Archive for April, 2010

The Polite Writer: Please Close the Door, I’m Trying to Post a Blog!

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags on April 28, 2010 by JonH

Sometimes when I write I feel guilty.

It’s not because I’m writing about anything depraved (well, most of the time at any rate). It’s because I close the door when I do it. And sometimes that makes me feel bad. People are home and I’m secluding myself from them. I know that they understand, but nevertheless I feel compelled to explain myself; so I did so by posting the following note on the door to my ‘office’ (which is really the bathroom . . .):

“Dear family,

The reason I’ve shut the door is to announce that I’ve made a serious commitment to writing. This is a way of telling the world, as well as reminding myself, that I mean business.

In the words of Stephen King, I intend to walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to writing.

See you soon,

The Management”

I thought I would now post this on my blog, so I could really declare my intentions to the world (so far, that consists of three readers, two of whom have already read the note posted on the office door), as well as to show all prospective clients the kind of dedicated guy they’d be hiring if they hired me.

Now, if I could just learn to quit surfing the damn Internet when I’m supposed to be writing I’d be set.

Kinda gives new meaning to “posting a blog” doesn’t it?

A Note I Sent to the Cops

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , on April 26, 2010 by JonH

Hi,

I just wanted to drop the EPS a line to say thanks for returning my wallet. Earlier this evening my wife took me out to dinner to one of the restaurants in the Mayfield Common.

About an hour after we got home, as we were watching the tail end of a hockey game, the phone began to ring. I was now faced with a dilemma: answer the phone and miss the last two minutes of the game, or let the answering service pick it up? As a proper Canadian (ah, stereotypes), I chose the latter.

Moments later, I checked the message. It was a Constable Brad Andrews from the EPS informing me that someone had found my wallet on the ground by a restaurant in the Mayfield Common. This person gave the wallet to the constable and asked if he could take care of it. After describing this, the constable left his number and told me to give him a call as soon as I get the message.

Completely confused by this event, I was sure they had some other guy’s wallet. I thought, they must have misdialled the number they got off the driver’s license and got me instead. I never lose anything!

I looked through my jacket, my bike bag, my drawer. I asked my wife. I moved the cats. I looked in the garbage–all the usual places that one puts a wallet. All to no avail. I resigned myself to the fact that it must be mine they have. As I was dialing the number, I mentally prepared myself to have to go and pick the wallet up from some imagined police station far away. Constable Andrews answered. I introduced myself, and laughed saying, “I never lose anything.” He responded politely, and told me everything looked intact, credit cards appeared to be there as well as a number of other cards. Just as I was about to ask where I should go to pick it up, he asked if I was still at the address listed on my driver’s license. I told him I was. He said that he and his partner had to respond to a call after which they would come to my place to drop the wallet off.

What!?

I think it’s awesome that Constable Andrews and his partner took the time to do this. They could just as easily have dropped the wallet off at the station for me to pick up, but they went the extra step and saved me the trip, and the time. I also think it’s great that a complete stranger found my wallet, and handed it over to the police without so much as moving a card.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make me think I live in a great city!

Thanks.

The Cove

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , on April 15, 2010 by JonH

The Cove is the 2010 Academy award winning documentary that uncovers an annual dolphin slaughter that takes place in a National Park located in Taiji, Wakayama, Japan.

The back story depicts the events of Ric O’Barry’s life as a dolphin trainer, as well as the history behind various attempts that have been made by individuals and groups to uncover the heinous activities being performed in the cove.

In the 1960s, O’Barry was the man responsible for training the five dolphins that were used in the television show Flipper. As time goes by, O’Barry becomes very close to each of the dolphins. He has an epiphany when the last of the five dies. He claims the dolphin committed suicide by refusing to breath. He explains by describing how dolphins, like all cetaceans, are not automatic air breathers like humans. They must actively open and close their air spouts to breathe. This one opened, closed, but did not open it again, hence suicide. The day after, O’Barry’s revelation moves him to begin rallying against the unnatural confinement of dolphins everywhere by releasing them wherever he finds them.

His travels lead him to Taiji, a town with a bizarre predilection for cetacean decor and home to an annual dolphin slaughter. O’Barry sets out to document the atrocity of the slaughter, but as locals become more familiar with him he begins to develop a reputation, and finds himself continually being followed by police, questioned by government officials, berated by irate local fishermen, and unable to get any meaningful evidence.

The documentary also touches on other people’s experiences at revelation, but how each is met with verbal, and in some cases physical abuse.

As the film begins to delve into the crux of the issue it shows the ingenious methods used to corral the dolphins into a small area, where the best specimens are then caught, and sold to aquariums for upwards of $150,000. What it also shows is that up until now, no one has ever been able to film how the remaining dolphins, including the infants, are then slaughtered.

In creating the documentary, the film makers had to proceed covertly as they had no access to the area the slaughter takes place in. So, in what looks like a major Hollywood production, Director Louie Psihoyos assembles a cast and crew of individuals all with specific skills needed to pull off a clandestine shoot. They set out after dark, evade police by using O’Barry as a decoy, and gain access to the cove. They set up digital cameras mounted inside fake rocks around the periphery, and install cameras with microphones directly under the water.

Critical of not just the slaughter, but of the Japanese fishing industry’s more unscrupulous practices, and the government’s role in silently supporting those practices, the documentary also unveils the Japanese government’s ongoing attempts to enlist the support of small nations to rally for their cause in exchange for certain kickbacks.

The documentarians methodically prepare an argument, which is so damning in its indictment and complete in its evidence that it inspires action. As they covertly observe the slaughter they also uncover the equally unethical use of dolphin meat in school lunch programs—meat which is unusually high in mercury.

The film is disturbing in the same manner as Food Inc, or Earthlings is in its depiction of how human beings can treat animals with such disregard. Additionally, its accusations of government and corporate complicity is chilling and generally very off-putting in its depiction of how low human beings can go in order to maintain the status quo and practices blithely and falsely described as traditional.

Interestingly, the film is set for limited release in Japan sometime in June 2010, so we should be ready for some fireworks, some of which have already begun.

Really talented people = jerks

Posted in Book reaction/review with tags , , on April 12, 2010 by JonH

Multitalented people annoy me, especially when their talents lie in two very different areas. Take Vincent Lam for example. He’s an emergency room physician—an occupation, I’m sure that takes talent, as well as a writer—an occupation I know that takes talent.

Given my aforementioned disdain for people more gifted than myself (I’m not quite as gifted as I am touched), I recently, and reluctantly, picked up Lam’s first book: Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. Usually when I first get a book, I’ll quickly leaf through it. I’m not sure what I’m looking for. Maybe it’s just the visceral feel of the paper on my fingers, or maybe it’s the new (or in this case, second hand) smell of a book; I might notice the font size, as though that’s some sort of indicator of the level of difficulty the book will represent. But one thing I always notice is when a book has a glossary of terms in it. If it does, and it’s from a first time writer, that’s a sure fire sign the book will involve some degree of pretension. Lam’s book had one. I knew it, I thought to myself in a vaguely superior sort of way, this guy’s going to showboat his expertise in the medical field for all to see, and he’s going to complicate whatever it is he’s trying to say. I’m going to have to flip back and forth just to figure out what’s going on.

Man, I was already in a bad mood before I’d even read the first page.

Well, damn me for being so cynical. As I began reading I was immediately drawn into the story. There was no showboating, but only sincere story telling. Nothing seemed extraneous or superfluous (see what I’m doing? I’m showboating), and everything had its place.

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures explores the various trajectories the lives of four people take on their way to becoming doctors, and how their lives unfold as they enter into the profession. Their lives are all interwoven in some way—be it through the crisis of spurned love, the ravages of disease, or the deaths of people around them, the tenderness with which Lam treats each of them is remarkable. He develops four separate and sympathetic characters. My only issue with the book is that at 337 pages it was too short.

Published in 2005, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is pretty good. So good, in fact, that Adrienne Clarkson, Alice Munro, and Michael Winter sat on the jury that decided to award him the coveted Giller prize in 2006. No small feat for a first time novelist.

Oh yeah, and then they made it into a television miniseries.

Boy, what a jerk.

A Complicated Life

Posted in Book reaction/review with tags , , , on April 1, 2010 by JonH

Movies can only portray so much. They have limited time to tell the whole story, and most people want to experience a satisfying ending – a resolution, of sorts. This is what the movie A Beautiful Mind does for the life of John Forbes Nash Jr. It presents us with a romanticized, watered down version of the life of this troubled mathematician. Sure he struggles with schizophrenia, but in the end we’re left with the sense that he’s overcome his disability mainly through strength of mind, wins a Nobel Prize in economics and is living happily ever after. In the movie, Russell Crowe, who plays Nash, is shown recognizing his wife, Alicia (played by Jennifer Connelly) during his Nobel acceptance speech for her support and love during his troubled times.

In reality, the Nobel committee was afraid to even have the mathematician present for fear that he might do something inappropriate. The book presents this far more complicated view of things.

Written by economist, and current Professor of Journalism at Colombia University, Sylvia Nasar, this 390 page book shows us how much more convoluted Nash’s life is, but not just for Nash. A lot of people were subjected to the wake of its tumult.

Through vivid recounting of events from friends, lovers, care-givers, and former colleagues we’re presented with a myriad of complex traits, which form the basis of John Nash’s personality, and which may or may not play a role in his battle with a debilitating disease.

Nash is, without question, a brilliant mathematician. He is equally, without question, not a brilliant human being. Prior to being stricken with paranoid schizophrenia he is shown to be an arrogant, self-centered, unabashedly egotistical, emotionally abusive man with an overall immature approach to most relationships, and an unyielding desire for recognition.

To complicate things even more, his sexuality very definitely operated on a sliding scale. Unfortunately, during the 50s this made things especially difficult for a mathematician seeking tenure or working in a field that could have governmental/cold war implications. (McCarthyism generally regarded everything as being a subversive threat, and homosexuals were thought to be especially susceptible to pinko influences.) Indeed, at one point in his career, Nash was fired from a high profile job with RAND for a suspected dalliance of George Michaelesque proportions.

It is suggested that after losing his job, Nash determined that heterosexuality would be the best way to go. He subsequently fathered two children, both boys, with two different women. His eldest, John David Stier, was born out of wedlock and only got to know his father after he grew up. John David’s mother’s name is Eleanor Stier, hence the different last name.

Nash married Alicia López-Harrison de Lardé in 1957 with their son, John Charles Martin Nash born two years later. The birth of John junior coincided with his father’s incipient struggles with schizophrenia. As a matter of fact, John junior was born while his father was first admitted to a mental facility at Alicia’s request. As a result of his institutionalization, John junior went a year before being named because Alicia didn’t think it was fair to name the baby without his father having any say.

John and Alicia’s relationship followed a wild trajectory for the intervening three or so decades. They divorced in 1963, got back together in 1970, living as non-romantic roommates, but eventually remarried in 2001 after renewing their relationship in 1994.

After he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1959, Nash was admitted to hospital for a brief stay. Immediately upon his release he left the U.S. for Europe, at one point trying to renounce his U.S. citizenship and seeking asylum in France and Germany. He was eventually deported back to the States by French officials, and spent the subsequent decade or so in and out of institutions.

As this cursory overview of just a few things covered in the book should indicate, the movie misses a lot, but we expect this. What wasn’t expected is how the book shows that the complications, and troubles, of this one individual, and his fight were not his alone.

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