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I will dance on the grave of Shift

Update of July 3: An acquaintance who knows an employee there claims that the staff have bought the paper for a buck, kicked out Laas Turnball, and taken a 30% pay cut. ¶ Question for these kids: How is running a magazine with an absolute lack of money better than running it not knowing whether or not the paterfamilias actually has any money? How is certain poverty combined with self-determination better than uncertainty combined with a corporate parent? ¶ And what happens to Shift TV, helmed by the smartest producertrix in Canada, Cathie James?

The National Socialist reports that Shift, the self-impressed magazine "for living in [a] digital culture," is treading the gallows. Its perennially mismanaging and overextended paterfamilias, Richard Szalwinski (doing business under a range of different company names over the years: Discreet Logic, Behaviour, Normal Net), has evidently engaged in sufficient mismanagement and overextension to jeopardize the magazine, which just finished bruiting a truly baffling expansion into street-level retail. How interested are you in buying Shift-"branded" merchandise?

There are a few things to like about Shift. I admire its early chutzpah: Presaging the wayward Internet, Evan Solomon kept stabbing at different formats, including literary zine, until one stuck. The rag often used one of my fave photographers, the very acceptable Bryce Duffy. Carmen Dunjko is the art directrix, and she made a valiant experiment in Helvetica/Sabon, something of a matter/antimatter, or at least trite/passé, combination. Mainstay Clive Thompson is very smart and oddly handsome, though his video-game apologia is increasingly hard to forgive. Shift TV is an OK show, due, I presume, to the astonishingly clever producer, Cathie James, late of Big Life, who is not to be underestimated.

Still, there is much to resent about Shift. Even a sex-positive feminist like Camille Paglia would find some of its cover designs in bad taste, like a PowerBook functioning as surrogate vagina for a woman with spread-apart legs. The magazine had enough hubris to put Clive Thompson on the cover, a worrisome trend of swallowing one's own tail. The Web site is a full-on Flash wankfest, suitable for boy-racer programmer types and no one else in the real world.

What I hate most about Shift isn't a what, it's a who: Editor Laas Turnball. As Jan Wong was alleged to have exclaimed, "Who is Laas Turnball and what's a Shift?" Indeed, who is Laas Turnball? The lad started out in some obscure vertical-market trade mag at Southam (not tractor-trailer news, shurely?!) and later somehow replaced a very capable and nurturing editor at Toronto Life, for whom I had written a storyette that fell into Turnball's lap. "It's a good effort," he told me, soaked to the skin in condescension, but he'd need a few changes, like five different angles, all of them requiring research and a quote, incorporated into a 400-word story, all of whose existing angles would have to stay. And I'd have to dig up a photograph. And do it by Thursday even though the article had lain fallow for more than a fortnight.

After 300-odd articles, and after years knocking on the door of the very stuffy Toronto Life, I was grateful to have lucked into Turnball's predecessor, who offered unending encouragement and the sympathique attitude that endears writers to editors for life. It was all undone in an instant by the self-styled young Turk.

However, this is the Canadian media demimonde we're talking about. If you're even remotely half-famous, your destiny is assured. Turnball could pilot Shift into the ocean at 200 klicks and be offered an impressive new job the next morning. It wouldn't make him a better editor or less of an arrogant, patronizing shit, and it wouldn't result in anything resembling a magazine worth reading.

How can I hasten Shift's demise? I'm open to suggestions.


You know, the more I think about the sonic assault of the Spadina Bus inaugural launch, the more steamed I become. (Of course, humidity was a factor, too. Double the trouble.) Cigarette smoke we can endure. One could always go out on the patio, and smokers tended to relegate themselves to the harem room upstairs. The exact permanent health effect of inhaling Toronto new-media managers' tobacco smoke cannot be pinpointed. But even 20 minutes of music and noise at that volume causes permanent hearing loss.

For the absolute first time in a life spent hanging around bars and attending concerts, my ears hurt, indicating even-more-severe permanent damage. While at the party, I kept thinking: Go plug your ears, which I do at bars and concerts. I knew I was being bulldozed and didn't get up and stuff serviettes into my ear canals. It's partly my fault, inasmuch as a patently unsafe, guest-hostile, antagonistic environment could be.

The nabobs running the show are gormless straight guys who think tech is neat, with a circumscribed understanding of human beings. They seem unclear on the concept that a social gathering involves people, who have delicate biological structures their frat-boy party atmosphere jeopardized. And I'm just waiting for the inevitable conservative denial tactic: "We haven't heard any complaints, except from you, and you seem to be a special-interest group."

Come again?



Or How to Deafen and Dehydrate the Leaders of Toronto's Internet Politburo When All They Wanted to Do Was Schmooze

Just got back from the inaugural run of Spadina Bus, the social parties for the Toronto nouveaux-médias demimonde put on by some smug Tory youth-marketing company I cannot stand.

I was also miffed because I wanted to throw parties like this myself. ("Whatever happened to Fay Wray, that delicate, satin-draped frame? As it clung to her thighs, how I started to cry, because I wanted to be dressed just the same.") Well, I've been scooped.

(The Spadina bus, number 77, was decommissioned when the TTC instituted the 510 streetcar down Spadina and across Queen's Quay. Some of us miss it, others of us don't, given how much better the 510 runs in practice. The Shuffle Demons produced a well-known eponymous ode to the Spadina bus ["Spuh-puh-puh-puh-puh-puh-puh-puh Spadina bus!"], dutifully played at the shindig today; moreover, the Shuffle Demons were on the final run of the 77. God love 'em.)

I arrived at Fez Batik. Very hot and muggy day, after riding to work in full-on Gore-Tex in the rain. I was aswim in my bizdrag trousers and linen shirt. First I am confronted with lining up for a nametag. A laser-printed nametag, in 14-point Times Bold. (Produced on Windows, by any chance?) Like I was into that.

I ascended and looked around. Ran into Matt, a contenunian. I was touched by how thrilled he was to see me, but I didn't make it clear how touched I was, because I was a bit overwhelmed. I guess I am human after all.

Eventually got a damn nametag, which I hoisted high up to the neck like a dog collar. People were going around staring at other attendees' navels, because the nametag cords were too long (and the type too small). Business cards, another option, were even worse. This, of course, gave me a conversation-opener: Griping about the nametags. How to Win Friends and Influence People the Joe Clark Way.

Met a financier-hooker-upper who liked me, a fellow working in 3G development (whom I didn't pay enough attention to), and a Canadian project manager who lived in Darwin for years (sailing in the dry season, working in the wet; this guy patted my shoulder twice).

Some git got up and ran a very loud PowerPoint presentation with video that most of us ignored. The joint was sweltering and 10 decibels too loud for any kind of conversation. The git only made it worse, and he was dressed like a Toronto Sun lifetime subscriber. This was another of my winsome gripes: From the looks of people and eavesdropped conversations, most guests were marketers or project managers and all of them looked like they (a) shopped at Sporting LIfe and (b) lived north of St. Clair.

I ate the baba ganouj and resolved to talk to the most interesting-looking people. The chick from Austrade turned out to be an Eastern European–Canadian who betrayed no interest in or emotion from my enthusiastic australophilia. Two goth chicks walked straight away from me.

But then there was the mod kid, blond, with shaggy Jamie Oliver–esque hair, muttonchops, and a cardigan over a T-shirt and cords. (I had earlier counseled a geek to seek out fellows like him to talk to, unaccustomed as the geek was, by his own admission, to dealing with carbon-based lifeforms.) Mod was seated with a guy in a sweater and shorts. I barged right in, explaining that I intended to talk to them because they looked interesting.

The griping went over surprisingly well, and Dave the Mod and Gavan the Designer and I spent a good half-hour screaming at each other at nine-inch distance straining to be heard. You think I'm sarcastic? I can't hold a candle to Gavan, and that's why I like him.

Interestingly, more than one person, Gavan included, reacted to me elevator pitch for contenu.nu with "You know, there's a big hole in the market for something like that, because you're right, most people don't have the first clue how handle content." It's true. They don't. But we do. We swoop in, write, shoot, and edit the content, program your back end, write every snippet of (X)HTML, and/or train your entire staff. One-stop shopping for something people give short shrift to. You can always hire a designer. You can always hire a programmer. Producing content, however, requires talent. And taste.

But you can read my sell job at the other site.

My chat with Gavan and Dave ended at a natural moment, and I walked around a bit. A total of four inverts spotted in the entire crowd, two of whom looked at me the way they do at Woody's: ungenerously. It was clear the magic had passed. I received incontrovertible evidence of this impression when I passed by a tall, thin man, in full-on toolbelt shoephone, long hair, dramatic eyeglasses, and black clothing, whose dog tag read Microsoft Canada.

I grinned at him ungenerously.

A friend and supporter writes:

Why don't you just get on with people? Seriously. I do it, and it makes life so much easier. I'm nice and respectful and courteous even to stupid people. It doesn't hurt me at all. And it makes them feel good about themselves.

How to Win Friends and Influence People the Joe Clark Way.

A recruiter writes:

Another friend of mine is probably the most intelligent man I know. But he never flaunts it. He argues intelligently, takes into account other opinions, thinks before he speaks. On [a different friend's] part, many people have called her egotistical. Its not quite the right word – her low self esteem is somewhat proven by the fact that she needs to prove herself. [My other friend] would never be considered egotistical. Even though he is. He knows he is very very intelligent, knows that he can back it up. But doesn't see the need to "prove" it.

I don't, either, but the reality is that I am both those people rolled into one. I embody a duality. It causes me great pain sometimes. Most times, actually, certainly in the last five years, when the balance has tipped.

At work I am surrounded by sweeties. Total, uncompromised natural sweeties. I don't know how they do it. But whatever they're doing rubs off, because I am on my best behaviour, more or less effortlessly. There is a grain of truth, the size of the Rock of Gibraltar, to the claim that people who can't handle me have a problem themselves. Maybe I am a mirror that tends to reflect darkness rather than light, but still functions as a mirror.

There's only so much detail I'm willing to get into about this, and I have handily exceeded it.


Three straight days of mahurinism and wintersry!

[Change note: This section used to contain a link to a thumbnail of Mahurin's cover photo, which changed for the simple reason that Esquire reuses the same filename every month. However, that Mark Demeny fellow went and posted a scan. His baby, not mine.]

To my notable surprise (picture Spock raising an eyebrow), the mag flew Dan Winters to Peggy's Cove to photograph the aftermath of Swissair 111. Oh, fuck. That means my tied-for-favourite photographer has been to my homeland. (The article mentions my hometown.)

I'm still digesting it. More observations later.


I'm going to expand on my mahurinisms of yesterday.

I dunno if I want to meet him. My mental image is of a dead friend of mine. Don't know why.


I'm a closet mattmahurinist. He telephoned me once years ago in response to a letter, but naturally I was not home. The famous music-video (and now film) director, photographer, and photo-illustrator has a range of immediately-distinctive styles. Notable music videos: "Unforgiven" and "Fast Car." Works for A-list magazines.

Matt produced a photo-illustration, of a man in a firefighter suit whose legs are replaced by blackness and a ridge of fire, as though the firefighter suit were a woman's smock and the bottom edge were aflame, for the cover of the July 2000 Esquire.

Dan Winters is quickly nipping at Matt's heels. He too is capable of many styles, all of them recognizable. Dan photographed the story on male breast cancer in the June Esquire and has been known to cause my jaw to drop. Matt has been burned by the process of music-video directing, and now charges labels to write a concept. Good for him.

Oddly, there is no appreciable Web presence for Matt Mahurin or Dan Winters, friend to Sandra Bullock. MattMahurin.com is a placeholder (and the phone number in his domain listing belongs to Earthlink, not him, so don't bother ringing him up), while there is no appreciable Web site for Dan. At all.

(There's a skimpy list of Mahurin's music videos, if you're interested.)

I see an opening for a resourceful content professional.


I just returned from a varnishing, i.e., a vernissage or art opening. Riverworks showcased five artistes from Riverdale, the Toronto neighbourhood (east of the Don River, from Danforth to Queen) that has no representative Web presence. (Toronto.com search; Riverdale.org.) I was destined to live here. When the House of Commons first was televised 20 years ago, the riding name Broadview-Greenwood spoke loudly to me. I've always been meant to live east of the Don River. The only question these days is how one defines "living."

En tout cas, I had met Ron Loranger at the Toolbox, and we have become acquaintances, if not friends. I enjoy his wit and sarcasm, admire his worldliness, am in quiet awe of his social circle, and kind of fancy him in a way that might end up going somewhere.

Riverworks benefited from the coolest setting in south Riverdale: An abandoned bank. And Ron got the choicest locations: Inside the vaults. He paints abstracts, and is apparently well-regarded. One of his works ce soir, "Tug," shows overlapping arcs with dizzying depths of field and reminds me of the illustrations of J. Otto Seibold. (Anyone see "Istanbul, Not Constantinople" by They Might Be Giants? How about the Christmas TV special Olive, the Other Reindeer? All Seiboldisms.)

I congratulated Ron and watched him schmooze. And that was pretty much all I did. It was something of another Cat People experience. I was one of the better-dressed attendees, which surprised me. Mesomorphic dude talked his friend's ear off about his desire for disc brakes on his next bike. A greyhound dog named Epic flitted around compulsively. A short chick with loud patterned pants and an obvious dye job kvetched to her friend about her fitness instructor. A Francophone man couldn't stop himself from reverting to English at the tail end of each of his sentences. An actor famous from a TV series filmed four blocks away ambled in.

KA-THUNK. Yes, that is what it sounds like when a sculpture and the rectanguar prism of marble it sits on fall to the floor. The sculpture shattered into black chunks akin to the concentrated evil in Time Bandits. And the artist told me the sculpture represented a talisman against evil. So we've come full circle, I sez.

Wow. Excitement.

Looking forward to having tea with Ron again this week. Looking very much forward.


Further to unhappiness and idleness: William.cx uses the term hangfires. You pull the trigger. Nothing happens. But don't shake the gun!

My iMac-inspired translucent tangerine bicycle headlamp is defective out of the package. What else do we expect from VistaLite, whose industrial designs rank up there in usability with boo.com?

My industrial-designer friend was asked what she'd like to design. "Oh, whatever," she replied. "Doorknobs. Cities." Can we get her working on the pressing issue of bike headlights?

I'm rambling. How self-indulgent of me. I vowed to avoid that in my Weblog. But it's what happens when you're still smarting from being informed what a terrible person you are and then, days later, are forced to tell Nick that the effect of his superstructure of handy-dandy rationalizations and excuses for shooting down a good thing when he sees it is to lose me. The only upside was being able to turn on my heel and walk directly out of the bar. At least he'll remember me. Until the next fellow he hits it off with famously but blocks from his life due to something on his Rejection Checklist.

I've been putting off blogging Nick for months. Time's up, I guess.


Unhappy and idle.

I run the only fan page for Volt, a weekday youth program put together by very sharp 20- and 30-year-olds, with excellent taste in music videos and, with the exception of on-air ditz Dano Spooner, a lot of smarts. ¶ Canada has been overrun by parodies of the now-infamous I Am beer commercial, where a prototypical straight guy rants about exactly how he's Canadian, not American. ¶ I note without comment that two Voltistes have put together a parody of their own called «Je suis gai.» I just wonder if it's actually true. (I don't know why I'm saying that. Guy Gagnier is a dreamboat. It's just jamming my radar.)

Matt Thompson on Liberace (from a book review not online):

Liberace is interesting, in his own right, for the choices he made in life. A highly intelligent man who maybe should have known better, he deliberately chose the path that led to flying on a trapeze in star-spangled hotpants.


Loved this scathing dismissal of the Ford Excursion in the June Consumer Reports:

Highs: Huge interior, towing capacity
Lows: Ride, handling, braking, noise, access, fuel economy