The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: September 2010

Politicians and Libertines

Weekend links no. 37: recommended browsing from the blogroll

Weekend links number 37: recommended browsing selected from The Walrus Blogroll

Photograph by Alden CudaninAlden Cudanin

“Toronto’s Bank [1919–2010]”-Then and Now” composite by Alden Cudanin (Spacing Toronto)

AlexisGate, the literary squabble that started in the pages of the July/August 2010 Walrus, quietly rages on, in the form of a civil conversation between André Alexis and Jeet Heer.-Arguing With André Alexis, Again” by Jeet Heer (Sans Everything)

With Toronto’s mayoral election just over a month away, municipal maverick Rob Ford has all but locked up a landslide victory. The gaffe-prone, anti-immigration, anti-arts funding, budget-slashing candidate’s impending victory will upend the city’s seven-year-old liberal establishment, personified by current mayor David Miller, but the pundits want you to know this election isn’t just about Toronto.-The Rob Ford Era of Canadian Politics” by The Mark Newsroom (The Mark)

John Lorinc disagrees. Far from this election representing an upheaval, he writes, “there are intriguing parallels between David Miller’s 2003 election and the one we’re stuck with for 2010, notwithstanding the very stark personal contrasts between the outgoing mayor and Rob Ford.-Toronto election history repeating” by John Lorinc (Spacing Toronto)

Naïve? Maybe. But to be a progressive voter is to live in hope.-The staff of This Magazine compiles a list of “The 7 private members’ bills that shouldn’t die in [P]arliament, but probably will (more…)

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New York Stories: Human Potential and Positive Muons

On the ground at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting

On the ground in Manhattan at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting

CGIClinton Global InitiativeFirst Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the CGI’s closing plenary

From the “lost arrogance” of the financial crisis to the “blizzards of conflict” that lie ahead in the 21st century, ex-president Bill Clinton has firmly established his Clinton Global Initiative as the preeminent philanthropic organization in the world. Describing his annual general meeting as “show business for nerds,” the total tally for this year’s edition came in at 291 commitments worth $6 billion US, for a total of 1,950 commitments worth $63 billion US since the inception of the CGI in 2005.

At the closing plenary, Michelle Obama’s impassioned speech echoed remarks made earlier in the conference, by Laura Bush, that pleaded with businesses to hire military veterans, and for communities to embrace support networks that assist veterans in making the difficult transition back into civilian life. President Clinton stated that his worse fear was that people would loose their “confidence and mojo” due to the financial crisis. In a wide ranging discussion with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, both leaders expressed concern that the “rate of progress was under threat.” Gates, however, was buoyed by strong indicators that the poverty reduction targets as set out in the CGI’s “Millennium Development Goals” are being met. Gates also praised UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s “ring-fencing” of his government’s aid budget, despite expressing reservation about the magnitude of the cuts being implemented in Britain. He noted that the “push back” is going to be where the challenge lies — without doubt something to watch carefully in the months to come. (more…)

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Posted in Foreign Correspondence  •  2 Comments

The Ladies’ Man’s Bad Seed

New albums by Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave’s Grinderman, reviewed

New albums by Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave’s Grinderman, reviewed

There’s something sinister and sad and kind of ugly about the first seconds of Leonard Cohen’s latest live album. Songs from the Road opens with a recording made one year ago today at Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv; the crowd applauds in 2/4 time as Cohen takes the stage to sing “Lover Lover Lover” from 1974’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony. The knee-jerk, gut-level reaction is that there’s something awfully gauche about clapping to a dirge whose refrain pleads, “Lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, come back to me.” It elevates the song to the status of arena rock standard, reducing this later-life Cohen to showman, to vendor of spectacle: a role which has been imposed upon him in the past five years.

It’s a part he’s played out of necessity and, one imagines, with great uneasiness. The elephant in the room is Cohen’s financial problem, the result of long-time business manager Kelley Lynch siphoning millions from his retirement account, leaving the usually reclusive poet/novelist/songwriter with little recourse but to churn out more work, and exhaustively tour the globe.

This air of obligation hangs heavy over most of his recent work, from the rushed-to-market feel of 2006’s Book of Longing, a compilation of poetry and illustrations that reads like the B-side to much of Cohen’s more accomplished writing, to the 2009 release of Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (also not very good), and now to this Songs from the Road — the second live album, following 2008’s Live in London, to survey his last two years of touring. But where the London release documented an entire, solitary concert, Songs from the Road stitches together various sets recorded in Tel Aviv, Helsinki, Glasgow, San Jose, England’s London, Ontario’s London, and elsewhere. It’s a best-of live album, padding out the catalogue of an artist whose output has been compiled into a bulk of best-of albums, including The Essential Leonard Cohen, The Best of Leonard Cohen, and the uninspiringly titled More Best of Leonard Cohen. (more…)

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Posted in Music  •  4 Comments

Hammerin’ José

Watching José Bautista become the first Toronto Blue Jay to hit fifty home runs

Watching José Bautista become the first Toronto Blue Jay to hit fifty homers

TORONTO — Years from now it’ll be the topic for a fun cocktail party game: do you remember what you were eating when José Bautista hit his fiftieth home run?

When my turn comes I’ll answer confidently: a roasted chicken sandwich with garlicky sautéed rapini, guacamole spread, and piri-piri sauce on a soft Portuguese roll.

How could I ever forget the sandwich that I’ll always associate with this improbably historic moment in baseball, if not time? There I was, sitting in the 500 level of the Rogers Centre in Toronto, at 12:46 on a Thursday afternoon, enjoying the homemade sandwich that I’d smuggled into the ballpark for the Blue Jays’ “businessman’s special” matinee against the Seattle Mariners. José Antonio Bautista, the Jays’ slugging right fielder, came to the plate in the bottom of the first inning sitting on forty-nine home runs for the season (he’d set the franchise record for dingers with his forty-eighth last Friday night against the Red Sox in Boston).

No problem, I thought. He’s facing maybe the best pitcher in the American League today (RIP Doc), the Mariners’ “King” Felix Hernandez — an immensely talented kid who, if I’m being honest, was the main reason I’d blown off a couple hours of work to come hang out at the ballpark. Also, it was sunny, and the roof was open. And I like baseball. (more…)

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Posted in Sportstrotter  •  1 Comment

Rock, Paper, Starcrafts

From hand-to-hand combat to advanced battle strategy, it’s all in the metagame

From hand-to-hand combat to advanced battle strategy, victory is all in the metagame

Illustration by David RusakDavid Rusak

VIZZINI sits at a covered table, on which rests a bottle of wine and two goblets; BUTTERCUP, his blindfolded captive, is to his left. The MAN IN BLACK, seated opposite, has just added a fatal poison to one of the cups — unseen by VIZZINI, who now must choose which drink to consume. The survivor of this contest will claim BUTTERCUP as his prize.

MAN IN BLACK: All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right… and who is dead.

VIZZINI: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet, or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool. You would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

MAN IN BLACK: You’ve made your decision then?

VIZZINI: Not remotely. Because iocaine comes from Australia, as everyone knows. And Australia is entirely peopled with criminals. And criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.

MAN IN BLACK: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

VIZZINI: Wait till I get going! Where was I?

My game begins, as it always does, with a central building and a handful of workers. With them gathering minerals and more workers on the way, I scout out my enemy’s location — he is playing as the gooey, alien Zerg — while developing my base and building an army. After a few minutes, my first wave of troops — a small squad of rocket-firing heavy infantry called marauders — is ready to go and, fearing the loss of the initiative, I venture out to invade my opponent. As I reach his base, a stream of zerglings arrive, already upgraded to run at high speed, and instantly swarm my fighters, trapping and then clawing them apart before dashing off to demolish my base. Moments later, they tear through my protective wall, the couple of new soldiers I’ve managed to pump out behind it, and, finally, my precious resource gatherers. With a dejected “gg,” I surrender and go straight to searching for a new match, eager to try new approaches against the next random opponent. (more…)

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Posted in The Haulout  •  9 Comments

New York Stories: Patient Capital

On the ground at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting

On the ground in Manhattan at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting

CGIClinton Global InitiativeFrom left: Katie Couric, CBS News; Queen Rania Al Abdullahl Hashemite of Jordan; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of the Republic of Liberia; Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO, The Coca-Cola Company

One billion people worldwide have bank accounts. Three billion people have mobile phones.

Two questions being asked at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in the context of poverty alleviation:

“How much (loan) interest is too much interest?”

“If you were an NGO micro-finance loan officer, how would you respond to a poor woman’s plea of ‘Am I not poor, too?’ after you have just denied her a loan?”

An inescapable political theme doing the rounds at the CGI’s New York sessions is the awareness of what has been called the “wail of the top 1 percent” or “the angry rich.” A recent example of this phenomena came this past summer in the form of The Giving Pledge consortium. In the rush to grasp the magnitude of the current social, technological and economic disruptions afflicting the philanthropic world, it is the necessary to view matters through the prism ideological appeasement that seeks to fend off the more blunt dimensions of the impending expiry of the Bush tax cuts. Instead of cost-cutting mantras that paper over payroll attrition, Wall Street and corporate America are now actually beginning to talk again about job creation beyond the stimulus as a means of promoting growth. Whether this growth and jobs are created offshore or domestically however remains a very open and contentious question. (more…)

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Posted in Foreign Correspondence  •  No Comments

New York Stories: Foreword

On the ground at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting

On the ground in Manhattan at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting

CGIClinton Global InitiativeBill Clinton attends the CGI 2010 Green Vehicle Showcase

Bill Clinton hit the streets Monday in New York City to promote electric cars, nifty collapsing bikes, and draw attention to energy-efficient modes of transportation ahead of his annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).

The first major event of the meeting was the “CGI Exchange” — a kind of smorgasbord of altruism, organized as a “trade show” for relief aid, development, and education. Lesson learned: the latest in high-impact messaging is definitely short, made-for-the-iPad video activism. For example, Haiti’s Ciné Institute showed a raw and emotional two-minute video zinger which far outclassed the pamphlet crowd. The atmosphere in the ballroom/showroom had an understated yet persuasive elegance and urgency, coupled with a plodding café del mar soundtrack. Where else can you find Jewish appeal groups smiling across the aisle at the Palestanian National Authority’s economic aspirations desk? And only in New York do you see a runner doing his early morning ab crunches on the sidewalk as rolly-polly-packin’ security guys grab their sidearms and shades from of a caravan of black-tinted Suburbans.

The CGI is one of those rarefied, gift-bag-friendly get-togethers where battle-weary symbolic interactionalists brush elbows with the bastard offspring of international situationalists over conversation, catastrophe, and canapés. In recent years, the CGI has become the all-star game of UN General Assembly week. If you are a brand name politician or CEO, step right up. No stodgy podiums in empty cavernous hangars here — this is primary colours staging, network cameras, 7th Avenue glitz and casual seating for a very well-heeled crowd. (more…)

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Posted in Foreign Correspondence  •  No Comments

Death Becomes Him

Reflections on TIFF 2010: Barney’s Version, the film version, reviewed

Critical reflections on TIFF 2010: Barney’s Version, the film version, reviewed

Barney's Version, the film versionBarney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) and his father (Dustin Hoffman)

To call director Richard J. Lewis and producer Robert Lantos’s film adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version an ode to the Great Male Narcissists isn’t necessarily a slight against it. In literature, film, and music, the GMNs have managed between them a prolific, often productive, and most of all pervasive body of work.

The GMN’s old guard — Norman Mailer, John Updike, Philip Roth, even Leonard Cohen (whose music pervades the soundtrack to Barney’s Version) and Richler himself — as well as the inheritors of their legacy (like Morrissey, Jonathan Franzen, and Nick Cave) have fruitfully mined their own patent self-absorption in ways that transcend mere navel-gazing vanity. Even when inversely configured and self-admonishing (by his own admission, Cohen’s ladies’ man repute has always served as something of a joke), the GMNs have worked to fortify the ideas that life is a thing best examined with careful cynicism, and that love is a thing made more beautiful when it is left to wither on the vine.

Richler’s Barney Panofsky (played by Paul Giamatti in the film) is the ne plus ultra of the GMN, and thus it is fitting that circa 2010 we should spend two-plus hours watching him die. Because Barney Panofsky is the sort of character that is interesting: the sort of man that seems exuberant and robustly alive in a way that is undeniably appealing — witness his refined taste for fine cigars/single malts/women, his cultured bearing and intelligent wiles, his graceful crotchetiness — but ultimately outmoded, infertile, and fit to be retired. Because ultimately, Barney’s a dick. (more…)

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Posted in Uncategorized  •  No Comments

Mixed Reviews

Reflections on TIFF 2010: Trigger, Small Town Murder Songs, and Repeaters

Critical reflections on TIFF 2010: Trigger, Small Town Murder Songs, and Repeaters

TriggerTracy Wright and Molly Parker star in Trigger


Ten years after an expletive-laced onstage breakup, two former bandmates reunite for a night of bickering, jamming, and, ultimately, catharsis in Trigger, Bruce McDonald’s latest film.

In the late nineties, Vic (Tracy Wright) and Kat (Molly Parker) were Trigger, a badass, hardcore, and completely dysfunctional duo of chick rockers. Both are now recovering addicts — Kat is an alcoholic who imagines herself breathing fire and writhing in orgies after indulging in one sip, while the ghost of Vic’s junkie persona literally follows her around, heckling and cackling as she fights the urge to get high.

After a decade apart, the ex-bandmates meet for dinner before heading off to a benefit honouring their contribution to women in rock. At first glance, they’re reprehensible. Kat, now working as a television music consultant, struts in an hour late in her fuchsia stilettos. She is flaky and pretentious, name-dropping the chef and ordering quail and sparkling water. Vic, who’s still working on her music, is overly sensitive and passive-aggressive, grumbling at Kat’s extravagances but refusing to call her on them. (more…)

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Posted in Moving Pictures  •  No Comments

List Fulfilment

Walrus contributors David Bergen and Sarah Selecky vie for the Giller Prize

Walrus contributors David Bergen and Sarah Selecky vie for the 2010 Giller Prize

The Matter With MorrisPaul Farenbacher's Yard SaleLeft: painting by Sam Dargan; right: illustration by Robin CameronImages from David Bergen’s “What’s the Matter With Morris?” and Sarah Selecky’s “Paul Farenbacher’s Yard Sale”

This morning’s big announcement: the longlist for the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most esteemed literary award. This morning’s cause for celebration at The Walrus HQ: seeing two of the magazine’s contributors among the thirteen nominated authors.

In the magazine’s March issue, we excerpted “Paul Farenbacher’s Yard Sale” — a poignant selection from Selecky’s nominated short story collection, This Cake is for the Party. (More recently, managing editor Jared Bland interviewed Selecky for The Walrus Blog.)

Bergen, who won the Giller in 2005 (for his novel The Time In Between), appeared in our September issue: our story “The Matter With Morris” is a delectable taste of the book he’s been nominated for this year.

Congratulations to Sarah, David, and their peers on the longlist.

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Posted in The Haulout  •  No Comments

Dance, Hosni, Dance

Weekend links no. 36: recommended browsing from the blogroll

Weekend links number 36: recommended browsing selected from The Walrus Blogroll

Dance, Mubarak, DancePool photo: Alex Wong

An Egyptian blogger has shown that an influential state-run newspaper published an apparently altered photograph of Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, this week, showing him at the front, rather than the back, of a group of leaders who met last week at the White House to talk about peace in the Middle East.-Doctored Photo Flatters Egyptian President” by Robert Mackey (The Lede)

On Wednesday, Stephen Harper’s former spokesman ended his brief, attention-grabbing career as a promoter for the nascent SUN TV. Kory Teneycke’s departure came amidst controversy involving the purported sabotaging of an Avaaz petition against the station. (Why wouldn’t we want a Fox News North, anyway?)-Former Tory spokesman exits Sun TV” by Steven Chase and Jane Taber (Ottawa Notebook)

Row Three provides a host of reviews from the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.

This week the Business Software Alliance published a new study which purports to estimate the economic gain from a ten percent reduction in piracy of business software. For Canada, the BSA claims that the reduction would create over 6,000 new jobs and generate billions in GDP and tax revenue…. It turns out that [the estimate] is actually based on the economic gains from a ten percent increase in proprietary software spending.” Well, that makes perfect sense.-BSA’s Latest Study on Piracy and Economic Benefits ‘Shockingly Misleading’” by Michael Geist (

A question for the blogging world: where was this unified fury when Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC?-High Fructose Corn Syrup Becomes ‘Corn Sugar’: Blogging World Grimaces” by John Hudson (The Atlantic Wire) (more…)

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Posted in Links  •  No Comments

Sex, Prose, and the Veggie Aisle

A heretofore unrecognized trend in Canadian literature: the pornographic potential of produce

A heretofore unrecognized trend in CanLit: the pornographic potential of produce

Fancy CucumbersAdolph B. Rice Studio

As Katherine Monk points out in her book Weird Sex & Snowshoes, Canadian filmmakers are notable for their interest in outré forms of passion. Think of the acrobatic sexual positions displayed in the movies of Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, and Denys Arcand.

I’m wondering whether a similar fixation on erotic outrageousness isn’t also a running theme in Canadian literature: after all, the Governor General’s Award has twice been given to novels that feature a woman having sex with a bear (Marian Engel’s Bear and Douglas Glover’s Elle).

In many ways, bears make a natural sex symbol. With their hairiness, burliness, and wary aggression, bears embody a certain ideal of rugged Northern masculinity (notably among a subset of husky gay men). The image of ursine/human mating is redolent of both folklore (Beauty and the Beast) and mythology (the many occasions when Zeus took an animal guise in order to seduce a nubile maiden).

While the connection between bears and sex is easy to make, it is harder to suss out the erotic appeal of fruit. (more…)

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Posted in Chapter and Verse  •  5 Comments
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