Sunday, January 30, 2005

Rowings back from coast to coast

Originally uploaded by Dave Traynor.
Of course, it didn't really seem like it stopped this year. Especially with Jaime rowing in Victoria, where they're able to get on the water all year round.

On Sunday, the Canadian Championships were held in Toronto and Victoria and my daughters were both involved.

In Victoria, Jaime pulled off a personal best time to come in second in her event, while Kelly was in Toronto, finishing eight, with a time just slightly off her own personal best. All in all, it was a great start to the year.

To see some pics of Kelly in action, click here.

And to see some pics of Jaime in Victoria, taken by my cousin, Charles Traynor, click here and choose the Monster Erg 2005 link.

Happy ergin'

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Where would we be without Einstein?

Although I majored in English, I've always been a bit of geek at heart. One of my favourite classes in first year University was Physics. Our text was "Physics for Poets" and it was a great and fascinating look at the history of physics, especially in the late 19th and early 20th century.

That's why this year's 100th anniversary of some of Albert Eintsein's greatest work is interesting to me. And if more people think about it, they'll realize why it's important to them too. The world would be a different place if not for Einstein. He was one of the last century's most influential thinkers, and perhaps one of the most influential of all time.

There are a lot of places on the Web where you can find out more about Mr. Einstein, but this Wired magazine article is a great place to start. It's a fascinating look at one of the most amazing periods in science.

Check it out, fellow geeks.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Remembering Auschwitz, Jan 27, 1945

I wasn't sure I was going to write this note.

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which was marked by a sombre gathering of world leaders, survivors and liberators in Poland.

While I watched the TV coverage and read the newspaper stories, I was struck by my own ambivalence. I knew it was important. And I knew it was historic and I felt that I should be more, I don't know, reverent, perhaps, or shamed, or saddened. But to be honest, I found myself thinking of it as just another story about horror.

Ironically, there was a movie review in the Globe and Mail on Friday which talked about using kids as stars of horror movies, and how we've become so blase about it, that it takes a lot to shock us now.

After reading about the horrors of Auschwitz and struggling with the undercurrent that the world didn't really learn from what happened and that similar atrocities continue, I decided that my own words were not adequate. So I went searching for stories that talk about the reality of those camps. And, as usual when one starts looking through the Internet, I discovered some fascinating places.

I invite you all to take a moment to look through the links I've found below. They are just several from thousands that are out there. I'm sure that once you get started, you'll find plenty more for yourself.

I've got three specific suggestions for you.

First, look at this essay, which puts the death camps into the context of the times and digs a bit deeper into the kind of work that went into the Final Solution.

Second, look through The Auschwitz Album, an amazing catalogue of photographs from Auschwitz. They were taken by a German photographer and are among the very few actual images of what went on.

Finally, read this heartbreaking testimony from a woman who worked in Kanada, the part of Auschwitz where the belongings of those killed in the gas chambers were sorted.

There are no words to describe what I feel after spending some time looking back over time at those events so long ago. But my ambivalence has disappeared.

We must remember what happened in those death camps. And we must always struggle to prevent similar events in our own time.

Truly it has been said: 'all that is needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing'.

--Kofi Annan

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

How much bad news is too much?

Call me naive, or the kind of person who likes putting their head in the sand, but this morning I'm feeling like the world is too much with us. Here are the four main stories on the front page of the Globe and Mail on-line edition, under "Breaking News."

A Jewish revival in Poland without any Jews

No survivors in Iraq helicopter crash

Chr├ętien demands Gomery step aside

PM won't delay same-sex bill despite MP anxiety

This is the news of the day. Not a happy story in the bunch. Now, I'm not saying that we need happy pills or something like that, in order to make it through the day. (Although the idea has merit.)

But I'm finding that more and more these days I feel like I don't get enough good news. The world is a tough place and today's modern media means that I hear a lot more about it than I ever did before. But there are lots of places where life is going on just fine. In fact, people are happy. Good news stories are out there. Heck, even the Globe has a few, like a story about the origins of pizza. (I'd link to it, but it's only available to Insider subscribers, for some ridiculous reason.)

Who decided that "bad" is "news?" Why are we tantalized by stories of disaster, horror, sickness, etc., but seemingly bored by stuff about regular, day-to-day activities? Regular is, well, regular. And that's not much fun.

About now, I imagine you're thinking, "This is going nowhere. I'm bored." But bear with me. I may not have a brilliant thesis on the go, but I hope to make a few connections that will at least keep you awake.

Last night, on The Daily Show, with Jon Stewart, his guest was Seymour Hersh. Now, for those of you who aren't media junkies, you may not know that Seymour Hersh is a legendary investigative journalist with The New Yorker. He's the guy who simply doesn't keep step with the rest of the media out there. Last week, he published his latest article, which outlines the plans within the White House and the Pentagon to invade Iran. Naturally, it has been met with the usual response from "official" sources, but without outright denials. It's worth reading.

If you don't watch The Daily Show regularly, you should know that it's claim to fame is that it's a fake news show. That's right. Fake News. Facts are not a huge deal. The "facts" merely serve as the intro to their pieces. From there, it's full speed ahead to whatever outrageous conclusion the "reporters" decide is appropriate.

The show's outrageous commentaries during the recent Presidential election and the war in Iraq have earned it a huge following. A lot of Americans, especially younger ones, say they get most of their news about current political events, from watching the program. Which does give one pause for thought.

Seymour Hersh is a favourite guest for Stewart, who really seems to admire Hersh's dogged refusal to cowtow to "offical" sources. Instead, whether it's covering the events of Sept. 11, or the war in Iraq, or the current plans for the invasion of Iran, Hersh insists on using his own sources and telling a story distinctly at odds with the "official" version.

At one point in his interview, Stewart asks Hersh, "Do you check up on these sources? To make sure the facts are correct?"

"Of course," Hersh replied. "Everything is checked very, very carefully."

"See. That's where you and I are different. We don't have to check the facts," Stewart told his guest.

Hmmm...that anecdote didn't end up addressing my first thesis of this piece, did it? It wasn't really about bad news vs. good news. It was more about the value of getting the story right, vs putting out a version that makes people laugh. In fact, that kind of goes against my thesis, because Stewart's show is funny. He's able to take bad news (which is most of what we see and hear) and turn it on its head and make us laugh at the absurdity of a lot of it.

At this point, I think I'll just adopt a blogger convention and toss this whole thing over to you, the reader, to help me sort things out.

I started with the contention that bad news overwhelms good news. Then I moved over to talking about how taking another look at bad news from a silly, irreverant point of view can make us feel good about it. Now I'm wondering what that means?

Are we glossing over the significance of what we hear by trivializing it? Or do we just start to block out the bad news and only perk up when really serious stuff, like Brad and Jen breaking up, hits the airwaves?

Now I've really lost my focus. So if you want to add some comments to this thread, please do so. I'll go off and give a bit more thought to the whole thing.

But you know what? I don't feel as depressed about the news as I did when I started this little rant. And as Martha might say, "That's a good thing."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Happy Robbie Burns Day -- or My First Nosing

Today is Robbie Burns Day, (or Rabbie, as the truly enllightened insist) celebrated by Scots and wanna-be's (like me) around the world. Or so I'm told by various Burns' sites on the Internet, see here and here.

Now, I'm not a Scot. I'm more Irish than anything else, but I do like Scotch whiskey. So a few years ago, when I was invited to a "nosing" to celebrate the Bard's birthday, I accepted. It sounded like a good idea. At least, once I discovered that a nosing was a whiskey tasting. It sounded even better when they told me it was going to be held in a used golfing equipment store in Toronto. What a great atmosphere. Celebrating the world's greatest game by standing around drinking whiskey and swapping golf stories.

The format was simple. There were about 35 of us invited, and we each tossed some money into the kitty to cover the cost of the various whiskeys, some throw-away tasting glasses, and some munchies (including a haggis, I think.)

There was one other option for those attending. We were encouraged to bring a poem, or a song, or a reading, that matched the significance of the evening's tribute to Burns, or to golf, or to both, if you could manage it.

There were a couple of keeners in the group who arrived wearing full kilts and did a stand-up job of shaming the rest of us with their enthusiasm. Fortunately, after a few warm-up "tastings" we all kind of got into the spirit of things.
I was game to add a special reading to the occasion. At the time, I just happened to be reading a book about playing golf in Scotland called "Playing Through" by Curtis Gillespie. Curtis is a Canadian writer who spent a year living in Scotland and playing some of the wonderful courses in the old country. The book is a real treat for those of us who enjoy the rich tradition of golf writing. I recommend it.

There's a great scene in the book where Curtis is invited to celebrate Robbie Burns' Day with a local family. As is tradition, someone read through Burn's classic "Ode to a Haggis." But then, the Canadian visitor is asked to read his own toast. It's written in Burns' dialect, and when read aloud, the results are hilarious.

Normally, I'm not much for standing on a rickety wooden chair in front a couple of dozen hooting accented fools. But given enough samples of our wonderful elixir, I am capable of almost anything, I suppose. So after imbibing enough "liquid courage" to be able to stand on that chair, but not enough so that I fell off, I grabbed my copy of "Tae a Ferty," and adopting my best Scottish brogue, read the passages below. (To truly appreciate this, I recommend reading this aloud, phonetically, letting your best Scoth shine through. If you do it in mixed company, I guarantee, you won't get through it without cracking up.)

Oh what a sleekit horrible beastie
Lurks in yer belly efter the feastie
Just as ye sit doon among yer kin
There sterts to stir an enormous wind.

The neeps and tatties and mushy peas
Stert werkin like a gentle breeze
But soon the puddin wi the sauncie face
Will have ye blawin' all over the place.

Nae matter whit the hell ye dae
A'body's gonnae ha tae pay
Even if ye try to stifle
It's like a bullet oot a rifle.

Hawd yer bum tight tae the chair
Tae try and stop the leakin air
Shift yersel frae cheek tae cheek
Prae tae God it does nae reek.

But aw yer efforts go asunder
Oot it comes like a clap a thunder
Ricochets aroon the room
Michty me, a sonic boom!

God almighty it fairly reeks;
Hope I huvnae shit ma breeks
Tae the bog I better scurry
Aw whit the hell, it's no ma worry.

A'body roon about me chokin,
Wan or two are nearly bokin
I'll feel better for a while
Cannae help but raise a smile

Wis him! I shout with accusin glower
Alas too late, he's just keeled ower
Ye dirty bugger they shout and stare
I dinnae feel welcome any mair.

Were ere ye go let yer wind gang free
Sounds like just the job for me
Whit a fuss at Rabbie's perty
Ower the sake o' one wee ferty.

Here's to Rabbie...

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A column worth reading

OK. I've done something bad. I've copied a column from the Globe and Mail and posted it here on my blog. Sure, I paid for it. But you haven't. So you probably shouldn't be reading it. But go ahead. Just don't tell anyone where you saw it, OK?

Seriously, I do want you to read this. I'm a newspaper junkie. I read a couple every day in paper form, and scan a whole lot more in cyberspace. And sometimes I wonder whether all this new technology is going to change the way we get our information. Of course, it already has. What I mean is I wonder whether I'm still going to be able to sit down with a coffee and a paper every morning for my morning fix.

The death of various media caused by the rise of a new challenger has been predicted many times before. TV killing off the movies. The Internet doing away with books and newspapers. TV doing away with everything. Etc. But it seems that things still continue somehow. While I've spent some time thinking about the implications of all of this, my thinking hasn't come to much. But Doug Saunders has done a lot of good thinking about it. In his column in the Globe last Saturday, he writes about just this issue. And he does it so well that I wouldn't dream of trying to summarize his views. I want you to read them for yourself.

Problem is, you can't. Not unless you happen to have a copy of Saturday's paper around. Or you could go on-line, if you had one of those fancy "Insider Access" on-line subscriptions to the Globe and Mail on-line. But I'm guessing that many of you don't, so instead of offering a link to a story that you'll have to pay for, I copied the story and pasted it in right here. Just don't tell anyone at the Globe, all right?

Who's afraid of the 400-channel universe?

By Doug Saunders
Globe and Mail, Jan 22, 2005, Page F3

LONDON -- Eight decades ago, London's newspapers and magazines were consumed with a debate about the new media.

What name, the editors asked, should we give to the adventurous pioneers who stare at this thing called television? After months of heated rhetoric, a consensus was reached: They would henceforth be known as "lookers-in."

It was an optimistic choice, as if this freaky new box were nothing more than an amusement, certainly not the sort of full-time activity that might pose a threat to reading audiences and ad revenues.

It was the lookers-in who decided to call themselves "viewers." Within a few decades, their endless viewing had given rise to a wave of media panic: The widespread belief, dating back to the Gutenberg Revolution, that a new form of media is about to overturn the world and render extinct all the old ways of seeing and thinking.

A lifetime later, I found myself sitting at lunch this week with some executives from the big public television networks in Canada and Britain. Our host politely asked them what they thought of those new cable boxes that get 400 channels.

Choking noises emerged from one corner of the table. Among those able to hold down their salad and speak, the words sounded like newspaper publishers in the 1950s looking at the share prices for Zenith and Electrohome. Or worse.

"What we are witnessing is the collapse of linear time," said Mark Starowicz, the charming, nationalistic man responsible for many of the CBC's most-watched programs.

He was referring to the fact that your teenaged daughter, in case you hadn't noticed, is no longer tied to the Canadian prime-time schedule. If she misses Charmed on Sunday night, she can flip over to Charmed on the Chicago channel an hour later, or on the Los Angeles channel two hours after that. Gone are the evenings when anyone was forced to settle for Wind At My Back.

This is not a happy development for the CBC. Not only for simple reasons of market share: For visionaries like Mr. Starowicz, at issue is the very existence of the nation-state: "When linear time no longer governs the airwaves, it puts an end to the shared national experience. People no longer have anything in common with each other."

Now that 50 per cent of TV viewing is done on tiny channels that get less than 1 per cent of the audience each, can we speak of a common national experience? Is the Internet and digital TV putting an end to our entire culture? It all sounded very familiar, this media panic, as if people had been issuing the same warning for 500 years.

I've been reading a book in the tiny field of bibliographical history that should be read far more widely. Cambridge University librarian David McKitterick's Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order may sound dry, but its implications are enormous for our understanding of media past and present.

For decades, we have spoken of the Gutenberg Revolution. The invention of the movable-type printing press, and thus the printed book, by Johann Gutenberg in 1448 was the original new-media phenomenon. It did for the old, handwritten word what the Internet has now done for books and newspapers, what TV did for movies, what digital cable is doing to TV.

Printed type, legend has it, created a whole new world. Language was no longer conveyed in the personal, fluid, elite medium of handwritten scrolls and manuscripts; the new book was uniform, reproducible, ubiquitous and popular.

Mr. McKitterick, who has spent his life among early books, knows otherwise. Gutenberg's wasn't a revolution at all. Its primary effect, one that lasted for 3½ centuries, was to create new work for manuscript copyists -- the people who created those supposedly obsolete handwritten documents. The rise of the printed book actually created the golden age of the manuscript, lasting hundreds of years -- giving it a purpose it had never had.

Handwritten manuscripts were official, rigid and reliable, while printed text -- contrary to our presumptions -- was slippery and unstable, changing from copy to copy, further removed from the intent of the writer, and widely regarded as transient and untrustworthy.

The role of the written manuscript was sharpened and defined by the published book. And the book slowly shifted, over the centuries, so that it could embrace the role of the manuscript. It was "less a revolution than an accommodation," Mr. McKitterick writes.

"To summarize: printing, and the user of the printed book, both depended on and influenced manuscripts long after the invention of printing with movable type. . . . In fact, the new can only be understood by reference to the old, and different cultures and media must inevitably exist side by side."

This is important, because the Gutenberg metaphor gets applied just about every time a new medium confronts an older one. In every case, what has occurred is not a "revolution" but something much more like what Mr. McKitterick describes -- "the development of a new idea after the excitement of its discovery always depends partly on the application of older, pre-existing ideas and practices as they in turn are tested and adapted anew."

Television did permanently destroy the movie, in box-office terms. But directors responded to TV by launching cinema's most creative and influential movements. The Internet and TV have ended the newspaper's dominance, but also made newspapers better than ever, freeing them from the staccato tones of the newswire to become literate, analytical, and artistic.

And likewise with the great dinosaurs of public television in the era of a zillion channels.

Is the CBC's unifying force really threatened by the tome-sized TV guide? The community-building power of its programming has actually risen with the number of channels on the dial: Mr. Starowicz's enormously successful nation-building events (such as his People's History series), despite his alarm, are actually a product of the multi-channel universe. The end of public TV's near-monopoly actually gave it a sense of purpose, and forced it to do away with the quiz shows and U.S. reruns that filled its supposed golden age.

Public TV can now be public TV, stodgy, worthy, patriotic and intellectual, without also having to be everything else in the world. Like those pen-wielding monks in 1500, its creators have been given purpose and meaning by the frightening new machines.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

What's with the weather?

Is it just me, or are things going pretty hairy all across the country? My wife is visiting North Vancouver right now, but fortunately, she wasn't involved in the landslide. Still -- it was a bit too close for comfort.

Freezing rain, snow, frigid cold -- Oh well, sounds like winter in Canada, I guess.

Still, I can't remember it being so bad in so many places at once for quite awhile. I don't know about climate change, but it sure does seem like there's a lot more crazy weather around. Maybe it will end up being close to average over the long term, but this "new normal" sure is crazy.

And it's not just here in Canada. The eastern US is freezing, and it's raining in the west. The weather seems to be crazy just about everywhere.

There's no point to this post really. But I wish I were in Mexico about now.

UPDATE -- Check out this story about ice at the South Pole. I told you that the weather has gone crazy every where...from one side of the world to the other and from top to bottom!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Ditching the family vehicle

Now that the holiday season is over (with the usual problems showing know what I mean) I decided the time was right to start a new fitness regime. But joining a club hadn't worked in the past. Heck, even having my own in-house rowing machine hasn't done me a heck of a lot of good (so far.) So I decided on something a bit more dramatic.

Yesterday, I sold our van.

OK, maybe it's a bit extreme. But it will be interesting to see how it all comes out. Of course, I didn't do it just to bring my fitness level up (although I will be doing a lot more walking, obviously.) I also decided that having a great big Honda Odyssey sitting in the driveway, ready for occassional trips to the grocery store, or Limeridge Mall, just wasn't worth it. For one thing, we were leasing it, and so the money was heading out every month for leasing, insurance, gas and oil, maintenance, etc. And since I don't have what some would call a regular paycheque arriving every month, reducing the monthly outlay carries a lot of weight.

I'm not the only person that feels this way. Here's a site that's all about living without a car. Kind of strident, but some of the links are interesting.

I'm not opposed to cars, or anything like that. But I'm attracted to the idea of getting along without a car, for awhile at least. I do have a bicycle, which hardly ever gets used. I'm not likely to start using it right now since I'm not a big fan of winter bike riding. (Mind you, as I write this, it's +14 C outside -- go figure!) But we do have buses here in Hamilton. And I usually take public transit when I head into Toronto.

I also realized that for the price I was paying to have a van around (when you consider the payments, upkeep and insurance costs) I could take a lot of taxis and even rent a vehicle occasionally.

Just to be clear, I won't really be without a vehicle all the time. My wife still has hers. But her work as a midwife requires that she have 24/7 access to her vehicle, so I don't plan to be using it very often. But it means that our household is not without wheels totally.

Still, it's going to be interesting to see how we get along with the big steel carryall we've become so accustomed to in our driveway. I'll keep you posted on how thing go.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

What we call news...

I was intrigued this week to find out that Key Lake, Saskatchewan, was the coldest place on earth at -52 C. Without a wind chill. With a wind chill, Meadow Lake, Sask, was over -60 C. You probably don't know that, because it didn't seem to make the news anywhere that I saw. There was a brief item on the National News about how cold it was on the Prairies, but it was in the context of how all of Canada is going through some strange weather.

What is surprising is that even on Saskatchewan websites, I couldn't find out much about the extreme weather. The local CBC newsite, and the various papers, didnt seem to have any big stories about it. Sure, I know it was cold, but how cold? Oh well. If any of you have any stories about how cold it has been, let me know. I know that there are a few of you out in Saskatchewan that read this blog from time to time. Tell the rest of us.

That's my point, I suppose. When the temperature drops here in southern Ontario, there is a lot of news. It affects the Go Trains, buses, people on the highways. That makes it big news. But in places like Sask, people just go about their business. I'm not sure that their cars are built differently, or their buses or trains, but they seem to keep working, anyway. Maybe it's a Prairie work ethic sort of thing...

Why am I telling you this? No reason really. I'm just feeling a little nostalgic about those winters I spent working and enjoying temperatures that went to levels unheard of around here.

UPDATE -- I did find some Sask news. Here's one.And while this one isn't about weather, it's quite a story!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Welcome to Another New Year

Today is my father’s 89th birthday. Or, it would have been, if he had lived to see it. But he died in 1995, almost 10 years ago. Today, as I have every January 2 since then, I find myself wondering about the meaning of life. The New Year is always a time of reflection. The beginning of a fresh slate is a chance to start over, to resolve not to make the mistakes you did the year previous. That’s the conceit we start with. But to get there, to feel ready to begin with “becoming the best we can be,” we need to work through some of what we are.

My Dad died happy. I think. Although he was just 79, he felt he had lived a good life. That’s what he told me in the final days. He wasn’t being philosophical, or profound. That wasn’t his way. But I asked him whether he was ready to die. I think I asked because I wasn’t sure I was ready for him to die. But he’d been sick for three years and his life had shrunk to a daily routine of getting through the day. Still, he seemed more at ease in those last few days. He had decided to quit all the pills his doctor had put him on. His mind was clearer than it had been for awhile. And he was at home, in his own bed. Thanks to some dedicated home care workers, and my mother’s never-ending dedication, my Dad was going to die at home, which was how he wanted it. But was he ready?

“I don’t know if you’re ever ready,” he told me. “But I’m not worried,” he said quietly. By that point, he wasn’t talking much. I’ve got some pictures of him that I took the day before he died. He’s lying in bed with his eyes closed, and he looks suspiciously like he’s already dead. But after I had taken the photo, he opened his eyes and looked at me. “Are you done,” he asked? His humour always surprised me but it was comforting.

So today, I’m starting my 10th year without my Dad. As the years advance, I’m surprised how much of him I notice in me. Little things bring back memories. I find myself doing things that I remember him doing. There’s a connection there that is hard to put into words. It’s comforting on one hand and kind of creepy on another. Something has been passed on but I’m not sure what it is. My joints hurt more than they used to. I wake up in the morning and I’m aware that the years are passing. I’m not as young as I used to be. My children aren’t kids anymore, they’re young adults, with fascinating lives that don’t revolve around me anymore. I’m watching them grow up with mixed emotions.

But despite some misgivings about the year just passed, I’m excited by the one to come. Resolutions are good things. They may not be realized, but they help to focus attention on setting goals. I do want to exercise. I’m going to start with small doses. I want to move my arms again without pain. I want to exercise my mind and keep it limber. I hope to connect with friends I’ve neglected. I want to enjoy every day because they’re all precious. And when the inevitable arrives and one of my kids asks me the big question, I hope I feel the way my Dad did.

Happy Birthday, Dad. And Happy New Year to everyone.