Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Double-Oh-Seven
Christmas Past
Is it true that you can never go home? I'm starting to believe it. For so many years the only place I could enjoy Christmas was in the house I grew up in. No matter how inviting another house was, I remained a guest in an alien place where everything seemed out of place. Now that alien place is the house where I grew up. For years I tried inventing traditions only to discover you can't. Traditions are just things that happen every year with only a minimum of effort. The more you force something, the more forced it feels. For the last seven years we've woven a Christmas that is tiring, full of eating and leftovers, new experiments and old favorites, and generally, I look forward to a few hours of bustling madness, followed by a few hours of intoxicating quiet. Best yet, our Christmas days are ones we make with very few obligations. We've been lucky. A Christmas in Toronto involves little travel, a lot of food and is pretty much done by midnight, December 25th. I had forgotten how Boxing Day can be drawing out Christmas a little too long (even if it's only 12 hours too long).

I can honestly say, that working over Christmas is actually not bad at all. Due to the absence of most everyone else, you can actually get a lot done with no interruptions, go for leisurely lunches without guilt, and get home easily because there's no traffic. Best of all, because you can't spend the day asleep with an unread book lying open on your chest, the Christmas hangover is, if not avoided, at least minimized. This year, I'll have to depend on James Bond, coffee and shoveling to stay alert while tiptoeing around the food, drink and ennui-induced Holiday Coma that results in the common amnesia that makes so many Christmases blend into one another. This year, while some will mourn the loss of Oscar Peterson, and Benazir Bhutto I'll mourn the loss of Christmas Past.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Time is Here

What with all the Advent Calendars, tote bags and dish towels, I didn't really have time to create an animated card this year, so this video will have to suffice. If you feel nostalgic for some Christmas cards of yore you can see some of them at Petertoons.

Merry Christmas.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow Day

Snow Day
This is what it looked like on the street today. It looks like it's going to be a white Christmas in T.O. this year. I think this is the most snow we've had in a single day since we've moved to Toronto in '99. Days like this have quiet and almost melancholic beauty. I found myself outside shoveling this afternoon and it was really pretty nice if you didn't have to go anywhere. Like the song says, "…since there's no place to go, let it Snow, let it snow, let it snow."

Once I had come in to warm up and dry off, I tuned into a NFL game, Buffalo at Cleveland and they were playing in the same storm. Amazingly, watching updates around the league you could see the storm's reach went from Toronto and Ottawa, to Cleveland to Pittsburgh and even Foxborough, Massachusetts. It was fun to watch some old school football being played where at times you couldn't see anything and the field was covered in white.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

David Sedaris' recent piece in the New Yorker has some strangely familiar elements to it (Polish mothers, anguished sons, air travel). For years, Italian momma's boys have been parodied in film and television but what of Polish men and their mothers?

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt…

Or have you? Well, I've been to Paradise, but I've never been to me — thus, no t-shirt. If you've ever been unsure of exactly what you're feeling, maybe you need this t-shirt. Go to, sign up and vote for it. If it scores high enough, they'll print it, I'll stick a feather in me cap and call it macaroni and we can all feel good to better on a scale of 1 to 5.

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better times
Should you really go to jail for being a rich, arrogant jerk? Of course not. For six million dollars worth of fraud? Indubitably. With Conrad Black getting the sort of comeuppance one might expect from The Magnificent Ambersons, we can finally take in a deep breath of chilly winter air and feel confidently self-righteous. Or can we?

Yes. Yes we can. Actually, Lord Blackbottom isn't really as hateful as Barbara Amiel. I grew up reading her worthless column in Maclean's (How do you get a column in a national publication? The Globe and Mail apparently hands them out with Honest Ed's frozen turkeys). I still remember just how both Amiel and Black gloated from London when British Tories won what turned out to be their last election of the 20th century, saying how Canada could learn the value of Conservatism or some such crap. Well, rich gloating toadies, the tide has turned. I hope the orange jumpsuit is itchy and Russell Oliver dupes Babs out of her bling. See what burning your bridges (and then trying to douse the flames by pissing on them) gets you?

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Now a Major Motion Picture.

A couple of years ago, I read a book review of Persepolis, an autobiographical comic book by Marjane Satrapi (pronounced "Mar-shahn Sah-trappy" I'm writing this out because I've been reading the book without a clue how to say her name which makes it difficult to tell people about it). It's the story of a young girl's experience growing up in revolutionary Iran. I decided to wait until the previous two books came out in a combined volume before picking it up. The book is more than just an insight into a country we know little about but also a remarkably moving tale of being true to oneself and recognizing where you come from. Now I'm keen to see the film which had its North American premiere in Toronto at the Film Festival. Better yet, it's an animated film. Only in Europe or Asia do studios make animated films that are not necessarily about fairy tales or children's stories. For all of Ratatouille's sophistication, it is still a "family" film. If Persepolis was made here, it would have quickly been switched to live action without a thought for how it would affect the telling of the story.

For years, my only view of Iran was that of deranged fundamentalists who had taken American citizens hostage in the Tehran embassy. I made no connection whatsoever between historical Persia and these Muslim fundamentalists. Let's back up a little bit. In 1979, I was 11 and I distinctly recall a conversation while we were watching the news about how the Shah had been exiled and how basically this seemed good news. An American placed dictator had been ousted, removing overt foreign influence in the region, allowing the founding of a new republic with a distinct Muslim voice. Sounded good to us. My brother and I reasoned that these were pious religious folk and surely a country that showed that kind of faith would be good and peaceful. My father wasn't so sure saying the religious leader, Khomeinhi, was known to be well educated but may be a "a bit of an extremist". I couldn't understand how you could be "a bit of an extremist" but my Dad said we'd have to wait and see how it would turn out. How, you might ask, would an 11-year-old know what "extremist" was? This was the seventies. It seemed every week a flight was being hijacked by "Arab extremists" - later, Anwar Sadat would be killed by one. Violence in the Middle-east defined the news as much 25 years ago as it does today. Then came the "Hostage Crisis" in Tehran and anything you may have thought of Iranians went out the window. In the simplified view of TV news, every Iranian man was a screaming religious nutjob and every woman, a repressed and suppressed victim forced to wear the veil.

There was (and probably still is) a complete disconnect between the historical cultures of the Middle East and their present day counterparts. When I was a kid, I could not understand how Egypt went from advanced culture to near third-world status? Similarly, I could not equate the civilisations of Mesopotamia and Persia and their advances in math, astronomy, engineering, architecture and art with the images of crazed Muslims chanting and climbing fences in Tehran. Then came the Iran-Iraq war and to be honest, the presiding opinion was, "let them bomb each other back to stone-age, when the dust settles, we'll all be better for it." Except of course, it took eight years for the dust to settle and no one was better for it. That war was a stalemate for so long, it was easy to forget it was still going on. Then I went to university and for whatever reason (uh, the Islamic Republic, violent war in the region) there were Iranian ex-pats everywhere. The one thing you heard over and over from Iranians (and even occasionally from an Iraqi or someone from Turkey) was that the view the West had of the country was entirely wrong. Tehran was a city of well-educated multi-lingual, metropolitan and cultured citizens, not slogan chanting religious fanatics. Most of all, Iranians were/are not Arabs, but Persians and speak Farsi not Arabic. Actually, you'd get an earful about Arabs in general (come to think of it, it would be really interesting to redo "Lawrence of Arabia" from the opposite side. Not that of a British hero, but that of meddling Imperialist operative whose actions would have decidedly violent implications in today's political landscape).

That's the baggage I bring to reading Satrapi's memoir, "Persepolis" and with incredible clarity, Starapi knows this. She writes and illustrates the story as someone with a foot in both the "secular West" and an Islamic Republic, who struggles to be herself in a world that makes that difficult. Her story is even more fascinating given her family's connection to Iran's past political and intellectual elite. My only criticism is in some ways, Satrapi's depiction of the "secular West" mimics how Europeans thought about Iranians in that many of the characters she meets in Vienna are stereotypes of shallow, spoiled, bored, over-indulgent, disengaged youth who rebel for the sake of rebelling and in the end have little focus or meaning to their lives. Only one person she meets (the mother of a friend) has any knowledge or interest in Iran. Yet, even this made me want to read on and discover more about how you survived in a world where music, jewelry, public affection or having a beer were all punishable offences. I kept thinking how would you allow your society to be taken over by such extreme forces? The answer is simple; fear. How can I be critical of that? Here in Canada we not only allow intolerance, we voted for it (and will probably do so again). Similarly, American voters voted in a party that had a record of stomping on civil liberties and personal freedoms by manipulating their fears and exploiting their faith. How does it happen? Unfortunately it happens very easily.

Listen here to hear Marjane Starapi talk about her experiences and book (from an NPR interview).

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Negotiate Like a Pro (ninja).

It is not my intention to post the entirety of John Hodgman's audio book in 3 minute snippets though that is what I appear to be doing. Yet, I feel that many of my creative professional colleagues share with me a rather poor business acumen and will no doubt accept help where ever they may find it. Which is why I present to you John Hodgman's 5 Secrets for Successful Negotiations.

Listen here.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Attack of the Killer Ads
In these trying times of increasingly polarized politics, it is important to understand the thinking of those who attempt to set voters against opponents using the dull-edged tool known as "The Attack Ad". It is also handy to know how you can use this bludgeoning form of communication in your daily life. Here, Mr. John Hodgman, the Daily Show's resident expert and little known humourist and author explains the formula and shares some examples of his own.

Listen to the ads here

This broadcast may not be recorded, published, re-broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the expressed written consent of the National Football League.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Only quality chocolates for this year's Advent Calendar. No toffee, no licorice (also no figurines or finger puppets). I've been reading about where chocolate comes from and how it's made and well, let's just say, claims of anti-oxidants may be a little exaggerated. With that in mind, the theme of this year's Calendar is AD-vent. Here's the cover:


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