to its leading position in nuclear power technology.

3. “Sperm donation drops sharply in UK” | Futurity
Apparently, the drop-off coincided with the passing of a 2006 law that removes donor anonymity. The problem has become so bad that women have resorted to buying fresh sperm on the internet and using DIY insemination kits. Looks like the market has never been better for Stephen Colbert’s Formula 401.

4. “5 Worst Reactions to the State of the Union” by Max Fisher | The Atlantic Wire
US President Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union speech this week, and his country’s twenty-four-hour cable news channels were there to provide instant analysis — and verbal gaffes galore. Chris Matthews, what were you thinking?

5. “What’s Wrong with the Evening News?” by Morgan Clendaniel | GOOD Blog
Clendaniel finds a pitch-perfect takedown of television journalism, produced by Charlie Brooker of the BBC’s Newswipe.

6. “iPad: Sorry, Steve Jobs — MAD TV beat you to it” by Sarah Liss | Things That Go Pop!
A significant portion of my Wednesday afternoon was spent listening to a shaky audio stream of Steve Jobs’ iPad announcement while clicking through various live blogs of the event. When he announced that Apple’s long-awaited tablet computer would officially be called the iPad, I shuddered for precisely this reason.

7. “Is Apple’s iPad ‘underwhelming’ or ‘a game changer’?” by Regan Ray | J-Source
The iPad has not been met with universal acclaim. Nobody seems to be overly excited about it, while many seem downright angry (I’m looking at you, Gizmodo). Ray provides a good round-up of opinions from the journalism and publishing industries.

8. “Why Are Girl Journalists in Movies So Lame?” by Sara Libby | Double X
Focusing on Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in the critically acclaimed Crazy Heart, Libby deconstructs how female journalists are portrayed in American cinema: more prone to compromise their journalistic ethics than their male counterparts; often falling for the male subjects of their stories.

9. “Community TV blamed for cable cash crunch” by Cathy Edwards | rabble.ca
Edwards, spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), laments the death of easily accessible community television. Because of a 1997 CRTC ruling, carriers are no longer obligated to carry public access stations. These stations are now in danger of dying off. Edwards suggests that if Canadians make noise about their demise, the CRTC will have to listen.

10. “Video Podcast #2: Free Hoder” by Jesse Brown | Search Engine
Hossein (“Hoder”) Derakhshan is a Canadian blogger who is being held without charges or trial in Iranian jail. Not so long ago, Hoder was celebrated for teaching Iranians how to use new media as a tool for freedom. Then his political allegiance shifted, and he began writing in support of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Brown argues that in spite of Hoder’s newfound politics, he is a Canadian citizen, and it is the responsibility of our federal government to do everything it can to see him released.

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A Decent Proposal

The Saddest Music in the World

Last summer I took a gig hosting a film screening and lecture series at a library well north of Toronto. In a sterile meeting room upholstered with folding chairs and an extravagant hi-def projector that nobody employed there knew how to use, I began the series by screening Beshkempir, a 1998 Kyrgyz-language Bildungsroman. It’s a poky piece of social realism shot in a country most of my viewers had never heard of, but was a unanimous hit amongst the crowd of suburban housewives and budding cinephiles. The reaction to the second (and final) film I screened was even more startling.

The movie was Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World, one of my favourite Canadian features of the past decade. My idea was that these eager armchair film scholars would learn how vibrant, exciting, and bizarre their national cinema could be. Their response? Not so much.

As I began to suss out feedback, one woman furrowed her brow and shook her head, grumbling “I couldn’t find one thing that I liked about it.” My attempts to defend the film, its extraordinary humour, its stylistic idiosyncrasy, its riffs on American cultural imperialism, and the obsessive peccadilloes of its director fell on deaf ears. Whether they got it didn’t matter. They disliked it.

As I prepared to pack up my notes and get back on the roundabout bus route home to my downtown basement apartment, there was a stir of dissent in the ranks. An older, Eastern European man popped out of his metal chair and ardently defended the film’s clever use of montage editing, and its cartoonishly tragic thematic flourish. Not only did this crotchety retiree get Maddin’s film. He liked it a whole lot too. (more…)

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Posted in Moving Pictures  •  2 Comments

Weekend Links No. 6

Recommended reading from The Walrus Blogroll

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1. “Paul Quarrington, 1953–2010” by Stuart Woods | Quill Blog
A great Canadian author and musician has been taken from us before his time. Paul Quarrington died this week at age 56 after a long battle with cancer. Quill Blog provides the sad details.

2. “Buried in Rubble for 66 Hours? There’s an App for That” by Katherine Mangu-Ward | Hit & Run
American filmmaker Dan Woolley kept himself alive for almost three days beneath the rubble of his collapsed Port-au-Prince hotel by using, of all things, an iPhone app. The so-called Jesus Phone finally lives up to its name.

3. “Updates on the Crisis in Haiti” by Robert Mackey | The Lede
As the humanitarian crisis in Haiti continues, rescue efforts turn to recovery and eventual rebuilding. The New York Times’ news blog is continually updating with stories from the earthquake zone.

4. “NYT rebuilds its Jericho” by George Murray | Bookninja
Disheartening news for online devotees of the Times: the venerable, debt-laden newspaper plans to re-institute a pay wall on its website.

5. “Samsung Signs $6.6 Billion Deal to Build Wind and Solar Power in Ontario” by John Lorinc | Green Inc.
This week, Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty announced a multi-billion-dollar wind and solar energy deal with Korean conglomerate Samsung. The agreement is attracting international attention, as it puts the province in a leadership position in North America’s emerging green energy sector.

6. “The Harper government ‘muddles along’: Argument for a government-supported science policy” by Eric Mang | Rabble.ca
The Canadian government has fallen dangerously behind the times when it comes to supporting scientific research. Scientific illiteracy at the highest levels of government is a national embarrassment, argues Mang. He presents the case for making political support of scientific research an election issue.

7. “Fiction: ‘Toupée’” by Michelle Winters | This Magazine
I’m a sucker for short stories. Every word matters; you have to hook readers early, make them care about characters they’ve only just met, and keep them enthralled through the finish. This is one of the best examples of the craft I’ve read recently.

8. “Colorful Tits Produce Speedier Sperm” by GrrlScientist | ScienceBlogs
I swear, this is a post about the development biology of birds. With possibly the best headline I’ve ever seen.

9. “Good parents wanted: All genders apply” by Suzanne Wu | Futurity
A new study out of the University of Southern California suggests that the gender of parents has very little to do with their children’s psychological adjustment and social success, or the quality of parenting provided. This research flies in the face of traditional arguments against same-sex marriage and single-parent households.

10. “Big Brother Goes Online” by David Eaves| The Mark
Paging Mr. Orwell: France’s government has positioned itself to monitor the online activities of potentially thousands of its citizens. Under new regulations, habitual downloaders of pirated music, films, and other media will be kicked offline unless they consent to government tracking of all web surfing in their households. “And so the internet, the greatest single vehicle for free thought and expression, will be transformed into a giant wiretap,” Eaves writes.

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Not Seeing the Forest for the Tweets

Twitter looms large in the minds of journalists. Some of us live on the micro-blogging site: it is our industry’s collective water cooler. Others hate and fear the blue bird, confining themselves to Facebook or even email for social communication. All, however, feel compelled to file stories about what Twitter and Facebook mean for traditional media, in a relentless, mind-numbing, collective effort to convince readers that our business is its own top story.

So it is that today we read about an experiment called “Behind closed doors on the Net.” Starting on Feb. 1, five French-language broadcast journalists will get all of their information from Facebook or Twitter — no newspapers, magazines, television, or radio allowed. They will be allowed to click on links, but not surf freely across the web. The Toronto Star says that this will “test the limits of reporting solely with Facebook and Twitter.”

Of course, to call this reporting confuses consumption with production. Reading Twitter is not reporting any more than watching the Food Network is cooking. So let’s take the project for what it will actually measure (and to their credit, the experimenters seem to understand this much) — what news is like when it is consumed from social networking sites. As Radio-Canada’s Janic Tremblay told the Star, “We don’t know what to expect. There are people who just inform themselves with those 140 characters. What image do they get of news?”

Since Tremblay doesn’t quote any research about how people actually read Twitter, I’ll make my own evidence-free assertion: he’s wrong; nobody gets all of their news in 140-character increments. Most tweets contain links to actual news articles or video clips by folks (i.e., traditional journalists) like Tremblay. We follow sources that interest us, and then click links from their feeds. We Google something related to the story, get sucked into Wikipedia, and look up to find that the work day is over. Or we click, find a superficial criticism of the internet, and give up on newspapers for another day.

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Posted in Technology  •  5 Comments

Blood in the Water

BUDAPEST—The first thing that one sees, upon stepping off a plane in the Hungarian capital’s Ferihegy airport and entering the baggage claim area, is a pair of full-wall posters. A tall, lithe Hungarian, naked from the waist up save a bushy Mark-Spitz moustache and a funny little bonnet with ear protection, explodes out of the water with a yellow, volleyball-sized sphere cradled in his hand.

The advertisement, for a mobile phone company, appears twice, once in English and once in Hungarian. But either way, the message is clear: you’re now entering the land of water polo. Enjoy your stay!

Water polo, despite its English moniker, was developed in the UK in the late 19th century as an aquatic variation on rugby. The English wrote the rules and dominated the sport in its early decades, but since the late 1920s, no country – not any of such second-tier water polo nations as Italy, Greece and the former Yugoslavian countries – can match the prodigious water polo expertise and achievements of the Hungarians.

Since 1928, the Hungarian water polo team (in Magyar, the sport is called Vízilabda) has medalled in all but four Summer Olympics, one of which they were forced to skip due to the Eastern Bloc boycott (Los Angeles, 1984). Nine times they’ve won gold, including the past three Olympics.

In one amazing run of invincibility, Hungary went undefeated in 40 consecutive international matches between 1952 and 1956. This remarkable stretch was no easy feat of concentration, considering the political oppression the country experienced during these years at the hands of the Soviets, who brutally put down a popular revolution in November, 1956, one month before a vengeful Hungarian team beat Russia in the most famous match ever played, the “Blood in the Water” encounter at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. (more…)

Posted in Sportstrotter  •  1 Comment

Weekend Links No. 5

Recommended reading from The Walrus Blogroll

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1. “The Scene on Arrival in Port-au-Prince” by Ray Rivera | The Lede
It’s not every week that the Western Hemisphere experiences what may be its worst-ever natural disaster, but as we all know, this week it did. Rivera offers a first-hand account of landing at Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport on Thursday. He finds the runway intact, but the terminal in shambles: much like the rest of the capital. Read his report, then follow this link to donate to the Red Cross.

2. “More than 1,400 Canadians missing amid ‘unbearable’ images in Haiti” by Jane Taber | Ottawa Notebook
Of the estimated 6,000 Canadians in Haiti, as of Friday, 1,415 remained unaccounted for in the wake of the devastating earthquake (and thirty-some aftershocks) that struck Port-au-Prince. Taber details the Harper government’s efforts to locate them and direct emergency relief to the devastated city.

3. “Bill Clinton on Haiti’s Future” by Max Fisher | The Atlantic Wire
As the United Nations’ Special Envoy to Haiti, the American ex-president will undoubtedly play a major role in the country’s recovery and rebuilding process. Clinton urges that short-term relief is not enough — what Haiti needs now is a long-term development plan to secure its future.

4. “Stories of Haiti: A reading by Edwidge Danticat” by Matthew Trost | TEDBlog
TEDBlog reposts this stirring lecture from October 2004: Danticat, the celebrated Haitian-American author, reminds her audience of Haiti’s many important contributions to world culture.

5. “Hard Lives in Haiti Just Got Harder” by Jeff Antebi | Utne Reader
Antebi, a photographer who travelled to Haiti twice in 2009, pours his heart into his keyboard: “I can’t watch the news on television or listen to the radio. I can’t look at websites. I’ve been there, and now I picture it in my head after a seven-point earthquake.”

6. “Which Hat Do You Wear?” by Mark Lewis | Slaw
Now for something completely different. As eight NFL teams prepare to battle it out this weekend in the divisional playoffs, the league is gearing up for a fight of its own: in the U.S. Supreme Court. A losing decision in its anti-trust suit, related to an exclusive merchandising deal with Reebok, could have wide-reaching implications for all major sports leagues.

7. “Grit Plan: Let Harper be Harper” by Rick Salutin | rabble.ca
Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament has become a hot topic in Canadian coffee shops, and provoked this week’s decline in his Conservative Party’s popularity. Salutin postulates that for most Canadians, Parliament is like the CBC — they don’t watch it, but want to know it’s still there.

8. “Visual data: The words China censors” by Parker Donham | Contrarian
This week, Google announced that it will reconsider its practices in China, including its censoring of search results, in the wake of cyber attacks on the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Donham shares an eye-catching graphic, created by Information is Beautiful, that presents some of the many terms Chinese citizens have thus far been blocked from searching.

9. “Apple sends cease and desist letter to Gawker over ‘scavenger hunt’” by Scott MacDonald | Quill & Quire
Technology blogs have been buzzing for weeks with rumours about the impending release of Apple’s tablet computer (a.k.a. iSlate, iTab, the Jesus tablet). Quill & Quire presents perhaps the most tantalizing rumour yet, a virtual confirmation of said device in the form of a cease-and-desist letter sent from Apple to Gawker.com, which has offered a cash reward to anyone who can prove its existence.

10. “Count Basie Paints a Picture of the Birth of the Blues” by Stephen Worth | Boing Boing
Worth is the director of the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive. He’s been guest-blogging for Boing Boing all week long, but saved the best for last: a 1968 clip of Count Basie telling stories — and playing beautiful music — about his first encounters with the blues in Kansas City and Harlem.

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RIP, P.K. Page

Drawing by P.K. Page

P.K. Page, an extraordinary poet, prose writer, and painter, one of our most individual talents, died yesterday at home in Victoria, B.C. It is a loss not only for the world of Canadian poetry, over which she loomed large in her unusual way, but for Canada itself.

While I had read poems of hers before, I first encountered the enormity of her contribution in Ottawa in 2003, when Prof. Zailig Pollock, now named Page’s literary executor, spoke to a conference I attended. Pollock’s presentation was about the possibilities of hypertext poetry, and he used his ongoing work on Page as an example. After that day, I began to seek her poems out, and my reading of her has been a universally satisfying experience. (For an artist with such a wide range, she was unbelievably consistent.) The Walrus was fortunate to publish her work a few times over the years, most recently in June 2008, when we featured her poem “Each Mortal Thing,” illustrated by a pair of P.K.’s wonderful drawings.

While her passing is a considerable loss, especially given how productive she was in old age, there is some good news. As Quill & Quire reported yesterday, Pollock will be working with Tim Inkster and his excellent Porcupine’s Quill Press to publish a ten-volume edition of Page’s complete works. Additionally, Pollock and Dalhousie professor Dean Irvine will be preparing a hypermedia archive of her work. Thanks to these efforts, she will live on.

Last June, P.K. published a poem called “Cullen in the Afterlife” in Poetry. On this day after her passing, quoting its closing lines seems to me a very good way of saying goodbye:

So he must start once more. He had begun
how many times? Faint glimmerings and dim
memories of pasts behind the past
recently lived — the animal pasts and vague
vegetable pasts — those climbing vines and fruits;
and mineral pasts (a slower pulse) the shine
of gold and silver and the gray of iron.
The “upward anguish.”
What a rush of wings
above him as he thought the phrase and knew
angels were overhead, and over them
a million suns and moons.

(Drawing by P.K. Page. Click here to read more of her poetry in The Walrus.)

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Posted in The Shelf  •  2 Comments

The Complaints Department

Fail Whale

Last week a computerized voice at TD Canada Trust called to inform me that my ATM card’s security had been compromised, and I had to come get a new one; meanwhile, my old card had been deactivated. This irritated me, not least because it was the second such call in three weeks. So I did what any right-thinking modern man does when faced with a petty annoyance. I groused about it on Twitter.

Minutes later my friend J. responded that the same thing had happened to him and his wife twice in two weeks. They’d been told it was a local skimming scam in Toronto’s Beaches — but I hadn’t been out thataway in over a month. I quickly drew two conclusions:

• TDCT’s recent security problems were more widespread than they admitted to their customers.

• Twitter is more interesting than I thought.

Twitter’s long-term strategy is to be “the pulse of the planet.” At first that sounded ridiculous to me — but you know what, maybe it’s half-right. Maybe its fire hose of data can be filtered, collated, and used to draw connections that would have otherwise gone unseen.

Corporations have been quick to realize this. Another online friend of mine recently went to the U.S. with her iPhone, and was charged $300 even though she had turned data roaming off. She called Rogers; they said it was her fault for not turning off 3G. So she complained on Twitter — and Rogers noticed, and contacted her, and refunded the charge in full.

Why? Because companies don’t care if individual customers are upset, but if they tell enough people about it in writing, on a public forum where complaints can easily be retweeted across the Twittersphere — well, that’s different. I still don’t know about pulse of the planet; but Twitter as the world’s complaint department? Now that I can buy.

Here in the First World, we complain about First World problems: inactive ATM cards, excessive data charges. It’s mostly no big deal. But in the developing world, there are real complaints. In particular, endemic corruption. I have long argued that the human leeches (i.e., government leaders) who steal money from their own people are the single biggest problem the Third World faces.

A few years ago, a Very Large Corporation called for ideas on how to use technology to help sub-Saharan Africa; I suggested a corruption-reporting service to name and shame those parasites. The company liked the idea, but it didn’t go forward. (See my latest Maisonneuve column for more about why.)

But now I realize that there’s no need for anybody to implement such a system. It already exists. It’s called Twitter. And in a few years, the developing world will have ubiquitous access to it via both the internet and cell-phone SMS, the medium for which Twitter was originally designed.

The cephalopod of corruption has long festered in the shadows, and held the poor world back with its bloodsucking tentacles. Call me an optimist, but I can easily imagine the monster finally dragged into light by a few Twitter hashtags, some judicious data mining, and the unquenchable human urge to complain. Paging Transparency International. Perhaps your Holy Grail is here.

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Posted in World Fast Forward  •  3 Comments

Weekend Links No. 4

Recommended reading from The Walrus Blogroll

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1. “Wildrose gains momentum: should you care?” by Janyce McGregor | Inside Politics Blog
The Conservative Party’s iron-fisted grip on Alberta’s provincial politics weakened with the defection of two MLAs to the new Wildrose Alliance Party. Will this move have ramifications at the federal level, or is it strictly a provincial issue?

2. “Dying to tell the truth” by Cliff Lonsdale | J-Source
The death of Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang, the first Canadian journalist to be killed in Afghanistan since the start of the Canadian mission, shocked her professional community. Lang died while upholding the best practices of her profession, seeking truth for her readers. The president of the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma reflects on this tragedy.

3. “When authors attack!” by George Murray | Bookninja
An amusing anecdote about the dangers of writing negative book reviews on Amazon.com: (a) the author might be reading them, and (b) she just might report you to the FBI. Seriously.

4. “We Are the New Standard” by John Martz | Drawn!
This video clip, the first in Clement & Co.’s “ongoing documentary series covering people who are taking themselves and their work to a new level,” features artist Eric Nyquist.The L.A. native, who specializes in line drawing, speaks about the creative process and how he formed his style.

5. “Ten Players Who Will Shape Tech Law and Policy in 2010” by Michael Geist | Michael Geist’s Blog
It’s still early, but 2010 is shaping up to be a decisive year for new technology legislation and policies in Parliament (that is, of course, once it comes back from prorogation.) On his personal blog, the Toronto Star’s technology law columnist profiles ten movers and shakers who will undoubtedly influence said decisions.

6. “Deconstructing Social Darwinism — Part 1” and “Part 2” by Eric Michael Johnson | ScienceBlogs
Johnson, an anthropologist by trade, picks apart the reasons why scholars now question the usefulness of social Darwinism as a political theory. He also delves into the history of the term and explains why it could be considered a misnomer.

7. “The Moral and Constitutional Case for Gay Marriage” by Damon W. Root | Hit & Run
On the heels of the New Jersey state legislature’s decision to vote down a proposed gay marriage bill, Root links to Cato Institute chairman Robert A. Levy’s breakdown of the moral and legal arguments in favour of same sex marriage.

8. “Cocktails for Breakfast” by Jeremy J. Parsons | The Mark
For those of us who thought the end of the holiday season might mean the end of conspicuous alcohol consumption, Parsons comes to the rescue to discuss the merits of morning mixology. Mimosas aren’t the only game in town when it comes to getting a good a.m. buzz going.

9. “Significant gender gap in salaries continues at U.S. magazines” by D.B. Scott | Canadian Magazines
Citing the results of a salary survey published in Folio magazine, Scott notes that a significant gender gap still exists in pay rates at American magazines. The bigger the cheque, the wider the chasm.

10. “Lost in 8 minutes” by Mark Medley | The Ampersand
The sixth and last season of Lost premieres early next month. If, like me, you’ve been interested in the show but are unlikely to buy/rent/pirate all of the previous seasons before watching any new episodes, this handy video will catch you up in no time.

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The Somebody

An interview with Jeff Lemire

I admire how restless Jeff Lemire seems to be. Look at the career trajectory the Toronto cartoonist has charted for himself, look at how urgently he’s laid down every penline and brushstroke — you get the sense that this guy needs to tell stories. In 2007, following a Xeric Foundation grant and a self-published debut, Lemire released Tales From the Farm, a coming-of-age story that finds parallels between hockey, fatherhood, and superheroes. Another two volumes followed in what became his Essex County trilogy, each growing in ambition. Upon their completion (Top Shelf published all three as one massive collection last year), Essex County had become a multi-generational family chronicle that pieced together the lonely lives of kind-hearted brutes, pensive boys, and determined women.

Lemire’s cartooning is expressive without calling attention to itself, pointing instead toward the importance of plot, setting, and character. After Essex County, he created The Nobody, a loose adaptation of The Invisible Man that leavens Wells’s masterpiece of misanthropy with the addition of a sympathetic narrator (a teenaged girl). Vertigo, one of comics’ big-name genre-fiction imprints, released The Nobody, and is also publishing Lemire’s monthly title Sweet Tooth. The series, featuring an antlered boy “hybrid” and his grim survivalist companion, is something of a post-apocalyptic take on the cartoonist’s concerns with small towns and family units, and the allegiances formed and broken within. To discuss his rapidly expanding body of work, Lemire graciously set aside some time to chat on the phone with me. (more…)

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Posted in Four-Colour Words  •  1 Comment

Opposite People

Writing is freedom. The freedom to express ideas; the freedom to influence others; the freedom to explore all facets of humanity. Many authors have used this power to delve into one of our greatest unknowns: what life would be like as a member of the opposite gender. Through fiction, male and female writers get to convey what they perceive to be the feelings, emotions, and struggles of, respectively, the fairer and fouler sexes. With that in mind, let’s consider some prime examples of both genders’ attempts to inhabit the minds of the other.

The Hours­
by Michael Cunningham, 1998
Cunningham creates not one but three substantial female characters, each of them deeply effected by Virginia Woolf’s 1925 book Mrs. Dalloway. The Hours follows Ms. Woolf (a fictional portrayal of the author), Laura Brown, and Clarissa Vaughn as they grapple with mental illness, suicide, and sexual identity. Cunningham borrows not only Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness writing style, but also many themes from her life and the plot of Mrs. Dalloway. His Pulitzer Prize–winning novel (which was transformed into an Oscar-winning film) is celebrated for its realistic portrayal of how women confront major problems of human existence.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, 1911
This novella has Wharton examining the social pressures at work on a Victorian husband who is vexed by a difficult choice: stay with his ailing shrew of a wife, or run off with their young, comely housemaid. Ethan longs to make a new life for himself with Mattie, but society imposes his obligation to honour his vows to Zeena. The male protagonist has often been called an analog for Wharton, who was experiencing a similar pressure — juggling a spouse and a lover — at the time of writing. The story ultimately ends in tragedy, as Ethan and Mattie are brutally injured in a sledding accident. Wharton’s marriage fared no better; she divorced in 1913 after suffering a nervous breakdown. (more…)

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Posted in Chapter and Verse  •  2 Comments
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