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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.
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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.

 

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Bookends: One Woman’s Personal Struggle to save the Arctic’s Snow and Ice December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in autobiography, Bookends, current events, News, personal, politics, Science, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: One Woman’s Personal Struggle to save the Arctic’s Snow and Ice

By Dan Davidson

April 4, 2018

-1025 words –

 

The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet

By Sheila Watt-CloutierThe Right to Be Cold

Penguin Canada

368 pages

$22.00

eBook edition, KOBO or Kindle: $11.99

 

Sheila Watt-Cloutier was a keynote speaker at last fall’s Tourism Association of Yukon conference, held in Dawson City. Much of her presentation was drawn from this book, with its provocative and surprising title.  This book was one of the finalists in the 2016 Canada Reads contest, as well as being nominated for a number of non-fiction awards.

A few passages from its introduction will serve to give you the flavour of her argument.

“For the first ten years of my life, I travelled only by dog team. As the youngest child of four on our family hunting and ice fishing trips, I would be snuggled into warm blankets and fur in a box tied safely on top of the qamutiik, the dogsled.

“The Arctic may seem cold and dark to those who don’t know it well, but for us a day of hunting or fishing brought the most succulent, nutritious food. Then there would be the intense joy as we gathered together as family and friends, sharing and partaking of the same animal in a communal meal. To live in a boundless landscape and a close-knit culture in which everything matters and everything is connected is a kind of magic. Like generations of Inuit, I bonded with the ice and snow.”

That bond is being broken as the reliability and predictability of the climate changes. A culture dependent on its relationship to the land, the snow and the ice, is becoming collateral damage to the global warming which is having she writes, its most dramatic impact on the region which is the “cooling system for the planet.”

“The Arctic ice and snow, the frozen terrain that Inuit life has depended on for millennia, is now diminishing in front of our eyes.”

This book is a blend of personal memoir and a history of her struggle, n her various roles, to come to terms with those changes and get others to take responsibility to reduce the toxins that natural forces tend to filter into the North.

This has happened to such as extent that at one time mother’s milk was found to be contaminated with industrial toxins due them being ingested as a component in the country foods that are a natural part of the Inuit diet.

Traditional education on the land was about more than just teaching children how to survive, the hunt, to master the technical skills, she writes. These lessons were also exercises in character building.

“It’s a very wholistic approach. The technical skills and the character building are not separate at all. Technical skills are about how the world works; character skills are about how you work. This wholistic approach to learning is the hallmark of Inuit culture, and this wisdom, which is sourced from the ice and the cold and the snow, is equally now at stake.

“It is being lost, just as the ice itself is being lost.”

Paradoxically, Watt-Cloutier’s time in a couple of residential school settings during her teenage years is something she remembers as being quite positive for herself and her classmates, even though it did divorce them from their culture. She seems to feel that more damage was done when she was finishing her high school and living with a well-meaning, but non-native, family in Nova Scotia.

She would spend many years trying to reclaim her fluency in her native tongue. She would have liked to reclaim as much as possible of her native culture but she found that, during her absences for school, the life she remembered so fondly had decayed and diminished. Some of this was due to the changing climate limiting traditional choices; some was due to nomadic people being herded into settlements by government policies and social assistance financing; some of it was due to the curse of alcohol, a problem she herself experienced at one point.

Watt-Cloutier has travelled extensively during her working life, beginning with jobs in the health care and education fields before moving into the political arena. She has been a political representative for Inuit at the regional, national and international levels, most recently as International Chair for the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which represents the interests of Inuit people in Canada, Alaska, Russia and Greenland.

She became a sort of human rights activist for the North. In 2007, Watt-Cloutier was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy work in showing the impact global climate change has on human rights, especially in the Arctic, where it is felt more immediately and more dramatically than anywhere else in the world.She did not win the prize, but the nomination highlighted her work.

She does not see herself as an environmentalist, though they have some causes in common. Protests over seal hunting have done serious damage to the Inuit economy, led by people who don’t understand that seals are both food and raw materials for the Inuit.

“We Inuit simply cannot have personal freedom, we cannot have choice, if we don’t have the right to be cold, if our homeland and culture are destroyed by climate change.”

In addition to her Nobel nomination, Watt-Cloutier has been awarded the Aboriginal Achievement Award, the UN Champion of the Earth Award, and the prestigious Norwegian Sophie Prize. She is also an officer of the Order of Canada. From 1995 to 2002, she served as the elected Canadian president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). In 2002, she was elected international chair of the council. Under her leadership, the world’s first international legal action on climate change was launched with a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

This is an engaging book, most interesting in the pages where it is most personal. The drier aspects of bureaucratic struggle do drag on a bit, but it is a worthwhile read for all that, and those details do matter.

 

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Bookends – A skeptic seeks some soulful solace December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Science, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends – A skeptic seeks some soulful solace

By Dan Davidson

March 7, 2018

– 785 words –

Spook

 

Spook – Science Tackles the Afterlife

By

W.W. Norton

311 pages

$16.95

 

Just what happens to us when we die, assuming, for the sake of the argument, that “us” is composed of more than the $160 worth of organic and inorganic materials of which our bodies are composed? If our sole measure of worth is comprised of the earthly materials of which we are constituted, what about the soul? What about the consciousness that resides behind our eyes and has so much to do with who we are? What about the memories, the individuality?

That is the question that lapsed Catholic science writer Mary Roach set out to address in this informative, sometimes annoying, and often amusing study.

This book is, I suppose, a natural follow-up to the one before it, which was Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Having determined what becomes of the physical body, it made sense for even a skeptic to wonder about the non-physical.

Twelve chapters deal with every topic from reincarnation (in a chapter called “You Again”) to the many ways in which people have claimed to be able to communicate with those who have passed on to that“undiscovered country, from whose bourn /No traveller returns.”

As Hamlet went on to say in that soliloquy, the very thought “puzzles the will” and since it’s nearly impossible for any of us to imagine a world in which we are not the central point of view, it is no wonder that there are so many schools of thought about what happens next.

Is there a specific location in the body where the soul, if it exists, resides? There are a couple of chapters dealing with some of the thinking that has gone on through the centuries. Once people realized that sperm actually served a purpose, that was a popular location, but there were others who went for particular body parts, like the Big Toe.

If it exists, does the soul have weight? It has often been reported that bodies become minutely lighter when they are vacated by the activating essence, but Roach has read the evidence and it doesn’t seem to hold up very well.

Other people tried to see the soul as it departed, and jumped immediately to speculation about where it went when it did so. Definitely no solid answers there.

If it exists, what is it made of? This takes us into the history of attempts to explain ectoplasm, which is probably nothing like that goop from “Ghostbusters”, or the grey (for demons) and white (for angels) fog that has been emanating from Sam and Dean’s adventures in “Supernatural” for the last 12 years.

Then there are the various methods that are used to attempt to communicate with those on the other side, which is probably nothing like that spooky savannah country currently on display in the movie “Black Panther”.

“The Large Claims of the Medium”, “Soul in a Dunce Cap” and “Can You Hear Me Now” examine some of the ways that this is attempted, and the last of these is about the author’s experience at a school for the advancement of mediumship.

Now. It’s just possible that there are certain natural emanations that may cause us to see, hear and feel the presence of things we would not normally see, hear, or feel. The Nature of Things devoted a show to this theory a few years ago, and it does seem that certain electromagnetic frequencies can produce dramatic sensations some times in some people.

This may also be true about certain sound frequencies, though the author’s experience with this was mixed. On one trial she seemed to experience something while under sonic stimulus but later, perhaps because she was expecting to, she had a similar experience when she thought she was being bombarded – but that time she wasn’t.

What about haunted places? Is there some combination of sounds, atmospherics and smells that can explain tales of haunted buildings? Well –maybe.

There are a lot of maybes in this book. One emerges from its pages with the feeling that Roach would like to believe and is a bit like the father who begged Jesus to cure his son, saying, “I believe; help thoumine unbelief” (Mark 9:24)

At the end, she writes, “ perhaps I should believe in the hereafter, in a consciousness that zips through the air like a “Simpson’s” rerun, simply because it’s more appealing- more fun and more hopeful –than not believing. The debunkers are probably right, but they’re no fun to visit a graveyard with. What the hell. I believe in ghosts.”

 

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