The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: April 2012

Off Track

Nora Young’s The Virtual Self, reviewed
The Virtual SelfMcClelland & Stewart

In step with her WiFi-connected pedometer, the modern “self-tracker” cradles her iPhone as she punches into an online database her mood on a five-point scale, her heart rate, and the calories she consumed for breakfast, then tweets out a GPS-tagged photo of the blue jay crossing her morning jog. The sum of all this updates her metaphorical “Data Map,” a “digital, statistical version of [her] real, physical self.”

As personal tracking tools come ever easier to our fingertips, our digital lives become increasingly complex and minutely detailed. Rather than dismissing self-tracking as the latest manifestation of an increasingly self-obsessed culture, in her new book, The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us, Nora Young argues that when “used properly”, the practice gives us the “chance to truly listen to the body, and to reground ourselves in the here and now.”

Young, who hosts Spark, the CBC Radio show that links technology and culture, waded through countless online services to log bodily functions, relationships, mental states, and habits — like RescueTime, an analytics service, popular with employers, that tracks a computer’s every working minute. Recording our daily activities forces self-awareness, she argues, inviting behaviour change with a rewarding “gold star” approach. Our basic captured data creates “a digital picture of ourselves”, she continues, resulting in a Data Map that is a “strong depiction of who we are.” (Recognizing this representational power, personal Timelines on Facebook — a visualization tool recently discussed by Ivor Tossell in The Walrus — serve, Young writes, as “repositories for people’s digital lives.”) (more…)

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Book of a Nation

Why Roger Caron’s Go-Boy! still matters

The first copy of Go-Boy! I saw was a well-loved book, likely stolen from a library with its cellophane cover. It was in an apartment in Ville-Emard, an urban wasteland beneath Montreal’s Turcot overpasses. An ignored and forgotten place of concrete nothingness, empty lots, and crumbling factories. A neighbourhood of new immigrants and the dying sounds of working-class Quebecois French. Neither of the two boys who gave me Go-Boy! — by Roger Caron, who passed away earlier this month — had made it to high school. One had been to juvie, and the other saw the inside of a drunk tank more often than most. It was surprising that a prized possession of theirs would be a Governor General’s Award–winning book, because yes, Go-Boy! made it that far. I think I know why.

As a young deliquent, Roger Caron imagined himself as Dillinger every time he was carted away by the law. He grew up to become one of Canada’s most infamous bank robbers and escape artists. Caron’s infamy exploded in 1978, when he received the GG for non-fiction for Go-Boy! It was a book so widely hailed that judges and criminology students later kept it on hand, and so widely selling that it made him “one of the most financially successful writers in the country.” (In the early 1990s, Caron estimated his earnings at $250,000. This was all before the threat of Paul Bernardo earning money from the telling of his offenses provoked a surge in proceeds-of-crime legislation at the federal and provincial levels.) (more…)

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Something to Remember

On scene at the Trillium Winner Author Readings
Trillium Award 25The Trillium Book Award celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year

The Trillium Book Award for Poetry, according to Karen Solie, who won in 2010 for her collection Pigeon, gives poets something to “hang on to and remember, when in the throes of all that self doubt.” The Ontario Media Development Corporation created the annual award specifically for new and emerging poets ten years ago. Last week in Toronto, the Trillium Winner Author Readings reiterated the province’s appreciation for its literary artists.

People started trickling in to the Gladstone Hotel’s ballroom after 6 pm; soon, the place was bustling with past winners and their fans, friends, family, and publishers. Inside, bordered by exposed brick walls and velvet drapery, winning poets Jeramy Dodds (Crabwise to the Hounds, 2008), Maureen Scott Harris (Drowning Lessons, 2004), Jeff Latosik (Tiny, Frantic, Stronger, 2010), Adam Sol (Crowd of Sounds, 2003), and Solie (Pigeon, 2009) read excerpts from their award-winning books, as well as new poetry. (more…)

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The Protecting Politics from Linguistic Predators Act

How are Parliamentary bills named in Canada, and do their names matter?

Currently bouncing around Parliament is the immigration reform bill Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act (C-49), introduced by the Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews. Toews had earlier brought us the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act (C-30), a bill about surveilling Canadians’ electronic communications (which I discussed in an earlier post). Who comes up with these names? And do they direct the political debate?

The questions refer to the short titles of bills — the ones meant for citation only. Both bills above have long, formal, objective titles as well, such as Bill C-30’s An Act to Enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to Amend the Criminal Code and Other Acts, and Bill C-49’s An Act to Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act. (Click here to view a comprehensive list of bills for Parliament’s current session.) But it’s the short titles that get passed around in debates and by the media, and that we, the voting public, ultimately associate with new legislation.

The short title for a Parliamentary bill originates with its sponsoring minister (e.g., Toews), in consultation with the government (e.g., Conservative Party). In the case of a private member’s bill, the short title comes from the MP putting it forward. Short titles are up for debate in committee, and the Opposition typically pushes to amend the polarizing ones. This rarely succeeds. One exception happened in 2010, when Bill C-22’s original short title, Protecting Children from Online Sexual Exploitation Act, was successfully contested in committee, and later deleted. Parliament requires that only a bill’s full title accurately reflect its contents; there are no laws governing short titles. In the past, and usually still now, a short title is pulled directly from the bill’s full title (e.g., An Act Respecting Louis Riel becomes Louis Riel Act (C-302)). (more…)

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Laying Down: the Law

Is prostitution legal in Canada?
ProstitutionMassimo Catarinella/Wikimedia CommonsTwo brothels in Amsterdam’s red-light district

Last week, a resounding 77 percent of respondents to a Globe and Mail online poll voted that prostitution should be decriminalized in Canada — missing the point that it already is, and always has been. But seven out of ten Canadians believe it isn’t, according to a 2011 Angus Reid survey.

Why are we confused about the status of sex work in Canada? While selling sex (an activity that the government loosely defines as providing sexual services for payment in an essentially indiscriminate nature) is legal, the work is enveloped in a tangle of illegal peripheral activities — a duplicity that mimics the nation’s ambivalence toward the profession. This tangle of laws makes it “virtually impossible to engage in prostitution without committing a crime,” as Parliament recognized in a large-scale 2006 study of sex work in Canada. The situation is confounded by frequent media reports of police arresting sex sellers through raids or publicly shaming buyers by broadcasting their names.

Historically, 90 percent of these police incidents relate to solicitation in a public place, according to 2005 figures from the Department of Justice. The Fraser Report, a landmark 1985 Parliamentary review, recommended banning street solicitation, but retaining the decriminalized status of selling sex among consensual adults, and proposed that prostitution be contained within government-regulated establishments. Taking prostitution off the streets and into controlled houses would seem to solve many problems: this would protect public space, reduce police workload, and provide a safer workplace for professional sex workers.  (more…)

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Dreaming of Zenia

The Walrus Books launches with an original short story, the author’s I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth
Exclusive excerpt

Long ago, when they were all a lot younger, Zenia had stolen a man from each of them. From Tony, she’d stolen West, who did however think better of it — or that is Tony’s official version to herself — and is safely rooted in Tony’s house, fooling with his electronic music system and getting deafer by the minute. From Roz, she’d stolen Mitch, not exactly hard, since he’d never been able to keep it zipped; but then, after emptying not only his pockets but what Charis called his psychic integrity, Zenia had dumped him, and he’d drowned himself in Lake Ontario. He’d worn a life jacket, and he’d made it look like a sailing accident, but Roz had known.

She’s over that by now, or as much as a girl can ever be over it, and she has a much nicer husband called Sam, who’s in merchant banking and more suitable, with a better sense of humour. But still, it’s a scar. And it hurt the children; that’s the part she can’t forgive, despite the shrink she went to in an effort to wipe the slate. Not that there’s any percentage in not forgiving a person who’s no longer alive.

From Charis, Zenia had stolen Billy. That was perhaps the cruellest theft, think Tony and Roz, because Charis was so trusting and defenceless, and let Zenia into her life because Zenia was in trouble, and was a battered woman, and had cancer, and needed someone to take care of her, or that was her story — a shameless fabrication in every part. Charis and Billy were living on the Island then, in a little house that was more like a cottage. They kept chickens. Billy built the coop himself; being a draft dodger, he didn’t exactly have a steady job. (more…)

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