jump to navigation

Bookends: Lawrence Hill Delves Deep into the Subject of Blood December 30, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in autobiography, Bookends, current events, Matt Taibbi, News, personal, Science, Whitehorse Star.
Tags: ,
add a comment

Bookends: Lawrence Hill Delves Deep into the Subject of Blood

By Dan Davidson

April 25, 2018

– 964 words –

 

Blood

Blood: The Stuff of Life 

By

 

384 pages

House of Anansi Press

$14.80

eBook edition

$9.99

 

Lawrence Hill’s fascination with blood stems from an incident when he was very young and cut himself on a broken beer bottle. He splashed blood of the sidewalk all the way home – 10 houses away –hoping that he would need enough stitches to have bragging rights. It didn’t work out for him. Four were not enough. But he was impressed by how long it took for the blood to be washed away.

A few years later, he managed to crash through the glass door of a cottage and cut his upper arm.

He recounts these personal stories in chapter one, “Go Careful with That Blood of Mine: Blood Counts” of the 2013 Massey Lectures. Getting the contract for this chore took him away from writing The Illegalfor about a year, he says, but he found it worth while as it caused him to organize and formalize a theme which he had already noticed was prominent in his other fiction and non-fiction writing.

The resulting research is indicated by the footnotes, acknowledgements, and bibliography at the end of this book.

That first chapter is a short history of the study of blood, as well as a personal account of his own experience, first as a runner, and after, in his mid-forties, as a man with the same diabetes that seems to afflict all the male members of his family, going back several generations.

“Blood,” he concludes at the end of that chapter, ”is truly the stuff of life: a bold and enduring determinant of identity, race, gender, culture, citizenship, belonging, privilege, deprivation, athletic superiority and nationhood. It is so vital to our sense of ourselves, our abilities and our possibilities for survival that we have invested money, time, and energy in learning how to manipulate its very composition.”

There was a time in his life when Hill badly wanted to be a champion runner, and it took him some time to realize that he had pushed himself to the peak of his ability in that sport. It turned out that he wasn’t getting enough oxygen into his bloodstream. He was fit and thin, and remains so today, but at age 16 he “had the lung capacity of a forty year old smoker.”

His track coach at the time was David Steen, a reporter and gold medal athlete, who recommended he take up the study of English literature, for which we can all be grateful.

“We Want it Safe and We Want it Clean: Blood, Truth and Honour” examines what we have traditionally done with blood, how it has been used for sacrifice, offered to the nation, and used in medicine. In particular he dissects the issues related to stem cell research, blood donation policies, and the tainted blood scandals of the 1980s, which have affected the lives of a couple of families I know.

There is a revealing section on the scandalous career of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

“Comes by it Honestly: Blood and Belonging” begins by telling about his own quest as a man of mixed blood to define himself, and how this nearly led to his death while serving with Crossroads International in Niger in 1979. This chapter deals with matters of blood, personal identity and international affairs.

“From Humans to Cockroaches: Blood in the Veins of Power and Spectacle” deals with how blood in involved with violence, power and spectacle.

“Violence and power need blood,” he writes. “They feed on it as cars feed on gasoline. When we want to hurt people, entertain ourselves at their expense, or capitulate to our most base instincts, we lust for blood.”

This chapter cites works as diverse as the Bible,The Wizard of Oz, The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter novels, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“Of Presidential Mistresses, Holocaust Survivors, and Long-Lost Ancestors: Secrets in Our Blood” ranges through literature and history. The presidential mistress was Sally Hemings and the president was Thomas Jefferson, who wrote strongly against miscegenation (the mixing of races) and yet had a son with this woman.

In science and home economics we know that blood stains are among the hardest to remove from anything, and it is a trope in television mysteries that it becomes visible with the use of certain chemicals and types of light even after it seems to have been removed.

Lady Macbeth knew the staying power of blood stains (“Out, damn’d spot! Out I say. What, will these hands ne’re be clean?”) ”as did the murderer Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, who cannot seem to get the blood from his hands, his axe, his boots, and certainly not from his imagination.

The Massey Lectures are broadcast annually by the CBC as part of its Ideas series. The original recordings, in the fall, take place live in five different cities. Last year’s series, with Payam Akhaven, had one of its sessions at the Yukon Arts Centre. The lectures are generally repeated sometime in the spring, often with some additional material.

Most of them are available in book form and as audio productions from Anansi Press. The books are either expanded versions of the talks or the talks are condensed versions of the chapters. Hill told me it as a bit like doing different essays on the same subject.

When I covered the Akhaven lectures, In Search of a Better World, I had the book open beside me and read the parts he wasn’t saying, so I could see how that worked. Some of the earlier lectures are available for free listening on the CBC Radio Ap, but Hill’s lectures not there any longer.

 

-30-

Advertisements

Bookends: Why There’s a Weird Person in the White House February 9, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, current events, Klondike Sun, Matt Taibbi, politics, Whitehorse Star.
add a comment

Bookends: Why There’s a Weird Person in the White HouseInsane clown president

By Dan Davidson

April 19, 2017

– 850 words –

 

Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus

By Matt Taibbi (Author),

Victor Juhasz (Illustrator)

Spiegel & Grau

352 pages

$22.98

Kindle Edition

$11.99

 

With a title like the one Matt Taibbi chose for this collection of US election year essays, you really can’t expect that he will have anything nice to say about the man currently (except on golfing weekends) occupying the White House.

Mind you, Rolling Stone’s style of election coverage, beginning with Hunter S. Thompson’s “fear and loathing” series, and continuing ever since, have always been irreverent, scatological and, well, politically incorrect.

In this book we have 25 of the articles that were written for the magazine, plus a couple of bookends – one to admit that we are going to see a quite a few wrong predictions and early gaffes, and another to sum up what he thinks are the lessons to take away from the 2016 Circus, or the train wreck, as he often puts it.

The essay titles tell you a lot, even without reading the book: Inside the COP Clown Car; The Official GOP Debate Drinking Game Rules (parts 2 & 5); America is too Dumb for TV News; Casting “Clown Car, the Movie”; Revenge of the Simple: How George W. Bush Gave Rise to Donald Trump; and so on.

As he writes in his opening essay, “It’s an Alice in Wonderland story, in which a billionaire hedonist jumps down the rabbit hole of American politics and discovers a surreal world where each successive barrier to power collapses before him like magic.”

Those are among the nicest things he says about the man some cartoonists have lately been calling “the golfer in chief”.

The other COP candidates are the “clown car to which he refers so often. There was not one of them without major flaws and character defects. Some he classifies as mentally unready for anything for complicated than a greeter’s job at Wal-Mart.

He’s not kind to Hilary Clinton or the Democratic Party, either. Given the nature of the opponent set before them, this was their election to lose, and they did so by not paying attention to how Bernie Sanders inspired people, and by not working as hard as Barack Obama did to win his two terms.

“Why Young People are Right About Hilary Clinton” is a chapter that, while it clearly indicates he believes that she would have been a better, saner, safer choice, outlines all the reasons why she was rejected by so many people in so many key states. While she may have won the popular vote, she knew as well as anyone in the game that she had to win the Electoral College votes for that to matter. She had lost the common touch that she and Bill had used to gain his two terms in office, and while she stated more than once that she knew that, she didn’t do anything about it.

Taibbi is kind to Bernie Sanders and merciless on the Democratic Party that refused to take him seriously or to learn from what he almost managed to accomplish with nothing to compare to the massive financial backing that Hilary got.

Taibbi thought at first that Trump was a complete joke but, long before others, he upgraded him from joke to disaster in the making, and eventually stopped being surprised as he took down all the other clowns. “The Unconquerable Trump” analyses that triumph.

He saves some of his bitterest bile for the media, that has turned American news outlets into infotainment centers, and quotes that memorable news exec who opined that Trump was bad for the country but great for ratings and therefor for profits.

Reality TV gets a good whack along the way, as well, but while it is blamed for helping to dumb down the public’s ability to think critically, the public itself is raked over the coals for allowing it to do so. This section should have contained a passing reference to Neil Postman’s 1985 classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Perhaps he did that in his 2010 book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. I think I must read this one, too.

He reserves some of his nicest words for the chapter called “Barack Obama’s Last Stand”, in which he describes the brief analysis of the outcome that the soon to be ex-President offered the public. Obama is not judged to be sinless. Promises were broken. Drones killed people. Red Lines were drawn but ignored. Still, Taibbi sums op the changing of the guard this way:

“Donald Trump may have won the White House, but he will never be a man like his predecessor, whose personal example will now only shine more brightly with the passage of time. At a time when a lot of Americans feel like they have little to be proud of, we should think about our outgoing president, whose humanity and greatness are probably only just now coming into true focus.”

 

-30 –