we are the world....

I can hardly remember a time when Stephanie Nolen wasn't my favourite reporter in Canada. So needless to say, I am enjoying her latest book, 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa.

But this figure astounds me: $6.6 billion (USD).

That's how much the United Nations believed Africa needed in 1999 to fund a response to AIDS. The continent got $560 million.

But how's this for a figure? $8.9 billion (CDN = 8,323,980,546 USD).

It's so much cash, it's sick. And it's just the surplus in our rich province. Imagine the difference it could make somewhere other than here.


to conclude....

On that point I was making the other day? For those worried about Tony Blair's hire-ability, he seems to have found something.

I'm not going to lie. I had really hoped he was going to be put in charge of the World Bank, or perhaps play the tambourine in a musical trio that would include Bono and Bob Geldof, and they'd always be wondering about whether people in Ethiopia even knew it was Christmas. Perhaps he would dye his hair pink and roll his T-shirt sleeves to his shoulders. It would be gawky and weird, but....

Right. Very serious leader of the world. Erm.... Good luck with the new job, Sir.


kneel before the awesomeness!

Okay. I see what the Edmonton Journal's book editor is saying with this piece -- about how meeting Norman Mailer through some kooky computer-assisted robot thingy is creepy and impersonal, yadda yadda.

But really, Margaret Atwood invented something! I've never invented anything. You, dear readers (four of you since last week!), have not invented anything. Inventing stuff is hard. Applaud Margaret Atwood! Literary icon turned inventor of (slightly creepy, totally kooky, clearly awesome and apparently necessary) things!


I just.... Huh.

I really love hot dogs. Take me to a barbecue, a campfire, a ball game, a skating rink, a wedding.... then give me a hot dog, and I'm yours. Or the hot dog vendor's. Really anyone's, if they promise to give me more hot dogs.

So I was sort of shocked to learn my love of questionable meat in sausage format is anti-feminist. At least, in some circles.

At a friend's birthday party this evening, I met a woman who gave up meat for two years because to eat meat is to feed the circle of patriarchical society.

I don't.... I don't have words, really. I'm really behind on my feminist lit.


thoughts from the couch

  1. Is anyone else depressed by the new Paul McCartney commercial advertising his single on iTunes? Is it his pillowy cheeks? His appear-to-be-plucked eyebrows? The way he's nodding, like maybe he's confused? The contrast of iTunes and a banjo, sneakers and being 65?

  2. Claire Danes is in a new movie! Based on a story by Michael Cunningham. This is more exciting, even, than the arrival of the Transformers movie in theatres....

*source of picture


Nancy fricking Wheeler

We all have a Nancy Wheeler.

I had forgotten our first encounter, when I was just seven. Come to think of it, I've forgotten most of the characters in Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret -- save Margaret, the confused 12-year-old heroine.

I'd forgotten her quirky grandmother. Her distant mother. Her more distant father. The all-important role bras and menstruation played in her life. Perhaps if I had remembered the latter better, I would not have chosen this particular novel as our next book club selection.

What I did remember was her struggle to understand her religion, or at least where religion might fit into her life. And, of course, the tension of her parents' relationship.
Anyway, I would like to introduce you to Margaret's Nancy Wheeler:

"Do you always wear your hair like that?" she asked me.
My hand went up to the back of my neck. I felt all the bobby pins I'd used to pin my hair up so my neck wouldn't sweat. I knew it looked terrible. "I'm letting it grow," I said. "It's at that in-between stage now. My mother thinks I should wear it over my ears though. My ears stick out a little."
"I noticed," Nancy said.
I got the feeling that Nancy noticed everything! (p. 8-9)

My Nancy Wheeler was ever-so-slightly less passive aggressive. When we were in the third grade she renamed the trash can on the class computer's desktop "Trish."
I would like to say it turned out years later we were great friends, a plot twist you would see on TV, but really, I'm still not quite over it.

Of course, in the real lives of children, there are no villains or heroines. There are just lots of little girls trying to figure out who they are, sometimes by cutting each other down. Two decades later I'm still struck by the chilly reception the worst women can give each other, just because we all have that teeny competitive streak, or the memories of Nancy Wheelers we should protect ourselves from.

Lucky the girls who spend recesses playing ball with boys....


long goodbye to an era

As Tony Blair retires, there is just so much to read about him -- good and bad.

It's difficult, as a Canadian, to judge his legacy fairly. When I was still a university student, he seemed something of a political hero for the lefties in the crowd. Or perhaps those who longed for principles in politics, rather than back-room fights over when the prime minister of the day would retire and whether his finance minister could push him out. Little did we know the exact same fight was happening in the United Kingdom, with totally different accents. When Blair was scheduled to visit Ottawa, hipsters and politicos, young and old, genuinely looked forward to his arrival. What would he say? What would he do?

But then, there was Iraq. Why did he do it? What did he see that we couldn't?

For months now, I've been carrying around Our Common Interest, a 151-page argument for Africa -- including recommendations -- written by a commission of Western and African politicians.

It reads like a Blair speech, the kind that gives you hope rather than making you look under the bed for weapons of mass destruction.

At once enlightening (did you know the United States will get 25 per cent of its oil from Africa in the next decade? or daily subsidies for cows in Japan are quadruple the average earnings of an African citizen?), the book also reads really well. Yes, there are moments one feels like she is reading a particularly engrossing political science term paper. But it's worth it.

Read this:

Africa's journalists have a crucial role in holding the government to account and exposing corruption and inefficiency. But at present its journalists are not sufficiently free or professional. They need more training, in both journalistic techniques and professional ethics. African governments can assist media independence by granting commercial licences for radio stations to compete with the state-owned stations from which most Africans get their news. Journalists and editors in other countries could assist here too. (p. 42)

  • Speaking of politicians who could make you believe once upon a time, whether you were politico or hipster, two months ago Douglas&McIntyre released an updated version of Pierre Trudeau and Jacques Hebert's Two Innocents in China. I've yet to read it. But this review, written seven years ago, certainly bears consideration.

*source of picture


blame it on Tolstoy.... okay, blame it on Facebook

I've shelved Anna Karenina for the moment.

That's right. Shelved it. Not sold it. Not buried it. Not thrown it into a campfire. Tolstoy and I need a break. He was keeping me from blogging about books, as I read such lovely, descriptive paragraphs as this:

This Mlle Varenka was not really past her first youth, but was, as it were, a being without youth: she might have been nineteen, she might have been thirty.... She was like a beautiful flower which, while still full of petals, is scentless and no longer blooming. Besides that, she also could not be attractive to men because she lacked what Kitty had in over-abundance -- the restrained fire of life and an awareness of her attractiveness. (p. 215)

I mean, really, what can I say about this? This is a 19th century man's description of a sickly woman. He is using the sickly woman to describe the young, bright woman. She really is just another ultimately meaningless character introduced to shed more light on the six million other characters already introduced.

Not that I'm frustrated.

I will return to Anna Karenina. However, I am starting to think summer is not the time to be exploring Tolstoy. I might have to copy my friend who reads Russian classics each winter (intelligent, not pretentious).

So I am reading a light-hearted book that tastes like summer. It tastes like strawberry rhubarb pie, really.

Alice Hoffman lives near Boston, and all her books exude New English attitude, taking the reader to little towns where the doors are surely painted bright colours and one can smell the sea in the air. In Hoffman's books, witches are real. So is fate and destiny. Romance and hot hot heat. These are not romantic novels -- although I imagine they are not widely read by men -- but rather cautionary tales.

I'm currently reading Practical Magic, a book completely unlike the movie it inspired. For one, all the characters are adults or on the cusp of adulthood. Second, it lacks the bright Disney-ish touch seen in the movie. (On the negative side, it also lacks a character anything like Stockard Channing's. And I just love Stockard Channing.)

Frankly, Hoffman's clear prose -- poetic in its omniscience but really very straightforward -- is a welcome break. And yes, it's easy stuff, very much bask-in-the-sunshine-with-a-glass-of-sangria-while-wearing-your-sunglasses stuff. There are really four main characters, two sets of sisters, and it is their relationships with each other that form the backbone of the story. A nice change of pace from having to remember the surname, pet name and royal name of at least 20 different people, not to mention their extra-marital and pre-marital entanglements....

Not to complain about a classic or anything.


don't sue me

In Starbucks shops all over the country, Rebecca Eckler's weekly columns are read, paused over, and perhaps laughed at. Because they are supposed to be funny. They are written to be funny. No libel suit here.

Now, there is this....

Globe and Mail columnist and author Rebecca Eckler is suing Universal Studios and the producer of Knocked Up, claiming too many similarities between the new hit comedy and her 2004 memoir Knocked Up: Confessions of a Hip Mother-to-Be.... (From the Globe and Mail's Guy Dixon on R1 of today's paper)