Wednesday, May 04, 2011

We've Moved!

Thank you for visitng Muse Ink! Please the new site at

Muse Ink

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Review: Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

Neil Gaiman is one the few writers who has mastered both novels and short stories. In this collection, he exercises his talents from poetry to novella, evoking the light and dark fragile things that lurk in the corner of your eye.

Fragile Things was originally published in 2006, but it has been on my to-read list for a while. I came to it after a disappointing book, and needed something like and fantastic. As usual, Gaiman delivered.

Ranging from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle–inspired “A Study in Emerald” to a sequel of sorts to his novel American Gods with “Monarch of the Glen,” Gaiman rarely fails to invent stories that twist beyond the expected.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Book Review: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain has mellowed and matured, and I hope this is his last memoir. For the uninitiated, he is best known for Kitchen Confidential (2000), which was angry, bitter, salty, and hilarious. Medium Raw is an older, wiser, and more thoughtful book than the former chef’s first foray into non-fiction.

Just as Bourdain ripped off the kitchen door, he pulls back the curtains to reveal the business of bestselling books, hit TV shows, and the real financial implications of not endorsing pots and pans. Selling out? Perhaps, but is that even possible anymore? While that is another discussion for another day, Bourdain makes it clear that he, and many of his peers, are passed their best-by date when it comes to professional cooking. The long hours, physical demands, not to mention the strain on personal relationships make this a young person’s game—and good luck to them. But then what? Well, you write, you endorse, and hope to save some money for your golden years. In this way he gives us a solid reality check.

The Angry One also recognizes that he has become a dancing monkey for media and foodies alike. Producers, PR, and their kin like talent that can be easily categorized and counted on for sound bites and pot stirring; hence pitting Bourdain against Jonathan Safran Foer (author of Eating Animals) on CBC’s Q. Foodies, like music fans, should want chefs to evolve and be influenced by new things and ideas. Yet Bourdain recants some the vitriol dished out in Kitchen Confidential (and elsewhere). Case in point on page 149: “Jamie Oliver is a hero.”

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: they’re both dads now. In an earlier chapter, the man who seems to eat anything redirects his piss and vinegar toward a much more worthy adversary: McDonalds. Say what you want about making money, travelling, eating, and living the high life, I doubt very much if he would have even thought about talking about the fast-food chain in an earlier book unless he’d worked there. Now that he has a little girl, who is McDonalds’ prime target market, Bourdain recognizes that he has a fight on his hands—a real one this time.

But it’s not just kids. Elsewhere he bemoans people’s inability to actually make a meal and argues that cooking must be made to be a necessary skill—not a fetishized or rarefied one. What I think foodie culture has done is made people want convenience food even more. When folks drone on about coq au vin with sautéed wild mushroom with a petite anglais tomate, then people go running to the freezer aisle. Hell, I would...right after I shoved the coq up the geezer’s vin. As Bourdain points out, cooking’s easy. Roast chicken is a snap. Deglazing the pan to make sauce, child’s play. Rarefying it, however, takes a special type of snob.

Bourdain is not a snob. He has, however, told his story. He’s a great and passionate food and travel writer. Kitchen Confidential was relentless, Cook's Tour was authentic, and even his cookbook Les Halles was salty and worth reading beyond the recipes (which are easy and fantastic). Now I want to read what he has to say about other things. Medium Raw is a satisfying last course at Chez Bourdain.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gobble Gobble

On December 18 I spent the afternoon volunteering at Loblaws for Second Harvest’s Turkey Drive. Second Harvest is a Canadian charity that recovers excess food from restaurants and redistributes it to social-service agencies. This was my second time participating in this event, and this year it really hit home as I was laid off from my full-time job, which made it even more important to help out. Perspective is everything.

And so I donned a Santa hat, grabbed some fliers, and worked up a short and cheerful spiel to say to customers who came to the frozen-turkey case. All smiles and positivity, I spoke to many people who no doubt have been inundated with appeals for donations. Many generous folks bought birds that afternoon (263 in total) ranging in price from $13 to $50. A lot of bellies will be filled this coming Christmas.

Despite what some may think, there was no particular type of person who donated: young, old, tidy, sloppy, male, female, singletons, families–they all opened their wallets to help others.

There was, however, one exception: vegetarians. It’s not like I knew they were coming, as if they had an Xed-out cow tattooed on their forehead. Rather, when I approached they announced their dietary choice loud and clear, “I don’t eat meat!” “I’m a vegetarian!”

Clearly, we’d crossed wires. My spiel, “Hi! I’m from Second Harvest’s Turkey Drive. Would you like to donate a turkey to feed Toronto’s hungry,” lacked pertinent details. The bird wasn’t for the giver, it was for other people. Ok, I readjusted and provided options.

“Oh, but the turkey isn’t for you. You simply buy it to feed those in need.”


“Ok, well, perhaps you’d like to consider an online cash donation. Here’s the website...,” I beseeched in vain as they walked past.

I wasn’t the only person who noticed. My comrade in wings, so to speak, encountered this resistance too. “What’s that all about?” he whispered, “It’s not like they have to eat it!”

Just to be clear, I stopped eating meat for two years once upon a time. For many reasons, I reclaimed my omnivore status and have never looked back. And for just as many reasons, others remain stalwart. Very well, I can respect that. Different strokes. More bacon for me.

But why must one’s personal and voluntary dietary restriction prohibit giving food to those whose “dietary restriction” is involuntary? I can’t believe that people think animal rights come before those of a person who must choose between rent and food. Or do some tofu-munchers feel the moral imperative to impose their wishes on those with few choices? I certainly hope not.

I often hear the argument that a vegetarian diet is cheaper than one that includes meat. That may well be true. There are many poor people around the world who don’t eat meat. What’s also true, however (Hindus aside), is that meat consumption in many emerging economies has gone up with increased income. This leads me to believe that poor people would likely eat more meat if and when they could afford it.

Ah, but who knows what those individual vegetarians were thinking; it matters not. I can only hope that they dropped some non-perishable food in the Daily Bread Food Bank bin or wrote a cheque. People in this city, and elsewhere, needn’t go hungry. That is the true moral imperative.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


In October 2010, Toronto underwent a mayoral election. Apparently we were an angry lot. Terribly so. I suspect that like many of the citizenry, I would have never had known this unless I was told by Rob Ford’s campaign. There was a “gravy train” at city council that so glutinous, so dripping, so deep and tasty Julia Child would be jealous. Yes, I ought to be angry. But I wasn’t.

There was a life-sucking land-transfer tax in place that was so prohibitive people were running screaming to Richmond Hill to avoid it. I ought to be angry about that too since I’m a renter who cannot yet afford to buy a home many of which list at $350,000...before tax. Any tax. Even before bidding wars set in. Grr? No, not really.

But the $60 car-registration tax surely must have raised my ire! That must boil my blood, yes? Nope. Smog pisses me off as do single-rider SUVs and congestion caused by private vehicles, but taxes on these vehicles. Nah. TTC fare hikes rankle, but I think there are bigger fish to fry.

Ooh, speaking of fish, what about the garbage strike, huh? That was AWFUL! It threatened our very way of life and civilization itself! THAT should have really gotten my goat. Well, it wasn’t pleasant, but we lived, and largely forgot about it.
Well, I must be angry about something, right?

Hmm. Let me think. Yes, by Jove I am.

I’m angry that I’m told by a bellicose, belligerent, pejorative-spewing spoilt brat that I’m angry and that I’m an elitist because I can string multisyllabic words together in a sentence uninterrupted by “uhs,” “ums,” and corporate jargon.

I’m angry because people who never venture into the downtown core let alone ride public transit are going to dictate its nature and makeup.

I’m angry that the very Conservatives that foisted amalgamation on Toronto in 1998* are now complaining that council is too big and things cost too much.

I’m angry that the minority Conservative federal government** that ignored the duly elected mayor of the largest metropolis in the country*** and stuck the G20 in the financial district endorsed the mayor-elect.

The funny thing about anger is it can make you do awful, destructive, desperate things. However, to channel the old-school punk ethos, anger can also be an energy and it can be power.

Yes, I’m angry...and engaged.

*Former Ontario Premier Mike Harris showed up at Rob Ford’s celebration shindig.( See CP24's coverage.)

**Finance Minister Jim Flaherty endorsed the Ford campaign.(See The Globe and Mail)

***David Miller interviewed by Matt Galloway on CBC's Metro Morning and Miller's press confernence as reported by Digital Journal.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Shooting the Moon

Ok, so here’s the thing. I was recently laid off from a job that I loved, but for which I was underpaid. (I know, me and everyone else, boo hoo.) Characteristically, I’m seeing this as a much-needed kick in the ass to find a better job doing what I love whilst doing freelance work. I’ve spent the better part of the week updating, revising, social networking, and actually applying for positions that at first glance appear way out of my league. Redundancy can do wonders to your ego sometimes.

During this endeavour I’ve come across the old saw, “Shoot for the moon and you’ll hit the stars,” meaning even if you don’t get as far as you want, you’ll go farther than you are. Unfortunately, I think science differs on this. Correct me if I’m wrong, but stars are suns many of which are dying hence their brilliance and reason why we can see them light years away. Why would you want to be around a bunch of dead suns? More to the point, they are actually past the moon that is in our solar system, which is home to just one sun that is very much alive and fiery.

So do I shoot for a moon and hit…a satellite? That would cause an international incident, I should think. The ensuing headlines (“Unemployed editor shoots down TV satellite: millions of Americans riot”) wouldn’t make for good job prospects. (Then again, whatever did happen to the air steward who swore on mic? Bet he got a book deal…) And who wants to reach a satellite anyway. Yawn.

I’ve decided, then, to shoot for a planet, maybe that new earth-like one scientists found recently. Hmm. If you were to believe author John Grey, women are from Venus so perhaps I ought to aim there. Nah, too Oprah. Mars? Too trendy, plus the film crews will be there any minute. Uranus? Next. How about I shoot for Pluto, which sits on the outermost reaches of our solar system, and reach the moon.

Yes, that will do nicely. Now where are my bow and arrow…

Monday, May 17, 2010


I watched Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 again the other day after reading Arthur C. Clark’s novel of the same name, which was written during film production. One of the themes I got from the film and book was the nature of intelligence, sentience, and its control. Near the end of the second act, astronaut David Bowman unplugs HAL, the on-board computer that controls everything after it kills Bowman’s colleague Frank Poole. Up to this point, human crewmembers have treated HAL as a fellow with intelligence and feelings, entrusting this machine with their lives. When that trust is betrayed, and HAL understands the cost of the deed, it begs for mercy.

In both the book and the film, this monologue is really quite touching. You almost feel sorry for the computer that made the mistakes. Had this machine been human, we’d understand its error as part of our collective condition. To err is human, to forgive is divine.

But if one of our agents, a computer, shows up one of our human errors, we must reboot or unplug. We are forgivable, but the machine of our making is not. It doesn’t enjoy the same rights and privileges we do. It is not a person. (By the way, women were not considered “persons” in Canada until 1929.)

In his recent Globe and Mail essay, “One Robot, One Vote?”, Neil Reynolds, addresses the issue of robot rights. For a good chunk, he assumes that cyborgs will have genders and discusses sex, marriage and divorce. Sadly, he doesn’t entertain the notion of gender neutral robots or same-sex human-robot relations.

He does, however, bemoan the fact that “so far most of the heavy thinking about their rights, responsibilities, and morality has come from comic books.” Hmm. Yet he cites Clark and Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics,” neither of whom wrote comic books. (He also cites the Bible, which is now a graphic novel.) We could also look at Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek the Next Generation (“Oh, Data, you are a gem!”). Science Fiction and comic book are the playgrounds of ideas, particularly the uncomfortable ones that make lesser men and women squirm. Why not do our heavy thinking there? Where else will it be done: government?

Will robots eventually have rights? I expect so. We’ll create them in our own image. I just hope that by the time we have to put this heavy thinking into action and words, we ourselves become more humane.

Playing with the Boys

Women and girls are still getting the short end of the stick when it comes to athletics. According the the Globe and Mail only Manitoba and Ontario allow girls to compete on boys' teams. Some argue that allowing a girl to leave a girls' team diminishes that team. Hmm. In Toronto, girls' hockey teams must still struggle to get prime ice time over the "traditional" boys' teams. (Women have been playing hockey for more than a century, so it seems there's another tradition at play, but I digress.) So if they aren't allowed to play, they aren't allowed to flourish. If they can't flourish, they can't make a living out of it. Take a look at the Olympic Gold-medal winning women's team; most them play on men's teams. Yes, women's and girls' teams can only improve when the skills improve. And their skills can only improve when they get to play more often at higher levels that are often denied to girls' and women's leagues.

What year is this again?