The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: May 2010

Weekend Links No. 23

Recommended reading (and viewing) from The Walrus Blogroll

Back from vacation with recommended reading from the blogroll

Weekend Links returns from a week-long vacation.

The iPad + Velcro” by Mark Frauenfelder | Boing Boing
In the words (er, title cards) of Northern California filmmaker Jesse Rosten, who made this inspirational video, “two of mankind’s greatest inventions[,] together at last.” It remains an open question which of the pair is more useful on its own.

Breathing Soil Bacteria Makes You Smarter” by Mother Nature Network | GOOD Blog
The newest miracle medicine is… dirt? Injections of Mycobacterium vaccae, a naturally occurring soil bacterium that we inhale innocuously while outdoors, have been found to temporarily increase intelligence in mice. M. vaccae stimulates the brain’s level of serotonin, the chemical that decreases anxiety and boosts neurotransmission rates.

The Best Sunscreen May Be No Sunscreen” by Keith Goetzman | UTNE Reader
Before stepping out to breathe all that mind-enhancing bacteria, it would be a good idea to apply some sunscreen — or would it? According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2010 Sunscreen Guide, many popular brands contain ingredients that actually heighten your risk of skin cancer.

CNN’s Larry King Problem” by John Hudson | Atlantic Wire
CNN has a problem. The ratings for the cable newsers’ prime time programs — especially septuagenarian stalwart Larry King’s nightly talk show — have fallen way behind competitors Fox News and MSNBC. Hudson considers the costs of the network’s breakneck race to the middle of the political road.

An Ode to the G20” by General Tao | Food Court Lunch
The G20 conference accomplishes nothing and is incredibly expensive for the host city, postulates one angry resident of  its restricted security area. To Torontonians unlucky enough to live and/or work inside the impending summit’s red or yellow zones — my condolences. (more…)

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The Interventionist

An interview with Steven Heighton, author of Every Lost Country

An interview with Walrus contributor Steven Heighton, author of Every Lost Country and Patient Frame

Steven Heighton's books

This spring, Steven Heighton has released two books, Patient Frame, a collection of poems, one of which appeared in The Walrus last year, and a novel, Every Lost Country, which was excerpted in the magazine’s April 2010 issue. I’ve written in this space before about the process of excerpting the exceptional new text, but after revisiting the finished book I found myself with more questions for Steven. He was kind enough to email back and forth with me over the last month.

This novel begins with a fictionalization of a real incident. How did you come across the story that you used to begin Every Lost Country, and how did it shape your writing as you moved ahead?

In September 2006 a group of Tibetan refugees, fleeing up a glacier toward the China-Nepal border in hopes of joining the Tibetan expat community in India, was pursued and attacked by Chinese border guards. At least two Tibetans — both of them young Buddhist nuns — were shot dead. A group of Western mountaineers at a base camp along the border, preparing to climb the Himalayan peak Cho Oyu, witnessed the event, and a Romanian climber caught images of it on his cellphone camera.

I heard about the shooting when the story broke a few days later. I also heard that there had been some debate among the climbers at base camp about whether to go on with the climb or instead stop and get the video and testimony out to international media, as soon as possible. Several of the climbers decided that exposing the crime was their priority. So the story got out and spread, despite the Chinese government’s efforts to hush it up and then, later, ludicrously, to maintain that the guards had shot down the nuns in “self-defence.”

For the last decade or so, I’ve been obsessed with the ethics of intervention — when is it necessary to get involved, to cross the border that separates my problems from yours? As soon as I heard about the Nangpa La shootings, I knew my next novel would start with a fictionalized version of the atrocity. I saw that it could be a powerful way of exploring the ethics of intervention while at the same time testing my characters to the limit. (more…)

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Posted in The Shelf  •  1 Comment

How Sweet It Is

An appreciation for First Nations cuisine

Our intrepid food blogger discovers the pleasures of First Nations cuisine at Ottawa’s booming Sweetgrass Bistro

Sweetgrass Bistro
Mmm, caribou (Courtesy Sweetgrass Bistro)

In Ottawa a few weeks back, I discovered a food trend I would dearly love to see catch on in our more fashionable urban centres. Expounding on our restaurant options for the evening, a friend of mine suggested Sweetgrass, which bills itself as an “Aboriginal Bistro.” The small room in the Byward Market area has evidently been open since 2003, but is still in such demand that trying for a weekend table without a reservation is close to useless.

Sweetgrass serves “unique seasonal menus that follow the ancient hunting and gathering traditions of North and South America’s many First Nation People.” It is owned and operated by Phoebe and Warren Sutherland: Phoebe is Cree and grew up near Mistassini Lake in Quebec; Warren, her husband and partner, was born and raised in Jamaica. Both were trained at the New England Culinary Institute, and the restaurant’s menu looks, while tasty, a touch heavy on gimmickry (the “Grilled Tatonka,” a 10-oz. bison rib-eye, conjures unwelcome images of Kevin Costner wearing a handlebar moustache, humpbacked, and rooting in the dirt like a senile truffle pig). On the other hand, dishes like Awazibi Maple–glazed roasted wild boar, elk dumplings, and sustainably caught pickerel served with fingerling potatoes and “christophes mushrooms” raise a tantalizing possibility: the popularization of cuisine inspired by the food of Canada’s First Nations peoples. (more…)

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The Divine Right

An interview with Marci McDonald, author of The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada

An interview with Marci McDonald, author of The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada

The Armageddon Factor
Random House

In October 2006, The Walrus published “Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons,” an investigative feature by Marci McDonald that examined the presence, practices, and motives of religious organizations operating in Ottawa. That line of reporting has since expanded to become The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, McDonald’s new, much-discussed book about connections between this country’s religious right and Harper’s Conservative administration.’s Robert Parker recently spoke to the author — a former chief of Maclean’s Washington and Paris bureaus, and the winner of eight gold National Magazine Awards — about the controversies contained therein.

A major focus of your new book is Christian Nationalism. Can you explain that term?

When I use the term Christian Nationalism, I’m not referring to all evangelicals or all Christians who are politically active. There is a very small wing of the evangelical community — most of them Pentecostals, it turns out, but it certainly doesn’t apply to all Pentecostals — who believe firmly not only that the end times are coming, but that Canada has a very specific, pre-ordained role for the end times. This is spelled out in the seventy-second psalm, verse eight: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” That was written long before Canada was discovered, long before Jesus was born even. [These Christian Nationalists believe] that Canada’s geography was described perfectly, and so God has a plan for Canada in the end times as a refuge among nations.

Over the years we have slipped, in their estimation, from this prophetic role, or from the preparedness for this prophetic role. We’ve gotten rid of laws against abortion; we’ve brought in same-sex marriage. We are not able to fulfil our destiny as a Christian nation, so God sent us a wake-up call. It was on May 24th, 2006, when the clock on the Peace Tower stopped where the verse is written [at 7:28]. They often pray unto the Peace Tower, unto that verse, and they felt it was a clear sign that God had said, “You better get this Christian nation thing going before it’s too late.” That may sound ridiculous, but these are not uneducated people. They have very strong ties to elements of the government: they’ve been hosted by Stephen Harper; they have had a letter from him at their rallies; they have met over 300 parliamentarians; they’ve been at VIP receptions; they’ve been used in campaign spots. (more…)

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Posted in Chapter and Verse  •  7 Comments

Weekend Links No. 22

Recommended reading from The Walrus Blogroll

Recommending reading from The Walrus Blogroll, featuring Quillblog, Bookninja, Zoilus, TED, and The Atlantic WirePhotograph by Eamon Mac Mahon

Eamon Mac Mahon

CBC waging ‘faith war,’ Conservatives say” by Jane Taber | Ottawa Notebook
This week, Marci McDonald’s The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada (the fruit of a seed planted by “Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons,” her 2006 feature for The Walrus) became the must-read book of the political season. In related news, as sure as May flowers, Harper’s mandarins are mad at the CBC.

Movement mounting against Reisman receiving honourary degree” by George Murray | Bookninja
Suddenly, Indigo CEO Heather Reisman is the new Ann Coulter — unwelcome on a Canadian campus.

Cover of the Year Nominations” by Scott Sellers | Covers Sell
Spotted on Covers Sell, a new blog by newsstand circulation expert Scott Sellers, a readers’ poll to select the best of this year’s National Magazine Award–nominated cover designs. (Shorter version: Vote for us!)

Barrick Gold blocks mining book from B.C. small press” by Stuart Woods | Quill Blog
Censorship is a warm drill. For the time being, Talonbooks has halted work on a book called Imperial Canada Inc.: Legal Haven of Choice for the World’s Mining Industries. The stoppage follows an aggressive legal challenge from Barrick, the Toronto-based mega miner, that has publisher Karl Siegler fearful of losing a catalogue of some 500 books. Talonbooks, Quillblog reports, is now receiving pro bono legal assistance from the BC Civil Liberties Association.

Flavorwire: The Dion Abides” by Carl Wilson | Zoilus
Three years ago, Céline Dion was the subject of Wilson’s tiny, tremendous book Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. This week, the Toronto writer, blogger, and editor spoke to New York’s Flavorwire about her status as America’s favourite singer (still). There’s no rust on his blade: “She makes the sentimental music that’s the soundtrack to courting, marrying, and burying. It’s music for the wedding dance floor and the family-video montage.” (more…)

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The Road Warrior

Our Sportstrotter roots for his beloved Canucks behind enemy lines

Our noble Sportstrotter roots for his beloved Canucks behind enemy lines: the nosebleeds at Chicago’s United Center

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

CHICAGO — “Hey, you! The Canucks f***ing suck! You f***ing suck! F*** you and go the f*** home to Canada!”

To be fair, the 300-pound gentleman waiting in line to buy nachos had a point. What was I doing here? A Vancouver Canucks fan clad in blue-and-green, wandering along the upper concourse level of the United Center in Chicago between periods of Game 5 of the NHL’s Western Conference semifinals, barely managing to squeeze through a 99.99 percent homogenous crowd sporting the home team’s red-and-black jerseys. What was I thinking? And more importantly, what gave me the nerve to show up with explicit hopes of crashing the Blackhawks’ party, where all but a handful of paying attendees planned to clinch a seven-game series that their team led three games to one?

It didn’t help my situation that the Canucks had taken a 2-0 lead in the first period on a pair of goals by defensemen. I’d been careful not to celebrate too lustily after each goal, allowing myself little more than an instinctual yelp and fist pump. It wasn’t that I felt anything less than thrilled to see those two pucks find the back of the net. No, it was the fact that, as far as my eyes could see, I was the only person in section 314 not rooting for the Blackhawks. I didn’t see a single Canucks jersey in our adjoining sections, either. In fact, by the end of the game, I’d picked out a grand total of five other Canucks fans in the entire announced crowd of 22,192 — five guys who’d have my back, and none of whom were within shouting distance. If the worst came to pass, all I’d have to protect me from an angry mob were the three friends I’d come with, the three buddies who’d each dropped $170 US for tickets to this game – Matty, Helen, and Odom – and all three of them lived in Chicago, so who knows?

Showing up to cheer for the road team during the regular season is one thing, but once the playoffs start, you’re just begging for inhospitality. My best friend in middle school, a fellow by the name of Derry, once wore a New York Rangers jersey to school during the 1994 Rangers-Canucks Stanley Cup finals series; he was sent home after recess, covered as he had become with a thick layer of Coke, raw eggs, and various other powdery substances. Another guy I knew in college, a guy named Tug from Cleveland, was such a big fan of the Indians that during a couple of early-2000s playoff series against the Boston Red Sox, he wore head-to-toe Indians gear every day and tried to pick fights with every Sox fan we passed on the streets of Boston (in other words, every single person in Boston). (more…)

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Coming Down From David Wants to Fly

A Hot Doc in hindsight

I had expected the premiere of David Sieveking’s David Wants to Fly to be a modest proceeding. The premise of the documentary — recent film school grad devotes himself to Transcendental Meditation because David Lynch tells him to — is ridiculous.David Wants to Fly

© Adrian Stähli

I had expected the premiere of David Sieveking’s David Wants to Fly to be a modest proceeding. The premise of the documentary — recent film school grad devotes himself to Transcendental Meditation because David Lynch tells him to — is ridiculous. There couldn’t be that many people who would skip Still Alive in Gaza for it.

I arrived late, then spent ten minutes looking for a seat. The place was packed. Eventually I squeezed myself between a slight grey-haired man and a boisterous couple who traded Lynch anecdotes as a Hot Docs programmer took the stage. “So, how many of you are here for your interest in Transcendental Meditation?” he asked. The small man next to me and a few others raised their hands. “And how many of you are here for your interest in David Lynch?” Hands shot up like reeds around the theatre. There was even some whooping. Of course! This was a Lynch fan event.

David Wants to Fly
is about whackos (David Lynch), lost film school grads (David Sieveking), and exploitation (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his “TM movement”). It’s told through Sieveking’s personal narrative: He wants to make great movies, like his idol, David Lynch. At home in Berlin, he hears of a TM conference at Fairfield, Iowa’s Maharishi Peace Palace where Lynch will be speaking about, or rather advocating for, the practice. (more…)

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Posted in Moving Pictures  •  14 Comments

Weekend Links No. 21

Recommended reading from The Walrus Blogroll

With David Cameron’s Conservatives poised to form a minority government following Thursday’s British general election, Donham explores what (if anything) the incoming leader can learn from Stephen Harper’s handling of the Fall 2008 prorogation crisis.Photograph by ebruli

How much salt is in your fast food order?” by Peter Janiszewski | ScienceBlogs
The answer: way too much. Janiszweski, an obesity researcher, cites a report on fast food from restaurants in the New York City area which found that more than half of the meals served contain more salt than the recommended daily intake. The worst sodium offenders were chicken-themed outlets, where over 80 percent of dishes exceeded daily levels.

What Cameron should not learn from Harper” by Parker Donham | Contrarian
With David Cameron’s Conservatives poised to form a minority government following Thursday’s British general election, Donham explores what (if anything) the incoming leader can learn from Stephen Harper’s handling of the Fall 2008 prorogation crisis.

Everything Man-Made (Except Cell Phones) Gives You Cancer, Says Presidential Cancer Panel” by Ronald Bailey | Hit & Run
This week, Barack Obama’s President’s Cancer Panel released a downright scary report on environmentally induced cancers. It concludes that nearly 80,000 chemicals commonly used in American homes have not been properly studied with regards to their carcinogenic potential. The good news? The panel found “no convincing evidence” that cell phones cause cancer — phew!

Get ready to be inconvenienced by world leaders” by Matthew Blackett | Spacing Toronto
On June 26 and 27, our nation’s largest city will be transformed into a veritable police state complete with ID cards, a “designated speech area,” and huge cordoned-off areas accessible only to those who live and work within them. Spacing Toronto provides a primer for surviving the G-20 conference.

Poorer Women Getting More Abortions” by Amanda Marcotte | XX Factor
According to sexual and reproductive health think tank the Guttmacher Institute, the amount of American women under the poverty line who are having abortions rose by 60 percent from 2000–2008. Marcotte explores possible reasons for this massive jump, such as reduced access to dependable contraception. (more…)

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Portrait of a Serial Stealer

The making of Kenk, a graphic biography of the world’s ultimate bicycle thief

Kenk: A Graphic Portrait, is a never-done-before, 304-page work of experimental journalism. Based on thirty hours of raw digital footage shot by producer/publisher Alex Jansen and filmmaker Jason Gilmore, written by me — Richard Poplak* — and illustrated by Nick Marinkovich, the book tells the story of a Toronto man whom the international press dubbed “the most prolific bike thief in the world.”

Related Links
Geared Up,” Bill Reynold’s June 2008 piece for The Walrus on cycling in Toronto and bike culture

Holly Jean Buck ponders why Igor Kenk needed to store 2,800 bikes in “Surviving the Apocalypse, on Two Wheels,” from The Walrus Blog

In the summer of 2008, Igor Kenk was arrested on suspicion of stealing a bicycle. Kenk was a legend in the Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood, infamous for trading in bicycles of unknown provenance. The story turned weirder and weirder: The scruffy street merchant had a gorgeous Juilliard-trained pianist for a wife; police searches of his shop, home, and rented garages turned up almost 3,000 bicycles and plenty of drugs; Kenk made outrageous claims inside and outside of his court appearances. The city, and indeed the world, became fascinated with this outrageous character. Folks wanted to know more.

And so we have Kenk: A Graphic Portrait, which is an attempt to bridge an in-depth investigative profile with a graphic novel. The following pages are extracted from Chapter II, where we learn about Kenk’s childhood and his time back in Slovenia, which he generously terms “the old shithole.” (more…)

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Posted in Online Exclusive  •  3 Comments

The Walrus dominates National Magazine Awards”

See our thirty-three nominations for the 33rd NMAs

The Walrus is proud to announce that it has received a leading thirty-three nominations in 2009′s National Magazine Awards. Our contributors were nominated across several categories, and included twenty-three written, seven visual, two integrated, and one special nomination. The winners will be announced at the 33rd annual National Magazine Awards gala on June 4, 2010 in Toronto.

The Walrus congratulates all of our nominated contributors, listed here. See for yourself why we’re so pleased by this news.

Art Direction for a Single Magazine Article
Alice in Borderland” by Charles Foran

Arts and Entertainment
That Old Flame” by Don Gillmor
The Secret” by Brett Grainger

Best New Magazine Writer
Carol Shaben (“Fly At Your Own Risk“)

Best Single Issue
October 2009

Turning the Page” by Noah Richler

A Sorry State” by Mitch Miyagawa
The Age of Breathing Underwater” by Chris Turner

Health and Medicine
Cause and Effect” by Lynn Cunningham
Global Impositioning Systems” by Alex Hutchinson
Zero Sum” by Mary Rogan

A Film For Would-Be Immigrants” by Pasha Malla
Stephen Harper: A Short Biography” by Andrew Clark
The Obstecritic” by Pasha Malla

Are We Safe Yet?” by Leif Parsons
The True Sorrows of Calamity Jane” by Selena Wong

Investigative Reporting
Fly At Your Own Risk” by Carol Shaben

Magazine Covers
Please Forgive Us (December 2009)

Personal Journalism
Cause and Effect” by Lynn Cunningham
Walking the Way” by Timothy Taylor

Politics and Public Interest
An Inconvenient Talk” by Chris Turner
Fly At Your Own Risk” by Carol Shaben
Off the Rails” by Monte Paulsen
The Future Has Begun” by Nora Underwood

Science, Technology, and the Environment
An Inconvenient Talk” by Chris Turner
Global Impositioning Systems” by Alex Hutchinson
The Age of Breathing Underwater” by Chris Turner

The Most Hated Name in News” by Deborah Campbell

Spot Illustration
An Arboreal History According to the Guild of St. Luke” by Lauchie Reid
Extraordinary Canadians” by Graham Roumieu
Schematic Diagrams for Proposed Objects” by Marc Bell
Spiritual Citizenship” by  Jason Logan

Walking the Way” by Timothy Taylor

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A Portrait of the Artist as an Elderly Woman

A Hot Doc, in capsule review
The Woman With the Five Elephants

When I am old, I want to look like Swetlana Geier, with her wide eyes and swishing skirts, and her long white hair swept up in a bun. I want to talk and think like her — with wit and depth and unfathomable understanding, in images and allusions to history and art. I want to live in her house — or, if that sounds too creepy, a house like hers, set in dark green woods but close to a market square where I can buy lettuce from the local lettuce lady, who parcels it in newspaper, that I will use when preparing dinner for my adoring flock of grandchildren, who come to visit often.

Geier, Germany’s pre-eminent translator of Russian literature, is hunched over and moves slowly, and often ends her thoughts with a softly spoken “yeah,” like she can’t believe how profound she is, either. Is it the Dostoevsky? I wonder, watching her. Is it reading the “five elephants” (i.e., great novels) of Dostoevsky — repeatedly, constantly, and with the intensity of focus required to translate them, as Geier does — that makes a person this aware and this beautiful? Or is it a natural side affect of being hyper-intelligent, sensual, and eighty-five?

These are probably not the questions that the director, Vadim Jendreyko, meant for me to ask. The themes of The Woman With the Five Elephants, raised in the context of Geier’s life story, are grand — literature, language, connection, reconnection — and I’m probably supposed to be dwelling on those. But I’m obsessed with Geier. (She cooks! She cleans! She saved Crime and Punishment from being known in Germany as Guilt and Atonement!) Everything else becomes important only insofar as it reveals her character and is shaped by her articulation. This isn’t a fault in the movie so much as proof of Geier’s power to take it over.

Unless Jendreyko made her up. He could have spun her, edited her into what he wanted her to be. It almost seems like he must have, she’s so perfectly wrought as Inspirational Character. It wouldn’t upset me if he had. Even if Geier were a fiction, she would still be full of truth.

(The Woman With the Five Elephants is screening at Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival. Photo courtesy of Filmtank)
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Posted in Events  •  1 Comment
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