Archive for November, 2009

Mr. B. Gone by Clive Barker

Posted in Book reaction/review with tags , , , on November 26, 2009 by JonH

The word is that Jakabok Botch has had a rough go if it, and for the love of all that’s holy he implores you to burn the book – his book: Mr. B. Gone. But why? We ask ourselves.

English expatriate Clive Barker’s 2007 offering, Mr. B. Gone, tells us the story of Mr. Botch – Mr. B as he likes to be referred to as – a lowly minor demon that used to reside in the ninth ring of hell, but that now, thanks to a secret conspiracy he happened upon in his travels, resides within the pages of the book being reviewed.

The story is told in the first person by Botch himself. He provides vivid descriptions of his adventures all the while liberally interspersing the narrative with admonishments and threats to the reader for continuing to read rather than granting his request to burn the book.

At the outset of the story we’re told that Mr. B still lives with his family. His father, Pappy Gatmuss, a sadistic and loathsome demon that tends to one of hell’s furnaces, regularly abuses Botch as well as his mother and sister.

In order to deal with the abuse Mr. B pours all of his hatred and contempt into stories about how he plans on taking his revenge. However, one day Pappy G finds out about the writing and chases Botch out of the house threatening to kill him. During the chase Botch discovers a couple of delicious shanks of meat just lying about. He decides that it’s a good time for a break and begins to eat. His father comes over a pile of trash and upon seeing his son feast demands that he save him a piece. Sated, Botch agrees to let his father have the second slab. But while his father eats Botch notices a net on the ground and realizes too late that they’re standing on a trap. Moments later the nets are pulled up and both demons are pulled towards the heavens through the remaining eight rings of hell.

Prior to being pulled through the crack leading to the terrestrial confines of where the demon hunters, or fishermen, are hauling their prey, Botch manages to cut through his father’s net causing Pappy G to plummet to his death. Moments later Botch is hauled out of the fissure and into the hands of men.

This is where the real adventure begins.

He escapes this rag-tag group of men that want to boil the flesh off his bones, and proudly display his skeleton – two tails and all. He discovers and subsequently plays a large role in the demise of his one true female love, Caroline. He meets his true soul mate, Quintoon, a higher demon with a penchant for fire. And he discovers a life threatening secret that involves the Johannes Gutenberg of printing press fame.

The story is a relatively quick read, and while it involves some classic Barkerian imagery (i.e. visceral descriptions of violence perpetrated against people) it isn’t the Books of Blood.

The image of fire is prevalent throughout the story and can be seen as the catalyst for many of Botch’s transitions. At the outset, his burnt body, a consequence of one of his father’s earlier assaults, ironically allows Botch to interact more easily with humans by obscuring his reptilian hide and making him look more like a human burn victim. Fire also figures prominently in the two loves of his life: it destroys one and protects the other. Finally, there’s the ever present request to burn the book.

Strangely enough, for all of the actions Botch undertakes in his adventures, you find yourself feeling somewhat sympathetic towards him. He has a moral ambivalence that at times makes him seem more human than we’re comfortable with; and, in the end, it’s the human quality of curiosity that gets the better of him as he discovers a conspiracy long kept secret.

And if you were to ask yourself what better way is there for someone to keep someone else from telling a secret they just found out about? You might say turn the secret into a work of fiction thus making it only a story.

And if you did, you would be right.

That’s what the conspirators do to Jakabok Botch. They make him and the secret that has now been revealed to him a story by trapping him in a book.

Now the only way he can share his secret is if someone reads him. Or maybe, just maybe, if Botch gets his way, the right reader will come along and burn the book as Botch asks, and the truth of the conspiracy will get out and the secret will be revealed to all.

The Citadel’s production of Rock N’ Roll

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on November 23, 2009 by JonH

I’ll admit when I first walked into the theatre to see the Citadel’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Rock N’ Roll I hadn’t the faintest idea what I was in for. Some friends had an extra ticket and asked me to go. It was a free night out, so I was only too happy to oblige and didn’t ask any questions because the enticement of the words rock and roll were enough to draw me in.

Had I bothered to read the playbill beforehand I would have realized that it wasn’t a history of rock and roll as much as it was a history of Czechoslovakia’s incipient democratic movement. The movement, which began in 1968 and culminated in the Velvet Revolution (or Gentle Revolution, as the Slovaks call it) that saw the peaceful overthrow of the communist government in 1989, was led by a group of individuals that were inspired to write a manifesto of sorts criticizing the communist government of the time of all sorts of human rights transgressions, called Charter 77.

One of the violations that precipitated the charter was the arrest of some of the members of a Czechoslovakian band, long seen as symbols of non-conformity in the country’s under-ground culture, the Plastic People of the Universe.

The play struck me as an intellectual struggle between the ideologies of two of its main characters: Jan and Max. The former represents the young intellectual movement devoted to western music and the ideas of free expression and rebellion and the realization that communism was a failed exercise; whereas the latter is an academic enthralled with the ideals of Marxism – or socialism in its purest form.

It took me about fifteen or so minutes to begin enjoying the play, but even then it was a bit tentative. I found some of the interactions disjointed and somewhat alienating, but perhaps that could be attributed more to my unfamiliarity with the subject matter. At times, I also found the dialogue to be somewhat stilted. It sounded pretentious in a way, like two undergraduates talking to one another after finding that they had a small audience.

There were parts that I enjoyed immensely, however. For example, there’s a scene where Jan is talking with his friend Ferdinand (purportedly based on the last Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel) in his living room about why he won’t sign a petition prior to the Charter that Ferdinand is presenting him with. He said something about it being “moral showboating” or something to that effect and that if Ferdinand and his buddies really wanted to help they should offer their services to the families of the prisoners. Jan then goes onto say that the petition would have no effect in swaying the government’s position because the government makes all the rules in that game and that’s the game Ferdinand and his friends are playing too; whereas in music, especially the case of the Plastic People of the Universe and their fans, they don’t care about the government’s rules. They play by their own rules. After all that was the original ethos of rock and roll, right? Rebellion.

Ultimately, in Jan’s mind, the effect of music was implied to be greater.

Unfortunately, the power of music was not great enough to convince my party to stay until the end of the play. The two and a half hour commitment proved to be too great and we decided to leave after the first act. One of the people I was with said it would have been easier to peel their skin off then sit for the remaining act. A bit harsh, perhaps, but I went along. And now, the following day after reading a bit more about the events in Czechoslovakia at the time and the role that dissidence and subversion play in overcoming oppressive regimes I find myself regretting the decision to follow along.

The Unlikely Vegetarian

Posted in Editorial with tags , , , on November 19, 2009 by JonH

NHL heavyweight Georges Laraque has been effectively dispatching on-ice opponents with his pugilistic prowess for over a decade, and now he’s setting his sights on a different kind of opponent: the meat industry.

You see, on 1 June 2009, the 6’ 3” 245 lbs. Montreal Canadiens’ winger officially became not just vegetarian, but vegan.

For those of you that don’t know, a vegan is someone that avoids all animal products. They don’t eat it. They don’t wear it. “I would and will never buy anything that comes from animals, so leather is out of the question,” says Georges. “Unfortunately, I do have leather goods that I previously bought, which I still own, but will throw out after they’re worn out.”

Laraque’s personal revelation and the epiphany that came along with it transformed him, and provided him with a more compassionate world view. “I think that whether you’re killing for a big factory farm or local farms, killing an animal is a troubling act,” he says. “Even though they are not humans, they feel pain like us.”

And although his primary motivation seems to have been on moral grounds, he’s quick to point out the health aspects of his new approach. “The human body was not designed to eat red meat. Our intestines are not meant to digest it. We do not need to eat animals to survive,” says Laraque. “There’s a stereotype that goes with being vegan in society,” he adds. “Today, there are enough resources to replace the protein you get from animals. There’s lots of different food you can eat to build up your muscle mass even if you’re a professional athlete, so it is totally possible and easy to follow those steps at a young age.”

And if you ever find yourself over at Georges’ house for dinner remember he’s the chef: “I like to ask people what they like in general to make sure I can make something they will eat, but once you cross the door anything that goes in your mouth will be vegan, “ he says with a laugh. “And as far as my favorite meal goes, it’s definitely a hot vegan chilly. My all time best.”

He’s quick to add that if you’re going to make the switch to becoming a vegan it’s important to get qualified help to ensure that you’re getting the proper nutrients.

But what about the people that say there’s no way they could give up meat? They love the taste too much. It’s probably safe to assume that at one time, Georges would have been counted among their numbers. Indeed, even though it wasn’t always red (“I used to eat lots of fish,” he confides) he ate meat almost every day. But, in the end, Laraque’s conscience trumped his taste buds.

So how did the change come about? According to his website, he says, “I decided to become vegan after I saw the movie called “EARTHLINGS,” which shows in detail the cruelty animals go through to end up on your plate, become a piece of clothing or even end up in a circus or a zoo.”

The movie’s profound impact compelled Georges to take action right away. “Since seeing the documentary I’ve decided I can never touch [meat] anymore because I refuse to support any industry that treats and slaughters animals in such terrible ways.”

And abstinence wasn’t his only response. “The movie was first and then a couple days after, I joined a fur protest […]. I learned a lot that day from everyone that was there.”

On Georges’ website, he mentions the impact that meat production and consumption has on the environment, so is it safe to assume then that as well as being a vegan he’s also a conscientious consumer that tries to pay attention to the carbon footprint that he leaves?

“Of course there’s a lot of stuff I need to learn, and the environment is one of other aspects I’m learning about,” he says. “And making associations with that and the meat industry – once you go this way, you start to make a lot of changes in your life to make people and our environment better, so slowly I’m starting to make the change to do my part.”

And in doing so, Georges is becoming what an article in The Montreal Gazette, proclaims him to be: “The newest face of Canada’s animal welfare movement.” The new face that is both conscientious and intimidating. But don’t worry, he won’t kick your ass just because you eat meat. “I don’t do it to force people to be vegetarian or vegan,” he says on his website. “I just want to educate people on the subject to make this world a better place. If you, for example, can watch the entire Earthlings documentary and still eat meat, I will respect you because at least you will know what you’re contributing to, and if you can live with that, then so be it!”

Something a bit more frivolous . . .

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , , , , on November 19, 2009 by JonH

Tipping in coffee shops?

Coffee shops are one of the only businesses where loitering is not frowned upon. You can buy a cup of coffee for a couple of bucks, and then stake a claim to a few square feet of real estate essentially turning it into your office away from office (or home).

Most have current newspapers for you to read; and, in some cases, they even provide you with access to the Internet for free.

With this in mind, it could be argued that tipping allows the proprietor to keep his or her costs low (i.e. wages) thereby enabling them to provide their patrons with the aforementioned extras.

On the flip side, it could be argued that it’s just the cost of doing business. You need to provide all of the extras because the majority of your competitors are.

Which side does your opinion tip towards?

Nuclear power

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , , , , , , , on November 19, 2009 by JonH

There’s been a lot of talk lately about nuclear power as a viable alternative to coal burning power plants. Advocates say that it’s the only way we’ll be able to hit reduced CO2 emission targets, and that we should think of it as a bridging technology because it’s ready to go now; whereas opponents say that it would be like trading one problem for another and that we need to explore alternatives right away.

What are your thoughts?

Freshly unemployed. Now what?

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , , , , , on November 19, 2009 by JonH

What happens after you lose your job? It can be a blow to the ego and sometimes difficult to cope with, especially if you’re unemployed for a long period of time. So, in your experience, what have you done to stay positive? What advice can you give someone who has recently been laid off?

So, you’re going to be a father, eh?

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2009 by JonH

What can a man do to support his wife or partner during pregnancy? I’m sure that women have plenty of ideas, but we want to hear from the men. So guys, step up and leave your comments.