Monthly Archives: September 2015

What I’ve Been Reading this Summer (Part 2)

More free time, and more books to fill it with. Here’s a look at a few I’ve been poring over:

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

This book is long — nearly 600 pages. It’s gripping, too. Klein thoroughly investigates and raises troubling questions about the historical struggle for power and use of shock therapy in implementing neo-liberal ideals around the globe, the often-predatory nature of disaster capitalism, and the conundrum of prolonged war-for-profit staged by increasingly privatized groups. (That may sound a little buzzword-heavy and abstruse, but I’ll defend the vocabulary as putting my Bachelor of Arts degree to use.) Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“The dirty secret of the neo-liberal era is that these [socially democratic] ideas were never defeated in a great battle of ideas, nor were they voted down in elections. They were shocked out of the way at key political junctions. When resistance was fierce, they were defeated with overt violence […] At other times, they were simply betrayed through what John Williamson called ‘voodoo politics’ […] It is precisely because the dream of economic equality is so popular, and so difficult to defeat in a fair fight, that the shock doctrine was embraced in the first place.”

My Spiritual Journey by Dalai Lama XIV and Sofia Stril-Rever

This book is an interesting look at not only the Dalai Lama’s life and philosophy, but also the situation of Tibet. The Dalai Lama’s dedication to nonviolence and environmental protection is admirable, as well as his insistence that above all else, he is a human being — something which he feels is crucial for everyone to realize about themselves if the world’s population is to find true cooperation and lasting peace. Here’s one segment that stuck with me:

“When I consider the lack of cooperation in society, I tell myself it is due to the ignorance of our interdependent nature. I am often moved by little insects, like bees. The laws of nature dictate that they work together in order to survive, since they are endowed with an instinctive sense of social responsibility. They have no constitution, laws, police, religion, or moral education, but they faithfully work together because of their nature. There are times when they might fight, but in general the entire colony survives thanks to cooperation. Human beings have constitutions, elaborate legal systems and police forces, religions, remarkable intelligence, and hearts endowed with the ability to love. But despite these extraordinary qualities, in actual practice we lag behind the smallest of insects. In some ways, I feel that we are poorer than the bees.”

All the Way by Jordin Tootoo and Stephen Brunt, Playing with Fire by Theoren Fleury and Kirstie McLellan Day, and Boy on Ice by John Branch

I’ll group these three together, because they all speak to different facets of a problem facing professional hockey: namely, that it’s steeped in a culture that belittles injuries, enables painkiller use, and neglects the mental well-being of its athletes. All three athletes profiled are casualties of the sport, in a way: Tootoo struggled with alcohol and dealt with racism, Fleury turned to drugs after being abused by a minor hockey coach, and Boogaard developed a painkiller addiction. Tootoo and Fleury were able to recover. Boogaard paid the toll with his life.

Often, we see athletes through a very narrow prism: either as avatars of our own sports fantasies, superhumans immune to injury and criticism, or spoiled millionaires playing a child’s game. These books serve an important purpose by humanizing them.

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Newfoundland

I visited Canada’s most easterly province to celebrate a cousin’s wedding. I only got a small taste of Newfoundland (and none of Labrador), as we were mostly centred around St. John’s, but the scenery was remarkable. It reminds you of just how much beauty Canadians have to appreciate in this country. On that note, I’ll share a couple Newfoundland-related stories…

1. Terry Fox and his connection to Newfoundland

On April 12, 1980, Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope in St. John’s, Newfoundland by dipping his prosthetic leg into the Atlantic Ocean. He was just a few months shy of his 22nd birthday — younger than I am today — and battling osteosarcoma. He would go on to run over 5,300 kilometres, completing nearly a marathon a day for 143 days.

Terry Fox's path across Canada. From Wikipedia.

Terry Fox’s path across Canada. From Wikipedia.

“Today we got up at 4:00 am. As usual, it was tough. If I died, I would die happy because I was doing what I wanted to do. How many people could say that? I went out and did fifteen push-ups in the road and took off. I want to set an example that will never be forgotten.” – Terry Fox, diary entry from Day 15 in South Brook Junction, Newfoundland (From terryfox.org)

What compels a person to run across the second-largest country in the world? It’s a near-unfathomable task, a story of audacious hope and perseverance that has inspired me for years — both in my songwriting and in my approach to life. Visiting the place where his journey began 35 years ago was a special moment.

2. Newfoundland’s unlikely role and hospitality following the September 11th attacks

On my way to the airport, I got to talking to my shuttle driver. It turns out, he worked in Manhattan for years and would have been at his office in the World Trade Centre on September 11th, 2001, had he not decided to sleep in an extra 15 minutes that day.

As the chaos was unfolding on that day 14 years ago, Canada launched Operation Yellow Ribbon. According to Nav Canada, 68 diverted planes landed in Newfoundland on September 11th, and another seven landed in Labrador — more than any other province in the country.

Gander International Airport alone received 38 flights — more than any other airport in Canada except for Halifax. Newfoundland’s communities came together to welcome the stranded passengers, and it became one of the bright spots of humanity to emerge from 9/11.

Three photographs and the stories behind them:

1. The Narrows in St. John’s.

This was the view from our rental house on Battery Row. It’s the perfect encapsulation of what I’d imagined of Newfoundland before going: small, coloured houses, spread out along the shore. Out of sight to the left is Signal Hill and Cabot Tower.

The Narrows.

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2. Pouch Cove.

The mural is what caught my eye. Upon doing some further digging, it seems to have originated in 2006, and it turns out the mural has changed over the years. Another note: it’s pronounced ‘Pooch’ Cove. Good old Newfoundland.

Pouch Cove.

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3. Jellybean Row.

It’s rare to get a shot of coloured houses without a bunch of cars blocking the view. Gower Street is probably the most notable place for coloured houses in St. John’s — and deservedly so — but this one actually came on a side street.

Jellybean Row.

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Here’s what Geoff Meeker writes on National Geographic‘s website about how the coloured houses came to be:

Shane O’Dea, an expert on architectural heritage and historic preservation, said the idea of fancy window and door trim, and brightly-painted houses was born in 1977. In fact, the idea can be traced to one man, David Webber, the foundation’s executive director. In that year, the foundation took on a demonstration project by painting a sample block in bright colours, from Willicott’s Lane to Victoria Street, on both sides of the street.

The sample block was an immediate hit, and spread like a cold into the surrounding neighbourhoods. People began renovating their homes, adding fancy trim and switching to the bright colours, until the entire downtown was decked out in its best and brightest. Meanwhile, heritage conservation bylaws preserved the majority of older houses, to the point that St. John’s now has a heritage district that sprawls across the entire downtown, and is the envy of cities across North America.

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