Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Experience: A Memoir, Book Review by Lezah

It has taken me (I'm somewhat ashamed to admit) about three weeks to get through Martin Amis's 15th book, 'Experience: A Memoir'. But then I've been reading a lot of other books simultaneously, and biographies/memoirs usually lend themselves fairly well to getting put down for a while as I delve into something else...

In case you don't know, little Martin Amis (as he is sometimes mockingly called by the British press) is the son of the equally famous Kingsley Amis, himself a Booker Prize winner (1986's 'The Old Devils' [which I never read]) and author of 'Lucky Jim' (which I read) - among others (I also tried to read the misogynistic 'Jake's Thing' but couldn't get through it). Together the Amises are the literary equivalent of the Royal family.   

Martin (or Mart, as he is known to his family) has been called one of the 'princes of British intelligentsia', but he has also suffered the fate which seems to befall many princes these days - lots and lots of bad press. He was recently described as 'the most celebrated and vilified novelist in the English language'.

His is a life that reads like fiction: he has grown up in cities and university towns (Oxford, Princeton) where he was exposed to many of the top minds of the last fifty years and has long been on a first-name basis with many of them; he's suffered great losses (the death of his father in 1995, and the murder of his cousin by Britain's most infamous serial killer, Frederick West) and lived through emotional turmoil (the divorce of his parents, his own messy marital break-up, the discovery of a long-lost daughter); and he's experienced great critical success in his professional life in spite of being an extremely poor student in his early years.

'Experience' is not what one could call a standard chronological narrative; Amis begins most chapters with a letter to his father (and second wife, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard) written at the time when Amis was a student (most letters end with itemized lists of bills paid or still in need of payment by Amis senior). From there each chapter leaps forward and/or backward in time, digressing and fast forwarding in a way that, on the surface, appears to lack structure but ultimately illustrates a very clever framework from which to showcase one's life. It's quite an interesting treatment and prevents the work from reading like a diary; in addition, Amis has included footnotes that are often very lengthy and, in many cases, offer the juiciest details and digressions.

It's interesting, for a person who was brought up in a somewhat dysfunctional family such as his, with the break-up of his family home, the emotional break-down of his mother, the alcoholism of his philandering father, the multiple marriages between the lot of them (Martin included), the bohemian upbringing and spotty schooling he had during his teen years, that ultimately, when the end came for Kingsley, the family unit was solidly together (albeit with his mother's third husband still very much in the picture). But then maybe all children, regardless of what age they happen to be, still need to believe that their parents loved and still do love each other...

Much has been written about another recurrent thread through his book, that of the murder of Amis's cousin Lucy Partington. Her sister Marion has since claimed that Amis only met Lucy twice. That is not the impression one gets from reading 'Experience'. However, each person's perspective is different, and it's entirely possible Amis did feel the loss as profoundly as he claims.

More peculiar, I thought, was his preoccupation with the state of his teeth throughout the book, which received an amount of ink approximately equivalent to that received by his murdered cousin. Of course, Amis's teeth also got a lot of coverage in the British press, so perhaps this convinced him that his dentition was, indeed, truly newsworthy.

Grammar was another recurring topic, as were familial relationships - which one would expect in a memoir. Due to the nature of the family, however, it was interesting to note how, in conversations between Amis and his father, they discussed their books almost as though they were their offspring. Which leads us full circle to the idea of experience, yet another recurrent theme in the book. Innocence and experience are two ideas that are discussed, examined, debated and, at various times, tried on for size. Experience seems to be the best fit for Amis.

Certainly if you are a fan of Amis, or are at all interested in British literature in the late 20th Century, then this book is one you should read.  

Life Aquatic - Movie Review by Lezah

"What happened? Did I lose my talent? Am I ever going to be good again?" laments Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) in 'Life Aquatic' during an inward-looking moment. Sadly, many critics were wondering the same about writer/director Wes Anderson following his latest (and biggest - this one carried a $50 million pricetag) cinematic venture.

Even more sad, however, is that many of the aforementioned critics just didn't get it. One of the recurring themes in 'Life Aquatic' is that a man who experienced his heyday in the seventies, and who is now still out there, doing what he does, isn't getting the same payback anymore. I guess, in a nutshell, it's the classic mid-life crisis story. His wife is on the verge of leaving him, his fans and financial backers already have, and all he has left to show of his life is an outdated boat and some film footage.

Zissou is a guy who has seen and done it all, and yet now he's reduced to faking, scamming and stealing in order to finance his latest venture, the revenge killing of the (possibly fake) Jaguar Shark (or will it turn out to be real, after all?). He's collected a ragtag troupe of misfits who are each equally backward looking; the best in life has already been, and yet they still blunder on. The scene where Zissou singlehandedly takes the boat back from the group of armed pirates says it all: that is the act of a desperate man, a man with nothing to lose, a man with no future. And his actions are repeated again later at the hotel scene, when he rescues his 'part gay' nemesis (played brilliantly by Jeff Goldblum) - yet this time, his actions infect and infuse his crew, and together they realize that there is still life in them, that life is still worth living. Hence, poor Cody the three-legged dog, gets left behind.

I think Anderson's subtle humour is lost on many people, and if one did not like the brilliant, quirky, and oh-so-droll 'The Royal Tenenbaums' (my personal fave), then one will certainly not enjoy 'Life Aquatic'. Anderson has a core group of actors he uses and re-uses in his movies, and he knows how to get the best performances from them. To see the usually voluble and irrepressible Bill Murray playing an understated, deadpan Zissou just lends the role even more credence.

'Life Aquatic' looks at the world as though one is looking at something underwater - your vision is fine, but the water refracts your perspective. What you think you are seeing is not really as it appears. Likewise with this film - after all, any film that opens with a documentary showing of a nature film at a European film festival is bound to be a little idiosyncratic, a little off-kilter.

'Life Aquatic' pays homage to seventies documentarian Jacques Cousteau - or is it, in fact, lightly mocking him? The use of low-tech, stop motion animation (as opposed to high tech CGI) further reinforces the '70s feel. Likewise, the music (David Bowie tunes played on acoustic guitar and sung in Portuguese) are another subtle reference to a better, simpler time.

The emotionally needy characters suffer from minimalist angst; the irony is so low-key as to seem almost non-existent - and yet, it's there, front and centre. With a wacky plot, an all-star cast, acerbic humour, brilliantly understated acting, existential questions, music by Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo), and non sequitur after non sequitur - what more could one ask for in a film?    

DuWop, by Lezah

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The amazing world of DuWop leaves me at a loss for words - I can't believe that their products hadn't been invented before, because there has certainly long been a need for them.

DuWop Cosmetics ain't an ordinary cosmetics company. This company was started in 1998 by two women (Laura DeLuisa and Crinstina Bartolucci) who were working as a hair and makeup team in the entertainment industry; with no shortage of downtime, the two started dreaming up products that the industry needed but was still lacking. Since these products didn't exist, the two got together in a kitchen and like a couple of mad scientists, started cooking up some wild and crazy concoctions.

IGels was one of their first products. Designed to help the actors who came in at 6 am day after 14 hour day (and yet who still had to look beautiful by 6:30 am), IGels is a reusable cool gel eye compress that boasts soothing botanicals and essentials oils.

However, it was Lip Venom that put them on the map. Lip Venom colours the lips, but also plumps them up, sans surgery and injections. Essential oils boost circulation and make lips oh-so kissable. All proceeds from the Jassamine shade of Venom gloss go to the Mother's Club Community Centre.

Other innovations include lip liners that are used outside the lip line, which help fill in vertical lines in the lips.

Entrepreneur magazine has listed the two founders of DuWop in their 2004 Class of Young Millionaires.

Celebrities like Owen Wilson, Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani and Cindy Crawford (among others) use their product. Look for it a Sephora and other fine stores.

Pavement, Steve malkmus and the Jicks, by Lezah

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I've been listening to a lot of Pavement lately. Coincidentally, on May 24 Steve Malkmus, former Pavement frontman, released his 3rd album with his new band Steve Malkmus and the Jicks ('Face the Truth', on Matador). They are touring North America in support of this album through early July; more dates will be announced later.

But back to Pavement. Who was the band that typified the '90s sound? I'm sure most people would say Nirvana. But Pavement... Pavement would likely rank right up there for many, many people. In fact, my music Bible, Pitchforkmedia.com calls them "the ultimate indie band of the '90s" and gave their album 'Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain' a rating of 10.0, saying it was "close to a perfect album". Likewise, Inkblot called 'Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain' "the best classic rock record of the '90s" and called their earlier album 'Slanted and Enchanted' "the album that built the frame of reference for indie-rock".

So, the band that started in Stockton, CA, eventually disbanded a little over ten years later in 1999/2000, but not before exploring a variety of styles of music. Their own influences were The Fall, The Velvet Underground and the Pixies, but they in turn influenced many bands with their smart, suburban, original sound. Their oblique, slacker sound was characterized by bursts of lo-fi static; their stages shows were often bewildering to fans (including one show in England where they made cucumber sandwiches for the audience); their look was anti-fashion; and they became almost as well known for their intellectual, elitist and sarcastic attitude as they did for their music. But not quite. They were funny, they were witty, they were sarcastic - in a nutshell, they WERE indie music.

Check out Malkmus's latest tour - the sound is maybe a little more 'dance rock', but that's not to say it's a bad thing. Just more experimentation, more new territory for Malkmus to explore.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Craig Northey - see Animated: 1. Having Much High-Spirited Energy and Movement, by Christine

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There’s not a better way to define Craig Northey’s current involvement in music, hence the title. Always a prolific songwriter and gifted musician, Craig is faced with a sedulous 2005. At the moment, Craig Northey is gearing up to promote the "Stripper's Union" CD, released with Universal Music and due out June 14th/05.

The band includes: Craig Northey (Odds), Doug Elliott (Odds), Pat Steward (Odds), Simon Kendall (Doug & the Slugs, Sharkskin) and Rob Baker (the Tragically Hip). Rob & Craig wrote the songs and the other Hips are featured on the record as well. A virtual who’s who of Canadian talent. The group will have a Vancouver date somewhere close to July 13th. The single "Give Up & Go Away" goes to radio June 1st/05. Start requesting it then. It’s a rock song, so try the rock radio station in your community.

Northey’s CD with Jesse Valenzuela (Gin Blossoms) "Northey Valenzula" is available through maplemusic.com (see link to order). Jesse and Craig will pick things up in September with some US dates and... hopefully a US release. (So keep any and all requests coming into the radio stations in your area!)

Northey also has three co-writes on the next Colin James’ record "Limelight" due out in September/05 and Craig will continue to tour with him when he can.

If you like "all" things Craig Northey, then you might like Bob Kemmis' CD "Arena Ready" also available through Maplemusic. Northey produced and played, and Doug, Pat, Simon and Rob Baker are also featured on the cd. Its a great intelligent pop record by a great tunesmith.

Tim Der has a clip of Colin James & Craig performing his song "Misplaced Heart" for the Queen and eleven thousand other people... oh... and all the people who watched the CBC that night. As Craig noted, “I didn't meet the Queen, but I met Joni Mitchell. If given a choice I would have gone that way anyway...”

Couldn’t have said it better, myself.

Here's where to find the Tim Der clip:http://craig.oddstp.com/craig.html

Touring Schedule
  • June 10, 2005 - Cross Canada
    Stripper's Union
    Rob Baker & Craig will be doing a promo/radio tour from June 10 to 17 and then the band will hit the road from east to west in a 9 day whirlwind from the 21st to the end of the month. Info TBA.
  • June 19, 2005 - Mississauga Waterfront Festival - Mississauga, ON
    Colin James Band
  • June 20, 2005 - Lil' Big Horn - Cambridge, ON
    Colin James
  • June 22, 2005 - Ottawa Ontario - Barrymore's
    Stripper's Union
    our debut
  • June 23, 2005 - Toronto Ontario - the Mod Club
    Stripper's Union
    Our second show
  • July 01, 2005 - Surrey BC - Millenium Amphitheatre
    Colin James
    Cloverdale MillineumAmphitheatre
    Corner of 64th Ave and 176th Street
    Surrey, BC
  • July 08, 2005 - Thunder Bay Blues Festival - Thunder Bay, ON
    Colin james
  • July 16, 2005 - Belgian Rhythm' n' Blues Festival - Peer, Belgium
    Colin James
  • July 19, 2005 - TBA - Aschaffenburg, Germany
    Colin James
  • July 21, 2005 - TBA - Madrid, Spain info at colinjames.com
    Colin James
  • July 23, 2005 - Crossroad Festival - Gijon, Spain
    Colin James
  • July 25, 2005 - Blue Balls Festival - Luzern, Switzerland
    Colin James

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Cocoon by Christine

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“Where did you just go?”

“You know... I already told you.”


Silence settles in again for the long haul.

Inside, I want to scream, “That’s impossible!
The only conversations we’ve had are the
ones I’ve initiated!”

Then again, there have not been blatant lies tabled,
only the sin of omission.

I overhear you speaking on the phone,
confident laugh, happy voice,
speaking to the outside world.

These walls have not been visited by that voice
for many years.

I am surrounded by memories of my emotionally mute father,
the man who helped determine whom I would NOT marry.

Yet here I am
Wrapped in a silent cocoon.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Embryonic Stem Cells: An Introduction by the Political Heretic

This week, the House of Representatives voted to support funding on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 21 and the president vowed to kill it with his veto (if only he vetoed Congressional spending more often!) should it come up to his desk for a vote.

Nevertheless, the moral debate over stem cell research is an interesting and very difficult one for a lot of us. The conservative "pro-life" advocates offer their own alternative, which allows for the use of umbilical chord stem cells. I will comment on it either tomorrow or before the end of the weekend but would like to provide some links to you before I do so.

Ramesh Ponnuru no surprise, comes out against stem cell research in this article which I linked to from "The Corner." He makes a pretty good argument for those on his side of the debate and it is worth reading since it does make you think.

The Debate over at "The Corner" http://www.nationalreview.com/thecorner/corner.asp itself promises to be lively and interesting. John Derbyshire again broke with his conservative colleagues on this and what he has to say is interesting as well. I'd like to see him develop it into an argument.

I know Slate Magazine had an article from the other side of the debate but I'll look for that one later.

And this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_cell offers important scientific background information so we all know what is actually being debated.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Rob’s Musings - Love, and Happy Thoughts

Some random thoughts, notes, musings, rants...

What is up with this weather? Ughh. Hate it. Ask Ted, he'll tell you, I can't stand the rain (gainst my window pane).

If I didn't get published in a lit journal, shouldn't they email, write a letter, tell me? Why do I have to find out about it by NOT seeing my name on the website?

Going to see Star Wars tonight!! Do I have to have seen Attack of the Clones to get it all? Because I haven't. Who's Han Solo's father again? Yoda?

I entered the caption contest for the New Yorker!! cross your fingers!

And the one I voted on from this past week has the caption:

"Remember that time you made me laugh and people came out of my nose?"
*courtesy of the New Yorker online

The above caption reminds me of when I was about 10 and my family, my two sisters, Allyson and Andrea, and my mom and I, were eating a Hawaiian pizza (probably from Round Table Pizza)-- the kind with pineapple and ham-- and someone (probably me) said something really funny. We were all cracking up hysterically when my mom started laughing and coughing at the same time, then she started laughing and choking, her eyes wet, bugging out, her face crimson, and then pop-- a little piece of pineapple came out her nose!

Her response: "Owww! Hell's bells that stung!"

What is up with Tom Cruise? Has he always been this pathetic or is this something new? I mean, first the Katie Holmes publicity stunt and now he's trashing Brooke Shields for using antidepressants?

Did I mention that I'm turning in my book to my agent at the end of the week? I know, I know, I've said that before, but this time I know it's for real-- really! I've spent the week at the Brooklyn library going over it and i'm sending it out, no matter what, on Friday or Saturday. I say either day because I’m only printing it up on Friday, so I may not have time to get it to the post office before the end of the day. But by Sat. I will.

Did i mention how much i love my iPod?

If you haven't heard the new Martha Wainwright album you must. It's incredible. Rufus who?

Ted and I are finalizing plans for our wedding, while our friends are putting a shower together and plotting our respective bachelor parties! Woo hoo!

The Top Ten Ways to Stick to a Diet by Christine

"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it." -- Chinese Proverb.

With warmer weather approaching, people are beginning to think of losing weight so they can look their summer “best”. Unfortunately, the first plan that springs to mind is to diet. Diets are easily sabotaged which leads to feelings of failure and the tendency to overindulge, whilst reprimanding ourselves for lack of control. Here are ten basic (and not new) guidelines to ensure your weight-loss routine is foolproof.

1. Exercise - exercise is probably the most important predictor of whether you will succeed at long term weight loss and maintenance. In order for exercise to be helpful in weight loss, you should aim for a minimum of five - 30 minute sessions per week. You can even break down the 30 minutes into 10 minute intervals (seems more palatable that way) Ensure you enjoy the activity as you'll be more apt to stick with it. Once you give exercise a chance, you will begin to enjoy its positive benefits on your psyche.

2. Pump Iron - There are significant weight loss benefits attached to weight lifting. The more muscle tissue you have, the more calories you will burn. In her book "Strong Women Stay Slim", Miriam Nelson, a Tufts University researcher, showed that a group of women who followed a weight loss diet and did weight training exercises lost 44 percent more fat than those who only followed the diet. Gyms may appear intimidating, but trust me, there will always be someone who looks more out of shape than you, and you have to give them kudos for following their routine.

3. Keep a Diary - Keeping an honest food diary can be a huge surprise when you realize the hidden daily caloric intake. It’s also important to note the time you are eating as well as how you are feeling at the time (bored, tired... etc.) Food diaries can identify emotions and behaviors that trigger overeating.

4. Stay Focused on Healthy, Not Thin - Crash diets make work in the short term but the end result is square one plus a few more pounds. You have to consciously make a life change in your eating habits rather than say, eat cabbage soup for three weeks.

5. Find Out What's Eating You - Overeating is triggered by stress, boredom, loneliness, anger, depression and other emotions. Learning to deal with emotions without food is a significant step in the right direction. The Solution, a book and national program developed by Laurel Mellin, R.D., helps participants to identify their eating triggers and respond to them without food.

6. Get Support - Find a weight loss/ exercise buddy. If you don’t know anyone that is willing to jump on the bandwagon, try a established group such as Weight Watchers, or TOPS. Many hospitals also have registered dietitians who conduct group weight loss programs.

7. Watch Your Portions - Remember the movie, “Supersize Me” and realize that our society overindulges in everything. Ask yourself, am I really that hungry? Chances are you could eat a third of the portion and be comfortably full. Also, forget what you parents taught you - you may leave food on your plate! Learn to pay attention to your hunger level and stop eating when you feel comfortably full, not stuffed.

8. Lose Weight Slowly With Small Changes - Diets that proclaim losses of 15 pounds in two weeks are misleading. You may lose a lot in water and/or muscle, but all is quickly regained the minute you began a regular eating regime. Fat loss is best achieved when weight is lost slowly. Strive for a weight loss of no more than 1-2 pounds per week. By making small changes in your diet (ie: no more snacking after 7:00 pm) will show results.

9. Slow Down - Eat your food slowly. If it means count 25 chews for each mouthful, than do so. That way your brain has time to trigger whether you are becoming full. Gulping down food only leaves you feeling bloated and stuffed as your brain couldn’t keep up with your mouth.

10. Eat Less Fat, But Do It Wisely- Be aware of good fats versus bad fats, and don’t assume that a package claiming to be “fat free” is necessarily a good thing (the salt and sugar content alone is enough to pack on pounds)

For more health tips, go to: http://www.thedietchannel.com/index.htm

Biographies of a Different Sort

I like to read - a lot - and I like to read a lot of different kinds of books.  It's not just novels for me - oh, no!  Sometimes I'll even read a short story.  Ha.  Kidding. I'll read whatever, from poetry to a cereal box, quite frankly.  Biographies are in there in the mix, too.  But lately I've read two biographies different from the usual sort.

The first is by Bradley I. Collins, Leonardo, Psychoanalysis, & Art History:  A Critical Study of Psychobiographical Approaches to Leonardo da Vinci (Northwestern University Press, 1997).  

So, not purely a biography but along those lines.  This book arrived at our house as a Christmas present and I was really looking forward to reading it, simply because I took quite a few Art History classes when I was in university (my guilty pleasure) and truly loved the art as well as the stories that went with them.

When you consider that art is part creativity, part reaction to the familial/ political/ religious/ historical/ economic arena in which the artist resides, then the product can take on a whole new meaning.  

I was hoping for something like this with this book - personal stories about the artist which would lead you to (in a small way) understand some of the what and why of what he had produced - but unfortunately it was not to be.  Turns out the author is a very serious Freudian. Have you ever known or met anyone who is a serious Freudian?  Yes?  Then enough said, obviously.  I had an English prof. at university who was a serious Freudian - when discussing a passage in A Mill on the Floss, where a character was sitting on a stool, he said, "...and I don't have to tell you the other meaning of the word stool!"

Oh, puh-leeze!

Anyway, this book was not quite that bad, but almost.  I didn't like it.  Not enough art and too much Freud for my liking.

A book I hadn't expected to like was Zero:  The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife.  This book traces the history of the concept of 'zero' from its invention by the Babylonians, through time to now.  Originally developed as an Eastern philosophical concept, it's difficult to imagine life without our little friend zero.  But the Greeks banned it.  Zero is a number which, throughout time, has evoked some pretty strong responses.

At times math might go a little over my head, but Seife navigates us through concepts like String Theory in a gentle fashion, never losing his reader.  It's a well-written, interesting book - really interesting, when you consider it's a book about nothing.

I recommend it.

Ancient Olives by Lezah

I read a short story recently about a young man who went to work as a gardener in Europe (where did I read this?  Maybe in a magazine at the doctor's office? Sorry, I usually like to credit my sources but can't in this instance...).  

Anyway, this gardener went to work for a very wealthy gentleman and it was decided that the one thing that would complete this landowner's acreage was an ancient olive tree.  The gardener ended up traveling all over southern Europe and eventually a small farm in Spain was bought in order for the rights to the chosen tree to be transferred.  The plan was to then remove the tree and transplant it in the wealthy man's garden in France - or was it Italy?  Whatever!  

The point of the story, when it came down to it, was that the tree was considered by the locals to be part of the village, and the villagers raised such a hue and cry over its removal that in the end, the tree remained where it was.

But, it turns out that this is turning into a huge business in Europe and the acquisition of olive trees for one's garden has become a huge fashion statement in Europe.  Ancient olive trees, some as old as 2500 years, are being uprooted and  transplanted hundreds of miles away from where they have lived for centuries.  What attracts people to the ancient olive is their age, the breadth of their girth and correspondingly small stature, their gnarled appearance and the unusual silhouette of their branches.

There is a rising protest (as happened in the short story I read) over the unregulated removal of these trees.  Ancient olive groves are being destroyed in the name of landscape architecture and design.  Trees such as these can fetch up to $40,000 a piece.  In the region of Castellon, Spain, over 200 olive trees aged 1000+ years have been sold in the last four years and environmental groups are up in arms.  Gangs of plant thieves have been regularly stealing these trees and re-selling them as the demand is so high.  

And only time will tell if these trees will be successful in their new habitats...  

Terminal City Festival by Lezah

The Terminal City Festival, showcasing the best from the past 25 years of Vancouver's underground film history, takes place May 31 to June 2 at the Pacific Cinematheque (1131 Howe Street).

Tuesday, May 31:  Terminal City Ricochet (1990, director:  Zale Dalen). Starring Jello Biafra and Peter Breck, this rarely seen film is both a dark legend and the epitome of rebel cinema.  With a soundtrack featuring Jello Biafra, Nomeansno, DOA, and The Beatnigs, this show in on at 7:30.

Wednesday, June 1:  Out of the Blue (1980, director:  Dennis Hopper). Starring Linda Manz, Dennis Hopper and Raymond Burr, this is a social commentary of a dysfunctional family.  Featuring  music by Neil Young, this show is on at 7:30.

Wednesday, June 1:  Male Fantasy (2004, director Blaine Thurier [of The New Pornographers]).  Starring Robert Dayton (of Canned Hamm) and Cindy Wolfe, this film delves into the fantasies of a somewhat delusional male, brilliantly portrayed by Dayton.  You can catch his absurd odyssey at 9:15.

Thursday, June 2:  Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1981, director:  Lou Adler).  Starring Diane Lane and Laura Dern and a supporting cast featuring members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash.  Shelved by Paramount Pictures for being 'uncommercial', this legendary film features rebel girls who form their own rock band.  It takes a satirical look at TV news coverage, consumerism and the rock scene.  On at 7:30.

Thursday, June 2:  Past is Past:  A Quarter Century of Vancouver Underground Music.  Nardwuar, the Human Serviette, will appear in person. He has collected rare and archival music footage for the first presentation:
        - Nardwuar's Video Vault:  featuring videos by The Dishrags, the Pointed Sticks, the Subhumans, and other legends of the original Vancouver punk scene (45 min.).

Next is:
        - Indie Music Video Festival:  Vancouver Special.  Featuring the best of Vancouver's recent indie video scene (90 min.).

The cost is $7 per film or $12 for a double bill.  This is a must-see event!   

Tony Hopefuls by Lezah

My friend the movie buff just returned from a ten day trip to New York.  While she was there she saw 12 Broadway shows as well as a number of movies.  A couple of the Broadway shows were ones she had taken in last year when she was there (The Story of Q); most of the rest were new to her, though.

The two that most impressed here were:


‘Doubt' is the story of a Catholic nun who suspects that the new parish priest is a child molester.  However, the nun has no hard evidence, only a strong suspicion. The show chronicles her dealings with the priest, her investigation into his past, and the struggles she goes through herself in trying to come to a resolution. Once she does achieve her goal, she is still racked with doubt.  Has she done the right thing?

'The Pillowman'

'The Pillowman' chronicles the life of two brothers, adult survivors of child abuse at the hands of their parents.  The one is mentally compromised; the other deals with his pain through his profession, where he writes graphically violent 'fairy tales'.  When murders are committed that are patterned after the gruesome deaths outlined in his books, the author brother immediately becomes a police suspect.  However, he knows he hasn't done anything, and he starts to suspect his own brother.

This play deals with many issues, such as family and family ties, and well as the Right to Free Speech and the responsibility one takes when writing something that could be used as a template by those with disturbed minds.

My friend felt that these two plays were especially worthy of being Tony nominees.  Stay tuned to see if her predictions come true.   

Two Canadian Films by Lezah

Neither of these films are new - I saw both of them on television, although they have also been playing in theatres again recently, one here and the other in Europe.  Other than having that in common, they are also Canadian productions.
The first is David Vaisbord's 2004 documentary 'Drawing Out the Demons:  A Film About the Artist Attila Richard Lukacs'.  Now, in case you aren't familiar with the artist, Attila Richard Lukacs is a graduate of Emily Carr College of Art & Design (so, coincidentally, is Vaisbord); in the mid '80s Lukacs exploded into the Vancouver art scene with his paintings depicting homoerotic images, and then went off to Germany where he continued to do well.  This film, however, does not follow his stratospheric rise; rather, we see Lukacs leaving New York after an unsuccessful stint there.

According to Lukacs's father (his parents figure prominently in this film, providing an impressive contrast between the hedonism of the artist and the unconditional love and support returned by his parents), part of the problem was timing:  New York at the time was embracing photography as its chosen art form,while Lukacs is a painter.  However, Lukacs' subject matter is not for all tastes either; he specializes in homoerotic images, and the Francis Bacon-like images and hints of imminent violence that emanate from his pieces are  an acquired taste. Further complicating the situation is the depiction of Lukacs's fight with various addictions which he is engaged in during the filming, most notably his spiral down into a crystal meth-induced hell.

A tortured soul, Lukacs act the enfant terrible while in New York; chaos is the overarching theme of his life. But throughout it, two things come through - the love and support of his family, and his undeniable talent.  If you can get past the subject matter, it's the painterly quality of his images that is just so outstanding. The film follows him over five years as he works toward a healing of sorts; by the film's end, he is improved but his future is still not assured.

The second film is Michael Dowse's ''Fubar', an official selection at Sundance Film Festival (2002) which is currently doing the rounds of theatres in London.  Billed as a comedy and filmed as a mockumentary, I would be inclined to label it more as a satire.  This film satirizes the whole headbanger subculture and owes much to both SCTV's Bob and Doug Mackenzie and 'This is Spinal Tap'.

The premise is that Farrell, a 'documentarian' , is making a documentary of the classic headbanger lifestyle, and so follows two boyhood friends around to document their mullet-obsessed lifestyle.  There are some surprising developments throughout the show, but primarily the activities circle around the beer, beer and more beer that the two guys consume, ad infinitum.

This film would have probably been more effective if it hadn't opened with the declaimer that it is a piece of fiction.  But it is a very accurate depiction of the lifestyle:  my cousin from the Interior could easily have starred in this film.
The book 'Just Giver:  A Handguide - The Ultimate Guide to Life, Love and the Pursuit of Givin' 'er' by Terry and Dean, is available on their website (http://www.fubar.com).  Here is a quote:

        ”Grow a mane like a lion, in the footsteps of your brothers and couzins (sic) and all the rockers before you...it don't cost a penny to grow your hair long and walk like a man.  Long hair automatically tells people that you mean business, especially when you're ten years old."

I'm sure you know the type.  I sure do - much to my chagrin...

On the Box by Lezah

Here is a list of my favourite new shows this year:
        - House
        - Medium
        - Grey's Anatomy

Here is a list of my favourite returning shows:
        - CSI (Vegas)
        - Law & Order:  Criminal Intent
        - America's Next Top Model

Here's a list of shows I like but never see because they are cancelled or on channels we don't get:
        - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
        - The Office (British version only)

How 'bout you?

Sasquatch Festival by Lezah

I was lamenting not being able to go see Bloc Party on Sunday when it was pointed out to me that I was also missing out on something even bigger and better on Saturday:  the Sasquatch Festival at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington (gotta love that town's name!).

I've only been to the Gorge once, but it ranks right up there in my top three concerts - pretty impressive, since I didn't really like any of the three bands we saw!  

Here's the story: my friend was turning 30 that year, and like many soon-to-be 30 year old women in North America that year, she had succumbed to the Rob Thomas syndrome (this is a curious medical condition that afflicted many 30 year old women that summer; symptoms included faintness, heart palpitations, sweaty palms, romantic delusions and other sexually-related side-effects. Fortunately, I happened to be immune).

I actually was clueless as to who Rob Thomas was, but she soon filled me in with all the details - he was the singer for a band called Matchbox 20 who was very popular on the radio that year (I don't listen to the radio, so was unaware of this cultural phenomenon).  Matchbox 20 were appearing at the Gorge in Washington right around my friend's birthday - did we want to get a group of people together and go see the concert?  

Me, go see a band I've never heard of?  Sure thing!  Me, go into a different country, to a venue I've never heard of?  Point me in the right direction!

But we would be camping out on site after the concert - we don't camp!  We don't own a tent, or sleeping bags!  I asked if I could borrow my brothers' - nope, he had loaned it out to someone else.  So I was able to organize to borrow my friend's old tent.  We rented a car, because we were afraid ours might not make the trip.

And then September 11 happened.  The concert was the week after the disaster. The borders were practically impenetrable.  We live five minutes from the border; usually we can leave our house and be in the States in ten minutes.  On this particular Saturday morning, we sat in line at the border for three hours while guards used mirrors to check for bombs under cars; trunks were searched; passports were produced and scrutinized.  We had planned to do lunch in Seattle; we didn't get across the border until after 12.

By the time we hit Seattle, we were still in a convoy with our friends. But a woman riding with them had a panic attack, and so they zoomed off.  We lost them in the traffic, and never saw them again.  We had no idea where we were going, so we followed the signs to Yakima and hoped for the best.

Five hours later, we were in the middle of the desert (practically).  We found the site, parked, set up the tent my brother had borrowed at the last minute from his roommate, and went over to try and find our friends at the concert.  

The place was breathtaking.  Set on the edge of a canyon, you looked down from the hill to the stage, and beyond that into the gorge and river.  The weather was unbelievable - a warm, constant temperature enveloped us all night.  The scent of the neighbouring alfalfa fields perfumed the air.

We never found our friends.  A couple ended up offering us their extra tickets in the 'Headzone' (or whatever it was called) - we had chairs in the 12th row, while, it turned out, our friends spent the whole concert sitting way back up on the dirt on the hill.

Pete Yorn, a folk rocker, opened (not my kind of music), followed by Train (a very pleasant surprise - the guy's a real showman), and the night ended with Matchbox 20 (I'm still not a convert). In spite of that, the night was truly magical. The Gorge really is one of the top venues in North America - if not the world.

So, if you're not doing anything this Saturday, take a drive over to George, Washington, and for a measly $55 you can see some of my personal favorites, Pixies, Wilco, The Arcade Fire, and Bloc Party as well as a whole bunch of other good acts:  Modest Mouse, Kanye West, Ray Lamontagne, Jem, U.S.E., Joanna Newsom, A.C.Newman, The Frames, Bobby Bare Jr., Be Good Tanyas, Benevento-Russo Duo, Matisyahu, Visqueen, Blue Scholars, Smoosh and Aqueduct.
You won't be disappointed.   

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

CSI and Tarantino by Lezah

Thursday night's season finale of CSI was directed by Quentin Tarantino, and attracted 30.1 million viewers. The fifth season of TV's highest rated drama was a two hour long thriller that did not follow the usual CSI crime/evidence collection/science lesson/problem solved format; Tarantino not only directed but also conceived of this particular episode, and it showed.  This episode did start with a crime, but was light on clues, so there was little in the way of evidence collection/science lesson; in addition, even though the show was two hours long, there was a finite time frame in which the problem had to be solved, and this tension and urgency was translated very well to the viewer.  

There were also some typical Tarantino touches in the use of cameo appearance from older actors (Tony Curtis et al.),the scene where two characters played a board game, discussing the rules in lengthy and nerdy depth,  and the quirky, evocative music (The Turtles) used during the discovery of key evidence scene.  Some of the shots were pure Tarantino as well, especially the scene where Grisson stands outside of the shed; he is off-centre and the use of negative space speaks to the isolation of a person in a situation such as this. Likewise, Tarantino directed the character Warwick in a very different way than he is normally portrayed, both in actions and in delivery of dialogue.  

In the Lower Mainland, where I live, a huge storm swept through that evening during the show which only added to the mood; chilling, suspenseful, and more than a little twisted, I enjoyed this episode immensely and look forward to seeing it again in reruns, because I always find that Tarantino packs so much in that I often don't catch it all the first time around.  


Sahara Movie Review by Lezah

I went to a movie with a friend who is a huge movie buff.  She recommended Sahara, partly because she had seen everything else out there already, and partly because we had a 7 and 10 year old in tow, so what we saw had to be 'kid friendly'.

So we saw Sahara, which hadn't been getting super good reviews, apparently:  2 stars, sometimes 3.  But frankly, I thought it was quite good - for its genre.  
Based on Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels, Sahara is an action/adventure flick, kind of in the school of Indiana Jones, but in this case we have a couple of deep-sea diving treasure hunters who are looking for a long-vanished Civil War ship. Their search takes them to Africa where they become involved in a WHO mission, which further morphs into a potential environmental disaster of global proportions.

Matthew McConaughey stars in this Breck Eisner directed, independently financed project, along with his current real-life love interest Penelope Cruz; also co-starring is the very funny Steve Zahn and William H. Macy.

Now, usually McConaughey does not usually make much of an impression on me when I've seen him in movies:  I usually look at him and think to myself, now there's a guy who's losing his hair. Shallow , I know, but true (well, at least it looks that way to me).

Anyway, in this film I found McConaughey to be absolutely riveting - I couldn't take my eyes off him, and the state of his hair loss did not once enter my mind. Likewise, the scenery was something that evoked a fairly strong reaction in me: the initial scenes of Lagos, Nigeria made me think that there was a place I NEVER wanted to visit; but as they moved inland, up the river, the scenery changed and I actually felt like I wanted to go there, to see and visit places like that. And I guess that that is part of the magic of movies: if you can't go there yourself, they take you there and make it feel like you've been there. And that's kind of how it was with this film.

Interestingly enough, McConaughey co-produced this film, and spend six weeks this spring driving all over the southern USA in a truck and customized Airstream trailer promoting the film. So he must have felt it, too.

No Triple Crown by Lezah

Once again we will not have a Triple Crown winner - and we need one.  The jewel of thoroughbred racing, a triple header of three races, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont, has not been won since 1979.  We have come close a number of times in the last decade with horses like Smarty Jones winning the Derby and the Preakness only to fade in the Belmont, but this year's surprise upset Derby winner Giacomo was trounced in the second leg by Afleet Alex.

I have an interest in thoroughbred racing (aka The Sport of Kings), simply because it helped pay my university tuition:  every morning for four years I would wake up when it was still pitch-black out and make my way to the backstretch in all kinds of weather in order to gallop racehorses around the track before heading off to class.  I wasn't a jockey - I'm neither small enough nor light enough - I was merely an exercise rider.  But it was a job I liked on a number of different levels, in spite of the fact that it was the most physically challenging thing I have ever done in my life.

When the movie 'Seabiscuit' came out two summers ago, there were hopes that it would help revive the flagging thoroughbred industry which has been in a slow decline since the economic crash of the mid 1980s.  Likewise, every year that the Derby comes around people hope for a Triple Crown winner for the same reason.

Tommy Wolski, on-air commentator and former jockey, was asked recently if Derby winner Giacomo should win the Triple Crown and he said no.  No, because he felt Giacomo was not a great horse.  Maybe a lucky horse, but not a great horse, and what thoroughbred racing needs is a great horse.  I might agree with the sentiment, but I disagree with his reasoning.

I don't think anyone would have called Seattle Slew a great horse, pre-Derby.  A $17,000 purchase, he was likely one of the cheaper horses to run in this class of race over the last 30 years.  But he won the Triple Crown, and went on to be a very good (if not great) sire.  As far as I'm concerned, the proof is in the pudding: if the horse wins, that is what makes him great, not the fact that he's by a famous sire or he brought a huge pricetag or he has a well-known owner or trainer.

Afleet Alex is another interesting case.  He was a long shot for the Derby, but finished a gallant third.  Then in the Preakness he was making his move in the turn when he was bumped and went down to his knees.  Few horses survive a mis-step like this at that speed; often they will go down, taking others with them. But not Afleet Alex:  he not only regained his balance, but he then surged forward and won by an amazing four lengths.  Not amazing in the way Secretariat pulled away from the pack by 25 lengths way back when, but amazing nonetheless considering the potential disaster he had just recovered from.
Likewise, Afleet Alex comes with a great human interest story:  bought for $75,000 (not considered a lot of money if you're running in this class) by first-time owners, much of the money he makes goes to a young girl named Alex (for whom the horse is named) who is raising money for cancer research with her Alex's Lemonade Stand.  

Go to www.afleetalex.com for more details.   

How to Trim Calories Through Liquid Rituals by Christine

It is possible to lose calories without depriving yourself of your daily meals, Research has shown that what we drink could be adding more pounds than the sensible meals we dine on every day. You don’t notice the beverage caloric intake, as we often imbibe in beverages without giving it a second thought. Here are a couple of “blind spots” when it comes to our daily beverages.

1) Breakfast juice is a healthy start to the day. Unfortunately, many breakfast juices are high in sodium and sugar. Of course, if you are squeezing your oranges every day for juice, more power to you. But here is a helpful hint to cut out those invisible calories - simply fill your glass half full and top it with cold water, Instant reduction of 50% calories.

2) Coffee. Who doesn't enjoy a morning cup of coffee or tea? Tea would be the number way to go and you can still get your caffeine fix if needed, If you are a Starbucks fan, ensure that you have the non-fat milk and avoid those delicious syrups. Better yet - drink you coffee black. If you must have a starbucks drink - try for the grande cappuccino with nonfat milk.

3) Lunchtime thirst quencher. The obvious drink to have would be water, but I realize water does not appeal to many out there. You have two tricks you can use for your favourite lunch drink a) put only half of a cup of your chosen beverage out at a time to drink, because often the full bottles are too much. Do you really need to finish that drink? Otherwise, top it up with water for a lighter quencher.

4) Treat/health beverages -Smoothies are known to carry many antioxidants due to their high fruit combinations. Make sure the fruit is fresh - not concentrate - as that is more calorie dense. Don’t use frozen yogurt which has sugar, but opt for the plain fresh yogurt. Throw in a couple of ice cubes to water it down as well as give you your water allotment.

5) Work out beverages. Stay away from the vitamin infused, flavoured work-out water. Stick to spring water and if the taste doesn’t sit well with you, add a squirt of real lemon and a packet of splenda. It takes the edge off that “water” taste that some people have trouble swallowing.

5) Evening cocktails - if you must, go for a light white wine or a low carb ultra Michelob beer

Within weeks, these slight adaptations will show... which is a celebration for those, like myself, who do not want to sacrifice good eating and drinking. Christine

Top Ten Foods to Keep you Healthy by Christine

1. Salmon/halibut - Heart disease, Cancer and Skin

Salmon has a perfect Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acid balance - these oils ward off heart disease and certain cancers, as well as alleviating some skin conditions. But these Omega-3s can also help you feel better and look better. They've been shown to fight depression and even fight wrinkles. Grilled salmon makes for a delicious and healthy entree and add avocado for more Omega 3 benefits.

2. Brazil Nuts/Walnuts - Skin and energy

The best source of SELINIUM which helps keep your skin (largest organ of the body) healthy and is essential for fertility, especially for men because it gives sperm more mobility. Brazil and walnuts are the best source of MAGNESIUM - Magnesium shortfalls manifest itself in weakness, nightly cramp, loss of appetite and low energy. If you have insufficient levels of magnesium in your blood, your body will draw from your bones, increasing your risk of osteoporosis.
3. Blueberries/strawberries - Immune System

Very high in Vit C (skin and immune system) but also very high in flavonoids. While they are not considered essential nutrients, flavonoids support health by strengthening capillaries and other connective tissue, and act as anti-inflammatory and antiviral agents. They are also easy to nibble on as snacks.
4. Water - Everything

Water benefits your body in countless ways: feeling, performing and looking well - if you drink the recommended 2.5 litres a day. Water makes you feel focused, energetic; your skin will look supple and your eyes will sparkle . When drinking water with a meal, it will help you to digest food more efficiently and assist the bowel in getting rid of waste products. Drinking water after a night out is the best way to re-hydrate your body and thus, avoid a hang over. The best way to gauge whether you are drinking enough water is to look at your urine which should be very pale in colour.
5. Oats - Energy, anemia, reducing cholesterol

Oats provide iron which the body requires to manufacture red blood cells - a lack of which can cause anemia. As well as releasing energy slowly into the body, keeping us more energetic for longer, oats can help cut the risk of diabetes and reduce cholesterol by a third, as well as helping to reduce the risk of cancer. Whole grain oats contain seven B vitamins, vitamin E, and nine minerals, including iron and calcium. The quality and quantity of the protein in oats is far superior to that of wheat and most other grains. One ounce of oats has TWICE the protein of wheat or corn flakes. The soluble fibre is what gives it the gummy texture, and it helps lower cholesterol levels in the blood.

6. Cooked Carrots as well as legumes - Arthritis, Heart Disease and Cancer

Beta-carotene, which occurs in high levels in carrots, is probably the best known of the carotenoids. By cooking carrots, more beta carotene is retained and more easily absorbed into the body. Beta carotene has long been known to be an immune booster and has been proved to be effective against arthritis, cardiovascular problems, longer-lasting colds and even cancer. There is also suggestion that beta-carotene has anti-aging qualities. Legumes (beans and peas) contain relatively high amounts of vitamin E. Separate from their vitamin E content, legumes have been associated with low risk of Parkinson’s disease. In other words, “high vitamin E intake” may be a marker for diets high in legumes, and legumes may protect against Parkinson’s disease for reasons as yet undiscovered but unrelated to their vitamin E content.

7. Sweet Potatoes/yams

The magnesium in sweet potatoes can help stabilize moods associated with the menstrual cycle; it even works on headaches.

8. Broccoli, Spinach -Aging, Cancer and Heart Disease

Dark green, and leafy vegetables help a woman's heart and prevent cancer. These vegetable have a very, very high ORAC score (oxygen radical absorbence capacity). This score was devised to measure the effectiveness of foods at neutralizing free radicals. Free-radical damage causes aging, particularly of the skin, and diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The higher the ORAC score, the more protection the food offers us against these diseases. Broccoli is also very high in vitamin C which is the best way to boost your immune system.

9. Watercress, Soy Products- Anemia and Hair Loss/menopause

Soy products like soy milk contain phytoestrogens that can alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause, plus it may lower the risk of breast cancer. Watercress is full of iron which helps protect you from anemia, which is a blood deficiency which can cause tiredness. In turn, anemia is the largest cause of hair loss - and so eating watercress can help to prevent this problem.

10. Garlic- Anti-septic and Anti-viral
Garlic is a natural remedy with potent antiseptic, anti-viral and decongestant qualities. It also appears to have compounds that help lower cholesterol, thin the blood, and possibly act as a cancer preventative if about one or clove of garlic is consumed per day (not supplements).

Sideways Movie Review by Lezah

I saw Sideways in video on the weekend, and I've decided that this modest, independent film is one that conjures up pretty polemic viewpoints: in other words, you either love it or you hate it.

While at Starbucks, a friend of mine asked the guy in line behind us what his favourite movie of last year was, but after a lot of humming and hawing, he couldn't come up with any names.

"But I walked out of Sideways!  Hated it!" he proudly proclaimed.

Another friend rented it with her boyfriend; they both hated it.  Another friend saw it in the theatre and loved it.  My beloved saw it on video, and loved it. Me? Didn't like it.  But that's not to say it's a bad movie.

My problem, as a movie viewer, is that I have to identify, or at least like, the characters - at least one of them.  I had a hard time doing so with this movie. And that, as I've already said, is my problem.
But that's not to say that it wasn't a very well written movie with great dialogue (if you like dialogue movies - another thing I'm not a big fan of - think Whit Stilman's Metropolitan and you'll know what I'm talking about), that also happens to be information-dense on the topic of wine. This film has brought terms like Pinot Noir into North American's everyday vocabularies, no mean feat at all.
And the acting is very convincing. Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen (Michael's sister), and Sandra Oh (director and screenwriter Alexander Payne's soon-to-be-ex-wife) relentlessly expose their characters' regrets and self-loathing for all the world to see. The lowered expectations of these characters is one thing, but it's the self-centred way in which they conduct their lives that I ultimately had the most trouble accepting.

But the critics loved it, giving it the Academy Award and a Writers Guild Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and two Golden Globes (Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture). And the fact that I'm still thinking about it four days later?

That might be something worth looking into...  


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Feathers, Leather and Things That Just Don't Go Together - by Christine

101 Crimes of Fashion

For more articles like this, go to the category skank trendz at http://www.swanktrendz.com

Tutus. Cowboy outfits. Dead swans.

From Lara Flynn Boyle's ballerina blunder to Björk's infamous fowl frock, the stars enjoy pushing the limits of taste and good sense when it comes to red carpet fashion.

And that's why we love them and why we love to buy magazines that show the best of the worst. Where most red carpet queries run along the lines of "Who are you wearing?" bad outfits elicit queries more along the lines of "What are you wearing...and why?”

E! online has put together a slideshow of the best of the worst on the red carpet. check it out - it has a message board for you to expression your comments, concurrences or disagreements.

You won't believe some of the outfits--and these are just scraping the top of the bottom--so check out 101 Most Sensational Crimes of Fashion to see them all!


Thanks to Molly Sirody


Piñata syndrome & Dave Chappelle - by Christine

This LA Times piece points to the the truth behind Dave Chappelle's much-misreported disappearance, and introduces a new piece of media-meme jargon.

In just two weeks, Chappelle's ordeal went from celebrity train wreck to run-of-the-mill exhaustion, a sure sign that today's entertainment news cycle moves faster than the news itself. The hunger for celebrity gossip, particularly scandal, has become more insatiable than ever with the viral proliferation of media covering it, from "60 Minutes" to Internet bloggers to every cellphone camera owner on the street.

Just before the Chappelle story hit, the media had been doggedly covering two lukewarm scandals: Pat O'Brien's rehab for alcoholism and Paula Abdul's alleged affair with an "American Idol" contestant. And as Chappelle's scandal dissipates, the media is poised to move on to more fertile ground, such as Britney Spears' pregnancy and the latest rumored indiscretions of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. "Nowadays, there is no privacy," says Allan Mayer, managing director of the crisis communication firm Sitrick and Co. "Everything is played out in public view ... the more you feed it, the bigger it gets."

As a result, every story has an abbreviated life span, accelerating the demand for more news. Ultimately, this adds up to exaggerated expectations of celebrities. If they can't maintain their public persona, they're devoured for our entertainment instead. "I call it the piñata syndrome," says publicist Howard Bragman, founder of the Hollywood PR firm Bragman Nyman Cafarelli. "It's really about the media. They're only lifting you up so that they can take sticks and beat you and see what comes out."

(Thanks to Mark Ebner!)


Friday, May 20, 2005

This Time I Know It's For Real - by Rob Williams

Another iPod story, well, sorta-- I mean, it starts with my iPod (sorry, but it's only because I’m finally figuring out how to really use it). I’m walking home from teaching again, listening to songs on random shuffle and what should come on but

"This Time I Know It's For Real"-- the kitschy dance song from Donna Summer's mini-comeback (about 17 years ago?).  It's from the "Donna Summer Anthology" CD.  ... and here's a memory:

It’s 1989. I’m about 19 years old in San Diego, California. I’m writing music, singing in weddings --solo, and duet--with my high school chum, Jana, who was a former cheerleader. Our big song was "Always" by Atlantic Star, though we did have a sensuous cover of "Endless Love." Ahem.

I was also singing backup at a recording studio for various local artists (and even making my own demo tape--but that's another blog).

I see an ad in a local music magazine about open mic nights at a local TGIFridays (or was it Bennigan's?--I can't remember, maybe I've blocked it out). The prize is like, $100 or something. But more than that, it's a chance to perform...

What song do I choose? Well, I had recently gotten the 12" single/remix of "This Time I Know It's For Real"-- it had special meaning for me at the time-- it's all about trying to get a boy's attention ("What do I have to do... to get you, to notice me too? Do I stand in line, one of a million admiring eyes. Walk a tightrope way up high. Write your name across the sky..."). There is an instrumental version of the song on the flip side of the record so I tape it (At the recording studio? On my home tape recorder? Again, the memory is hazy-- but I’m hoping it wasn't taped on a tape recorder).

So I sing the song, "This Time I Know It's For Real" at this open mic night. My sister, Allyson, bless her, comes to support me. I think I wore a purple Members Only Jacket and maybe a bow tie (tuxedo shirt? God, please tell me it wasn't a tuxedo shirt).

The other contestants included a 9 year-old singing "It's a Hard Knock Life" with backing vocals on her tape of all the orphans from Annie.

There were about 10 contestants and maybe 12 people in the audience, and the tv was still playing over the bar during our songs. I did my number, sang my song, which I’m sure included any one or all of the following: a. jazz hands, b. some sort of Paula Abdul inspired choreography like popping my head back, rolling my head, shimmy-ing my shoulders, c.quivering lips, d. overdone vibrato.

I remember looking out into the sparse crowd and seeing my sister, with this smile on her face that said, "Yes, you're my brother and yes I love you, but what the hell are you doing?"

Well, I didn't win the contest. I think my dancing (yes, I did some dancing while singing my song) probably scared the voters.

I used to be so brave, so fearless. Now the thought of doing something like that sends shivers up my spine (not to mention a wave of embarrassment).

Where did all of that fearlessness go?

NJ Catholic Church Diocese Won't Yield On What Was That? Communion Wafers? Political Heretic

Catholic bishops could forgive and cover up for pedophilia and sexual molestation, transfer such priests to other parishes to repeat their offenses, and even conduct a debate over married priests but they cannot make an accommodation for a girl who needs a different kind of communion wafer. Hmmm.

Don't Know What to Make of This, by The Political Heretic

Turner said the curriculum should "let the kids know that while some individuals choose to live this lifestyle, that is their choice. They have that freedom as a citizen in this country. However, if they feel uncomfortable with the same-sex attraction . . . they don't have to accept it as a given."
She added, "I will admit there could be a possibility" that in rare instances, people are born homosexual -- such as her cousin Steve.
"He's gay, and he's a great guy," she said. "He's a hairdresser. He's very artistic, very good at what he does, men's and women's hair. Fabulous decorator. And I remember playing together when we were young. . . . My brother was always into trucks and guns, knives and swords. . . . Steve was much quieter. He was much happier hanging out with the girls." - passage from The Washington Post article profiling one who fought a pro-gay sex ed class.

I don't know why but that passage strikes me as odd. Does she or does she not believe gays are born that way and is there in fact a contradiction between her views about it being a choice and her cousin having no choice about his sexuality? Is there in fact, an opportunistic differentiation between those who, in "rare" instances, do not chose their sexual proclivities and those who can?

Gutting the Military? by The Political Heretic

Let me get this straight. We have American troops stationed in South Korea, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montegegro's Kosovar province, Western Europe, and Liberia and Afghanistan among other countries and we had to send National Guard troops . Our border control is stretched thin with illegal immigrants crossing our borders, military recruitment is down big time, universities are fighting efforts to support recruitment drives, and the military rejects gay applicants. Now some members in the House are seeking to ban women from the front line?

And I thought we were supposed to bomb our enemies into the stone age.

The Burger Poll Update - by Terry

The votes have been cast, the ballots counted, the speeches endured, and now it's time to see how The Burger Poll fared. The Burger Poll was run by Burger Heaven restaurant in New Westminster. People 'voted' by buying the burger of their choice, and they tallied the results. Christine tells me that I must mention how friendly and helpful the people at Burger Heaven were whenever she called to get the latest poll numbers.

I looked in my newspaper and found the actual results for the district of New Westminster, and then went to the site and updated the numbers in the Burger Poll table, just to see what the graph would look like.

The Burger Poll is shown in the chart on the left, and the actual numbers are shown in the chart on the right.

Who needs pollsters? Burgers do the job just as well it seems. So, thanks folks, that was fun, and we'll do it again in 4 years. Check out the burger results under our swank alerts category:


Fiscal Insanity - by The Political Heretic

Here is the proposed allocation (House version) by state and the full list of projects (you can increase print font with magnifying glass tool) brought to you by "Taxpayers for Common Sense."

President Bush has threatened to veto any bill that goes above and beyond $284 billion. I'd be relieved if he actually went through with his threat and vetoed this senate version but I believe he really set his standards for fiscal prudence low in accepting a $284 billion transportation budget filled with pork that states should fund if they really think those projects are necessary or worthwhile.

By the way, "Taxpayers for Common Sense" says the senate version includes a few unrelated tax cut provisions. So much for the fiscally prudent approach members of both parties claim to support.

Great. Cut taxes but increase spending. Shift the burden onto the future generations. Hell, people in their 20s and 30s will already be paying for their parents' and grandparents' medicare and social security checks because our congressional representatives and president have not yet reached an agreement on a reform package.

Link: http://www.taxpayer.net/transportation/hr3database/states.htm
Link: http://www.taxpayer.net/transportation/hr3database/hr3database-final.pdf

The World Trade Center debate by The Political Heretic

Return of the Towers

Donald Trump unveiled his vision for a larger and supposedly "more structurally sound" version of the Twin Towers that collapsed after two terrorist hijacked airplanes crashed into them on September 11, 2001.

Some, no doubt, would dedicate a new, different building to their loved ones, but unity eludes those who wish to replace the Twin Towers with a memorial. Mr. Trump has yet to reveal the source of his funding (perhaps that will be the job of the winning apprentice on his tv hit show "The Apprentice") but I support his vision for a return of the Twin Towers.

What an act of defiance! The terrorists may have knocked them down but only temporarily. The terrorists may have killed themselves for their cause but our sense of who we are lives on. We may have suffered a terrible blow with the World Trade Center bombings, but we returned bigger and stronger.

New York officials could have a memorial for the 3,000 plus World Trade Center workers who died but it should not be the focus of our attention. Build a small memorial. Let the would-be terrorists see that their victory was short-lived, and the buildings they so carefully planned for destruction are back.

World Trade Center Feedback

I could not imagine the response I got from my post on the World Trade Center plan revealed in Donald Trump's press conference. Earlier this week, Mr. Trump proposed to replace the Twin Towers which collapsed from the terrorist attacks with a grander, larger version and I made a few comments supporting that proposal because the terrorists should know that their victory was, at best, a temporary one and that we could rebuild anything they destroy.

None of this would prohibit us from building a memorial for those who lost their lives on that horrible day. If my recollection serves me correctly, a third, smaller building associated with the World Trade Center collapsed as well. We could build a memorial where that building once stood, and still have the new, much improved Twin Towers proposed by Donald Trump. The memorial would remind us of those who perished on that fateful day, and the Twin Towers of the need to stand tall and defy those who brought us that horror.

Vancouver, Then and Now - by Lezah

I just found a fascinating site about Vancouver. It is produced by the City Of Vancouver's Planning Department, and involves a number of photographs in the 'that was then/ this is now' style. Looking at all the changes that have occurred in my city just in the span of my own lifetime is rather awe-inspiring.

One section was produced as a series of photos that were taken as part of a study by the City's Planning Department back in 1978; the photos them morph forward to 2003. The changes are amazing, especially in the skyline itself (although, the increase in size of the pleasure craft in the False Creek West from Charleson Park is pretty remarkable, too).

There are other views you can look at too: building and street scenes. One notable is the 1929 Marine Building - when it was first constructed, it was the tallest building in the British Empire. Now it is literally dwarfed by the buildings around it, and in the skyline shots, it isn't even visible.

Certainly worth a look:

Link: http://www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/commsvcs/fade/fade.htm

A Massive Swelling - Book review by Lezah

I have this massive swelling right on my... Oh, too much information!  Apologies!  
Anyway, I'm kidding - it's really only a small lump... (joke!).

Actually, what I REALLY want to talk about here is Cintra Wilson's book 'A Massive Swelling:  Celebrity Worship Re-examined as a Grotesque Crippling Disease and other Cultural Revelation' (Viking/Penguin).

You can call it honest or or you can call it bitchy:  what this book does is offers us, through a series of essays/articles, a different look at the fame freak show that we commonly refer to as popular culture.

There are no sacred cows here.  From celebrities like Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and Courtney Love to the machines that generate and prolong the shelf life of these abominations (Hollywood, Vegas and the people who work there), from popular tastes in music, movies and television to the horrible styles that they spawn, everyone and everything is mercilessly skewered.

Wilson points out that fame itself is now the most valuable commodity in our culture, not talent or morality, and that the vehicle of stardom is not related in any way to one's ability or native intelligence.

Considering that this book was written five years ago, I find it scary to consider how true this remains today - probably much more so than it was when the book was first conceived.  Case in point:  Paris Hilton.  Need I say more?  

But in case you're not convinced, look at the 'real TV' phenomenon and see just how much this holds true.  Take, for instance, the fairly mild show (by comparison) 'America's Next Top Model'.  Think about the winner of the first season, Adrienne Curry.  After jumping through all the hoops, winning against probably the strongest group of competitors the show has ever had, is she now working as a model?  I don't think so, if her appearance on the 'I'm nothing more than a has-been' show 'The Surreal Life' is any indication.  And Wednesday night's second place finisher, Kahlen, who was said by the judges to have had the strongest portfolio ever on the show - did she win?  No, it was cute little Naima, who was also a real contender.  But why did Naima win?  Because she, in real life, had more 'star power'.  Kahlen could turn it on better than anyone in front of the camera, but on a human level, she presented as - (shock! gasp!) nothing more than a mere human.  Turns out ANTM is, in truth, little more than just another celebrity-generating machine...  and I had wanted it to be so much more (sob!).

Wilson's contempt is far-reaching, from the 'kinderwhore' fashions that are a residual side-effect of society's love for teen pop stars like Pink and Britney, to the current craze for plastic surgery, about which she says, "I have a hunch that (the desire for plastic surgery) will eventually be regarded as a bigger cry for help than slit wrists or a pill overdose."

So, this book is not for humourless fans of our current crop of celebrities, not for those who are lusting for fame, not for the faint of heart; but if you have sat up at any point recently after hearing or reading about some juvenile antic of someone afflicted with the fame virus and thought to yourself, "What the hell?!?!?" - well, then, maybe this book is for you.   

The God of Small Things - Book review by Lezah

When I was in university, I had to (as you might imagine) read a ton of books - some I was happy to read, while others...

Some books that I never would have read on my own I initially slogged through only to, upon reflection, realize I really did like them; others I never learned to like. ' The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist' is one example of the former, while 'Mill on the Floss' is an example of the latter.  And, no doubt, sometimes the professor and the assignments connected with them had more than a little to do with how I ultimately felt about the books.

But, even though I have always loved reading, I was completely burned out after I graduated.  I still had an obsessive need to read, but I found I had a really hard time picking up anything too heavy or thought-provoking.  I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, but I plowed through my whole Trixie Belden collection right after graduation, and made the leap from there to Dick Francis stories.  After that I began exploring the mystery/suspense genre in depth (everything from Patricia Cornwall to Ruth Rendall).  But lately, I feel like I have recovered my wits somewhat, and have been delving back into books that offer a bit more intellectual content and/or style.

So, under the category of Lezah's Obsession #345 is the Booker Prize, the well respected award that is granted each year to the top book written by a British citizen or member of a Commonwealth country.  Two years ago I read Booker winner 'Possession', and have read a number of other Booker winners and finalists lately.  My latest goal is to read as many Booker winners and finalists as I can.  

Most recently, I read Arundhati Roy's debut novel 'The God of Small Things'.  The book is not only the first Indian-written book to win the Booker Prize, but also the first Indian novel to garner a million dollar book deal.  An international best seller, 'The God of Small Things' is a partially autobiographic novel centred on a tragedy that befalls a relatively well-to-so Syrian Christian family living in a semi-rural area in southern India.  It weaves a tale between the past and the present, snaking between the lives of the individual members of this dysfunctional family, their relationships with each other and those who live near them.  It looks at the dangers of India's caste system and resultant social stratification, the fragile relationships between children and adults, and many other issues than exist between people and  in societies:  prejudices, jealousies, customs and mores, corruption and hypocrisy.

The novel is very stylized, and is told from the point of view of a seven year old girl, a dizygotic twin who has an especially close relationship with her twin brother.  Through a series of flashbacks, we see the story of the small event which changes everyone's lives.  Small events, small gods, small things, small children - all are recurring themes in this novel.  Roy also utilizes a rich imagery to describe the rural Indian backdrop:

        "May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month.  The days are long and humid.  The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dust green trees.  Red bananas ripen.  Jackfruits burst.  Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air.  Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.  The nights are clear, but suffused with sloth and sullen expectation.  But in early June the southwest monsoon breaks and there are three months of wind and water with short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with.  The countryside turns an immodest green.  Boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom.  Brick walls turn moss green.  Pepper vines snake up electric poles. Wild creepers burst through laterite banks and spill across the flooded roads."

Roy employs an almost whimsical use of language, bending and stretching it at her will.  Words like 'sicksweet' and 'thunderdarkness' have been created - and they work, in this context.  The prose is dense, echoing the vegetation in the setting.

The novel begins with the narrator, the adult Rahel, returning to her childhood home.  But home is not the same as it once was:  decay has set in, perhaps from neglect and misuse, but more probably stemming from the tragedy that happened long ago which separated Rahel from her twin.  The twenty-three years that have passed have changed the twins:  Estha, the boy, as turned inward and refuses to speak; Rahel, the girl, has turned outward and drifted, literally, around the world.  Neither are complete.

Their family is fractured; people have died.  Small things have happened to small people that have had earth-shattering repercussions to the lives of these characters and those around them.  Things can never go back and be as they once were, but can they be healed?  Once you live through a traumatic event such as this, can you be whole again?  It's a universal question that reaches far beyond the little rural Indian village in which this story is set.

Canned Hamm Considering a Hiatus - By Lezah

I heard from a reliable source that the Vancouver duo Canned Hamm is considering going on hiatus.  Rob Dayton and Ken Hamm formed the group five years ago and have since put extensive time, energy and money into touring and promoting their band.  These guys love their audience and are committed to playing the smaller club that allow them to perform their show the way they want to, but unfortunately they are currently without a contract or a booking agent.  To complicate matters further, record stores continue to misfile their CDs - check out the 'humour' section at most places if you are looking for them.  This seems to be where they get placed, but isn't necessarily where they should be.  But, when you're as idiosyncratic as this band, it becomes difficult to pigeonhole them...

Anyway, world on the street is that the guys are looking at pursuing other musical interests for the next little while.  But don't despair - this may not be the last we'll hear of Canned Hamm!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Empire of the Sun - by Lezah

There are three books that I never get tired of reading, and re-reading, and re-reading.  They are Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird', James Dickey's 'Deliverance', and J. G. Ballard's 'Empire of the Sun'.

I just re-read 'Empire of the Sun' once again last weekend.  This is a novel that was 1984's winner of The Guardian Fiction Prize and was also short-listed for The Booker Prize.  Frankly, I can't imagine which book could have won the Booker that year over Ballard's offering- I'll have to look it up, and it had better be good, otherwise I'll be very, very angry, as Marvin the Martian would say.  Without even looking it up, I know Ballard was robbed - he should have won.  'Empire of the Sun' is definitely the best book of that year, if not the entire decade.

This is a book about war - World War II, to be exact.  And it was turned into a movie (by Speilberg) which I have never seen (I've been told the movie is little more than a pale imitation of the book, so I have gladly boycotted it).  Anyway, I also wanted to add that I'm not a war-monger - I can't even watch 'Saving Private Ryan' all the way through.  Seeing 'Gallipolli' did that to me - the whole humans-as-cannon-fodder, man's -inhumanity-to-man thing - I just can't bear it.

But while the setting of 'Empire of the Sun' is post-Pearl Harbour China during WWII after Shanghai is seized by the Japanese, the plot deals with so much more.  It's an absolutely compelling book.  The protagonist is Jamie, an 11 year old British boy who has never actually been to Britain; his parents are well-to-do Brits living the high life in their schizophrenic adopted land.  Jamie describes their life in the International compound just outside of downtown Shanghai, where the residents are protected, physically and otherwise, by their chauffeurs, their amahs, their status, their high fences, their money.  He tells of the day when the beggar who lives outside of the gates has his foot run over and crushed by Jamie's Packard.  Jamie reports this event in an unemotional, dispassionate way.  He simply reports what he sees, but little he sees breaks through him at an emotional level.  He is used to ordering his amah around, telling the servants that he will kill them if they don't follow his orders, to seeing the chauffeur use a whip on the beggars who crowd around the car on their trips off the compound.  To Jamie, these people are not people, they just are.  And what happens to them, happens to them.  It's as simple as that, and he gives it no more thought than that.

However, the day the Japanese attack the British warships in the Shanghai harbour is the day Jamie's life is turned on its head.  Life as he knows it disappears in an instant, and Jamie is forced to fend for himself in a cruel and heartless world.  With nothing more than the clothes on his back and reserves of boundless energy, Jamie lives out the rest of World War II behind barbed wire, and the experiences he has change him in unimaginable ways.

One thing in particular that I like about the book is how it's written on two different levels:  narrated by an 11 year old with an 11 year old's understanding of the way things are, we as adults are able to read so much more into what he reports.  Because of this, I find the time that Jamie spends with two US Merchant Marines who 'rescue' him to be the most suspenseful of the whole novel.
'Empire of the Sun' is an absolutely mesmerizing story of survival, and it is, to either a greater or lesser degree (my guess is greater), at least partially autobiographical - Ballard himself spent many of his childhood years in civilian POW camps in China after his family was captured by the Japanese.

My advice is, if you haven't read this book - do.  Now.   

Canned Hamm - by Lezah

There have been lots of bands/singers over time who have gained notoriety at least in part because of lewd behaviour (or what people perceive to be lewd behaviour).  

Cases in point:  Elvis (the Pelvis) and his swiveling hips which were banned from TV monitors for being obscene; Jim Morrison and his incident in Florida where he was accused of exposing himself; Ken Hamm from the legendary Vancouver band Slow, who got kicked out of Expo 86 when Hamm dropped his drawers; Shannon Hoon from Blind Mellow who urinated on the crowd at Vancouver's Pacific Colosseum; the Red Hot Chili Peppers and their tube sock outfits; the list goes on.

So where am I going with this?  No idea.  I just have an interest in male nudity, I guess.

Actually, where I'm going is to Celebrities - or rather, that's where I went after the Sloan show.  There were three bands playing and unfortunately I can't tell you a thing about the first two -not even their names!  Sorry!!  But the last group I did manage to see, and that was Vancouver camp/dance band Canned Hamm.  Singers Rob Dayton and Ken Hamm (yes, he of the notorious and legendary Slow) perform the campiest song and dance act (to a pre-recorded soundtrack) that I've ever seen.  Their get-ups are hilarious:  sky-blue, skin-tight jump suits with huge white fringe on the sleeves, they are right out of the late '70s.  They spent most of the time dancing with the crowd on the floor, or (in the case of Rob), dancing up on the railings of the bar.  Took me back to the old Luv-A-Fair days, to be sure.  

Talking to Rob after the show, he was lamenting that the crowd wasn't bigger, but then there were about four big acts in town that night, so... that's the way it goes, I guess.

Anyway, this band is a bit Scissor Sisters, a bit Village People, and a bit over the top, high-camp.  Lots of energy, lots of fun, and I'd definitely go see them again.

Survivor - by Lezah

I kept hearing about this TV show 'Survivor' that's supposed to be really popular (never watched it, myself); I made the connection then and there - Chuck Palahniuk wrote the novel 'Survivor' and since I really liked his debut novel 'Fight Club', I figured I'd better see what all the fuss about.


I'm well aware that 'Survivor' the TV show and 'Survivor' the novel are in no way connected, and I apologize to Mr. Palahniuk for any pain, embarrassment or loss of income through book sales my above statement may have caused him.
Whew!  I'm glad I got that over with!

Okay, having just finished the novel, what I want to say is that it is insane.  Oops, I mean I want to say that it is a satire!  A satire!  Of course, as they say there is a fine line between genius and insanity; likewise, I firmly believe that there is a fine line between satire and insanity.  And this book certainly walks that line.

'Survivor' deals with the concepts of fame and all its trappings:  public relations, image and the media machine; cults and religion; love and lust; life and death; the whole Martha Stewart/perfect housekeeper phenomenon; and everything in between.  

This book starts at the end - you can tell it is the end because the first page of the novel opens at chapter 47 and is numbered 289. It weaves a convoluted path as the protagonist, Tender Branson, tells his story.  At the outset of the novel, we find him hurtling towards his imminent death in a run-away jet airliner; he is relating his tale to the black box (the flight recorder, which in actual fact is orange in colour); he has ensured that the passengers have all safely disembarked, and once underway again, has also kicked out the pilot (making sure, first of all, he was wearing a parachute).  He is well aware that he has limited time; in two hours, the engines will start to flame out, one by one, until all four engines are gone and the plane starts on its 'terminal descent'.  

Tender Branson, through the course of his story, becomes the last surviving member of the cult in which he was raised.  He has been assigned a social worker, courtesy of the government who is concerned that he might try and commit suicide; he has been trained in the domestic arts, and works for a demanding and socially inept couple whom he never sees but merely trades insults and commands with over a speaker phone; he starts a self-styled suicide help-line, but of the type most people aren't expecting; he meets the girls of his dreams. What more could anybody want?

Tender takes all this and runs with it, and when life throws him a couple of unanticipated bones, he makes the most of it - for a while, until things go sideways, big time.

Unpredictable, dark, painfully truthful, and surprisingly humorous, this book takes a deadpan look at our society and those who run it.  Says Tender:
        Everything the agent's been telling me makes perfect sense.  For instance, if Jesus Christ had died in prison, with no one watching and with no one there to mourn or torture him, would we be saved?

        With all due respect.

        According to the agent, the biggest factor that makes you a saint is the amount of press coverage you get. (p. 152)

What sacrilege!  Give it a read - I dare you!

Lord Gnome's Literary Companion - by Lezah

I just recently finished reading a hilarious book of literary criticism entitled 'Lord Gnome's Literary Companion' (edited by Francis Wheen).  In the introduction, Wheen says this about the articles in this book, which were originally published in 'Private Eye':

        The whole point of the 'Literary Review' page is that there are no sacred cows, no inhibitions, no special favours, no treacly euphemisms.  Messy work, but someone's got to do it.  (p. 8)

With chapter titles such as 'Reviewers:  The sound of one hand back-scratching', 'Bestsellers:  A million readers can't be wrong - can they?', and 'Poetry:  Verse than you think', this holds nothing back.  No one is safe.  From Dick Francis ("Dick Francis occupies an important place in English letters.  He is the favorite writer of people who hate reading") to Ian McEwan ("Ian McEwan's novels... are generic.  ... The cover is excellent."), from Jean M. Auel ("Look at the book review pages and you'd think that publishing revolves around long-awaited translations from the Czech and the previously uncollected essays of Isaiah Berlin and V. S. Pritchett.  It don't.  Publishing's about trash like this.") to Roald Dahl ("In gratitude for the heaps of money he has made them, publishers have been pulling out the publicity stops for the 70th birthday and 26th book of Roald Dahl.  Like some monstrous Merlin, kept alive by bees' jelly, the gaunt old misanthrope has peered at us from full page ads, colour supplements and TV screens.  Perhaps he will never die."), this book spares no one.  

All I have to say is, thank God I'm not a writer!  I couldn't bear to read stuff like that about what I'd written.

But I sure do love to read it...

Junkers - by Lezah

Standard & Poor have dropped the credit rating of both Ford and GM shares to junk bond status recently.  This is in response to the recent and sharp rise in gas prices around the world.  Both of the domestic giants have been fighting a losing battle recently in the car market, as imports have been dominating that field lately.  They have been keeping their heads above water purely through their strong hold on their truck and SUV lines; however, rising gas prices have pundits foreseeing a sharp decrease in sales in this sector.

Baby Names for the Future - by Lezah

University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt's bestseller Freakonomics (which I've mentioned before) is a book that looks at trends and links them with the economics that create these trends.  

One phenomenon he investigates is baby names.  What he has discovered is that trendy names start with those of higher income, and then there is a trickle down effect through the lower stratums of the economy.  As this trickle down effect occurs and the popularity of the name spreads in the lower economic ranks, the rich adopt new names and the cycle begins anew.

Now baby names are something I've written about before, too.  I just find it fascinating (and maybe this is a sad comment on me!) that names ARE so trendy.  I read somewhere that during the war years, Mary was the most popular name - so much so that many derivations were concocted for it as a school class could easily have half of the girls in it with the handle Mary.  Likewise, when I went to school there was a whole generation of Brenda and Debbies before me (and for some odd reason, they were usually sisters!). I went to school during the reign of Lisa and Karen, Kevin and David.  As a matter of fact, the one PE class at my school had 17 Kevins in it, including two Kevin Smiths!  Now elementary schools are filled with Jamies and Coles, Madisons and Masons.

According to Levitt, by 2015, some of the most popular names will be these:  
        for girls - Aviva, Avery, Ella, Flannery, Linden, Maeve, and Quinn
        for boys - Aiden, Ansel, Carter, Cooper, Harper, Sander, and Sumner.

Return of the Car Wash - by Lezah

Here's a particular trend I've noticed lately, and I was quite curious about it until a friend explained the fairly mundane and pragmatic reason behind its rise.  
Remember drive-though car washes with the spray and the shampoo and the huge big rollers?  Well, drive-through car washes are back - not that they ever disappeared completely, but they certainly had their heyday back in the '70s when we as a society were still emerging from the '50s car culture which spawned both drive-in movies and drive-in restaurants.  There was even a movie in the late '70s called Carwash, if you can believe it.  But, like disco music, the late '70s saw the boom and bust of many trends, including car washes.  But now for the echo...

Car washes are back, big time, and they're being built (in my area, anyway) on practically every available corner.  We took our vehicle through one of these cultural freakzoids recently, and it turns out for $10 you can get the deluxe version (called the Typhoon).  Unfortunately, while the front, top and sides of the car were gleaming afterwards, the entire back of the vehicle was still coated in dirt.  I see they're actually expanding this particular car wash already, so figure they're upgrading to the 'tsunami' version now (sorry, bad taste!).

The other trend I have noticed is that about half of these places that have been built over the last two years now have big for sale signs in front of them, so perhaps there is just too much competition.

Turn out that the reason behind the rise of this trend is fairly simple:  many people are living in condos and townhouse developments now, and a lot of these place either lack the facilities for washing one's car, or else have outright bans on residents doing so.  So, people have one of two options:  dirty car, or car wash.
Fortunately, I don't have the above problem, so in the future I will once again be dragging the hose out and washing my car in my driveway (and saving my $10!) - at least until they unveil the latest model, the tsunami, which can maybe wash right over my whole car...

Sub/Urban Landscapes - By Lezah

Well, it was featured in The Sun on Sunday, and in CSI: New York Monday this week, so it's obviously the' big new trend'.

Parkour is a french word meaning 'circuit', and is also the name of a new extreme sport - or, as some prefer to think of it, 'part urban-guerilla movement and part performance art'.  Actually, it turns out it's not new at all:  parkour was first developed in France 15 years ago by two men named Sebastian Foucan and David Belle, who are still practitioners.  The people who participate in this sport are called 'traceurs', and the sport has since spread to Britain (where it is also called 'free-running') as well as urban settings in North America.

Parkour involves jumping, leaping, running and flipping over the elements of the concrete jungle that most of us wouldn't give a second glance to; handrails, gaps between buildings, stairs, what have you - everything is fair game when it comes to being incorporated in a parkour. It's done with fearlessness as well as a grace and fluidity that one might expect to see at the ballet.  And not everyone can do this, either:  traceurs train and run together, and don't encourage 'newbies' to join them until they're fit, trained and ready.  There is an element of risk involved, scrapes, bruises and broken bones being the most common.

Of course, looking at it, the activity itself isn't new - it's just the setting that is different.  For eons young people have grown up running, leaping, and swinging, sometimes in forests, sometimes at the lake, or on a farm, or even through suburban construction sites.  It's the urban aspect that's new, and since parkour is potentially very public, this also helps to make it more impactful in our society today.

For more information go to www.urbanfreeflow.com.

Privatization in Education - by Lezah

It's election day today in BC and there are many hot topics.  When the current party was voted in four years ago, huge cutbacks in health care, education, and senior care were brought forth very quickly after election day.

Education, in particular, was hit hard.  Privatization now seems to be the buzz word of the day.  Private schools are being lauded while public schools are regularly slammed by the media.  An 'independent' think-tank, the Fraser Institute, publishes a list of schools each year and ranks them according (primarily) to Grade 12 final exam results (for the high schools, anyway); somehow, public schools seem to always lag behind.

Interestingly enough, when you compare how BC public school students do nationally, usually we're in the top two; when you compare how Canadian students do internationally (based on 30 000 Canadian 15 year olds who participated in PISA, an international test of literacy, science and math) we consistently are near the top, just behind front-runner Finland, and well in front of countries like the US, Britain and New Zealand.  And yet our current provincial government continues to push the private school concept, and continues to increase spending in the private school sector while decreasing spending in public schools.  And the difference between schools in Finland and schools in all these other countries?  There's absolutely no privatization in Finnish schools.  So, in a nutshell, what I'm trying to say is:  privatization is bad, bad, bad.  
A case in point:  just look at what happened at a high school near where I live.  Previously, this school had a top-notch Chef's Training program.  The Chef was trained at the top cooking school in North America (the Culinary Institute of America); the program was provincially recognized and a frequent award winner; the students were educated well beyond your basic Mickey-D prep:  they prepared great tasting, nutritional food that was beautifully presented.  They raised money for a trip to New York every second year where they visited the top restaurants in the city.  These were kids who, for the most part, were not academically inclined, but instead of the school throwing in the towel, these students were extremely well prepared upon graduation to pursue careers in high-end restaurants.  They were not going to be working in a fast food joint at any time.

Unfortunately, after the cutbacks the program was shut down and a private company was brought in to run the cafeteria. This private company, as part of their contract, also received the revenue from the vending machine (this money had previously gone to the Athletics Department to buy new sports equipment).  
But beyond that, it seemed that the repercussions of this cutback were relatively minor, in the grand scale of things - until some industrious students formed the Business Club.  Their goal was to raise money to take a trip to China two years from now; the vehicle they were using to raise money was the school store, which had been out of operation for the last few months.  These students did consumer surveys, looked at the nutritional analysis of products, scrubbed and cleaned and painted, advertised and promoted... They finally targeted two groups:  the Asian students at the school, whose food choices were limited; and the health conscious.  They decided to offer a 'healthier' option, like sushi, which would appeal to both groups.  Everything went well until the private company running the cafeteria put in an official complaint with the School District.

A lady from 'Food Services' came out; the Health Inspector was sent.  All stops were pulled.  And the result was far reaching, because not only was the school store order to discontinue many of their products, leaving them with a skeleton menu, other groups in the school were also affected.  Now, for anyone wanting to do a food related fundraiser?  Only two per month will be permitted.  The annual Multi-cultural lunch?  Nope, no can do.  The Students' Council Annual Free Ice Cream Day?  Sorry.  The Grad BBQ?  No, try again.  Bake sales?  Not if it's prepared in someone's home?  Cake walk?  Grow up!  

Frickin' ridiculous, is all I have to say...