For you, the dress code is casual.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Seasonal Affectations

My year in the Yukon taught me what cabin fever was. It's that first hint of spring that strikes, that first time you realize there's an end to the barren isolation that exemplifies the Canadian winter.

People got twitchy. Their hesitant smiles gave way to quirky, youthful grins. Humour and giddiness punctuated nearly every conversation. And the days, of course, would grow sickeningly, tauntingly long. I say that because when it's light at 8pm by about mid-March, you expect to get a little more out of it than just strange sleep hours.

So spring struck slow, but hard. Down here, though, I always expect it to start being obvious by March 1st. Well, now it's February and my itch needs a little scratching.

Today, I went out to grab some Chinese food at lunch, and was struck by how absolutely spring-like it felt. I didn't last long, but at least there was a "moment." However, when those nasty bastard clouds roll in over the North Shore mountains, it's easy to lose your grasp on the moment that was.

Us Vancouver lifers believe spring starts here on February 21st. Compared to most American cities, that's a laugh. Compared to the rest of Canada, though, we're the ones doing the laughing.

And I know patience is my greatest weakness, but I'm dying for this summer to come. I don't know why that is. My twitch usually kicks in a little later than this. Maybe it has to do with landing on my head and getting a "Do Not Pass Go" for the month of September this past fall. Thanks to that notorious head injury, I don't remember whether it was sunny or not. I just remember feeling a little ripped off, and way too current on daytime TV.

I'm good to go now. I just ain't got no more wait in me. I love this city in the spring: streets lined with Asiatic cherry blossoms, the newly verdant North Shore trees, the bustling seawall.

Until then, it's that time of year when everyone walks a little too quickly to get to places they'd rather not arrive at, heads down, searching the pavement as if trying to find something they don't even know they've lost.

This city excels in duality like no other. When it's cloudy and rainy, we're all a little morose, a lot lacking. When it ain't, we're everything you could want to be, and there ain't no better place.

And that's where I'm wanting to be.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Is this a dagger I see before me?

Maybe I'm too white and stiff for my own damn good, but I just don't get it. I thought Hero was a crap movie from the get-go, and while House of Flying Daggers was visually beautiful, I'm thinking Zhang Yimou needs to cut back on the ethereal and rediscover the wonderful world of plot.

I have never been a fan of surrealism, whether it's Bunuel, Fellini, or even David Lynch, really. I deplore excessive symbolism or metaphor when used simply for their own sake. I've got to say, clarity and concision turn me on, and I never get satisfaction on those counts when it comes to "obscure" cinema.

I don't need a story spelled out for me. I do enjoy complexity, but a story should be like mathematics. Plot points should add up, and there should be a reasonable conclusion you can reach once you do the math. I don't even mind films that end without resolution, and in fact, love a good interpretive drop-off. After all, life doesn't have pat endings either, but shouldn't you be able to at least surmise where it might be going?

Granted, HoFD was fairly straight-forward. Maybe it's more unreal than surreal, and meaningless but purty, but it's still got me miffed.

I should say that I absolutely adored Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but the last couple of Yimou movies have left me sadly wanting. I love photography, since I not only took it in college but both worked in and managed photo labs for several years, but I don't think photo/cinematography should ever compensate for story. Yimou, though, worries about flash and not substance, and instead uses surrealism as a cop-out. But then again, most films that are "eye candy" tend to be way heavy on filler.

I've been woefully disappointed with the last year or two in cinema, but I'm more disappointed with the critics. I feel like film critics of late have forgotten what a story really is. In this age of computer generated special effects, judging is based on looks, not content. That even film critics are falling prey to this shallow approach to cinema really leaves me concerned.

Perhaps it's just another symptom of our image conscious society, but I hope like hell we start figuring out that there really are writers among us, and that some of them have even managed to conjure a workable plot or two.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

I caught Clint Eastwood's latest masterpiece last night, and despite a firm commitment to sleep in today after hitting bed past 1:00, I've been awake since before 6:00 a.m., unable to shake this gritty film from my mind.

That this movie probably won't win the Oscar breaks my heart.

This is one of those rare movies that shouldn't be spoken of in reviews. Its emotion and power far outweighs that brought by any other cinematic contender in at least the last year, maybe the last few. Its end content is the stuff of heady debate and emotional conflict that should and will leave nearly any viewer impacted and perhaps torn, but to talk about why would rob you of precisely what makes this experience so rewarding and, dare I say it, profound.

(See it, though, before the media does decide to rob you.)

A story of a female boxer's journey, brilliantly played by Hilary Swank, this movie is based on one of the finest, best crafted screenplays I've seen in a long, long while. Swank, considering her close work with Eastwood on this, will probably never be the same as an actress, and it's a good thing. A good actress before this, she'll probably remain a great one for the rest of her career. Eastwood has made sure of that.

The aging icon's impact on the actors he directs will be one of his lasting legacies. His body of work grows increasingly impressive each passing year, but to have come out with both Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby in the last five years would have been an exceptional accomplishment for anyone. To do it inside of three years, though, is awe-inspiring. (MDB is the better of the two, though, and more affective.)

Clint's age, 77, worries me. I'm saddened at the thought that this man has a date with death in likely the decade to come. Obviously I'm an intelligent person; I didn't really think he was immortal. I just wish he was.

Despite beginning to hit his stride with Play Misty For Me, it still tooks years for Eastwood to tap into that thing that makes him tick, and find a way to put it out there for us all. And I want more, and as long as he continues with work like this, that want won't be fading.

I do find comfort, though, in the knowledge that Clint will not stop working until his death, as morbid the thought is. But it's evident in every shot of his recent films just how much he loves the art he creates, and maybe that's what will keep him going.

The man's an international treasure, but his death is probably the only "true American" passing that'll ever outshine John Wayne's, and considering what Clint is that Wayne never was--a director, and one of the finest--it's easy to understand why.

I can't help but think that Clint's made his own eulogy and possibly even his last will and testament by crafting this film. It's a fine statement, but a sad one, since it's the first time his end seems inevitable.

If the Oscars can't see what makes MDB one of the most powerful tales told on celluloid in our recent past, then you know the fight's been rigged.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Sunrise in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

Originally uploaded by scribecalledsteff.
In cleaning up, I'm finding some old photos. This was around 10:00am, just after New Year's, 1995, as seen from the summit near Jackson Hole. Shot by yours truly. If you click on it, you'll see it larger and with better contrast, bringing out the crimson peak on the horizon.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Bring Back the Beat

Yay! I'm wired for sound again! And Apple didn't piss me off by just repairing my sadistically wounded iPOD, but sent me a brand spankin' new one.

Now, if only I had the time to really organize the tunes on the beast... There's always next weekend.

I tell you, though, the buses just got a whole lot more tolerable, and maybe my parallel universe sniper self won't be having to take out the next student who can't control their backpack.

Why, I feel a John Lennon song coming on. Really, I'm feeling the love.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Extremely Annoying

Is it really too much to ask that the media stop using "extreme" as the biggest buzz word of the year?

Does anyone own a thesaurus anymore? Anyone? Anyone? I do, but I'm a geek about reference books.

Quote of the Day

While getting an early ball rolling on spring cleaning in my bedroom-cum-office, I took a moment to print and frame one of my all-time favourite quotes on writing, said by novellist/Pulitzer prize winner Richard Ford, which is this:

"Writing for a living is a privilege not a God-given right, as the opportunities are few though sought after by many. There are years of rejection which serve as a crude winnowing process, after which those left standing are those who simply must write."

Friday, January 21, 2005

Curiouser and Curiouser: A Book Report

I've just completed the novel "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" by Mark Haddon.

I think I developed a few neurotic tendencies as a result of reading this book. You see, it's written from the point of view of Christopher Boone, the 15-year-old autistic protagonist.

Christopher lives in a world of sensory overload, but he has a brilliant mind for mathematics, as is demonstrated by the plethora of math equations dotting the book (for which there is an appendix with solutions).

The curious incident referred to in the title is the murder of the neighbour's dog, which Christopher, a rabid fan of Sherlock Holmes (but not Arthur Conan Doyle because he's silly and believes in dead people because his son died in the first world war and he was being lonely, not logical) decides to solve the crime.

This book falls into the category of what I'd call "Internalized." There's not a lot of books that really seize the inner-workings of a character and leave you feeling like they're family. The protagonist-narrators I call to mind most quickly, that affected me most earnestly, were the title characters in both What's Eating Gilbert Grape? by Peter Hedges, which I read back in '91, and probably the Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, which I'd read last year.

This one, though, is different. A greatly misunderstood mental affliction, autism is essentially a state of hyperawareness, one you can never leave, so instead, you stay inside yourself. Visiting that headspace through this book is a really rewarding experience.

As the story is written from Christopher's perspective, it is written in a very stream of consciousness manner. The cadence, though, makes the overlong sentences easy to absorb, and actually makes it more engaging and real. (IE, the reference to Arthur Conan Doyle up top).

What I really loved, though, is how the boy never feels sorry for himself, never thinks he's less than others, and never questions the sanity behind his strange dispositions, like his refusal to be near or eat anything that's yellow or brown, or his belief that four yellow cars in a row are the sign of A Black Day. You would think that constant exposure to such a troubling mental condition would be sombre and depressing, but I found myself chuckling aloud often and always thoroughly engaged in the oddities of this boy's life.

This is not a "big" book, in that it is not filled with impressive happenings, smart words, or profound realizations. What it is, though, is endlessly enjoyable, expertly crafted, unique in its vision, and important in the battle to further increase social understanding of those afflicted with mental illness.

Those who know my reading habits well can back me up on the Tatter Test. This is simply the fact that I normally keep my books in very good condition, but the ones I really savour and love, that make the "bathtub book" ranking, have telltale signs of my enjoyment--rounded edges on the pages, the odd water stain, et al. The Curious Incident definitely has achieved Tatter Test status.

If what you love about books is how it transforms your point of view for awhile, this is indeed a novel that'll stand out from the pack.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Oh, Shoot Me Now

I've adopted that phrase temporarily, and have muttered it some 20 or more times this week. Don't worry. It's not some desperate plea for help--just mercy.

My day started off a little off-kilter, with some perfume-laden plastic blonde girl copping a seat next to me on the bus. As soon as she took the seat, I rather unsubtly cranked the window as far as it would go, as she caused my olfactory nerves to scream out for justice.

But when she got off, a puffy, cigar-scented man exuding the stench of stale beer took her spot. He wedged himself up against me, so I shrank towards the wall a little, focusing far too intently on my wonderful novel (more on that when I finish it). In answer to my shrinking away, he wedged himself even closer, then chuckled under his breath as he leered a needy glance my way.

An evil glare from yours truly pretty much established some distance between us in a hurry, and the ride improved.

* * * * *

And then... then came my busride home.

I swear to God, in an alternate universe, my parallel self is perched atop a bell tower with a telescopic rifle. I just hope one of those other-worldly bullets takes out the next bastard that digs a briefcase into the small of my back, or bonks me with a backpack. I have personal space issues, and this nice-girl exterior's gonna crumble in a hurry with one more bus ride like that. Just try me, people. I dare you.

The irony is, I go out of my way, time-wise, to take old trolley buses home. The reasoning being, since I paid my two bucks, I want some real estate for my money, ergo I want a seat. I don't want to stand with some unkempt man's odorous armpit wafting in my face. So, instead of taking the rockin'-fast B-Line bus home to my 'hood in 17 minutes, I take the 35-minute trolleys.

Unfortunately, tonight wasn't exactly what I had in mind.

But I have a plan: I think the legal disclaimers on bus tickets are useless. Who cares about liability? I care about stupidity. At the end of my life, stupidity will have caused me far more grief than the mere threat of liability, so I figure, let's put a stop to it.

Assuming the masses are literate, I'm thinking we post some etiquette on these tickets. Such as:

-Practice basic hygeine. De-stink yourself.
-Don't talk excessively loud. You're not as entertaining as you think you are.
-Your baggage is not a self-defense item, so don't wield it as such--you're taking out innocent bystanders every time you freakin' move.
-When the person wedged into the wall needs to get off the bus, don't just turn sideways on your seat, get the hell up and give'em space. Say it with me, people: Chiv-al-ry.
-Don't put your sopping wet umbrella on top of seats. It's reserved for asses (other than you, I mean.)

Considering some of the people I've run into today may find anything other than monosyllabic words a challenge, we'll go with pictorial messages.

Hey, don't thank me for this. I'm just doing my part to make the world a better place. Just more selfless Steff for y'all.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Foodies Unite!

God bless bloggers. Here's an awesome Vancouver-area resource on food.

Let's Get Digital, Baby

Turns out a nightclub in Glasgow has come up with a microchip to embed in its clients' arms (on demand only) that will allow them to scan their arm, pick up a drink, and deal with the tab later.

Better than that, if you have a pre-selected favourite drink, upon entering the nightclub, the bartender will be digitally alerted to your preference, and a drink ready before you can say, "Bartender, I'll have a..."

The corporate spinners are likening it to a digital wallet.

Me, I think it's just a freaky new stage in the sci-fi-meets-life saga. First cloning, now digital implants for consumer products? I'd heard this idea was in planning stages a while back, I just didn't think it'd come to fruition this soon. My ignorance was my bliss, and I simply failed to give it much thought. Now, though, it's here, and now I'm freaking out.

How long will such an implant stay optional? How long will it take for governments to decide that paper's a hassle, and these microchips will speed up all processes? How will you maintain control over when you get scanned, and by whom? Who's to say the consumer information trading that currently exists in business won't escalate with these chips?

Picture it: Company X sells its VeriChip-enabled client lists to Company Y. A fee is then paid by Company Y to have information pertinent to their industry then "piggyback" data that is scanned in/out of the chip-enabled client next time the client is scanned by Company X.

Sure, it's unethical. But when did big business let a pissy little thing like ethics stop 'em?

They have a term for these kinds of products that offer initial smart real-life applications, but then become intrusive and all-pervasive. It's called "function creep." Suddenly, instead of it just being a bar tab, it moves on to credit cards, debit cards, and next thing you know, you don't have a passport anymore, just this little rice-sized chip in your arm. A little too Mission Impossible for my tastes.

The only reason why an idea like this will ever even fly is because people just refuse to slow down. Thinking that "advances" such as these will somehow enable them to lead a fuller life, they're willing to foresake privacy and security, just to shave three minutes off a bar lineup.

The problem, though, is that not only do you eliminate your inconvenience, your privacy, and control over your own dispensing of information, but you also lose your spontanaeity. Just another symptom of a society moving too damn fast for its own good.

Two words, people: Slow down.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

I had time in my day to catch a matinee of this unsettling look at the flipside of humanitarianism.

Don Cheadle has well earned the praise he's received for his portrayal of this troubled hotel manager just trying to keep in together in the midst of chaos, and instead, winds up saving the lives of 1,268 people (primarily Tutsis) who would otherwise have been systematically eliminated by Hutu militia.

In an interview that plays over the radio during the film, some lackey for the UN says, "...there have been acts of genocide committed." The interviewer retorts, "But how many 'acts of genocide' will constitute genocide?" You get the sense that there's two different answers; the one that applies to Africans killing Africans, and then the answer that applies to everyone else.

I won't go into the film all that much, except to say that it's really disheartening to see it has only made $1.6 million thus far in its release. Perhaps people are staying away because it seems a movie about a genocide would be a heady swirl of violence. In actuality, the movie could have been very graphic in its covering of the slaughter that eventually left a million-plus dead, but it fortunately kept the depictions to an absolute minimum and focused on the human stories behind the true-life protagonist, who was a Hutu, and would have been in fine shape had he abandoned his Tutsi wife and children at the outset of the revolution.

An example of this is in the final hour of the film, when Rusesabagina (the manager portrayed by Cheadle) needs to go acquire food for his hotel-confined refugees, and what follows is one of the most effective portrayals of brutality I've seen in awhile, but it's orchestrated with subtlety. It is almost Hitchcockian in its execution, as the effects of the brutality are seen, but not the acts themselves. Cheadle's brilliance as an actor shines in this scene, and also in his ability to reveal the psychological turmoil this man dwelled in throughout these attrocities.

I would hope this film is not a victim of the same ignorance endured by the 1994 genocide. Hotel Rwanda deserves an audience. It deserves to fuel conversation. It should stand as an example of the kinds of film Hollywood should seek to make more often.


And this is why I leave the house. A sweatshirt spotted on the bus today:

If at first you don't succeed,
skydiving is not for you.

I knew there was a reason I hadn't gotten around to it yet.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


I've wanted to see Ray, the Ray Charles biopic starring Jamie Foxx, since its release. Tonight was the night. But what's the deal with the scores of biopics of late?

I find that biographical pictures often don't hit their marks. Perhaps it has to do with the jarring juxtaposition of the inimitable qualities the subjects of the film often possess, qualities the actors doing the portrayals seldom manage to duplicate, onscreen or off.

A fine example would be The Aviator. For some baffling reason, Scorcese's latest has entered numerous critics' Top 10 of 2004 lists. Did they see what I saw? It's good, but not great. Looked awful purty, but it lacked substance and was far too long.

The film's shortcomings had to do largely with Scorcese's attempts to bring home the obsessive madness of Howard Hughes. The scenes focusing on the insanity were strained and lacked fluidity. Many were two, three minutes in length, if not longer, and could have been brief without compromising substance.

The movie's as big as they come. The sets are expansive. The cinematography is gorgeous. The editing is sensational--Scorcese's work always is. As for the acting, at times, Leo DiCaprio managed well in the role, but he floundered at times. He was most believeable early in the film, and when he came before the inquiry to defend his engineering excesses. I used to be a DiCaprio fan until the big boat movie, you know the one. Ever since then, he hasn't been in touch with himself and it's obvious.

Speaking of touch, Scorcese has lost some of his. He's thinking too big, and his talent's spreading a little thin. He's better on a smaller scale. His indulging the scenes of Hughes' madness to the extent he did seems a desperate plea to touch base with his directorial brilliance from earlier in his career, a la Taxi Driver. Not quite, Marty. Not quite.

Ray, though, is a fine bio pic (though probably not one of the 10 best flicks of the year, either). A great ensemble cast, engaging to watch, with a great score, but my God, the hats off go to Jamie Foxx.

There were content issues with the movie. It should have had more of Charles and his growing awareness of his role in the human rights movement. More study of the creative processes behind developing his music. Who knows? Maybe they were scared of topping three hours, but at two and a half hours in running time, the movie certainly didn't seem its length. Whatever weaknesses the film had, though, were in writing and, occasionally, directing. Too much attention was paid to the messing around Charles was famous for, and his needle and the damage done.

It's inarguable that Foxx has just set the bar for both the singer-actor and the art of bio acting. For once, the portrayal has been done by an actor who possesses every bit of the charisma, flash, and substance needed to play the role.

There's murmuring of Oscar contention, for whatever that is worth. I've generally been opposed to the idea of a bio-pic actor getting the nod for an Oscar. I think it's in "creating" a role that an actor makes it his own, and that is what deserves reward. In bio pics, though, they're given a roadmap. To a layman like myself, it just seems like a cop-out to hand the Oscar to some dude playing some other dude.

However, Foxx might be worthy of the brass. He was extraordinary in his ability to channel Charles not only on the screen but on the wax. His singing performances were phenomenal and his presence during them was utterly engaging.

It's about time Hollywood figured out there are more black actors who can carry a movie than just Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, and Denzel Washington. I think Don Cheadle and Jamie Foxx deserve many more great roles, and perhaps, with their recent films (Hotel Rwanda, and both Ray and Collateral, respectively) their time in the limelight is here.

And maybe, just maybe, more roles simply written for great actors will be applicable to more fine black men (and women), and not just their white counterparts. Hollywood has one hell of a long way to go, but perhaps that trip is finally underway.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Hooked on Phonics

So I caught a news broadcast earlier, and again the buyable Canuck identity was an issue. You know, for travelling Americans either daunted by their bad rep, avoiding the fact that they've elected a Bush-league moron to run the nation, or simply hoping to be treated like the goodly folk us Canadians usually get treated as.

But during the broadcast, my skin crawled. The reporter pronounced Canuck as "Kin-nook." It's Canuck, people. Rhymes with your favourite four-letter word. Don't make me fook you up, you know?

[While we're talking about silly pronunciations, let's just clear one thing up: saying "oot" and "aboot" ain't a national linguistic trait. A few folks in the east speak like that. We, too, have regional dialects, y'all. And some of us don't have any accent at all. Not me, though. I'm told I sound distinctly Bostonian. Beats the hell out of me, since I've never been there, but hey. Starts some interesting conversations, I'll tell ya.]

Monday, January 10, 2005

Monday Night Blues

Employment is such a drag. Why do I have a work ethic? Why am I not industrious enough to conjure a waif-like existence sprawled on some sub-tropical beach, jotting pontifications onto a page as I suck back a liquored-fruit concoction under the midday sun?

Oh, why, oh, why, oh, why.

The office is a weird place now, but it's not that bad. There's this strange vibe, though, like we can all catch a little glimpse into each other's mind: The Bubble has burst.

This is my second time being a lay-off survivor, but this time ain't got nothing on the last one. I was an employee at Duthie Books back then, one of the legendary independent booksellers in British Columbia. Bill Duthie, the founder, had a big role in creating whatever lit scene existed in the city back in 1947 and on. I grew up thinking the name "Duthie" was synonymous with the word "book," and landing a job at their Fourth Ave store wasn't really a dream come true, but it was an awesome happening and gave me a chance to do something I just loved doing... for awhile.

I worked there for a couple of years and had a deep loyalty to both my store and the family, since they had been mighty fine people towards me. At the time when "it all came down," there were some 177 people, give or take a few, in the company's employ, and they had just won the National Bookseller's Award for Best Independent Bookstore Chain some months before the demise.

This was 1999. Me, I'd been going through some personal hell that spring and summer. I'd had my right wrist cut open and a ganglion (in this case, a bone-mounted growth) removed. I wasn't able to write, drive, work, or do anything for a number of weeks. Also, my mother was "recovering" from cancer, which would suddenly kill her in the next couple of months. And then I found out my beloved bookstore was coming to its end, too.

Out of the 177 people, 170 received their notices. Six of seven stores closed. I was fortunate and was able to stay, but the death of Duthie's as a chain struck a chord in me and made me fear for the future of regional literature, since no one championed it like Duthie's did. To me, it seemed a mighty loud death knell had sounded.

Instead of just mourning for the death of my mother, I wound up being in mourning for my colleagues, my company, and my province's literature scene. Yeah, 1999 was a year without compare, for me, at least.

So I know I'm supposed to be more brokenhearted about the events of this past week, but on my scale of comparison, this is a walk in the park. Still, I think I'll fix myself a stiff drink tonight, because the weirdness rolls around again in 12 hours. Fortunately, I get paid for it. (Hardly a consolation.)

Friday, January 07, 2005

The Ax Falls

A good stiff drink and David Lean. This is my Friday night in. It's been a long week, culminating in a third of my coworkers getting the ax at work today. I wasn't there for the bloodletting, but found out instead yesterday afternoon. I feel badly about it, but I've kept my job, and for that, I'm grateful. Naturally, survivor's guilt accompanies that gratitude, but it's something I've some experience with. Guilt and I have a longstanding relationship. I'm not bothering to think of what the office will feel like come Monday. Better than I expect, I hope.

Dr. Zhivago is on PBS tonight. I'm taping it and watching it intermittently as I'm hit with a larger than normal dose of ADD this evening and find a three-hour movie a chore to handle at the best of times. I'm sure Mr. Lean would be gravely offended, but fortunately, he's dead. Thus, a non-issue.

It's a shame the epic wasn't on earlier, when I was embracing my inner sloth. My lazy day is a result of the snow that has been falling off and on throughout the last two days. It's a rarity here in Vancouver--perhaps even only an annual event, really. With my bum knee (I'm recouping from tear), I find it awkward navigating the packed and slippery conditions that have developed, so I've stayed near home, and have just taken some walks to catch the wintery scenes, as it's the only time the world seems new for awhile.

I'll be dealing with the city and its snow tomorrow, though, and as wary as I am about getting around, I'll secretly be enjoying my travels. I love the way snow brings the playfulness out in Vancouverites. The bubbly effervescence of children in the snow is also nearly irresistable to me. And what with global warming impacting this region so greatly these past few years, we seldom see the snowfalls I recall from my childhood. In fact, it's probable that we won't see snow again until 2006.

On that note, I believe I'll retire to my sofa and stare out at the snow whilst watching my epic and nursing the martini that's begging my attention.

Fear and Launching

The United States is, as we all know, the most litigious society in the world.

It's as if the nation's taking a holiday from personal responsibility. The epidemic of lawsuits has just gotten even crazier, what with the Cleveland television viewer who's just launched a lawsuit against NBC after an episode of Fear Factor caused him to launch his lunch.

Now, I think Fear Factor's one of the stupidest shows on television right now. I admit that I was drawn to it in a sensational "Wow, are you nuts?" kind of way when the show first came on the air, but it would have been fine to kill it after six episodes. Three years later, the freak parade's still on air.

This bloke somehow feels the network bears responsibility for the fact that his blood pressure rose and he vomited at the site of watching people noshing on the noxious little critters in pursuit of the paltry $50,000 payoff offered at the conclusion of each episode.

When looking at major television series and films, the US creates, without a doubt, some of the best in the world. And some of the worst. There isn't any accounting for tastes, but if you've got a watching-accidents sort of mentality that leaves you drawn to shows like this, you get what you deserve -- in this case, a spew session and the ensuing self-disgust -- but certainly not a $2.5 million liability judgment.

Now, if he devours a few rats himself, then maybe.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


Whilst tragedy and adversity often serve to make you a better person, it also tends to unleash periods of grave foolishness.

As a result of the media coverage of the disaster and the total sense of helplessness that we're all feeling, there are now scores of Westerners queueing up in the hopes of adopting a Tsunami-orphaned child.

Understandably, many child welfare experts are criticising the wisdom of this. Personally, I'd liken it to the notion of buying a puppy for Christmas, as crass as that comparison might be.

It seems like a great idea now, but six months down the road, who's to say?

These adoption-focused folks are all overcome by the horrific images of what these victims have thus far endured. It's understandable that we're all concerned, but it's crazy to let this sudden grief guide you to a life-changing decision like adopting a child you have no understanding of.

And unlike a puppy, you can't just suddenly sell them, give them to a shelter, or put them down. These are profoundly traumatized children that haven't just lost a parent, but everything they own, and their entire way of life.

To think that picking these kids up and bringing them over to the Land of the Free will somehow magically make them better is to delude yourself. Worse yet, it would be just another tragedy in these kids' lives. They would be losing the last things they truly possess: Their customs, language, and of course, their sense of place.

Further compounding an already tragic tale are the gangs of child-slave traders who are operating in the ravaged areas. This isn't a result of the Tsunami, but rather a longstanding regional criminal enterprise just capitalizing on opportunity in the midst of chaos. For years, these abductors have been duping rural, impoverished parents into giving up their children for a "better way of life." The children are then sold into the sex trades or sold into straight-up slavery. It happened before the Tsunami, and it will sadly continue to happen after all this passes.

I realize it's exactly stories like this that are prompting Westerners to want to initiate an adoption, but I'm not sure they've thought it all through.

One factor, for instance, that has apparently not occured to them is that some of the stricken nations' governments are now beginning to hope they might match orphaned children up with parents who have lost their own. This is the kind of remedy that could have wonderfully positive results, and allow the kids to maintain their sense of identity and place, as well as their language.

Coming here would just add more trauma to their lives. The life of any immigrant is incredibly difficult to get started, let alone the victim of a disaster of this magnitude. Imagine adding the constant struggles of assimilation to the daily battle of just coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. Is that really the way to help these kids?

We North Americans live under the delusions that just because we're a materially wealthy region, that we're somehow superior to other nations, but we are a bankrupt nation when it comes to history, custom, and heritage. We're young and flashy, but we haven't been around long enough to possess any of the cultural depth of places like Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

These kids need to hold onto what little identity they have left. It's what will get them through. Soon, in the days or months to come, all the people of that region will learn what an unprecedented outpouring of love and concern the rest of the world has shown them, and I assure you, it will count in ways we'll never understand. The kindest thing we could do might be to leave the kids in their home, such as it is, and allow them to reach the only closure they might ever know (considering that many of the "missing" will probably never be found), while they watch, and participate in, the rebuilding of their nations.

At least then they'll learn that after your world falls down, you build it back up, you don't run.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Dollars and Sense

I have concerns that people, in their zeal to see Tsunami-related relief efforts receive "every dime" of their contribution, will forego the usual "big" charities, such as Red Cross, Unicef, et al, and donate funds instead to smaller, more independent organizations.

While I applaud the passion that inspires said zeal, I find myself hoping they come to the realization that this is not the wise choice, and is, in fact, naive.

It seems the concern is that larger organizations will be required to use a portion of the proceeds to pay for their overhead. And this perception is true. They will--about 20%.

But they are professionals, and for that, they should be paid.

Many of them, in civil war-torn Sri Lanka, for example, will be putting their lives in harm's way in order to help these people. Professionals know the risk. Better than that, they know how to stay safe.

This relief effort is unlike any ever encountered by any organization. Ever. The logistics alone are baffling to people behind the United Nations, and they are the people who are better at this than anyone. The UN, of course, took days to figure out where the hell to start, aside from asking for contributions and saying water and sanitation was needed. After all, the destruction is so all-encompassing that transportation of any kind is virtually useless, aside from helicopters.

Now, even more daunting factors are further complicating this picture (superstitions, psychological issues, civil strife). There are far too many such issues to expect some small organization--concerned, passionate, and earnest, no doubt, but small--to even have a hope of navigating the hell that has been left after the high waters of the tsunami. It's just not going to happen.

I wish everyone who wanted to help, could. The reality is, it's just not possible. In fact, the Thai government has now begun requesting that families of foreign victims stay out of the country whilst relief efforts are underway. (It seems we're moving through both the rescue and recovery phases and on to relief and reconstruction.)

This is a global tragedy. Most of us want to respond. Hell, many of us would like to go there and physically do something. But we can't. That area is being taxed enough with both incoming relief-delivery flights and workers without having to worry about putting up more people who, in all honesty, will essentially only be further taxing the region.

This is why we have large charities that have survived for more than a century on the basis of their good deeds and their name. They are professionals. For them, even, this will be a challenge of no compare. But let's leave it to them.

Donate your money where you know it will do the most good. Understand that overhead is necessary for professionalism; but also understand that with that professionalism comes greater proficiency and a better fiscal management of practical relief, and ultimately, more help given and more lives saved.

[Ed. Note: A news report has just shown shipments of peppers, loaves of bread, and more perishables, all coming into the affected nations. Noble thought, but virtually useless, and due to red tape, delivery troubles, and logistics, most of it never reaches the victims. Again: There's a reason there's overhead--so these virtually useless contributions don't tie up crucial man hours and resources.]

Sunday, January 02, 2005


In a recent blog, I lambasted the ever-confusing George Bush after his announcement that the US wanted to lead a core group of nations in the Tsunami relief efforts.

Bush's announcement was initially received by many, including myself, as another attempt by the US to be posturing in a leadership role, but more seriously, as a deliberate and pronounced attempt to further undermine the United Nations.

However, it seems we can now hope this is the beginning of a potentially happy marriage between the United States and the United Nations. Obviously, the United Nations has never before been faced with a task of this magnitude. It's not in one immediate area, but rather, spread out over thousands of kilometres of coastline and throughout numerous nations.

This has understandably left Jan Egeland (the UN bloke most responsible for overseeing these efforts) extremely daunted because it's not a single relief effort for the UN, but more like seven massive, widespread operations.

And this is why it has come to pass that the US will indeed lead a core group of contributing nations (including Canada, as of yesterday) who will be working in conjunction with the UN, but with the UN calling most of the shots. (This raises the issue of Bush's past pronouncements that no American soldier will be under the command of any other national. It doesn't scream "cooperation," does it?)

I do have a lot of concerns remaining over how much influence the US will seek to have over this geographic region in the coming months, years even, as this reconstruction gains momentum, but am glad to see this level of response starting to happen.

World powers have World responsibilities, and it's nice to see the US acting with that in mind for a change... even if the actions may be resulting from other motivations.

Giving's Getting Good

Governments might be slow, but at least they're catching on.

The timing of this disaster was the worst it could possibly be. For this catastrophe to have been so perfectly timed with such an international holiday (and on a Sunday, no less) is absurd, but there it is.

Paul Martin has finally returned to Ottawa from his Morroccan vacation and has addressed the issue of Canada's response to this situation. There's more of the pat we're-doing-what-we-can bit, but at least the money is coming, and the responses are beginning to occur.

In the recently concluded press conference held by Martin money was a big issue. Canada has upped its immediate cash contribution to $80 million. The government has taken the pledge of doubling whatever Canadians donate to the Big Five NGOs--Unicef, World Vision, Red Cross, et al--and beefed it up with an ammendment that will now allow Canadians to contribute any amount to these charities before January 11th and have that be a tax-deductible donation applicable to the 2004 taxation year.

It's a small change but with huge financial incentives for those who can't find enough deductions. Canadian citizens (there's about 30 million of us, for those of you joining us internationally) have already chipped in $36 million, which, when doubled, effectively takes Canada's contribution to nearly $160 million--with a lot of room to grow before the deadline of January 11th for the Federal donation-matching scheme.

Ottawa has also officially announced the planned fast-tracking of any immigration applicants from the affected region, if they have relatives that are current Canadian citizens. I applaud this measure. Kofi Annan of the UN has stated it will take probably a decade or more before the affected regions return to a quality of life close to what it was before Christmas, 2004, so if we can help a few folks lead better lives, then that's exactly the mission Canada should have.

Beyond these borders, though, other nations are stepping up--particularly the United States and Japan. With respective phenomenal, though still very initial, pledges of $350 million and $500 million, there's starting to be an awful lot of putting money where our mouths are.

There's a lot expected of the United States in this calamity, and I realize some Americans may begrudge the word "expected," but if you're going to dominate the world stage, then such is life. This is the first true opportunity the Americans have had in many, many years to really show their generosity, and they are indeed a generous people.

With an almost irrelevant budget for foreign affairs that do not include warring regions in which the US has a stake, the American government is not exactly "generous." Its people, though, without question are some of the most generous in the world when it comes to private funding in international charities. And it's never been needed more than it is now.

But all of us, including American citizens, need to examine our generosity and improve upon it. We need to care far more than we have about the rest of our world.

Tragedy and adversity, on a personal scale, often tends to result in leaving you as a better person. It schools you in what's important and what isn't, and teaches you compassion and acceptance. We can only hope that this massive tragedy, and the adversities to come, will help us all learn a greater kind of global community and have us be the better for it.

Meanwhile, give, give, give.