Thursday, December 10, 2009

One Final Indignity

This news story is old new by now, but for some reason I just couldn't bring myself to close the tab on my browser holding this story.

A little over two weeks ago, there was a bit of an incident in International City. International City is Dubai's attempt to create a multicultural gated(ish) community where professionals would go to love and commute into the city for work. For some time now International City has attracted more than a few expats of my acquaintance, mostly because the rents were dirt cheap (by Dubai standards) and the location seemed safely remote and out of the hustle of the city proper. Unfortunately, what most of these penny-pinching expats did not realize was that the entire development was created with a sewage system that could only handle, at best, 30% to 40% of the full population of the development. This led to a situation where, for a good period of time last year, large swathes of International City, especially the English area, were literally bathing in exposed sewage that had spilled out of the overtaxed pipes.

As if the constant stink and threat of cholera were not enough, the residents awoke recenbtly to discover that their area had been flooded by another form of sewage - organized crime.

It seems the ethnic gangs gave taken up root here in Dubai, which somewhat reminds me of Vancouver and Toronto back in Canada. There you can find Chinese gangs, Vietnamese gangs, you name it. Now you can find the same in Dubai. As the Gulf News told it -

"A police officer was moderately injured on Saturday evening during police raids on flats that were operating as brothels in International City.

Dubai Police managed to arrest members of Asian gangs, mainly Vietnamese, who were involved in running brothels in the development. They were also involved in inciting violent incidents among their competitors including, murdering an Indian man and seriously injuring another at the China cluster on Friday. Both men were among the competitors involved in the same illegal operations."

The police action, as the article states, was prompted by an escalation of violence where 20 gang members broke into an apartment, most likely stash house, for a shakedown. In the process they killed an Indian man, and subsequently attracted the attention of the police who, in their raid, discovered that at least 52 units in the International City Chinese sector were being used as brothels.

52. Not 5 or 2. 52.

It's not a sign that a problem is starting, it's a sign that a problem is well established and growing. Thankfully the police seem to be on top of the problem and dealing with it with alacrity.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

As Time Slips Past at the Afternoon PD

some are dependent
some are independent

the technique will change
across a varied range

to incorporate flexibility
with mixed ability

pay attention
to retention

matching implementation
to execution

enhancing invention
which all,
of course,
goes without mention

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The View from Festival City

I was in Festival City on Tuesday, the day before UAE Day, but it felt as if the celebrations had already begun.

It's not the best photo ever, but I was pretty darn proud of it. I thought of sending it in to the Khaleej Times or Gulf News, but thought better of it when I realized that do so would probably entail more effort than I was willing to undertake. So there it sits above, on this lonely blog.

As we walked along outside, however, we found that things had started to really come together at Festival City.

People were out in force, and the Disney Princess stage show brought huge crowds into the mall. We only caught the tail end of the 4pm show.

Luckily we there were a few attractions outside to keep us occupied until 6pm, or at least 5:30pm.

Eventually it was time for the stage show. I had managed, even arriving a half hour early, only to get a spot about eighty feet from the stage, but luckily a kind local offered to let my oldest daughter sit with his wife and children in the pit in front of the stage.

I can't say I understood what the story was supposed to be, but the singing and dancing Disney characters were a revelation for my daughter, who has not been able to talk of anything else since.

I think Disney hit it out of the park with their Princesses brand.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Is Dubai Too Big to Fail?

Is Dubai too big to fail?...

I liked Daniel Gross's Lehman analogy, only I find it a bit off, by a few orders of magnitude. Dubai is not Lehman Brothers, Nakheel is Lehman Brothers (And only metaphorically... Nakheel's debts amount to a high single digit percentage of what Lehman's were at the time of their collapse).

Yes, Dubai World and Nakheel are large companies, but in comparison to the size, not just of Dubai's economy, but of the large merchant families in Dubai (Futtaim, Galadari, Gargash, etc), they'd be like a sub-section of a department of a division were Dubai seen as a single corporate entity.

Yes, Dubai has seemed a bit flashy in recent years, but deceptively so, the way a sumo wrestler seems fat. There actually is a lot of substance underneath. As someone on the ground out here, I can tell you that the malls are jam packed (even the brand new mega malls), the roads are still clogged, the new metro is seeing increasing ridership every month, and major Dubai corporations like Dubal (7th largest aluminum producer in the world), Ducab (largest cable manufacturer in the middle east), DP World (Which, while a subsidiary of Dubai World, was excluded from DW's debt restructuring), and Emirates Airlines are all making money hand over fist.

The National's Wayne Arnold notes a few things the international media seems to have missed in their rubbernecking rush:

Dubai has never defaulted on or missed a debt (loan or bond) payment

Dubai is not a sovereign entity

Nakheel is a private company. (Nakheel's sukuk was never backed by the Dubai government and never even had a credit rating)

Dubai's traditional economic backbone has, and always will be trade facilitating infrastructure. This includes the Dubai Creek dredging, the Jebel Ali port development, the airport expansions, and now the Dubai Metro.

The money is there, but there are politics involved. Abu Dhabi's SWF alone has aver a trillion US$ in assets. The whole of Dubai's debts are a rounding error in the Abu Dhabi portfolio. The issue with Dubai World and Nakheel is not a lack of funds, on the part of either the Dubai government or the Abu Dhabi government. The issue is... something else.

Update: Ezra Klein gives a hat tip to an elightening graph that kind of garrotes the Dubai-Lehman analogy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Moving Smoothly Along

I've been remiss lately, but mostly due to a sustained flurry of activity at work that reached it's final, climactic crescendo today. Our school has bee pursuing accreditation with one of the largest accrediting bodies in the United States, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and today was the big visit/assessment/interrogation.

It will be a while before the results filter down to us, but regardless of the outcome, the process itself seems to effected an enormous amount of change already. As a colleague of mine noted, just the act of delving deeply into the practices of the school, and evaluating those practices with an objective standard, has forced a number of departments to really up their game, and look seriously not just at what is being done, but why.

This accreditation process really began about a year ago, and I was intimately involved with the drafting and editing of the initial assessment reports, which gave me a perspective on the school I had not had before.

Before this, I could look at a new initiative, or a current process, and see it cynically. I can't seem to do that anymore. Which is, perhaps, for the better.

In any event, there was actually something else on my mind today, something I noticed in class as I was teaching, or, more specifically, not teaching.

A week ago each student was finally given their shiny new MacBook Pros. Unfortunately for the students, the process was a little bit "nature red in tooth and claw," since there are a gand total of two IT guys who had previously served about a 100 and change admin and teaching staff. Throw on the implementation of an entirely new system, server architecture, plus 1000 new customers, and you have yourself a couple cases of cardiac arrest. Just to keep from being trampled to death by a constant stampede of flummoxed students, the IT boys had to basically show everyone the hand, and limit themselves to a small set list of specific tasks. The students, then, were left to their own devices.

As a long-time Mac user, and a more than a bit of a geek, I was able to get my students configured and running without a hitch. Unfortunately the transition has not been so smooth for most other staff, if only because OS X is entirely alien to them, and because of this, the entire process has been frustrating and bewildering.

Bit by bit, through workshops and informal chats, I, and a very few other colleagues, hope to help those digital immigrants among the staff who are having difficulty adjusting to the new landscape. Lucky for all of us, the students seem to have taken their difficulties in stride, and pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Today was a real case in point.

I had prepared a vocabulary lesson, which usually works moderately well in the classroom, but during those vocabulary lessons, there is always a non-stop torrent of requests to "tell" what a word means, or "give just one example" of how to use such a word in a sentence. When you are working wih the sheer number of words that these students need to, just to get their vocabulary up to a semi-acceptable level, those requests quickly become overwhelming.

But today, using their new Macs, and the slick (and beautiful, oh praise the Lord, it is!) Dictionary program that comes with the system, combined with Google's translate service, it was like I had become a mute accessory in the room.

They didn't even need me.

FInding the definition, writing down the Arabic translation, the part of speech, and creating a sample sentence for each word, now that they had the right tools, became doable tasks that kept them entirely engaged, and quiet.

It felt like I was in the Twilight Zone, for sure, but the truth is that, as long as ways can be found to use these new tools properly, the classrooms in thsi school will be unlike anything else in the UAE.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Bumper Crop Year

Most years, when the fall premiere season arrives, it is a safe bet that a majority of the shows will land with a thud. For some reason, only one or two shows will stick in a given year, but then along come these bumper crop years where the small screen is suddenly awash with brilliance.

This year is one of those years.

For some time now, TV pundits have spoken at length about the death of the sitcom. One of my favorite TV critics, Jamie J Weinman, whose blog Something Old, Something New gained enough of a following that Macleans Magazine snapped him up as their TV guy, made a very prescient prediction back in 2004.

In a nutshell, he posited that the single camera comedy was going to replace the traditional multi-camera format.

For some time, this prediction seemed like the yammerings of a yahoo, as networks kept on cranking out the multi-cam shows, like According to Jim, Til' Death, two failed Kelsey Grammer projects (Back to You, Hank), and any number of other, unmemorable wastes of time.

In the past several years, only two multi-camera shows have reached the level of hit status - Two and a Half Men, and The Big Bang Theory. And while these shows are definitely hits with audiences, creatively they are somewhat hit and miss.

But this year we hit the jackpot. Shows like Community, Modern Family, The Middle, Glee (Not a sitcom, but pretty darn funny), and Seth McFarlane's latest franchise "The Cleveland Show" have been hitting all their marks, breathing life into what had appeared, for some time, to be a dying, or even dead, genre. All of these shows, as it happens, are single camera shows, with no laugh track, not shot in front of a live studio audience. Kind of like Corner Gas... Actually, exactly like Corner Gas.

I'm not sure if Corner Gas had any influence on this trend (and it's a long shot that it would have), but just as Corner Gas recharged Canadian TV, especially Canadian comedy, shows with the exact same format, such as 30 Rock (which is probably what sparked this trend in the US) have done the same in the US.

WHatever happens, it will be interesting to see how this trend grows and develops.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mac to the Future

At a school in Dubai, where I spend my days banging out the rent, an educational experiment has begun that will have interesting, and perhaps long term effects on education in the region.

You see, I'm tapping out this post tonight on a new computer. When I first joined my school, I was told that every teacher was given a laptop, which turned out to be the case, and I became the (proud?) holder of a Dell something or other. To be fair, while I never stopped grousing about the Dell, and casting a covetous glance on all the nicer byte candy out there, I had been using and and abusing that Dell for three years. I had it on almost 24 hours a day, every single day, using it to make documents, create movies, edit and produce audio, you name it. I filled it to the brim with free, open source software that let me do thing only people with much deeper pockets usually could. I burned out two power adapters during the course of my stewardship, and two weeks ago I had to finally bow to the inevitable...

It was time to get my grubbers on a new MacBook Pro.

That's right. That sweet, grey bit of byte candy became mine. I had been eyeing such a purchase for years, dreaming about the day when I would own a Mac again, but always aware that the price was a little too stiff for my family-man means.

It is a good thing I did not buy one in the end, because over the summer vacation, I learned that my school had given up their contract with Dell, and had signed a deal with Apple. Every teacher at my school system's five high schools and multiple tertiary institutes was being supplied with a MacBook Pro 13.1", loaded with a kings ransom in software - Microsoft Office 2008, Final Cut Pro, and iWork. In addition, these machines were given dual boot capability, so in addition to Mac, we retained Windows, and the suite of software we used there.

Some lucky few, or so I hear, are also getting the Adobe Creative Suite, professional version.

Yes we teachers are being spoiled by getting these fancy new machines. But so, it turns out, are the students.

Every student at my school is getting a shiny new MacBook Pro. What that will mean in the classroom remains to be seen, especially considering the powerful multimedia recording capabilities of these machines.

A few high schools in the US and Europe have already implemented a laptop-per-student policy, but usually that means a generic Windows laptop. I don't think I've heard of a similar program where students received top of the line MacBooks usually only used by creative professionals and pretty much every actor on television.

Is it overkill? Will the power and possibilities of these machines be put to good use? How will it affect the on the ground situation in the classroom?

The money being thrown at this program is staggering, and the deal itself was high profile enough to make the national news. The no.2 man at Apple himself flew down to Abu Dhabi to seal the deal.

Whatever the cae may be, I'm just happy that I finally got my own little bit of byte candy. Whatever else is whatever else.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Interlude: Those Winter Sundays

In addition to the poetry I write, I think I am going to start posting poems I come across that really have something to offer. I came across this poem, by Robert Hayden, on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached from labor
in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze.

No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm,
he'd call, and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

I read the news today...

I read the news today, oh boy.

A few items that popped out at me today. The first was when I opened my copy of the Khaleej Times this morning and saw the gratis copy of PC "Magazine." The one thing I love about this part of the world is how generous they are when naming things, ascribing virtues that they simply do not possess. Flipping through, I soon saw that the magazine was just an advert for Gitex, the large tech expo. What I soon noticed, however, was not the plethora of manufacturers and software developers hawking their wares, but the relative paucity of such. I don't know if this is true or not, but apparently there are only two peripheral makers at Gitex. If it is true, then I'd find a greater variety of tech vendors at the Emarat on the corner than I would a Gitex.

It says something. I'm not sure what. But something.

And on to other news. Two fascinating items of note.

The Germans have stumbled on a new way to "raise" environmental consciousness. Apparently, if you ride a bike or take the bus to Berlin's "The Maison d’Envie," one of Germany's many, legal, brothels, you get a 5 Euro discount on services.

In other news, an interesting item from Britain. You see, I'm a loyal follower of the BBC Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy Podcast. It's usually very good, and most of the shows are well done. A good portion of thw humor seems to stem from taking potshots at the BNP -

"The BNP is forming an alliance with the Green Party. They want to ring the island with windmills, which they hope will also blow away the immigrants"

I figured that the BNP was a conservative party akin to Canada's Reform party from the late 90s and early 00s, and that the cheap shots were just that - a somewhat unfair tarring of what is a legitimate and serious political party.

And then I read this -

The ultra-right-wing British National Party has agreed to amend its constitution to allow the very people it loathes—visible minorities—to join. The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission had launched court proceedings against BNP leader Nick Griffin and two of his deputies, arguing it had a statutory duty, under the Equality Act 2006, to prevent discrimination by political parties. In a plea deal, Griffin has agreed to present his all-white membership with a revised constitution at a general meeting next month. Then they will sing Kumbaya.

Awesome. Really. It's 2009, and they're taking a serious look at desegregation. Do they still use computers the size of a bus? How are Brylcreem sales doing in BNP strongholds?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Boy Howdy

It's about time to get back on this thing and get some writing done. Some time about the end of the summer, and during the first bit of the school year, I felt a bit of a fugue come over me, some sort of lazy unwillingness to get back on the wagon again.

I think it was the poetry. Perhaps I'll have to be a bit more sporadic on that. I'll still try to keep it up, but my one a day goal is probably a mite unsustainable considering my current circumstances.

Which brings me to the good news. There's a new O'Hearn in the world, and I've officially become candidate for King Lear-ship. We've had three daughters in four years, which means they'll all be teenagers at the same time at some point, which also means that I'm going to have to move to a district that let's me own a shotgun, and doesn't get too fussy about me using on my own private property.

But enough of that. I had something to show you. A bit of joy to share.

Leah Melissa O'Hearn

Moments after birth...

Cleaned up, seeing the sun for the first time...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Endless Translation Fun

In case you're late to the party, here is Translation Party!.

Enter a phrase in English. The phrase is then translated into Japanese, then back to English, then back to Japanese, over and over until the phrase no longer changes from one translation until the next. That is, until equilibrium is found.

I decided to run a well known poem through the matrix. The changes are interesting, but what is more interesting, I find, are the phrases that glide perfectly from one language to the next, with nothing lost in translation.

Anyhow, here is -

W.B. Yeats - The Second Coming

Enlarge vortex
Can not hear the falconer's hawk.
If you, or you can move the distance to the center?
In the world of anarchy, loosed is
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed?
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
Belief, all the best for the worst.
Are full of passionate intensity.

The revelation of several cars.
It has been revealed.
February 2! , Most of these words
Mundi in the case of multiple ethanol of the code
My first problem: the waste of desert sand;
Body of a lion and the head of the human form,
This is in the sky, flying like a cruel sun
The slow-footed, back to the top of all
Birds of the desert, cross the wind shadow.
Dark again, I know now reduced
Centuries of stony sleep 20
Consider the nightmare of the birthplace of rock
And the rough beast, the final round, the following
What Slouches born in Bethlehem?


Should you shut your ears to anything else I may speak
should you shut your eyes to anything else I may write
if nothing else at the very least
heed these words
let them find a home within you
a safe place to stay until they are needed
when they can be called upon in your time of need

mere words
bind all things earthly or not
within the realm of human imagination
what is love death pain
without one word to hold in all the
understandings and perceptions each carries
they are unknowable
the power of a word manifests itself
making the incomprehensible tangible

mere words
are everything of import
they bind us to courses of thought and action
dictating out lives
oppressing or liberating
used to define the worth of a person
whether they are to be locked in a cage
or to command the loyalty of millions

mere words
Can make your spirit exult
hearing those things which your heart longs for
or reading what appears to be a dream given form
you dance you laugh
your whole world grows
to include anyone within reach of your smile

mere words
can break your heart
leaving your tattered soul soiled
unrecognizable upon the ground and you
struggling to find a way
to begin to stand to try again

mere words
in them lay the very essence of humanity
for what they have the power to do
they also have the power to undo
and I have some words for you

In any of your endeavors in the light of day or dark of night
when that insidious quiet descends upon you
threatening to consume you
taking you away from yourself
I want you to look in that same place
no matter the day or hour
and pull out these words

In a quiet place
where a soft wind blows
rustling leaves and grass
under a tree
you will find me

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Going to the Library

Or will be, soon, for some people.

The Toronto Public Library now allows members to check out books online, as in e-books, audiobooks, music, and movies.

Makes me wish I still had my library card handy. Then again, I'd have to be a tax-paying citizen of Canada to enjoy that privilege, whereas I'm currently a tax-avoiding resident of Dubai.

I could always go to a local library... (wait, now, don't laugh too hard!)

Actually, I am pretty pumped about the opening a new library just down the road from where I live. When it opens, it will be the first Dubai library I will have entered. I know there are a few branches out there, but I haven't had the time to search for them.

Here's hoping the Dubai library system gets on the e-book bandwagon also.


So you say you
shouldn't be so high
on my list of priorities

there's work
there's friends
there's life

So you say you
shouldn't be so high
on my list of priorities

I say you are wrong

For when I wake
there is only ever one item
on that list

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I'm kind of liking that word right now, seeing as how Chris Anderson already took the other cool variation.

Some interesting news.

Ever heard of The Guild? It is an independently written, and produced webshow about a bunch of geeks who love World of Warcraft.

Season one was givjavascript:void(0)en away free, as will season 2 be. But quality work speaks for itself, and loudly enough that The Guild is now being sponsored by Microsoft and Sprint.

In the new creative economy, I'm thinking that talent, effort, and quality work are going to be the main factor determining success.

Mr. Today

I’m Mr. Today
I used to have another name but
that was someone else
I can’t remember him anymore

About myself there isn’t much to
tell but I’ll tell
the little I do know one thing
I am really good at is sticking my
head through an open door seeing
someone inside then entering their life

Some things last have
permanence though I wouldn't
know enough about that to say change
is the only constant I know

How could they give you up?
she said in a soft voice still heavily
breathing in the afterglow I don't
know what to say all I can think
is because they can

Anything goes for me really I'm
not scared of being knocked down
as they say all I have to do is stand up

Falling in love is easy I do it all
the time cats have nine lives and I
have nine hearts but sometimes
I wonder if falling is only a habit

Remember Biz Markie well I
never have been the
just a friend
he is always someone I later meet

Before God I swear I will give every
new her all until she says goodbye

Per ardua surgo and all that I just
hope I made a few smiles laughs
singing illigitimi non carborundum
all that matters really the
categorical imperative

I'm Mr. Today can't remember
yesterday don't know about tomorrow
every new today I am just as
surprised that I am still here so
certain that chances are like
the Littlest Hobo tomorrow
I'll be gone

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dining in Dubai vs. Dining in Toronto

I came home today and saw an interesting new comment on my post on blandness.

The commenter, Ah pois, seemed taken aback by my apparent preference for food in Canada over food in the Middle East. The issue is a little more complicated than that, but overall, I do prefer a great deal of food in Canada to what's available in the Middle East.

Why that is, is simple - variety.

You could be reductive, and hold that Canadian food consists of pemmican, maple syrup, beavertails, and maybe moose meat. But in truth, Canada has a much more varied cuisine than most people know.

In Dubai, I can get Arabic food, great Arabic food, incredible Arabic food. I love it to death, and I will miss it terribly when I am gone. But Arabic food really is not very varied, consisting of a combination of meat (kebabs, chicken legs), hummous, bread (pita bread), yogurt, and salad (fattoush, or tabouleh).

Like I said, the food is good, but you can tire of it quickly. So then what do you eat? Good Italian is hard to find in Dubai for a decent price. Greek food? Sorry, no gyros, since few restaurants use pork. Chinese? Nope, all you can find is either Indian-Chinese or Asian-Fusion. If hakka noodles and chicken lollipops suit your fancy, then power to you, but good luck finding any hot pot, or congee. Caribbean? Forget it. Mexican? Second rate Tex-Mex is all there is. Thai? To date I have found only one or two restaurants that can make a passable pad thai, and forget about masaman beef. Korean? Sorry, but you are not going to find good bibimbap or kimchee around these parts. Japanese? Perhaps. There are a few good sushi joints, but forget about finding decent ramen or gyoza. Vietnamese? Nowhere to be found around here.

Better yet, how about a place that serves roast beef with gravy, roast potatoes, with freshly picked steamed carrots, broccoli, and green beans, with a pile of cobs of peaches and cream corn on the side? Sorry, but you are totally out of luck. How about mashed turnip, butternut squash, or mashed potatoes? What passes for those here is not usually edible.

Dubai is great if you love Arabic food, South Asian food, or fast food, but for anything else, you are generally out of luck. And of those three, Arabic food usually sits in your stomach like a brick, most Indian (and pretty much ALL South Indian) food leaves you looking for the Pepto-Bismol, and fast food? No explanation needed.

Wait, I forgot. You can also get good Filipino food in Dubai, but other than pancit, I don't know many non-Filipinos who got out of their way for that cuisine.

But in Toronto...

Want Bún bò Huế or Banh Mi? Head on down Spadina, and while you are there, pick up some awesome Baozi, or the best freshly made pan fried dumplings you will find anywhere. Feel like a legendary gyro? Pop on over to the Danforth and head to Alexandros. Want Thai? There are countless places with excellent pad thai, and fresh spring rolls. Go over to Bloor and Christie, and take in some honest to god real Korean food. Head on up to Jane and Finch where you find some of the best curry goat and roti or jerk chicken you have ever tasted. In North York and Woodbridge there are numerous excellent Italian restaurants, and if you feel like hot pot or congee, then hurry on over to Markham or Vaughan.

But it doesn't end there. You also have every European cuisine available, in addition to French-Canadian cuisine (Poutine, anyone?, and even a few decent Mexican joints.

And as always, the ubiquitous selection of Canadian blandness - corn, carrots, peas, beans, cauliflower, potatoes, squash, turnip, beets, roast beef, baked ham, roast turkey, cod fillets, salmon steaks, gravy, yorkshire pudding, butter biscuits, buns, and numrous breads. On the side, you will fine any number of clear broth soups with different fresh ingredients, a plethora of different types of salads. And then there is dessert.

What I wouldn't give to have a freshly baked apple pie made with fresh apples, or peach cobbler, strawberry shortcake, get the idea.

All of it wholesome, savory, sweet, and satisfying.

Sure there are fewer excellent Indian restaurants in Toronto than Dubai, but that doesn't mean they're not there.

Oh, and before I forget, there is the subject of sanitation. Do you know how many people have gotten seriously ill or died here from food poisoning this year? More than a few. In fact, government inspections have found that a surprising number of joints here, especially in Sharjah, have not only been found to be unsanitary, but engage in unsanitary practices, turn the freezers and fridges off at night to save on electricity, change expiration dates, and knowingly sell expired food.

So in all, yes, I do definitely prefer the food situation back in Canada over what I can find here.

After the Bath

I'm finished!
I'm finished!
I'm finished the bath!

Come here!
I'm wearing my slippers,
from the bath.

You have to put on cream
on my tummy,
not my hands,
my tummy.
I don't have a baby in my tummy,
but Mumma has a tummy
Mumma has a brother in her tummy,
or a sister in her tummy,
maybe a brother,
but I don't have a sister,
I have Kathleen,
she's not a sister,
she's Kathleen!

Let's go here!
Look! I have the paper!
I have the paper!
I have the paper that shows the shopping,
it shows how to get to the shopping,
and how to go to the place,
to buy the shopping,
and buy the birthday cake,
the big birthday cake,
for Mackenzie,
for Mackenzie's birthday,
because it's Mackenzie's birthday soon.

Kathleen's birthday is over,
and Mumma's birthday is over,
and Grandma's birthday is over,
and Grandpa's birthday is over,
but Dadda's birthday is,
Dadda's birthday is coming.

You have to take the paper
to get the money from the bank,
it shows how to go to the bank,
and you take the paper,
and it gives you the money,
and you buy the cake,
the big birthday cake,
for Mackenzie,
and then you take the paper,
and Dadda's birthday will come,
it will come,
in two hours,
and then,
and then you have to,
you have to go to the poo-poo.

Okay, Dadda?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Future of Publishing

You know, for an awful long time, the business of publishing has boiled down to taking a book, throwing it on a shelf in a bookstore, and hoping readers will find it, and buy it.

Oh sure, there are also marketing campaigns, book tours, interviews and reviews that help out, but for the most part publishers relied on third parties to get people to buy their books. And the system worked, until it didn't, and instead of changing, most publishers seem to just keep on like nothing has happened.

Well one publisher decided to buck that trend. What's more, when faced with the bleak harshness of the open market after their Arts Council funding was withdrawn, instead of laying down and dying an elegaic death, they performed an epic act of innovation, and have begun to thrive.

As The reports, "Independent poetry publisher Salt has raised enough money to get through the rest of 2009."

Instead of just chucking books on a store shelf, they made direct contact with their past customers. They reached out, got names, emails, and began their "Just One Book" campaign, where they urged people to buy one, just one, book. Not the same book, but just one book by them.

And it worked, by golly. Instead of relying on handouts and bemoaning the disinterest of the modern reader, and waiting for some media panjandrum to raise an approving eyebrow, they put boots up arses, stirred up some interest themselves, and to top it off are now diversifying into other genres.

Amazing, isn't it? What publishers can do when they use their heads?


She weas really offended
by the things he said.

They really hurt her,
and she didn’t know if
she could forgive him.

"Don't worry," he replied.

"I don’t want you to forgive me."

Those words which hurt
so much
only struck hard
with the force of truth

All he wanted her to say was not
"I forgive you."

All he wanted her to say is
"I understand."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

If Not For the Editing

Back when I studied creative writing at York University, one of my profs, Richard Teleky, told us that he felt Nino Ricci was a good writer, but not necessarily a great writer*. The reason why he felt this was that Ricci's debut novel, "Lives of the Saints" was by far and away better then the next two books in the trilogy, mostly because the first book was the beneficiary of a great deal of sublime editing. Ricci had written the novel while earning an MFA at Concordia, and as happens to any MFA student, their major work in a program is never only a singular effort - each student is surrounded by a number of like-minded, intelligent and perceptive writers and editors who all pitch in with helpful suggestions and critiques.

The point of my old professor's illustration was to drive home the point that it was not a great writer who made a work great, but a great editor, and that without the second part of the equation, even the most talented writer would quickly slip into mediocrity. A case in point being J.K. Rowling (bear with me, here), whose first three Harry Potter novels, all heavily edited, polished and slimmed down volumes, were far better then the latter four. When it came time for "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," Rowling's sales and recognition were already a world-wide phenomenon, and she was able to resist much of the editorial control she had put up with in the beginning. When it came time for the seventh book, you have to wonder if the editors were even allowed in the same room as the manuscript.

As far as Rowling was concerned, that didn't really matter much. She was a popular writer, the bucks were rolling in, and literary merit, "good writing" and "bad writing" all became moot points. If her name was on the front, people bought it, just as the buy Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Stephen King, Danielle Stelle, et al.

But, if you are the sort of writer whose popularity is derived from the literary merit of your work, as opposed to a character, genre, or place, that sort of slide into mediocrity often quickly translates into a one-way ticket back into obscurity. This is why literary writers often take so very long to complete a novel, and why the editing process is often so drawn out. Great literary writers almost always have a great, and usually a specific editor to work with. In Canada, that meant someone like Ellen Seligman, who, as the National Post declared, [I]"has edited more Giller Prize winners than anyone."[/I]

As Patrick Lane put it "Hands-on doesn't even begin to describe what Ellen does. Ellen inhabited my manuscript. That's the only way I can describe it. She entered into the novel in a way that just stunned me. I was not prepared for the way she climbed inside the novel." As Lane described it, he worked with Ellen for three hours every day when editing his first novel, and at times up to nine hours at a stretch.

When you look at a list of who Seligman has edited, it's a veritable who's who of CanLit - Margaret Atwood, Rohinton Mistry, David Bergen, Leonard Cohen, Elizabeth Hay, Jane Urquhart, Michael Ondaatje, and Anne Michaels.

All of which begs the question - if each of these writers is considered to be a "great writer," yet the common element between them all is the same, doesn't that beg the question as to who, truly, brings that touch of greatness to their works? Is it the editor? According to Seligman "[e]ditors, certainly in Canada, we don't change things. Our job is to make recommendations." So, in other words, no. It's not the editor, it is the author. Case closed, end of discussion, next subject please.

Still, you would have to wonder whether such a statement was true, or editorial boilerplate, a way of obfuscating the process the way a magician does their tricks. Ask any editor, and they would probably say the same thing. Admitting to being a co-author of a work, for editors, would be a breach of ethics on par with a psychologist passing around a highlight reel of their sessions with clients. So the question as to how complicit an editor is in the creation of a work is one that will go unanswered. If the author is successful, they're not going to blab, and even if the author bombed and decided to blab, who would listen? Who would care? Sour grapes from a failed writer are about the last item on anyone's to-do list.

One way for the truth to surface, however, is if the story is told from beyond the grave. This, as it turns out, recently happened in regards to Raymond Carver. As the Times of London has shown, Raymond Carver reputation as a master stylist is about as deserved as Bernie Madoff's reputation as a master investor. As time has told, it was all, in the end, a lie.

Which brings me back to my old prof, Richard Teleky, and the sermon he told his class of half asleep poseurs, most of whom, like myself, allowed words like "craft," "editor," and "editing" to splash off of them and dissipate into the air, deflected by the impenetrable shields named "the muse," "my art," and "talent." Maybe trying the be the best writer the world has seen is not the best use of my time. Perhaps I should start looking for a good editor instead.


[I]*Keep in mind that Ricci has won TWO Governor General's Awards and a Trillium Award. Which means that any aspersions should not be taken at face value.[/I]


Curiosity seems
to fill me.

One question
or, at least,

Have I done anything to offend?

If I had,
would you tell me?

Friday, July 31, 2009

A First Glimpse of the Kindled Future

You ever hear of Boyd Morrison? Probably not, but his story is more than a little pertinent for anyone looking to make a living as a writer.

It seems that old Boyd went and wrote a novel, but instead of going the usual route of sending it off to sit on a slush pile, or futilely begging an agent to look at it, he self-published it on Amazon as a Kindle book.

And it sold.

Not Harry Potter levels, but more than enough that Simon and Schuster kicked down his door and stuck a two book deal in his face.

This Kindle thing may not only be a way for to get noticed by readers, but for the publishers to notice writers. Instead of looking into a crystal ball to predict what might sell, they only have to see what does sell, then lock that writer in tight.

Reports of the publishing industry's death may soon be proven to be exaggerated.

Another First Last

I saw King Canute today,
half formed, translucent
on the restaurant window.

With every new word,
attempt at a gesture,
the initiative moved
farther from view.

What spark there was,
or interest
shifted red while I sat,
halfway amused,
as the night moved on
it was time to say goodbye.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kindle Takedown?

In case you haven't read it already, here's Nicholson Baker's semi-takedown of the Kindle 2 in the New Yorker.

I found that many of his criticisms were no more than esoteric nitpicking (few people get in a snit about fonts), and the epic snobbery that only New Yorker writers can truly effect ([P]ost-Gutenbergian revalorization? GMAFB!). Also, he never touches on what's to come. He comes across like one of those old curmudgeons who used to kick the wheels of horseless carriages, and spit out of the sides of their mouths, saying "ain't nothing special."

Although, I will agree that books look nicer on an iPod, with the added benefit of being able to read at night, while listening to music, and being able to check your email...

Then again, maybe that defeats the purpose.

But as for the Kindle, time will tell, or the Apple Tablet (Tapplet) will.

Hello My Friend

His friend yelled
with unchecked anger
even some hate
in his words.

At first he accepted them
and understood
and smiled.

When the friend did the same thing
time and again
and he grew tired
but patience held
listening, wishing
they could would move on
to something else.

But when he moved
it was from anger
to anger

Words were said,
that cannot be unsaid,
for which I am sorry
is not accepted,
words which brought
patience to an end.

Pent up thoughts exploded
in an angry rush ending
pushing past self-control
into an anger not known before or felt
and to his friend he said
"I hate you."

He told his friend he would be happy
if he kindly went away
and did not bother to come back

It is only now,
much later on
I begin to understand why
as he said those hateful words,
he smiled,
seeming at peace.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If Every Weekend was a Long Weekend

In North America, quite a great deal of fun is made of France, and Europe in general, especially in regards to how they structure their business hours. Four day work weeks, flex time, and more. It's as if, the joke goes, the Europeans work harder than anyone else, at finding ways not to work.

In Dubai, it is more than common for businessmen, even those with jobs labeled as "executive" positions, to work twelve to fourteen hours, six days a week, and sometimes seven. Mind you, I used quotations with the word executive, because as happens in this country, mislabeling is a common phenomenon, where little hole-in-the-wall corner stores are called "supermarkets" without anyone batting an eye. For too many expatriates, especially those from South Asia, while the job may have "executive" in the title, the pay is anything but. Yet regardless of the less than spectacular compensation, these sorts of jobs are clung to with a ferocious tenacity, and rarely will you hear these "executives" complain about sixty-plus hour work weeks without end.

Why? In a word, money. Those "executives," often have goals, and a plan to achieve those goals, and working hard is just part of the deal. They don't plan on staying in the position forever, ten, maybe twenty years at most, after which they return home to a life of relative redolence and luxury. I've known more than a few NRIs (non-resident Indians) who have massive houses in India, rental properties they derive income from, and even a bevy of servants. These NRIs can afford this because their low salaries (to my estimation) translate to serious coin back home.

So for NRI's, and by extension most expatriate workers in the Gulf region, the crazy work hours are temporary, with a light at the end of the tunnel.

When I lived in Japan, I also found the same sort of crazy work hours. However, there it was more a matter of culture than money, which is completely understandable in the land that literally coined the term for death by overwork - karoshi.

North America has long appeared to have this sort of mentality, and in the early 2000's, this mentality seemed to be increasing. Unlike the Netherlands, where citizens are given six weeks of paid vacation, and on top of that are even given a cheque from the government every year that literally pays for travel to wherever the whim strikes, workers in North America got their two weeks a year, and that's it. But there seems to be some hope, at long last.

Back when I was single, I lived to work. I worked as many jobs as I could, as long as I could, and I often bristled at regulations limiting the hours I could work. I especially hated how the government seemed to tax overtime so exorbitantly.

Now, as a family man, I work to put bread on the table, but that's about it. If I didn't have to work, I wouldn't. I would rather spend my days at home, with my children, and with my wife, doing whatever. I'd love to have the time to walk to the public library twice a week, spend hours in parks playing pick up ball or just tossing a frisbee, go swimming every day if the mood hit. That, in a word, would be my dream.

But dreams are not reality, and in this world, unless you live in Europe, work is king. Until now.

Like I said, there seems to be hope that, in North America at least, the non-stop work mentality might be revisited sooner rather than later. An article just published by Scientific American looks at how Utah has changed from a four day, eight hours a day work week, to a four day, ten hours a day work week.

The crux of the argument is that working hours remain the same, but overall costs for energy are greatly reduced. The electricity is off one more day a week, and cars are off the roads for an extra day. And the ancillary benefits are legion.

Working ten hours is not a big deal, especially for office work. What's more, that extra day really changes things. In the traditional 9 - 5 week, with a two day weekend, you have one day to do errands (shop, mow the lawn, etc) and one day to rest. Sadly, that rest day is usually eaten up by more errands, travel, or family commitments. With a three day weekend, you really do have more time to relax, and enjoy life. You can spread your errands around a bit more, and take things easier. With every weekend being a three day weekend, you don't have to wait for a a long weekend before heading out to the cottage, or going camping, because every weekend is now a long weekend.

Unless you hate being with your family, there's nothing but good to be had from a four day work week.

Here's hoping that this idea finds wings, and when I return to North America, one day, I won't have to dread the five day grind any more.

To Live

Being the smartest or
craftiest person


or not

matters little, really.

It's the stubborn
the obstinate
the pigheaded

who seem always to find
some way

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Google Gets Some Love

These days any news about Google seems to be bad news, and always along the line of no good intention ever going unpunished.

The good deed they've been getting the most flack for these days has been their bold, unprecedented attempt to digitize the world's books.

When I first heard about this initiative, I loved it unreservedly, because I had wanted to do something similar myself.

Indeed, a lifelong ambition of mine has been to build a house somewhere with a lot of space, and add on a big circular library. You know, one of those tower like structures that's three storeys high, the shelves rise up to dizzying heights, with a massive stained glass window on the top. It would be like my own little wizard's enclave, a place where Raistlin would feel at home.

But could I hold the world's books? And for what purpose? In the event of Armageddon, or some sort of nuclear holocaust, it would be a place that could help the world rebuild. It would be the center of a brand new civilization, and oasis of knowledge and learning in the midst of ignorance and savagery.

But when was the last time the whole world ended?

Maybe one day I will build a library like that, but it would only be an ornament, really. Not something that could enrich the lives of others, unless I wanted to turn my home into a public space, and I'm sure the wife would have reservations about such a plan.

Besides, what I imagined doing was and still lay firmly in the realm of my own imagination. In practice, I seem to have gone in reverse, as I have become one of those people who now sheds books after using them. But Google isn't talking about a cool idea, or a grand notion, they're in the business of making it happen.

And that's where I get mystified by the response Google has gotten. A huge number of the books they have been dealing with are out of print, the author has died but no copyright owner can be found, or their is no indication of the clear holder of the copyright. In other words, these are books existing in a form of purgatory, of no real use to society at large, yet representing a massive amount of intellectual capital.

What Google found was a gold mine that nobody wanted, and nobody had ever bothered to even look at. So when Google staked their claim on all that empty territory, put a ton of resources into making something out of what had been abandoned as nothing, why only then did the howls begin. Accusations of monopoly where flung with abandon. Google was said to have vile, nefarious plans for locking up all the world's information, and leaving mankind in the dark.

All because they began digging up books that had been left to rot.

The whole thing struck me as the rawest of hypocrisy. Let's say I found a book they had dug up, and I had to pay a fee to access it. Well, the very fact that I found out about the existence of that book was due to Google, and the fact that I could actually obtain access to a copy was due to Google. So why they heck shouldn't they be allowed to charge me? They did all the work, and I am reaping the benefit of that work.

As usual, what strikes me as common sense, often seems to be less than common, and I find myself on the thin edge of an argument wedge. Which is why is was gratifying to see come to the rescue with an argument that puts paid to all that nonsense sprayed about by all those howling nincompoops out there.

Now if only a way can be found to make digital storage and retrieval permanent, then worries about the loss of information can be put to rest.

Crystalline storage, anyone?


Around about this place that
time scanning the crowd eyes
pausing imperceptibly each
person given a moment’s consideration
looking for something in them a
sign opening suggestion momentary
vulnerability something at least which is
preferable to butting heads against a greater
ego a self-confidence that shatters
any attempt at contact with the exception
of that lucky few whose luck rests
on a whim

Who would prefer
or blind luck
even if the odds
can be improved
with a hastened effort
one time or fifty
until success

What really is gained by
setting onerself up for
a predictable fall?

Where would you go or
even could you after
getting past hello followed
by an uncomfortable silence?

Why bother making
an effort beyond the necessary
the least possible amount of work
for an intended gain?

There are easier ways
paths of gentler rejection

Most likely you will hear a combination of
words at once banal resigned apathetic
which yet ring a soft sweet melody to
ears that usually only ever hear much worse

Wise men know there is untold praise
in the words
you’ll do

Monday, July 27, 2009

Differing Perceptions of Time (Cont'd)

Yesterday I put up a post about perceptions of time. I'd cross posted this on the bulletin board at my MFA program, and quickly received a somewhat negative response. Basically, I was told that while my point could be understood, and sympathized with, I was still "a shit" anyways.

When the gloves get thrown down like that, you just have to respond.

One element that was at the back of mind, but which I forgot to mention previously was that of the short term vs. the long term. When you are on call 100% of the time, then I think the only way you can write is to write like a manager, and not a maker. But this is hard to do. Or, conversely, you need to find the right type of job, one that allows time to work on your writing. When I was doing my BA, one of my jobs was as a parking attendant.

During rush periods, you were busy, but on evenings, weekends, and afternoons, there were always long stretches without any interruptions. My coworkers and I thought of it as like being paid to study. In fact, a good friend of mine who is in her late sixties and retired, has been doing degree after degree (she never had the chance earlier in life), while supporting herself and finding the time to read and write while at work.

As for being "a shit" (In all honesty, I don't think I disagree!), I actually do understand the urgency of little ones. This is why I inevitably leap up and take care of whatever needs doing, right then and there. If I was a single parent, or a parent in a two income household, there would never be a question about this. Priorities are priorities. But, you see, I'm in a different situation, not worse, or even close to as bad by a long shot, just different.

There are four adults in this house, three of whom do not work, and do not study. And it's not that I think that because I bring home the bacon, I can sit in a chair and do nothing every evening, because I actually love being with the kids. In this house, Daddy changes the diapers, makes the milk, dresses the kids after a bath, submits himself to an hour or two of being used as a jungle gym, and puts the kids to sleep. All of which, I want to stress, I love doing. I love changing their diapers, I love playing with them, and putting them to sleep. In fact, I would prefer to do all that over sitting on the computer and writing, any day of the week. In that way, I like to think of myself as being similar to Ray Bradbury.

You see, Ray Bradbury, in the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of Fahrenheit 451, spoke of facing a similar dilemma. He would write in the garage, but then his daughters would come by, and without fail he would put down the pen and go play with them. But the family had to eat and he had to pay the bills, so he ended up taking off to the library every day, where he paid 10 cents an hour to use their typewriter, working as fast as he possibly could in order to keep costs down.

The thing is, I'm not doing an MFA as a lark. If I just wanted to write as a hobby, for the enjoyment of creating something, I could have joined a group of bloggers, or hung out on fanfic bulletin boards. But that's not my intent. That's not why I am taking this MFA. I'm doing it as part of a plan, a plan to open up earning opportunities my family otherwise would not have. Right now I teach high school in Dubai. But our family has no wish to stay in Dubai permanently, which means that I have to upgrade my education and credentials so that when we leave, I will have a better chance of landing a decent job. A secure, professional, and salaried job. One of the jobs we have in mind is the possibility that some day I might secure a tertiary teaching position.

This means that even though I would prefer to just take care of the kids every evening, and give my wife a break, which is beneficial to her, and enjoyable to me in the short term, in regards to the long term, I would not be acting in our best interests.

If I am to get through this MFA, but also develop as a writer, build a profile, and eventually get published and/or hired into a better job, I need to go through the daily grind as every writer must. Just as anyone good at what they do must also do. It would be no different if I wanted to be a pro ball player, or a cutting edge computer programmer. To gain mastery of something, you have to put in a whole lot of time.

On some level, my family knows this. But what I have found is the same as what many writers I know have found - it is impossibly difficult to impress upon your family why it would be good to perhaps structure activities such that, at least on a couple nights a week, you could have a stretch of time to work. Even when they agree, and even when they understand the reasoning, when something pops up, their first thought isn't "let's not disturb him, he needs to work, let's find another way to deal with this" but "he's only sitting there, it will only take a minute, and then he can go back to work."

This is where the problem is, and why I liked Graham's "Makers vs Manager" article so much. I have always felt the problem, but was never able to articulate it.

Back when I was doing author interviews on the radio, I lived on manager time. I would schedule an interview at Random House for 10, one at McClelland & Stewart for 11, and (optimistically) one at Penguin for 12 (so long as I could catch the right train). If I had a spare hour, I could add something in, and while riding the train, or waiting in the lobby somewhere, I would take care of other tasks. I would multi-task, or compartmentalize tasks and complete them in discrete units of time, and this always worked for whatever I needed to do, except for writing.

I found that when I had to write something long form, I always underestimated the time I needed by a massive factor. Though I could and still can type at a relatively fast pace, all that other mental stuff related to writing always slows me down. The reading, planning, editing, revising, and polishing. And it is not just the time as an absolute that is the problem. A project that may take five hours to see through, will not take five hours if there are interruptions, it will take ten, or fifteen hours. Taking out the amount of time lost during a disruption will only account for a fraction of the lost time. The rest of the lost time is lost trying to retrace mental footsteps, get back into a flow, remembering how A was supposed to get to Z.

The same thing happened to my grandfather when he made furniture in his workshop. He and my grandmother, when would get in arguments until they both worked out an arrangement where he would have long stretches of time to work, and other times he would be available to take her somewhere, or help her around the house. If not for those long stretches, he would never have been able to make the many bookshelves, tables, chairs, dressers and more that grace the homes of all of his children and grandchildren.


You say when you dream your dreams
they are
not simply vivid
they are
more intense
real than the real

When speaking we use this word
often we say we chase them
live in them
try to live them
always looking to them
as something better
worthier than what we have
what we are

I can only smile
without much understanding
listening to you
talk of and about dreams
when in any dream my imagination fails
to surpass my real
not so much in what I have but
what you are

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Differing Perceptions of Time

You know, I find it really hard to explain to my wife exactly why I not only need time to write, but that our separate understandings of what "time" means, are very different. To her forty five minutes means I've been writing for long enough. "Isn't that enough time?" To me, forty five minutes means I've just gotten started. "Enough? Are you crazy?"

It's an endless argument that circles about ad infinitum, always leaving me angry, yet hopelessly unable to articulate how I view things. If I say "I need a few hours, uninterrupted," it translates as "Go away, I don't want to be with you." The invariable result of these exchanges is hurt feelings on one side, guilt on the other, with anger, and frustration for both.

It is not that either side is right or wrong, but that the two sides are mutually incomprehensible to each other. What is needed, I think, is an advocate who can articulate the differences in a way that is easily understood, and reasonable.

Today, as luck would have it, I came across "Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule," by Paul Graham.

The crux of his argument is that there are two types of people when it comes to time - Manager types and Maker types.

Manager types break down the day into discrete blocks or sets of activities, and are always used to both multi-tasking, and fitting additional stuff in. They are kind of like my wife, who, when faced with a moment of respite, will decide that a certain cupboard needs reorganizing, or the laundry that was going to be done tomorrow could just as well be done right now, while she is cooking dinner, and chatting with a friend on the phone.

Maker types don't break down the day into discrete blocks of time, because that often impedes their ability to get a workflow going, to go about the business of making. Interruptions break the concentration, stop a making in it's tracks, and every time this reoccurs, the maker is starting at the beginning again. Makers avoid interruptions, and try to suspend their awareness of time. This is kind of like me, who will sit down, start tapping out an idea, exploring it, organizing it, adding to it, revising it, and polishing it. Time will flow without my knowledge until the task is done.

The problem comes when the Manager and the Maker conflict. I'll be in a flow, getting something straight in my head, and all of a sudden a holler from out of the room will break my concentration. My wonderful, lovely wife will inform me that I have to come, now, this instant, and see to the children. Why? Because she can;t do everything, you see, and she is already cooking, doing the laundry and currently talking to her friend! At first I would point out that if perhaps she did one thing at a time, then she wouldn't need to me to run out and deal with something that swift motherly hand and a corrective word could take care of.

The response, after omitting the unprintable string of words that immediately follow, usually relates to a strongly worded question as to why can't I just "help out?"

And it's true. Why can't I just help out? Why can't I just pause my brain, and hop back into it without a hitch? By not helping out, I'd only be proving what a cad I am. But on the other hand...

And that's just the problem. For this, can there even be an "other hand?"

I'm thinking I'll have to delve more deeply into the "Writing and Parenthood" subject. Hopefully something helpful will pop up.

One Night

On a hill talking of the stars,
she sat next to him,
talking of sadness
that no matter what you did
wouldn't let you alone.

He wanted to say words
that would fix it –
He wanted to say "I’m sorry,
I don’t know what to do,"
when he realised
all he need say
was "thank you."

In her sharing,
he didn’t know his troubles anymore,
couldn’t name them.
The only thing he could think
was how glad he was
that he left had seat earlier that day,
and asked her not to go.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Worldwide Bestselling Authors

Abebooks put together a list of the Top 20 bestselling authors worldwide. The list draws from the bestseller lists of English titles from 9 countries that keep national data.

Pretty eye opening.

Number 13 is a kid who, only a few years ago, was traveling around the US, hawking his self-published book at science fiction and fantasy conventions.

Number one is a dude who has only written two novels, the first of which was virtually ignored for a year or more after its initial release, and then became an international sensation - Khaled Hosseini.

I interviewed Khaled Hosseini when The Kite Runner first came out. He was a nice guy, but I was pretty sure he was headed for mid-list status.

Boy was I wrong.

What I didn't see was that outside Canada, and even the US, his novel, and his second novel, sold incredibly well. Out in the middle east, he is prominently displayed at the front of pretty much every store.

As for Harry Potter... I am sure the list would be different for 2007, which is when book 7 came out. This list is just for 2008, and Stephanie Meyer got a real boost with Twilight being released in theaters..

1 Khaled Hosseini
2 Stieg Larsson
3 Ken Follett
4 Stephenie Meyer
5 Muriel Barbery
6 Carlos Ruiz Zafón
7 Anna Gavalda
8 John Grisham
9 J K Rowling
10 Henning Mankell
11 Alan Bennett
12 Jodi Picoult
13 Christopher Paolini
14 David Baldacci
15 Nicholas Sparks
16 Elizabeth George
17 Lauren Weisberger
18 Michael Connelly
19 Patricia D. Cornwell
20 Paulo Coelho

A Correction

A problem
one could not solve
and one for which
nobody even knew
how it began.

So who goes?

One, or the other?

Silence is not a solution.

As the problem grows,
all they can do is
talk about it.

If they ever feel like it

Friday, July 24, 2009

How Short Stories Could Be Revived

I've gone into this in the past, but basically, I think short stories could be revived using an iTunes approach. The writer sells directly to the reader, or through a short story site, for a low, low price. Say $0.25. If a thousand people buy your story, that's $250. Not a fortune, but it is something.

But that sort of approach is not ready for prime time yet, because online micro-payments has not really hit the mainstream yet. People have to have Paypal, or use their credit card currently, and while most people would be okay with linking these up with Apple, most people may not feel comfortable or be willing to do so for a tiny short story site.

Right now, I think the only viable model is to a) build a readership by giving it away, and aggressively marketing what you offer, and b) using an established reader base (as newspapers and magazines use circulation figures) to sell sponsorship. Not ads, but sponsorships, and this is an important point.

Looking at the state of short fiction these days, the declining readership may appear to signal a waning of interest in the form of short fiction, but the truth is that the interest is there so long as the delivery medium is convenient. Which is where podcasts come in.

A lot of magazines and newspapers have been including podcasts with other content online. The New Yorker even produces a fiction podcast. But a magazine like the New Yorker has deep pockets, and this sort of production would be peanuts to them.

One short story magazine that started from nothing and grew is "Escape Pod," with 209 episodes (issues) thus far. It's a Science Fiction Audio Magazine. If you want to check out an episode, a good example is Episode 158, both because the story is fun, and the episode is sponsored by the musician Jonathan Coulton. His song "The Future Soon" (an excellent track) is at the end of the podcast.

An interesting side note...lyrics from that song inspired the Cory Doctorow short story "The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away."

Escape Pod pays contributors about $100 a story, and $20 for flash fiction. Not a grand sum, but it makes them a legitimate publisher, and allows them to legally secure rights (nonexclusive rights) to the stories they buy. Since their launch a few years ago, they have become one of the largest markets for short science fiction on the web.

Even Garrison Keillor's "News from Lake Wobegon" podcast is sponsored. Usually by Cheerios. You can find that podcast on iTunes

The reason I feel sponsorship is the way to go is because you can sell exclusivity. The problem with selling "ads" is that you end up having to sell as many as possible, crowding them in the smallest space possible to maximize revenue. It worked great for magazines until it didn't anymore. For audio magazines, nobody is going to listen to ten minutes of commercials, free podcast or not. But a sponsorship is perfect for the form, because podcasts are a recreation of the theatre of the mind of the old days of radio. It is a very intimate and engaging experience, and in that format, sponsorships are much more effective because the announcer incorporates the sponsors message smoothly into the episode.

I know the whole money issue seems a mere piffle, a distraction from the real business of literature and good writing, but it is what allows the literature and good writing the opportunity to find an audience.

The idea is to use the revenue stream generated through the podcast sponsorships to pay for everything else. On the site you can post the story text, put a link to the audio version, and you can even carry over the sponsorship if you want, or not if you prefer the make the site look as un-commercial as possible.

Starting from scratch, however, unless you want to end up broke after 11 issues and unable to continue, like Farrago's Wainscot, which was a pretty cool online experimental fiction magazine, there has to be some way of generating a revenue stream.

Of course you could just do a free thing, and offer no payment to authors (which means you probably couldn't secure rights to their story), and hope word of the site spreads like wildfire. Unfortunately you would then face the problem of how to attract quality writing, and how to get taken seriously.


He wanted this.

He wanted it
with an absoluteness,
standing there amidst
angry words,
as one in front,
four behind,
step in.

Hands shaking
he stares at them
waiting, wanting
one hand touches his arm
"Forget them."

One a.m. the phone rang.
Her voice hysterical,
he could see her tears
she couldn't take it
the noise and people
her brother so good at twisting words
manipulating guilt like soft dough
knowing full well his power
of history and remembered emotions
please come

Two hours after midnight on a
road with no lights
his legs couldn't move any faster
the roar of passing traffic
was muted by his breath.

Three times, angry heads stuck out
of passing window, shrilling
a drunken siren's call
hoping for the slightest pretext.
He almost,
but he didn't -
he couldn't afford that.

"Just come upstairs don't worry.
If they try anything I'll call the cops.
Forget them."

He shouted into the phone
to meet him outside.
He was almost there.

Five men stood outside
liquor in hand.
He tried to ignore them
tried to pass by
but when they stepped up
so did he.

He wanted this.

one hand touches his arm.
"Forget them."

Three hours pass,
the words had faded,
the tears were gone,
and the soft sound of sleep,
fills the air with peace.

He wanted this.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Resurrecting the Short Story

I know, the titles is a tad hyperbolic, but I've been thinking a lot about this issue lately, and I'll probably be posting on it more and more as time goes on.

As you know, markets for short stories have been shrinking drastically in recent years. Science Fiction and Fantasy have been hard hit, and a number of great magazines have disappeared in the past two decades. While a few online 'zines have popped up, nothing seemed to really halt this overall decline. Literary fiction has had and even rougher time, with few literary fiction magazines able to survive without government funding, or private donations, and even then having a rough time making a go of it.

If you wanted to start up your own magazine, off the bat, you're jumping into a market that is seen as not only dying, but perhaps long dead. It's a grim scenario, for sure, but in recent years a teeny, tiny bright light has appeared.

This bright light comes in the form of "audio magazines?" You see, I don't often have time to "read" short stories, but I do "listen" to them. Every day I listen to podcasts like EscapePod, which is a science fiction audio magazine that has already produced over 200 episodes. In fact, the creators of this podcast were so successful that they have branched out into other genres, with PodCastle (Fantasy) and PseudoPod (Horror). They actually pay their writers ($100 a story) and have built up a listener base in the tens of thousands. In fact, because of the size of their listener base, other writers, publishers, and even musicians often pay them to "sponsor" an episode, which allows these programs to run at a slight profit.

There are other audio magazines like EscapePod, but as far as I know, thus far there is no CanLit version. Being Canadian, this could represent a market opportunity, even if it is a tiny one.

Along side the the print material, the can be stories recorded as podcasts. You can put them up on iTunes, offer them for free, and post them on the website alongside the source material. You can even do the same thing with the reviews of short story collections. If you can build up an audience, even a modest one, after a year or so your initiative might be eligible (in Canada, at least) for Canada Council funding. Based on the size of the listenership, you might even be able to hit up the publishing companies for a few bucks.

I know it is not about the money, but this way you could actually pay your writers for their work, which would be something to boast about, considering the state of the CanLit short story market. And even if that didn't come to pass, you'd still be doing something needful, and filling a currently unfilled niche.

Mr. Today

I’m Mr. Today
I used to have another name but
that was someone else
I can’t remember him anymore

About myself there isn’t much to
tell but I’ll tell
the little I do know one thing
I am really good at is sticking my
head through an open door seeing
someone inside then entering their life

Some things last have
permanence though I wouldn't
know enough about that to say change
is the only constant I know

How could they give you up?
she said in a soft voice still heavily
breathing in the afterglow I don't
know what to say all I can think
is because they can

Anything goes for me really I'm
not scared of being knocked down
as they say all I have to do is stand up

Falling in love is easy I do it all
the time cats have nine lives and I
have nine hearts but sometimes
I wonder if falling is only a habit

Remember Biz Markie well I
never have been the
just a friend
he is always someone I later meet

Before God I swear I will give every
new her all until she says goodbye

Per ardua surgo and all that I just
hope I made a few smiles laughs
singing illigitimi non carborundum
all that matters really the
categorical imperative

I'm Mr. Today can't remember
yesterday don't know about tomorrow
every new today I am just as
surprised that I am still here so
certain that chances are like
the Littlest Hobo tomorrow
I'll be gone

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Stellar Observation

Yesterday I wrote about race and racism, but I forgot to mention what prompted the essay. I was reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, a blogger at The, and came across a brilliant deconstruction of the show Mad Men, that Ta-Nehisi was able to steer towards the subject of race, and the frustrating, almost futile nature of such a dialogue.

I enjoyed this piece, and while I will disagree with his contention that the world is a less racist place (you can make that contention in regards to the US, but not the world), I think perhaps the most pertinent point he makes is that there really is nobody who is not racist.

They way I've come to see it, anyone who alters their actions towards another as a result of a difference in race, which includes culture and creed, commits an act of racism, and by extension is shown to be a racist. This includes even a small hesitation before speaking, or the minutest pause before interacting.

Even if you are only reacting to the fact that the person is a stranger, or to their economic status, or the fact that they are intoxicated, or whatever other reason, if that person is of a different race/culture/creed, then racist motivations can never be fully discounted.

Can anyone in the world honestly have avoided ever acting in a manner that would fit this description? It's not impossible, but extremely improbable. Sure you might be as entirely at ease shaking hands with Al Sharpton as you would with Bill Gates, but what about someone who, to your mind, looks a lot like Osama Bin Laden? What if it's a Bangladeshi fisherman reeking of fish, with an open sore on their cheek? Would you be comfortable shaking hands then? If not, would the discomfort be entirely based on previous knowledge (the Bin Laden-ish fellow), or a reaction to non-racial physical factors like smell, or the perception of sickness?

Even if your motivations were entirely devoid of race as a factor, you could never prove it, and other people's perception of your motivations would never discount it.

Racism is an inescapable part of the human condition. Perhaps it is a result of evolution? Maybe those who did not react with suspicion and hostility to strangers, to those who were different, quickly found themselves extinct?

Who knows?


I find it the hardest thing
do you agree
to tell someone to just go away
instead of that
it is anything but
a half smile
an almost laugh
all apparently genuine
strategically shifting focus
eyes roving
the unspoken message
is understood

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meandering Musings on Race and Racism

In 2005 I married a wonderful young woman named Nerissa D'Souza. Her family is Goan, and though she is Indian by nationality, she spent her entire life in Dubai. When I moved to Dubai in 2006, I moved in with her family, and by 2007 I had become a "traditional" Indian son-in-law, that is, I became the sole earner supporting a multi-generational family.

Embracing my "Indian" identity, I learned to eat spicy curries every day, I fell in love with cricket, I learned to name the major political parities in India and speak at some length about their policies, I became able to hold forth on the differences between the many different religious, cultural and lingual groups in India, and I learned to love Bollywood movies. But even though I am now far more "Indian" than my in-laws will ever be "Canadian," I have only ever been merely tolerated, not accepted by them.

So what does this have to do with race or racism?

Before I moved to Dubai, my wife and I were in desperate straits. Prevented from finding work on account of a visa mix up, my wife had to stay at home while I worked three to four jobs at a go, dropping jobs and getting new ones wherever I could eke out a few more dollars. After our first child was born, and freshly out of university with a mountain of debt, we hit the wall, so to speak. We had no money left, not enough coming in, and could see no way of rectifying our situation but for one - we had to leave Canada.

When I arrived in Dubai, a few months after I had sent my wife and child ahead of me, I was a nervous wreck. With only a couple hundred dollars to my name, living at my in-laws, and upon their kindness, I felt lower than I had at any point in my life. Yet my wife was entirely unconcerned. Why? Because, as she told me, soon after I arrived, I was "white," and we were in Dubai.

Three years earlier, when I had lived in Japan, I had my first taste of what it was like to be a "minority." Words like "minority" and "mainstream" get tossed about so much in Canada, with such specific associations, that it took me a while to see myself as the minority. In Japan I encountered racism every day, from mild examples to extreme xenophobia. But Japan is very homogeneous, and Japan has a long history of fearing and avoiding outsiders, so I didn't think much of what I saw. The racism was never specific, just a matter of those who exhibited nihonjinron (Japaneseness) and those who did not. You were wither nihonjin or gaijin - Japanese, or Foreign.

But in Dubai, when I again found myself in a minority situation, where the locals only account for up to 10% of the population, the dichotomous nature of racism I found in Japan morphed into something more along the lines of a shattered mirror, with innumerable facets reflecting each other, but each being separate and unique. Here it seemed that race or racism as not something widely spoken about or acknowledged as a social ill, but was actually a functioning aspect of the societal fabric, ubiquitous and universal.

My wife's faith proved justified, when, inside of a month, I landed the best paying job I had ever had, a job where in only three years I found my salary rising to a level beyond what I could ever hope to earn in Canada. I chalk it up to luck, and serendipity, but sometimes there is a part of me that wonders if I was the recipient of this bounty not because of extensive credentials or experience, but because of how I looked, and how I spoke. Then again, I had experience in the field, and my employer-to-be was facing a sudden manpower shortage. But still, from some of the comments and attitudes I later encountered from other colleagues, I had to wonder, because regardless of the truth of the matter, it is the perception of that truth that carries weight day to day.

As a Canadian, and a product of that education system, it bothers me sometimes, even though I have proven myself at work over and again since being hired, that others might think I am where I am now not so much because of who I am, but because of what I am. But whatever my feelings are in the matter, the fact is, my situation is accepted as the norm here.

A Keralite colleague of mine was shocked, not too long ago, to find out that not only did I not have any "lands" or "houses" in Canada, but that I had debt. As she told me, she had assumed that because I was white, that meant I was wealthy. She had never questioned why I was hired or my qualifications for the job, and simply assumed that I "should" have that job.

Though she worked the same job as I (but in a different department), and earned the same income, and even though what she earns is ten times what I earn in terms of relative purchasing power parity, she did not even really need the money because her family was very wealthy in Kerala. I, on the other hand, desperately needed that job to support my family, to start to make some headway so that we could build a better life for ourselves. From my perspective, I saw my colleague as being privileged, and felt more than a little envy. Yet even with that in mind, my colleague still felt there was some sort of hierarchy at play, that regardless of wealth or upbringing, race really and truly mattered - that everything aside, perhaps I was the one to be envied.

In Canada, my colleague would be considered the "minority," and I would be seen as a privileged member of the mainstream. Here I am seen as a privileged member of the "minority," and she was seen as just an "Indian." And in there lay the irony.

Few in Canada would know this, but there are about as many Keralites as there are Canadians in this world, even though Kerala is about half the size of New Brunswick. And when you take into account the diasporic nature of Keralite society, there are probably more Karalites than there are Canadians by a good margin. With this fact in mind, in the context of globalization, words like "minority" and "majority" really begin to lose meaning, but what about concepts like "race" or "racism?"

Racism, in the North American conception, is a matter of the privileged actively thinking or acting against the less privileged. In terms of academia, racism relates to the white male patriarchy, and pretty much the rest of society. While anyone can have a racist thought, only a member of the majority can be a racist. That is, only a member of the privileged majority can discriminate or alter their actions towards others due to race (meaning also culture/creed, etc) and have those actions be considered racist. That's because the discourse on race and racism has, over time, devolved to being an issue of black and white (figuratively speaking).

But is that correct? Is that true? If not, then who, really, is a racist? What, then, is racism? What sort of behaviour would qualify as being racist in nature?

When I go shopping with my wife, when we go to a jewelry store, I am often asked to stay hidden, outside, and around the corner. The reason being that if the salesman does not see me, and does not see that my wife has a "white" husband, we will pay half as much as we would otherwise. And when we walk in public, and get into an argument, when my wife yells at me or castigates me in public, I have to restrain myself from replying in kind because to my wife it would appear as if I was talking to her like she were a maid. Why? Because to others, the sight of a white man talking harshly to a brown woman would be seen as such.

Regardless of my being her husband, and the love, children, and experiences we share, the colorblind nature of our relationship falls away the moment we step into public view. We both have to play roles, roles which change and evolve depending on who we talk to or interact with.

By conforming to these unspoken dictates, does that make my actions racist, or examples of common sense? By avoiding being seen by a South Asian salesman in the knowledge that my wife's colour and nationality will help us get a better bargain, I can hardly claim to be "colourblind," because I acknowledge differences in race, and I alter my actions towards other based on those differences, which is what racism is.

Which makes me what?


A list in order
one two three
all the way up to fourteen
categorized and rational
or rationalized
logic that’s damn near perfect

the least you can do is
hear them
even if you don’t listen
because this really isn’t about you
when all you can do is say sorry

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bland is Not Necessarily a Pejorative

I got into a little bit a of a debate with Denis McGrath (currently one of the best screenwriters in Canada) about the show The Listener. I couldn't disagree with most of what he said, but regarding the term "bland," which is what he saw The Listener as being, I had a different opinion.

Here is an edited version of my take on the subject.

* * *

Remember what ol' Bill Davis said about bland? It works. Nobody watches Eureka for the non-stop thrill ride.

In The Listener you got Toby, and his buddy Oz. They show up at a scene, something bad happened, and they deal with it. There is no overarching dark government conspiracy (remember the suck that sort of arc brought to Intelligence Season 2?), no ticking time bomb, and they're not trying to get your adrenaline pumping before every commercial break. That is, it's not meant to be a 24, or The Border.

The heart of the show is Toby, which includes his friendship with Oz (which includes the well written and set up buddy humour), his relationships with different women, and his discomfort and confusion about who he is, and who he should be.

Where I live, in the Middle East, there is already enough life and death, tension, and terror to go around. Watching The Listener made me miss Canada in a way that Flashpoint, Durham County, The Border, and The Guard don't. I felt that sense of ease, that sense of a place where life isn't always lived on the edge of a knife.

The only other Canadian shows that give me that feeling are Less Than Kind and maybe Corner Gas. (Little Mosque just reminds me of where I live right now.)

And that's not a knock against those other shows, especially Flashpoint and Durham County, because Hugh Dillon and tranquility just don't mix. Anything he is in is going to have more than a little bit of a hardcore edge.

But that's not to say that hardcore edginess is always preferable to bland, because it's not. In fact, most often it is the other way around.

Bland isn't necessarily a pejorative. I never listened to Disc Drive on CBC Radio 2 in order to rock out on the way home. For many, bland is preferred, bland is what is called for, bland is what is wanted.

Take Canadian food, for example. I'm always hearing it labeled as being "bland," but by Hey-zeus I prefer that food to anything else in the world. My in-laws are often won't to call my food bland, as they go about preparing dishes that often either give me heart burn, or are so filled with little inedibles like cardamon seeds, and cinnamon bark, that I spend more time sifting through my food to remove them, than I do actually eating or enjoying the food. They say it gives flavor, I say it's a nuisance. Give me my bland any day.

Now when you look at most any CBS procedural, there is more than a little bit of bland there. What distinguishes Numb3rs from Criminal Minds, Cold Case, NCIS, The Mentalist, the CSIs and Without a Trace? Two things - the style of the show, and the MacGuffin. Otherwise they all have an ensemble cast, they are all based around law enforcement, and they all maintain only a light serialization.

Remember the old dictum in television writing that every episode has to be the same, but different? CBS follows that, but applies it to entire shows and not just individual episodes of a show.

ABC does the same thing with it's bevy of reality shows, which are very bland, and very successful. Perhaps that is why the heavily serialized shows do well there. Some sort of counterbalance, perhaps?

I'd argue that NBC had, by far, the best shows on network television last year and this year. They were the funniest, most intriguing, most original, and usually the most exciting. Shows like Medium, Chuck, Life, Kings, 30 Rock, Heroes, The Office, and Friday Night Lights all were, or are, great shows. But they kept getting their butts handed to them by CBS every week.

About the only thing seemingly keeping NBC afloat is the stellar quality of the shows coming out of the USA Network (Monk, Burn Notice, Royal Pains, In Plain Sight, Psych), which is NBC's wholly owned basic cable subsidiary. The reason why the USA Network is successful in this regard, is that they have taken the bland dictum to heart. All their shows are light dramedies, with large elements of humor, quirky protagonists, and light serialization. In a word, they are CBS, but with a better sense of humour.

I liked The Listener from episode one. I felt it was a pretty good show, that got better as the season progressed, and by the end of the season, it felt like the show started to really gel. It never became an action packed thrill ride, and the progression of the storyline was miles away from Damages. So yes, it could seem bland, at first. But it depends on how you look at it.

I saw the show as comforting. It held my interest, had some funny moments, and mostly ended up being an hour well spent with my wife. Bland was what we wanted, bland was what we needed, and bland let us relax after a stressful day when our kids were finally asleep.

Which is why I say that bland is not necessarily a pejorative.