I’ve decided to not shop at Indigo or Chapters ever again.

To prove my point, I cut up my iRewards card today. Even though I’m what you would call a welcome customer – I read tonnes of books, which in Indigospeak means I buy a significant number of items in their cultural department stores that have a high retail mark-up – I just can’t take it anymore. I’m fed up.

Here’s what’s got my blood boiling.

Yes, Harper’s. That great, literate, interesting, wonderful publication that keeps me passionately aware of journalism’s potential, even in a sometimes-Philistine nation like the U.S.

I’ve known about this for a few days now, but I went and got Harper’s latest issue that featured those infamous editorial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (along with several other historical examples of controversial editorial cartoons).

Now, let’s be clear: these cartoons are controversial and a clear violation of Islamic law: you can’t look at them without considering them Islamophobic and potentially blasphemous (Just to be clear: Islamic law forbids visual depictions of Mohammed).

In reference to the uprisings against Danish foreign embassies last year, Indigo/Chapters pulled the latest Harper’s issue off the shelves. They fear the potential for uprisings similar to those that happened in Europe.

Far be it from me to cluck-cluck my way into the good graces of Heather Reisman, but Indigo (ostensibly, Reisman, who’s really the one calling the shots here) has pulled this stunt before: Mein Kampf, Hitler’s treatise on his extremist, pre-Nazi party views, was pulled from Indigo/Chapters in 2001.

First of all, Heather Reisman, I’m an adult and it isn’t up to you to decide what I can and can’t read. No, I don’t plan on buying Mein Kampf, largely because I can read it online if I choose to, once did a history class research project on Hitler and read Mein Kampf in order to understand the man’s state of mind, and I choose not to because I have all the historical evidence I’ll ever need to understand the horrors of the Nazi regime and what turned Adolf Hitler into a sick, twisted man.

I suppose Reisman is justified, to some extent, on her views. In theory, it is hate literature.

But here’s the rub: don’t choose for me what you think is suitable for us. You’re not an arm of the government (and even if you were, you’d never dare pull this stunt in a democracy) and you can’t force me to make decisions on what I want to read. Either you are for free speech or against it. Plain and simple. There is no middle ground. Sorry.

What is particularly galling about this Harper’s decision is the moral cowardice displayed by Indigo/Chapters in choosing for us – the readers of this country – what we should be exposed to. Quite frankly, I hadn’t seen these cartoons before this issue of Harper’s, and now I’m glad I did: I can see why they inflamed Muslim communities, as well as how they do indeed test the limits of free speech in a liberal democracy.

Even more pointedly, are Indigo/Chapters executives that out of touch with reality that they assume that Canadian Muslims will suddenly rise up in a sea of fury and cause damage to Indigo/Chapter stores? (Don’t pretend you’re really interested in protecting the public, Indigo/Chapters: if that were true, you’d never be peddling gawd awful Michael Buble CDs by the boat load, zing!).

One of the biggest reasons many Muslims in Europe and the Middle East rallied against these cartoons and the nations whose newspapers published them was the alarming lack of context in which they were published. Testing the limits of free speech is one thing. In several cases, newspapers published the cartoons largely without context or in a broader historical canvas. Indeed, the violence enacted by Muslim groups in the Middle East over the cartoons was an unacceptable response and there should have been a better commitment to debate and dialogue over these issues. But not all Muslims, like all Christians or Jewish folks, are the same. Religion is not a uniform idea. It is dependent on a lot of things, including geopolitics and shared cultural memory. In other words, the small-minded logic of “violence in Middle East means violence here in Canada” only demonstrates how little real exposure many of the decision-makers at Indigo/Chapters have actually had with Canadian Muslims. Sure, some Imams might be upset in Canada over the prospect of these cartoons, but in a pluralistic society like Canada (and let’s be honest, Europe talks a big game about social progressivism but is still by and large a highly xenophobic region of the world and the Middle East is definitely not interested in pluralism), editorial cartoons are still within the bounds of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Ultimately, it isn’t up to a corporate talking head to make these choices for us as a populace, it’s us.

But wait Greg, you can just shop somewhere else, right? That’s how you got the latest issue!

True, but that’s only because I live in and around Toronto where other options to buy magazines are. Indigo/Chapters has a near-virtual monopoly on the book market in Canada (something I’ve loathed for a long time) and people outside of big cities don’t always have the option of easy access to publications. This is what makes Indigo/Chapters’ actions so infuriating; they’ve ostensibly made the choice for us because they control the market.

So, in this final declaration, I’m saying good riddance to the folks at Indigo/Chapters. This is the last straw folks – take your cowardly, self-censoring approach to publications and stick it where the sun don’t shine.


You Are Cyclops

Dedicated and responsible, you will always remain loyal to your cause.
You are a commanding leader – after all, you can kill someone just by looking at them.

Power: force beams from your eyes


Okay, so I decided to do one of those bloggy tests. This time, naturally, with X-Men involved.

Today was a very strange day. I wake up after another busy Sunday (Lazy Sunday, hah!) in which, due to the insane heat and humidity (ah, a can’t-lose combination that I learned to deeply dislike during my days in air-conditioning free Kingston) Sunday night, caused me to toss and turn to the point of earning three hours sleep.

Get up, get showered and come into my room and turn on CBC. The news of the TTC shut down puts me immediately onto the computer – how the heck am I getting to work?

Well, turns out, I ended up working from home today. Got a lot accomplished too. It was a strange day only compounded by the fact it was the hottest day of the year and the TTC only started operating later this afternoon. I can honestly say I’m glad I didn’t even attempt the trip today.

Which brings me to my next point – Unions.

As a journalist, I’m entitled to appreciate the myriad of positions involved in any labour dispute. Of course, this is before one side does something illegal. Or when they are negligent in their duties to protect their membership.

The TTC’s union handed itself a serious blow today in the public trust issue Mayor Miller spoke about today – they come out looking seriously bad in this situation. I’m all for taking the position of a union when it comes to the rights of workers, but when you cross the line and commit an illegal act, it isn’t just your actions that exist in some bubble; you’re effectively saying to the public, “we don’t care about the laws” and sending a message that if you want attention or progress to your cause made, go ahead and break the law.

Teachers (sorry, but you’re not innocent either) haven’t broken the law in Ontario, but remember when B.C. teachers went on an illegal strike to protest the government’s admittedly heavy-handed approach to labour negotiation? The militancy of unions is growing in the public sector, mostly because there seems to be a perception that normal bargining processes aren’t working anymore due to the highly aggressive tactics on both sides. Governments dig in their heels, hoping to break the union’s sometimes-outrageous demands, unions drag out the issue longer than is needed until an issue grows to the point of intolerability for Joe and Jane Public and blame gets shifted to governments who come out looking like nickel-and-diming, bureaucratic ogres.

Is this symptomatic of some kind of broader issue in the public sphere? With faith in our public institutions eroding at a phenomenal rate, it seems like industrial relations is suffering from the same problems that are affecting much of our traditional social structures – they’re breaking up due to highly fragmented interests within the organizations themselves. The Starbucks Democracy theory – the idea individuals within a democracy are becoming increasingly unhappy with the limited choices to make based on the need to customize all other aspects of one’s life – seems to apply in this case; there are many competing interests in the TTC’s union.

Unions are not dying breeds so much as they are fragmenting ones. Folks in my generation aren’t so hot on union representation as, say, the Boomers, mostly because there exists a perception unions and their leadership structures aren’t really interested in protecting newer, younger workers in light of fiscal pressures being applied to both public and private sector jobs (or just plain lack of desire to move forward, whatever the case may be).

MIT: Check out this amazing dorm room from some students at MIT. It’s a one-push button system that turns their room into a dance club. Brilliant. Even though the music sounds like a third-rate version of Kraftwerk and the lighting is out of a Euro-trash yard sale, it’s still great ingenuity.



Yes, it has been several days since my last post. Once again, my days have been crazy busy. These are the days I feel like I’m back in university again; coming, going and everywhere in between.

ADOBE: One of the perks of being a part-time student at Humber is you get all the cool things students are entitled to – student discounts – without actually being a true blue student. So, on Saturday, while attending my class, I got the Adobe software packages for the Creative Suite (full CS2 versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, GoLive and four other software pieces) and the Studio 8 package (Dreamweaver, Flash Professional, Fireworks, Contribute and FlashPaper) for a significant fraction of the normal retail price. They’re awesome, I love these new software packages. I can even make .pdf files now without having to go to Kinko’s.

ZIP.CA: I decided to try out this online DVD rental service – I’ve decided to never use Rogers Video again. It’s fantastic. I watched The Motorcycle Diaries (one of the best movies I’ve seen in months), A Dirty Shame (John Waters’ NC-17-rated opus on sexual mores in America – very camp, very out there, don’t rent it unless you know what Waters’ MO is all about) and Doom (man, this movie sucked – it was like Aliens meets Resident Evil with a significantly cheaper budget and much worse acting). I’ve got a backlog of titles coming my way. I strongly recommend this service above rental stores. I had been putting off enrolling with this service for awhile but now I’m ready.

THE END OF MEAT: I’ve come to a decision. After reading Fast Food Nation and long chats with my brother, I’ve decided to ban red meat from my diet. That’s right – it’s been a long time coming. I admit it has been difficult wrapping my head around the idea, but I want to do it now.

Now, bear in mind that I will still eat fish and chicken. I know many vegetarians out there are probably thinking that I’m not really there yet and they’re right. But, that being said, it’s a step in the right direction, yes?



I’m a big believer in the power of technology to improve people’s lives. I’m particularly fascinated with the ways technology intersects with the worlds of art, culture and society. There are instances when some technologies inspire fascinating new movements, particularly in the social networking/collective intelligence/Web 2.0 themes of present day.

Take as an example. I’ve written on here about MySpace before. Normally, I’d give MySpace credit for inspiring entire communities that would never have existed before to exist now. In the beginning, MySpace was a great idea. But, like any great idea that catches onto the broader socio-cultural consciousness (how’s that for academic-speak?), inevitably the idea gets watered down, taken apart and dissected by the MSM for public consumption. Or, it gets taken over by celebrity/corporate/commercial culture.

I’m not a member of MySpace and have no intention of joining it. Not because I think I’m better than folks on it, but because there’s something strange afoot in the MySpace universe. It’s a social experiment that has clearly already gone past digital marketing machine and into the realm of surreal cult worship.

For one, I’m amazed how sophisticated celebrity culture has become now with the presence of one web site that happened to be bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for more than $500 million (U.S.) and gave News Corp. a brilliant foothold into youth culture (if anyone thinks the value of MySpace is worth less than $500 million, you’re wrong – Murdoch bought MySpace not because of social networking, but because the amazing marketing potential is obvious).

Check out these links. We’ve got Naomi Watts, Simon Cowell, The Pussycat Dolls, Busta Rhymes and Sophia Myles on here as some celebrity MySpace pages. This is only the tip of the iceberg; type in almost any celebrity’s name and they are there on MySpace.

While all these pages seem at first glance as authentic, there are pretty easy cues to see who’s actually doing postings and who’s got a web-savvy publicist on board. For example, embedding a page exclusively for Tristan + Isolde (last time I will ever mention that film, I swear) on Sophia Myles’ page isn’t surprising. All of these celebrity pages, especially some of them, seem like obvious ploys to attract more people into the celebrity’s personal brand and provide illusions of individual interaction. After all, since celebrity culture started, the ultimate dream for any fan is to relate to a hero on a personal level, right?

Walter Benjamin, a theorist from the Frankfurt School (trust me, keep reading, this isn’t dull), would have a field day with this kind of individuated relationship between regular folks, technology and celebrities. Benjamin talked about in his landmark essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, that, to an ever greater degree, the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. In a 21st century case, this means film, music, fashion, MTV, the web, iPods, any artifact that is media or displays media of some kind.

Benjamin than goes on to make a truly prophetic remark: “the film responds to the shriveling of the aura with an artificial build-up of the ‘personality’ outside the studio.” In this case, film is shorthand in our time for “celebrity.”

Further, “the equipment-free aspect of reality here has become the height of artifice; the sight of immediate reality has become an orchid in the land of technology.

I maybe slightly overanalyzing what could be simply a trendy new way for celebrity culture to attach itself to entertainment-hungry fans. But there’s some bold ideas there to ponder when it comes to MySpace and celebrities; how does MySpace feed popular conceptions of celebrity and likewise? Is this the future of engagement in entertainment, where individuals forge “relationships” with celebrities and consider them “real” or “real enough?”

It’s these kinds of virtual relationships that seem to provide an intoxicating tug for people towards MySpace. It’s got 70 million users and counting. Anybody who’s anyone goes on it.

Of course, the party’s not going to last. Considering MySpace needs a security czar to protect the vast majority of honest users from the minority of bad apples, you have to wonder: how long will MySpace still have heft with young people when everyone knows about it?



This is kind of old news to some, but it made the rounds on CNN today and it’s especially scary: Wired posted AT&T technician Mark Klein’s comments on the startling nature of AT&T’s connection to the NSA.

Check out this golden nugget of privacy invasion the likes of which would make George Orwell turn over in his grave:

“In 2003 AT&T built “secret rooms” hidden deep in the bowels of its central offices in various cities, housing computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company’s popular WorldNet service and the entire internet. These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the internet and analyze exactly what people are doing. Documents showing the hardwire installation in San Francisco suggest that there are similar locations being installed in numerous other cities.”

This is potentially groundshaking to the Bush administration (although, how many times have we said that before and nothing has happened, really?). The extent to which this administration is prepared to go in order to invade the privacy rights of ordinary Americans (and the rest of the world) online is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

I’m under no illusions that monitoring of telephone and internet communications happens covertly regardless of government ideologies or intent, mind you. After all, the NSA in the States has been actively involved in activities of this sort for decades, potentially. It’s hard to really know for sure the depth to which the rabbit hole goes, to borrow Matrix-speak.

The disturbing part is how corporations like AT&T have been in such collusion with the U.S. government with this operation. The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed suit against AT&T last year. What’s bringing this case out into the open now is Klein’s comments being published in public, which it outlines, as mentioned, an incredibly egregious abuse of power on part of the U.S. government and companies like AT&T.

It is absolutely essential reading. If you care about privacy and democratic rights online, read Wired’s link. Congratulations to Wired for blowing this story out into the open.



JON STEWART: The Sunday Star has a great article today on the potentially negative effects of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in creating a generation of cynical, distrustful television viewers who don’t have any respect for democratic institutions. Definitely worth checking out. I’m not sure at this stage if the vast majority of viewers of The Daily Show aren’t the kind of types who actively know about what’s going on in “the news” normally; however, there’s heft to the argument that when you steadily feed an entire audience on a diet of scrappy cynicism and irony, after awhile you won’t know how to actually discuss real issues without resorting to defensive mockery through The Funny. The Funny is good at taking politicians down a notch, though.

Disengagement from the political process isn’t a new thing, though. Young people have traditionally been non-participants in democratic processes for decades; the only difference between previous generations and now is there’s a television show that neatly helps pissed off viewers deal with the very real frustrations and anger many younger folks have with Bush and Co. Whether this is The Hand That Feeds growing generational discontent is a good or bad thing depends on whether you’ve got your self-deluded brain in the clouds, assuming that democracy is working “just fine,” considerin’ NSA wiretappin’, New Orleans, et al… or if you need a show who can cut through the B.S. of Canadian/American politics. Up to you.

NELLY FURTADO: Has anyone heard Nelly’s new single, Promiscuous? I used to be kind of meh over Nelly; she’s good, but it wasn’t the most compelling music. She’s got Timbaland, Chris Martin, Pharrell Williams and some other folks producing her new record Loose. That’s good. Promiscuous? Even better. It’s actually a pretty decent track. Maybe this record won’t be M.O.R., easy listening. This is the kind of music that seems more appropriate for sweaty, 1 a.m. and the weather is steamy, boozing and grinding.

DA VINCI: I am one of the 37 people in this world who has not read this book. I have no interest in reading it. Not because I’m a literary snob (which I am), but because I don’t like the idea of everyone reading a book simply because “everyone” has read it. So it was with a casual shrug when I read reviews like this that pretty much says what I figured would happen: not as good as the book, bland and M.O.R., pedestrian, yet another sign Hollywood’s in deep s***.

KINGSTON: I have a bone to pick over Kingston. My pal Neate outlined this well in his blog, but apparently Kingston City Council has been wrangling over a new sports arena to replace the Kingston Memorial Centre.

I like Kingston, I really do. I spent five years there, so I must have some kind of appreciation for it. But even I’ll admit the city is very much trying to become Ottawa, Only Smaller, with its cultural tastes on par with the kind of blandness that only the average philistine could love (Note: not all Kingstonians embrace this attitude, and the presence of Queen’s students is, in some way, helping to counter the creep of gentrification downtown, both commercially and culturally)

I like Ottawa too, don’t get me wrong. But a modern city has to know that in order to compete with other cities, especially in Ontario, you have to be willing to fork out the dollars to make investments in the city on a long-term basis. Sports is part of that framework, whether you want to admit it or not. Cities have to continually be re-invested in to keep the core resource – young people – in it. One of my friends in Kingston is struggling to figure out not if, but when he’s leaving for Toronto. Why? Kingston can’t seem to get its act together when it comes to coming up with initiatives to keep youth in the city. You’d think, with an A-list university, RMC and a college nearby, this would be enough to create more outlying facilities and initiatives of the research and development variety, or at the very least, a greater entrepreneurial attitude on part of Kingston youth. It’s very easy to pack up and leave Kingston, simply because it’s riding on the past and not doing enough to secure its future.

This sports arena business is really just another sign of a city that’s struggling to meet the challenges of the 21st century economy, but at the same time, it’s important that Kingston do more to re-invest in the community – including sports arenas.



I’m back from Collingwood now. I find the area around Georgian Bay to be so relaxing, supportive in allowing the mind to wander. I don’t get a chance to do that very often, so whenever I can afford the opportunity to walk, sit by the bay and just think without considering what tasks must be done, I’ll go for it.

The last month has been very intense. Taking a stroll Friday afternoon, I put on the Dances With Wolves soundtrack, the BBC’s Mozart tribute downloads and kept walking. It’s amazing how the occasional days of solitude can clarify the mind. It was very chilly and wet for much of the days I was in Collingwood, but I found the time up north good for me. I did the never-ending dance of questions-and-answers about my life that seems to pop up every now and then, of course. I’m the kind of person who casts self-doubt a bit too often, but I started figuring some things out that have been bugging me.

I read Leonard Cohen’s new book, Book of Longing, and Douglas Coupland’s new book JPod. But mostly, I slept a lot and unplugged the clock radio. I had no concept of time all the days up north. Hell, I barely even knew what the days were. Wednesday? Friday? Whatever. Couldn’t entirely get away from the computer though. I’ve really wanted to get away from the computer and the Internet for awhile, but it is so hard. E-mail has this “come hither” attitude towards me—I pull away, but the need to check email keeps calling me back.

One topic that I started writing about up north was the subject of personal challenges. I love new challenges and projects, that much I know. But there’s one challenge that our generation doesn’t seem capable of doing so much as the Boomers once did: a sense of exploration that defies the easy locales of tourist haunts like Maui or La Paris. Our generation’s challenges are much more concrete, less flights-of-fancy or salient daydreaming.

Here’s what I mean. When Boomers were my age, roughly late 20’s, the pressure to conform to a certain lifestyle (the proverbial white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a house) wasn’t there nearly as much as it is today. Sure, there were a lot of people who got married at age 19, produced some kids and enjoyed home ownership before they were 30. But back in that oh-so-simpler era of Trudeaumania, big sideburns and black-and-white CBC-TV, the rules of the game were easy: work hard, invest in yourself and your communities and the Social Contract dictates your living standards will rise. You won’t have to worry about a retirement that resembles living in a fixed-income apartment, circa1930’s era Cabbagetown. Better still, you had choices: you could delay university, go travel abroad and not feel concerned about falling behind the pack. Trudeau didn’t really stop his global odyssey until he was in his early 30’s.

Now, of course, not everyone had these options or money to make Around the World in 80 Weeks a reality. I don’t want the prime of Boomer youth to be painted as a utopia. It wasn’t. But during those days, life was a lot simpler: real incomes were much more in line with the costs of living, student debt was nowhere near the issue it is today. This lent a great deal more freedom to young people in those days. You could afford to explore and do things, such as explore both physical and mental environments. And you could take the time to do it. In effect, the culture of “choices” were significantly less complex than they are today, but at least everyone else felt the same way you did.

Really, it was a good, fair deal. You do your part, we’ll do ours and everyone is reasonably comfortable. The pressure to keep up wasn’t there, because it was a relative given that, while choices for your personal lifestyle were limited, at least they were accessible to lots of people.

My generation isn’t afforded those values. Sure, let’s be honest: as children of Boomers, we’re incredibly well-taken care of and spoiled to varying degrees. But here’s where things diverge in terms of values. As children of a far more complex era with accordingly different value systems than our parents, we’ve been trying to live much the same way as our parents, albeit with far differing results. In effect, we’ve taken our parents’ values and tried to apply them to our realities. Stability, prosperity, simplicity.

The truth hasn’t worked out that way.

Our era is defined entirely by the Individual-as-centre, the moral compass as yourself. You’d think this would mean a far greater desire and affordability of opportunities to explore and engage in that journey of self-discovery.

For some, it does. But unlike our parents’ generation, real incomes have fallen significantly behind the costs of living. Debt from university and/or college programs has risen sharply. Simply trying to get out of these albatross-like constraints for some people is hard enough; it feels, for some, there’s this mythical place down the line where one day, we’ll be free from the shackles of debt, getting married, buying a house with no money down, making car payments, insurance payments, gas, saving for the kids’ tuition, finally paying off the mortgage after years of interest payments, retiring… and then off to Bermuda for 18 holes on the well-manicured greens.

This isn’t a boo-hoo, cue-the-violins-and-cry-for-me-Argentina moment. You want something in this life, you have to work for it and grab life by the balls to make it happen. That’s the way people are and that’s the way life is. I really don’t want to sound like a Paleo-Conservative type who talks about “family values” and how great life was before the Beatles, 1968 and the Oil Crisis. The conservatism of that time is not something many youth of today would ever want (ha, one of the few moments my judgment feels pretty secure!).

I guess the lament I have is this sense of innocence that youth normally should have that seems tragically misplaced by the economics of the 21st century. While money has always been the way the world works, keeping up with the Joneses seems out of date now. Keeping up with your grad school cubicle mates seems more appropriate now: why don’t I have the condo yet when he does? And he’s younger than me! Or more to the point, why does she have that opportunity to work at that place? Oh, because she came from money and could afford to work for free. It’s these kind of hypothetical scenarios that happen more and more.

Jane Jacobs (R.I.P.) alluded to these issues in her final book Dark Age Ahead. She talked about the rise of Credentialism for young people; in effect, the idea being youth today, scared as all hell about a world that competes for brains for cents on the dollar, will do anything to secure places in universities or the job market that will ensure a ticket to prosperity down the road. This is why universities are getting insane in Canada with enrollment; the perception is, rightly or wrongly, university worked for Boomers in securing great jobs for them. It should work for their kids, right? Well, I guess. I’m not so sure anymore.

This has created a near-generation wide sense of malaise with the post-university world. In a world that’s created limitless options and choices to customize your life, the pressure to become “responsible” earlier is growing. The choices you make are so overwhelming, so potentially far-reaching into your future, that few people I know my age can say they feel confidence that the choices they make are stridently “right” ones. You stew endlessly about what you should do next; do I go traveling and risk further debt? Do I work at Job X, Job Y or Job Z? Do I feel at ease in this career? Do I feel happy? What “choices” should I make next to make my life better?

Being young means being free, one could argue. How much “freedom” does the average teenager have with the knowledge they’ll be shoved into a potentially decades-long struggle to overcome debt from university? Moreover, how does that affect a person’s sense of self-worth? Do you work to fulfill yourself, or do you work to service debt because this was a path you were told was the “right one” for “smart” kids like you?

I’m almost done.

I’ve decided, on a personal note, that any guilt I feel over not being at a certain stage in my life isn’t worth feeling bad about anymore. No, I don’t have a down payment on a condo coming yet. Ultimately though, I do feel at this stage in my life I’ve accomplished many things I’ve wanted to. I am servicing student debt. But my desire for authentic experiences, a real youthful sense of exploration won’t die. I can’t let it. I won’t let it. I will be me, I will stay youthful and won’t be coaxed into thinking there is only one “right” way to live after university. Because clearly, university isn’t the only “right way” to being happy.