D’s Loquacious Reads for October

Hey kids, I hope you’re having a good weekend! Sorry this is so late, considering there’s only a couple days (and a few hours left) in October. But I just finished two more books that I wanted to share with you …

First off is this beauty off to the left – Break No Bones, the latest in the Temperance Brennan series by forensic anthropologist-author Kathy Reichs. This time, Dr. Brennan’s on a dig with some students when she comes across a skeleton that doesn’t look like it belongs. What she discovers in her post-mortem sets off a series of events that, once again, have her digging beneath the surface – so to speak – and, in true Reichs style, even have her brushing with death.

Couple that with a love triangle between her, her current lover, police detective Andrew Ryan and her estranged husband, Pete, and you’ve not a nice, sort of light read for those lazy afternoons (or in my case, long subway commutes back and forth). Her stuff’s not bad, if you’re into the suspense/mystery/murder genre with lots of professional jargon.

This book, on the other hand, is a complete departure from Ms. Reichs’ work. Shout out to my friend Kristy, who recommended I read this book (update your blog, girl!). It’s AWESOME!

War Reporting for Cowards was written by Chris Ayres who, as a 27-year-old foreign correspondent, got an early morning phone call from his boss, asking if he wanted “to go to war”, and without really thinking (because he really wasn’t awake!), agreed to be embedded with the U.S. Marines for nine days during the early period of the war in Iraq in 2003.

Problem was, he never wanted to go, and was too chicken to tell his boss, so the results of his journey to embedding has a few darkly hilarious results. His book is a candid look at what happened to him before and during the embedding process, as well as what landed him there in the first place.

C’est tout, mes amis! Take it easy for now, and I’m willing to read things any of you might have to suggest, or are willing to lend me. I’ll promise you’ll get it back! Lates.

Bad for You, Good for You: The "Ols"

Hey boys and girls,

Ever have one of those weeks where you eat or ingest something, either because you think – or someone tells you – it might be a good idea, only to have your body tell you the truth later?

That happened to me earlier this week. And I thought, what better way to suggest to or warn my peeps than in my blog? Call it my public service for the week. This is probably for the “TMI” category, but here goes (no regrets) …

Maltitol is BAD. Cruising down the cookie aisle in a small store close to where I work, I had a hankerin’ for something sweet, but my nutritious conscience was harping at me for getting ready to stuff my mouth with something not good for me for the upteenth time. And then I came across Aunt Gussie’s Sugar-Free cookies. Hmmm, I thought. Sugar-free, hey? I’d seen them in the store before, and considered trying them, but never stopped long enough to consider it. That day, I thought, what the hell … why not?

I looked at the different types of cookies and biscotti … turned over the packages and tried comparing them with regular cookies … they had slightly less fat content … and they had no sugar. They did have something called maltitol, which is a sugar alcohol used as a sweetening substitute. I had heard that anything with maltitol, you had to be careful not to eattoo much because they have a laxative effect. But I’d had some cookies with maltitol in the past, with no problems.

So I bought a box of chocolate chip almond cookies – small and very flat – and shoved them in my desk. Too bad I didn’t exercise any caution the next day, when I ripped into them during a somewhat stressful afternoon at work and inhaled about six of them … Wikipedia offers up this important tidbit about maltitol (which I wish I’d read then, and not about five minutes before typing this up):

Due to its slow absorption, excessive consumption can have laxative effect (I knew this) and often can cause gas and/or bloating. Maltitol is particularly demonized regarding gastric side effects because it is so easy for food producers to use it in vast quantities (due to its amazingly sugar-like properties) so consumers often end up consuming far more than they could most other sugar alcohols.

Yeah … so I had so much gas for the next six or seven hours after that, my belly was looking a bit distended. I could’ve given a Goodyear blimp or a pasture-grazing cow a good run for their money. And the tooting was relentless. No amount of Beano could possibly have helped me.

Aunt Gussie’s? Sweet fancy Moses! Try Aunt GASSIE’S.

Moral of the story: Kids, if have to interact with someone you detest and you want to drive them as far away from you as possible, by all means, eat as many maltitol-laden goods as you can get before said interaction. If you want a cookie, just eat the real thing. If you can’t have sugar, just eat something else.

Oreganol is (surprisingly, kinda) GOOD. Okay, so I developed this horrible cold over the last week and before long, it was mid-week – The day AFTER the “Maltitol incident” – and I felt like complete crap, and strongly considered calling in sick for the rest of the week. That evening my mom suggested I take the latest wellness remedy she swears by. It’s called Oreganol – comprised of Midterranean oregano and wild spice, mixed in olive oil, and touted by manufacturer North American Herb and Spice (converted believers) as a germ-killer.

I’d resisted for months because the stuff just smells vile. But desperate times call for desperate measures. So before bedtime, my mom put four drops in a egg cup full of water and told me to down the stuff. Gah. It was nasty … but the next day I didn’t feel as much like crap as before. I still have the sniffles, though. Was it the Oreganol? I’m not completely sure. But it may have helped.

That’s it for now, kids. Posse out. Girlfriend’s got to find herself a Halloween costume for this weekend!

The Trouble With Women (With Power)

I remember when I was younger, I often thought about how cool it would be to have more women as bosses, as leaders of countries, just generally being strong and being able to think and say what they want to. And it is like that, in a lot of ways. But sometimes I’ve noticed how much it’s been a case of “the more things change, the more things sound the same”.

It wasn’t really a revelation, but I was reminded of this a few times earlier this week during conversations with other people, observations and thoughts in the few private moments I had this week. And all the subjects seemed to be related to either women in power or women trying to use the power they thought society had given them with open arms.

On Wednesday, I was watching Oprah’s interview with Madonna, who was defending her situation with taking David Banda out of Malawi. I watched about 6 minutes of it at work, decided I’d heard more than enough, and then left.

Later, when I went to the gym and had to kill some time, I hung out in the changeroom and decided to watch some more Oprah. When I switched on the TV, I noticed the Dixie Chicks were on, talking about their new documentary, Shut Up and Sing. Essentially the movie documents the band, from the height of their success, to the flak they took from people following lead singer Natalie Maines’ comment during a concert in 2003 about being ashamed of George W. Bush for going to war in Iraq.

At one point, they were discussing the backlash they’d received from former “fans” and people angry at their stance on the war on terror, and Maines recalled people calling her and her bandmates sluts. This, all because they disagreed with the actions of their government. Let’s see, is there a definition of the word, slut?

Here’s what Merriam-Webster says:


1 chiefly British : a slovenly woman
2 a : a promiscuous woman; especially : PROSTITUTE
b : a saucy girl : MINX

The definitions of this word are problematic and subjective as it is. But to refer to a woman as a slut because she’s trying to exercise her country’s freedom of speech to voice a personal belief – no matter what other people think of it – is ludicrous, extremely childish and sad, knowing this was said by grown adults. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, among those adults flinging insults, some of them were women.

Above all, it’s pitiful, given what century and year this is, and angering, knowing this cop-out response has been used in the past, probably in similar circumstances. The one-liner used to explain the film – “Freedom of speech is fine as long as you don’t do it in public” – sums up how far people in societies still have to go. Great in theory, but in practice? Forget it. And if you’re a woman, it seems like it’s just as bad as if a man had said it, if not worse.

A little later that week, a friend of mine at work mentioned that a couple of our co-workers were discussing which Democrat would have a better shot at landing the U.S. presidency in 2008, if given the chance: Illinois senator Barack Obama – the “man to watch” since his new book, The Audacity to Hope was released – or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Well, in putting my two cents in, I gave it a couple seconds of thought and offered my knee-jerkish response. Given that Rodham Clinton had already been in the White House – albeit as First Lady – I told my friend that my money would be for the underdog Obama, but that in reality that Rodham Clinton would probably get it, given the political machine that’s already up trying to pave her way back to Washington. Why not just say Rodham Clinton? The U.S. has never, ever had a woman president, oro come close. But then again, they’ve never had a black one, either. My personal opinion on this is torn, because if I were American, I’d not just be an American. I’d be an African-American woman. And what would I pledge loyalty to first: my womanhood or my blackness?

Thinking about it later, it reminded me of a conversation I had months ago with a friend of mine, whose mother has this weird opinion on women in power. Call it, again, a case of, good in theory, crappy in practice. My friend’s mom seems to think the idea of a woman in power is great, it’s about time, blah blah blah. But when a woman – Michelle Bachelet – took power in her native country of Chile for the first time in history, and my friend asked her mom what she thought, she immediately called her (Bachelet) an idiot. And from what my friend said when I asked her, it didn’t seem as if it was in response to the woman’s policies or her plans on she plans on doing now that she’s in office. She apparently had said something similar about U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

Now, I’m no fan of Ms. Rice’s policies or political beliefs as part of the Bush administration. But as a fellow woman, would I demonize her or call her an idiot, based on gender? Would I hold the same beliefs if Condoleezza were Connor instead? Hmm, not sure.

Why is it that – and this is not the case everytime – whenever there’s a woman in power, and they act the way a man might, that some people – some of those people being women among them – immediately call her names … idiot … slut … whatever? Is it because of what she does or believes? Is it because she’s a woman and people don’t think she deserves to be there?

Things are getting better. There are women in political office in different stages of government all over the globe. Women are part of various organizations, and make sure their voices are heard in a variety of venues. But are we at the point where we can be critical of individuals because of what they have to say, and NOT bring their gender into it? I think we’re still a bit off, even in this day and age. But that’s only one woman’s opinion.

My Favourite Busker

People have all sorts of little signposts to tell them fall has arrived. A change in weather. The fall colours. Just even the feeling that summer has long left and winter’s about to arrive.

For me, it’s the return of one guy, and only one: The Paper Bag Busker.

If you’ve seen him play anywhere other than his usual haunt on the corner of King and Simcoe streets – just outside Roy Thomson Hall – he’s got a pretty cool sound, almost harp-like. Usually you hear him before you see him: the sounds from his artful strumming, emanating from his little speaker, his only other companion …

Then as you get closer, you see the sound’s slim creator, standing on a street corner, guitar case open, playing away. Usually dressed in black. And wearing a crisp-looking paper bag on his head, with holes cut out for his eyes and mouth.

It only jars you for about a millisecond; then you realize you’re in the presence of off-beat coolness.

I’ve taken that route often in the five years I’ve had to commute home from a day of working downtown, and come to think of it, I think he’s been there most of that time.

I’ve also been curious who this guy is. Never out of character, I’ve never seen him talk, or take off his “mask”.

Until today. I happened to be walking from the gym to the subway home, when, way down the street, on the street corner in front of Roy Thomson Hall, was this tall, lanky dude with his guitar case open, looking he was about to set up to perform.

I was still a bit far away, so I couldn’t make out his features. I thought it was my favourite busker, and quickly doubted myself.

Until I got even closer and I saw it. The paper bag.

I only looked for the briefest of moments at the dude. He looked older than I thought he would, and I couldn’t tell if he was going gray or if he had a crazy dye job. I still couldn’t be sure. I didn’t want to sneak another look, so I kept going.

I got my confirmation as I started descending the stairs to the subway and heard the faint, familiar strains of the guitar wafting my way.

I probably won’t see him unmasked again. But it doesn’t matter – I don’t want to ruin the mystique that surrounded my favourite man with the paper bag.

The New Cabbage Patch Kids?

I swore to myself that I’d never write about celebrities – as there are so many sites dedicated to them already (which I also read) – but I’m about to break my own vow, because today reeeally got my goat.

You know what I’m talking about – the whole Madonna-Malawi-adoption saga.

According to the latest, The Material Girl – who was in the African country to pledge millions of dollars to help almost a million orphans with food, shelter, and education – has chosen to adopt a 13-month-old boy (that little guy, top left). But instead of following the laws of the country and going about this the correct way (which would be adhering to an 18-month adoption order as granted by the court), the woman has had the child whisked out of the country; by the time I post this, he’ll probably be halfway to his new life in London to his ridiculously rich new family.

While the little tyke’s dad – who lost his wife during the birth of said son – is happy his little boy is getting the good life he could never afford to give him, lobby groups are saying the exact opposite. Even the man’s own relatives are torn over his decision.

Now I understand the whole “celebrities put on their pants, one leg at a time, like other people” philosophy. Non-celebrities adopt kids from different races or cultures all the time. And sure, Madonna’s not the first one to adopt a child from another country. Meg Ryan did it. Ewan MacGregor did it. Angelina Jolie did it – twice. Way back when, actresses Mia Farrow and Julie Andrews did it.

But it just seems like lately, celebrities adopting a child from a foreign, often poorer country – or even talking about thinking about adopting a foreign kid – is, like the equivalent of starting one’s own Cabbage Patch Kid collection. But for real – no stuffed, cornsilk imitations for these elite folks.

And I’m sure that not all the people who do adopt do it ’cause it’s de rigueur. But where’s the line between adopting out of good conscience and because they want to provide for another human being, and adopting a kid because it’s “in” ?

And – apologies about the cliche – but what about the children? Sure, little David Banda’s barely walking and talking, never mind having a clue what’s going on. But he’s not having a say in what’s happening to him. And what will happen when he gets older and realizes, hey, I kinda am different from my adoptive family? Or, what will happen if he starts asking, exactly who am I? Where did I come from? Who are my people? Do I have any biological family left? And the myriad other questions that’ll swirl around in this little guy’s head when he’s old enough to think of them.

But I think my biggest issue is that Madonna – in my honest opinion – abused her star power by skirting the law just to get what she wants, because she can. No one else under normal circumstances would ever get away with what she did; why should she?

If she had just pledged the money and made a promise to visit every so often to check on the progress … or even just promise to help little David and his family out (or his village, since she could afford to toss a couple million dollars at almost a million kids), I’d totally understand. But I think whole adoption controversy just undermines what she went to Malawi to do in the first place, and basically cheapened it.

Instead of just giving, it seems she couldn’t leave without taking something – or in this case, someone – with her.

Happy Friday the 13th …

… beeyotches.

Heh! Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

I LOVE today and every Friday the 13th! So far, things are good – didn’t walk under any ladders, break any mirrors (yet), or cross any skunks (phew!).

For all you stressed out superstitious types and triskaidekaphobics – relax! It’s just a day.

And since I’ve got nothing really pithy to add to the subject, here’s a little classic Muppetry – and my absolute favourite ! – courtesy of You Tube (before Google starts copyrighting this shit left, right and centre).

Mahna mahna, dudes!

The Little Computer Geek Within

So last week, my computer decided to play possum. It shut down on me early last week, and when I tried to boot it up last Friday, I got a black monitor and the sound of silence from the mini-tower.

Not having any weekend plans – and h0ping to spend what part of the long weekend I did have catching up online – I was faced with the possibility my microchipped piece of crap may have given up the ghost, and that I might have to spend the next several days without a computer. Like in the good old days.

So first, I panicked. And then I panicked some more. And then on Saturday, when I tried my computer again and it still wouldn’t boot up, I called my friend Lee.

He came over on Sunday, checked it out and found the problem: the power supply inside had blown a fuse and that I’d need a replacement. It was lucky for me that that happened; had it continued to work, it actually would have exploded and started smoking from the back.

Briefly forgetting which day it was, I inwardly panicked again, until Lee mentioned that we had just enough time to hop in his car and boot it over to Tiger Direct to buy a new one.

Little did I know this would be the beginning of the odyssey towards my untapped inner computer geek. Kinda.

I’d never really set foot inside a computer parts store, being – for years – of the ignorant opinion that your spare computer parts came from the place you bought your computer in the first place; parts were for crazy computer geeks who excelled at calculus in high school and majored in computer science at university.

Was I wrong. I couldn’t believe it. This place was a gamer’s paradise. Flat screens. Flashy computer tower casings. Keyboards with Bluetooth technology. Crazy aerodynamic mice. You name it, they probably had it. I really didn’t realize that people used some of the things on sale to soup up their computers, much in the same way some people pimp out their cars. It was nuts.

Not only did we find my brand-new power supply, we actually strolled around the store. With each aisle we travelled down, I felt a growing, irrational need to soup up my own computer. Replace that clunky monitor at home with a sleek new LCD flat screen … toss my loud, clacky, squeaky keyboard with something sleeker and quieter. Get some new speakers. Maybe trash the mouse, too. My brain was working overtime.

But I managed to restrain myself, and just buy what I needed. Now my computer runs much better now, in comparison to its former narcoleptic self. But I’m saving a little money for when I’m going out to that shop the next time. And there will be a next time.

(If you’re a stranger visiting this site – that’s not me in that picture. But pretty good that I found her, hey? Check out Dedi and her geeky friends at Geek Speak.)

The Ills of Working Thanksgiving

Did you all have a good Thanksgiving?

I wish I could say I did, but … I really didn’t have much of one. Neither did the loads of people who ended up at work today. And I think a few omens made themselves known.

First, North Korea decides TODAY to try and prove they deserve a seat at the nuclear poker table, much to everyone’s surprise and annoyance.

Then a couple of people here in Toronto are paralyzed because of the botulism in their organic carrot juice (which was recalled, like, two weeks ago), probably prompting junk- and fast-foodie fundamentalists somewhere in the world to break out the “I told you so” dance.

And then, the piece de resistance. You Tube gets swallowed WHOLE by Google.

Did the whole world just tilt sideways?

See, my friends? This is why no good ever comes of making people work Thanksgiving. Bad things happen, dudes. Bad. Things. Happen.

D’s Loquacious Reads for September/October

Hey folks,

Happy Thanksgiving. Sorry it’s taken so long to write … life – and a busted computer – got in the way.

Ever go through those periods of time where you don’t read any books for weeks and weeks, and then you’re suddenly hit with this insatiable urge to read a whole bunch of ’em at once, even though you know you don’t have much time for it?

Well, that was me in September. Here’s three books I’d heard about and recently got around to cracking open:

David Gilmour’s A Perfect Night to Go to China won last year’s Governor-General book awards, and with good reason. It’s actually pretty good. I didn’t really know much about this book going into it – silly me, I actually thought part of it took place in China. So much for that theory.

The book is narrated from the point of view of a man whose young son goes missing one night when the father steps out of the house briefly, leaving the door unlocked. The novel follows the narrator’s slow unravelling of his marriage and himself as he searches for his son.

Aside from being a fairly fast read, I found the way the story was woven to be a bit fantastical, which you always want from time to time. I wonder, though, if I read the book maybe a tad too fast and didn’t soak it up like a real bookworm should. The ending took me a bit aback (of course, reading between subway sleeps may have contributed a bit to that, too). I’m not going to ruin it here. Just read it for yourself.

I then decided to depart from fiction for a while and picked up Norah Vincent’s Self-Made Man. I actually watched a TV interview with her and heard another colleague – who’d read the book – talk about it, so I really had wanted to read this one for a while.

Vincent, a syndicated columnist, decided to go undercover as a man for a year, to really get a sense of the male experience. What she learned surprised her, not only about men, but about women, too. The experience also ends up affecting Vincent in a way that she didn’t even anticipate.

I thought this book was not only well-written, but I think it’s a book both men and women should read. There’s no bashing of the sexes here. Just frank, honest observations by an individual of one gender delving into the world of the other.

Last, but not least was this book – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I had heard about this book, but it’s taken me this long to get around to reading it. I was actually warned by the librarian checking out the book to me, “Get ready to cry.” I thought she was kidding. And believe me, I’m pretty sure I came close a couple times.

The book tells the tale of Amir, an ethnic Pashtun living in the United States, who returns to Afghanistan to make amends for an event that had happened earlier in his life. The narrative then akes the reader backwards in time to Afghanistan – Kabul, to be precise – and the life Amir leads with his father, and his poor Hazara friend/servant Ali and his little son, Hassan.

Hosseini’s was an Afghan-American, first-time novelist who took time off from his job as a doctor to write this book. And believe me, the time was well-spent. At the huge risk of sounding like a cliche, this book is breathtaking and heartbreaking. I’d seriously sometimes read a chunk of the book on my way to work, and by the time I’d closed the book, I’d get up stunned, trying to process what I’d just read. I seriously DON’T understand why this book didn’t win an award.

I don’t know if I plan on seeing the movie adaption when it comes out next year (because I don’t want to end up being one of those purists that kvetch when they cut parts of the book out), but I encourage anyone who hasn’t read this book: Read it. It’s that good.

That’s it for now. We’ll see if time allows me to do this again in about a month’s time. Happy reading!