Posts from the ‘What’s going on today?’ Category

ASF’s The Coronary Chronicles: Act Four – What should I do?

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(Note: Surgery did not happen when planned; a sicker heart had priority and occupied my Surgeon for 8 hours.  Bad news: I was bumped. Good news: I can still wipe my own bottom.)

As I left you faithful reader, I had just learned that my heart was sick and that despite my age, outward appearance, physical activity, and general good health (at least compared to the others on the cardiac floor…) I had heart disease. Whether it was lifestyle or bad habits or a predisposition to generating plaque were irrelevant to the situation at hand –  my heart liquid plumbrarteries were in need of some cardiac liquid plumber.

The angiogram was still a bit of a mystery, but the diagnosis was clear:

  • My main heavy-lifting arteries were pristine, clear and showing no distress whatsoever
  • A series of secondary arteries, that wrapped the heart, were bunged up; substantially, and for some length. In some places the arteries only had 15% capacity – that’s a shit-load of gunk lining the artery walls. Further constriction and the possibility of the plaque destabilising and completely blocking the artery were real concerns.

And the prognosis was clear: sort this out, STAT before it sorted me out.

But the question was how? The location, length and thickness of the blockages meant that the “Master AngioPlaster” would have her work cut out for her. This fix would need a lot of stents and in some uniquely, weird locations. And because some were near junctions of arteries and veins, the Doctor was unclear of second and third order effects on the major flow patterns. It was not a simple case of one, or two, or even three stents removing the pea from under the mattress. If it was angioplasty and shoring with the mesh stents, this was going to be the equivalent of a cardiac Chunnel.

This required a major cardiac huddle between the Interventionist and the Artery Plumbers to discuss options.

And so, with that, my femoral artery was closed up and I was wheeled back to my room and my wife.

Now it is not easy to look someone you love in the eye and deliver the emotional equivalent of throwing them in a pool of ice water. But I figured, since my face said it all already, it was best to take the Band-Aid off in one quick and rapid motion.

“It’s not good. I have several blockages that need more than a simple stent.  We’re here for a while.”

And with that, we entered a whole new realm.

A bypass?

Jesus.

I had heard about those. I knew that they opened your chest and stopped your heart and sewed some stuff on. And I had heard about singles and doubles and triples and quadruples. It sounded desperate and complicated and scary.  But honestly, I knew nothing. I only had notions.

There is a lot of good reading on the topic of heart health and heart disease, on heart maintenance and heart repair. And over the next 12 hours, between moments of sheer disbelief and bitter acceptance, I read a lot.  I read about angioplasty and stents; about all those drugs I was taking and all about coronary artery bypass grafts. I read about probabilities and risks and success rates and quality of life after.

And I thought. And then I though some more.

I asked myself is this all my doing. Did I just ruin the most important thing that I have been given; my heart. Did I ruin because I like eating the fatty bits of the medium rare prime rib? That I enjoy my fine scotches and craft beers? Love my occasional bag of potato chips? Cream cheese? M&Ms?

I have always believed that you can live a Wilde life: everything in moderation, including moderation. But maybe I was wrong. But how can this be? I just ran a half marathon five weeks ago. I quit smoking over 4 years ago. I dropped 30lbs from my heaviest in 2004. I was not exactly a poster child for the healthy heart foundation, but I definitely wasn’t a poster child for heart disease either.

lets-make-a-deal-doorsAnd I brooded and worried and became stressed. In hindsight I expended a lot of energy wondering how I got here. It made me a bit of an angry man. I was experiencing all the stages of loss. I had moved through denial and was now working through the anger. I was bitter that this had happened to me. There were fatter and very idle people out there…how come they weren’t having heart attacks? Why were they out enjoying the weekend sucking on their cancer sticks, drinking Kilkenny’s, and scoffing down large bowls of gravy and cheese curd laden poutine while I had to decide between Cardiac Curtain Number One or Curtain Number Two. It just wasn’t f*cking fair.

But I am not by nature an angry man.  I like to think am rationale and at times I am a fatalist.  Que sera, sera. My mom always told me that things happen for a reason. We just don’t see it until later. And after a day or two, I started seeing it. It sorted came at me like a ship through the mist. Maybe this was an opportunity.

I talked to the specialists. As we all know, I could have helped myself by being a little lighter, by making a few smarter eating choices, but overall I understood and ensure that I got the necessary OMEGA-3s and grains and greens and vegetables and fruit and proteins. I was not a fast-food junkie or a cola addict. I ran and rode my bike. And though I enjoyed life and its finer things, I was doing all the things you need to do to be good to my heart – not dogmatically, but sufficiently I thought.

The only joker in the deck was my ancestry.

I am not blaming anyone, but you cannot run from genes. High blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke are part of my ancestral family medical history. But there is so much that is unknown – in pre 1960s India, people died and no one knew or cared why. There was grief. And then there was land to be divided. Who knew whether it was heart disease or not?  All I know is that I have heart disease. My body produces cholesterol and plaque and my body will continue to produce cholesterol long after my arteries are repaired.

Maybe, this episode, this minor heart attack, this signal, was the chance to start over again. To take stock, and assess the devil-may care attitude, and perceived invincibility of my youth and early middle-agedness, and decide if I could keep up that pace forever. And I could…if forever was 49 years. But in my vision, forever was much longer than that. Yes there would be moments of craziness, but I needed to make sure that “Crazy ASF” understood that in the future there would be some cheques he shouldn’t write – his heart may not be able to cash them.

So eventually, after a day to think about, I chatted with the cardiac surgeon. And I was ready. I had three options:

  • If I was an 80-year-old man, who was unable to stand the rigours of surgery, and who was going to sit on his butt and do nothing but stare out the windows at the pigeons, then perhaps we could go with medications to control pressure and flow and rates and stuff…meds would buy the time for something else to fail catastrophically, like my liver

stent

  • If I was a relatively inactive fellow who was willing to live a relatively sedentary life of long walks in the rain, and wanted to always watch what I eat while taking a very large daily medical cocktail of anti-rejection drugs, cholesterol pills and a host of other heart regulating agents, then the stents would be perfect. Upside? Less intrusive, quick recovery. Downside? Second guessing every tweak and pain as I tried to live my life as I wanted would cause me mental distress. And anyway, a stint was like paving a pothole. Effective, but eventually you have to pay the piper and replace the road.
  • And the granddaddy of the option, the coronary artery bypass graft (CABG). A complete new superhighway for my heart akin to replacing Montreal’s crumbling turnpikes. The downside? My chest would be displayed to the world as a machine kept me alive. Risks include stroke and infection and just bad luck. The upside? After convalescence, I would be the old me – minus a few bad habits. I would be able to run, to dance. I could even swim the dolphins if I wanted. I would be on a less strict regimen of heart pills, but I would be me again. Plus I would have a pretty wicked scar to show off as part of the Zipper Club
Go for it!

Go for it!

For those that know me, I am pretty sure you could guess which I would choose. Being active and full of life, being who I am, there were no half measures. As a young lad, with great prospects at recovery, and with a robust immune system, I was sure. And I decided.

CABG it was. I knew what I had to do.

End of Act Four…

Later,

ASF

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ASF’s The Coronary Chronicles – Act One: It’s HRH’s fault…

Seriously, a heart attack? Seriously?

Seriously, a heart attack? Seriously?

I had a heart attack.

And as I think on it,  I don’t blame genetics, or an elevated cholesterol count. I am not mad at the few extra pounds I am packing or my penchant for BBQ and red meat, or tasty craft beers.

I blame the Royal Family for my heart attack. Them and the Royal Canadian Signals Corps…

As it happens, on a crisp, cool Friday afternoon when I should have been hoisting a few pints with my brothers-in-arm, I wasn’t.

Yes, Your Royal Highness, they were hoping you would join them for a pint..

Yes, Your Royal Highness, they were hoping you would join them for a pint..

The Worshippers of Mercury – the Spawn of the Sappers – had invited Her Royal Highness Princess Anne to Kingston to celebrate some kind of antenna raising or something. And on the very night when I should have been enjoying the comforting oak panelling and leather of the Keg Room, quaffing Paulaner and munching on potato chips and popcorn, recalling my exploits as a young dashing Sapper officer in faraway places, I wasn’t.

All because HRH was dining in the Officers’ Mess later that evening there was no Happy Hour.  Mesdames et messieurs, la messe des officiers, elle est fermée.

Merde.

I suppose I could have gone elsewhere to imbibe. But I didn’t. I wanted the moral high ground and I did not need a pint really. So, I decided that I would take my faithful furry companion for a little joggle on the trails around the house and make room for a little weekend living.

And that’s when my royal pains really signalled their intent…and again, if I had  been to the mess, I would never had have an heart attack. If P then Q. (And for those that know, a small homage to Dr Ramkeesoon…)

Anyway, the run started nicely enough, confident strides, and an occasional stop to let Lola sniff the glandular calling cards left on the path by her canine neighbours. But after a steady 1500m, things went awry. I was no longer loping and enjoying. The run was harder than I thought it should be – even though I knew it had been a slog of a week. I was not enjoying it like I usually do. This time there was discomfort.

Not in my chest and not in my stomach, but in between.

In my diaphragm and lower sternum.

There was unhappiness around that barrier that protects me from the Scoville tsunami after a particularly challenging jambalaya or vindaloo. The barrier that says, “Hey man, smarten up! That capsaicin ain’t coming this way, but it sure is gonna sting coming out the other end.”

But I couldn’t really place it, I mean it’s not as if  it was like a finger at an awkward angle or a compound fracture. So, I sort of ignored it. Because that’s what guys do: “sort-of-do” stuff and “sort-of-ignore” stuff.

But after a few minutes, the discomfort moved from “this-is-just-a-shit-run-so-get-over-it-and-suck-it-up” to feeling funny. Not ha-ha funny. Funny in a “somebody-gonna-get-hurt-real- bad” kind of way. So, after slowing down, and then stopping all together, I did a mental inventory of the classic heart attack symptoms.

Now, let’s be clear. That I did an assessment in itself was an uncharacteristically mature reaction from me …nothing like the 18, 25, 35, or maybe even 45 year-old me – the one who would tell the rugby physiotherapist to add another layer of athletic tape on the disjointed pinkie, or tell his wife that a doctor is irrelevant as it has happened before and it would heal – eventually. You know the guy; the kind who would run a half-marathon with a pulled groin. (By the way, “ran” is bit of an optimistic term…)

And in hindsight, I think with that action,I have finally arrived at that age where I actually might be paying attention to my body’s flashing lights and warning indicators. I think Maslow called it “Stage 5A: Waking-the-F*ck-Up-ilization” which gladly is just mercifully short of Self-Actualization – which in this instance, unfortunately, would be reached with the exclamation of, “Oh, shit! That was a heart attack! Aaaaaaaaarghhh!”, clutching my chest as my essence headed towards the light.

I remember how, way back in 2007, I thought I was an Old Bull. Back then I felt as if I was tempering the actions of those young officers under my command. But really, I was still just a young bull myself – an older, young bull – but still a Young Bull.  But last week, on that Friday afternoon amongst the fading leaves and naked branches, as I forced myself to execute this self-triage, while bathed in the sickly unease that maybe I had jogged a step too far, I realised I may have finally earned entry into the Old Bull Club.

Sadly, however, the only cow in the lower pasture was me…

I did the run through of all the symptoms I remembered:

  • Sharp pain in the left arm – nope.
  • Radial pain in the back – nugatory.
  • Shortness of Breath – nada. All systems check.
  • Clamminess, sweating? Who knew, I had just “run”, and it was cool out.
  • And I just did a half marathon four weeks ago – really…you can’t be serious!!!

I then started rationalising. No, it couldn’t be heart attack. There just weren’t enough symptoms. But then again, it just wasn’t right.

It was not as if Sweet Daddy Siki was sitting on my chest, but it sure wasn’t that loose rack of man-boobies that it always was before. So I wimped out, screwed the run and

http://news.usask.ca/archived_ocn/09-sept-18/images/wrestling2.jpg

Bring it on Sweet Daddy!

walked the short way home (all the while carrying a plastic bag full of Lola’s doggy doo – because that is what responsible pet owners do). I fed the dog her little princess meal of Caeser’s (dog food, not cocktails) and Royal Canin – and then I thought briefly of making dinner.

And then it got weird, time sort of became elastic. I stood in my kitchen – staring at some Italian sausage that was supposed to form part of a delicious pasta for me and my beloved – and I thought to myself, I don’t feel well.  I don’t remember if it was a minute, or twenty…

And I debated with myself. There was no way I wanted to spend 8 hours in Emergency on a Friday Night, waiting for some Attending to tell me it was nothing but an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato….more gravy than grave. “Take your antacids and stool softener – don’t forget the fibre and drink lots of water. Cure thyself, kind Sir!”  I was not keen on that idea.

But then I looked at the other possible outcomes. What if it was having a heart attack? Did I want to laying in a heap on the kitchen floor, hoping that my dog would dial 911.

“911, Emergency, can I help you?”

What' s the number for 911?

What’ s the number for 911, again?

“Grrrrr woof, woof, woof. Bark, woof!”

“Right, got the address Lassie, your Master. Stuck in the well out back?…Oh sorry, heart attack on the kitchen floor? We’ll send an ambulance right over!”

Just the thought of my wife finding me on the floor, all useless and damaged in a puddle of sweat, foaming at the mouth, was enough to convince me that being told “it was nothing” was worth it. So I sent the text that tried to downplay and diffuse what I knew could only be received with panic.

“Feel funny. Going to hospital. Tightness in my chest. Can’t shake it.”

And so I drove myself to the hospital. Now, as an aside, I think there is a common law of relativity, alongside Einstein’s E=MC2 that:

Quantity(Red Lights, Assholes, and Sunday Drivers) ∝ Urgency (desire or need to reach the destination quickly) 2

I cannot believe how bad drivers are – the 30kph in the 50km zone, the light is not yellow yet, dammit! But even in a heightened state of concern, I was a courteous Canadian. Only three honks to get people moving when they were dillying instead of dallying. But I digress, car driving habits would take a whole blog in itself, and I am supposed to keep my heart rate down. So moving on…

Now, after parking the car in the lot that is far, far away from Emergency – because I knew my car would be staying where it was for an indefinite period, and I did not want to create any parking turmoil as that would be rude –  I walked the 300m to Emergency, plunked myself down at the Registration and said, “ I think I am in cardiac distress.”

Prompt attention.  Use that if you want to be seen quickly; but be prepared to stay for a while.

Paperwork started at quick time. And my wife arrived moments later, having had her Relative Physics moment of Asshole Drivers Theory en route. And after looking at her face and her demeanour, at that moment I was not so sure who was having the heart attack. Leaving her to finish off my registration, I walked into the very, very full emergency ward.

I stripped off all my top layers of running gear – in the public hallway – and put on the very fashionable, useful, and most modesty-protecting hospital gown. And after showing all my ink, and middle-aged man hairy back to the lovely elderly couple who shared hallway accommodations with me, I was given my supper – two orange flavoured baby aspirins . Surprisingly, those bad boys taste just as lovely as they did when I was a kid. Some blood was taken and then I lay me down to await the medical onslaught, amidst the cacophony of paramedics wheeling in drug overdoses, car accidents, university RUFFI victims, and the generally unlucky – it was a great way to relax my heart rate and share some tender moments as I contemplated life with the person who is closest to me.

And then, my wife and I waited.

End of Act I…

Later.

ASF

Seriously?…Is it back to “Packie Go Home!”

TSNs-Gurdeep-Ahluwalia-and-Nabil-Karim-Twitter

It has taken me a bit to think about the recent kafuffle over the Sportscentre show on TSN last Tuesday (19 February 2013) (thanks for the edit AP).  If you aren’t aware, the show was hosted by Gurdeep Ahluwalia and Nabil Karim. A couple of homeys from Toronto.

Now in the ethnic mosaic that is Toronto, running into people named Gurdeep or Sanjay, or Xul Li, or Dieter or Jorge or Ahmad or Olympia or Ndongo or any number of fantastic names found across the globe, is pretty high. It is the beauty of our country, the mosaic versus the melting pot.

Two Canadian of Indo-ancestry hosting our national sports desk…we have made the big time. I hope it will soon become a non-issue like two women hosting the show, or a Canadian of Chinese ancestry as the news anchor on the National…can’t wait for other “firsts” to become non-issues too! There were a lot of positive comments about the “breaking story”, but…

You would think that after over a century and a half of immigration, we would come to realise that our diversity makes us strong and makes us better.  Well, you’d hope.  And most of us do. But evidently not. Take a peek…

2013 Spray Paint 12013 Spray Paint 2

2013 Spray Paint 4

Reading those tweets, I had a throwback to my youth, growing up around Danforth and Greenwood Avenues in Toronto in the early 70s.  At that time the “Asian Wave” was hitting Toronto. (Mind you the first “Asian wave” hit British Columbia in the 19th century during the Canadian National railway construction – flow interrupted by the Continuous Journey Regulation of 1908 that effectively managed any immigration from China, Japan and India until officially struck from the books in 1947!)

When I was young, the tormentors were the more established Greek and Italian kids, whose families had arrived a decade or two earlier. Historically I guess they had their initiation back then too, probably at the hands of the Scots, the Irish and the English!

Looking back, the taunts and events were comical in some regards. I remember one of my many fights involving a remarkably dense duo of eleven year-olds (I was 10), spray-painting a wall in the alley way we called Craven Avenue. Their message, a deeply imaginative “Packie Go Home!”.  I, a stereotypical Indian kid – good at spelling and math – could not take the insult and stupidity in silence. Indignantly I thought, at least if you are going to insult us, get it right…it’s P-A-K-I as in Pakistan.  Not P-A-C-K-I-E for packing something!! (BTW wiktionary defines  “packie” as a package store in Massachusetts) .  I proceeded to correct their spelling in a rather

at least they spelled it right...

at least they spelled it right…

excited and agitated way, following with my own taunt of,  “What, are you ignorant or somethin’?”  I think the question was rhetorical, but I didn’t really know what that meant in Grade 4. Anyway, the beating ensued, and I wish I could say I won – but I didn’t. I was just a nerdy Indian kid who went home crying and bleeding.  No worries, it wasn’t something a samosa and a glass of chai while watching an episode of Batman couldn’t fix!

Why were they like that? I remember my Dad teaching us to show respect to everyone. Colour, shape, abilities or disabilities meant nothing – we are all human and deserve common respect. I also remember my Dad telling me to turn the other cheek – not a bad use of a Christian adage by a Sikh chappie. But I also remember my Dad, as a young father – younger than I am now – chasing some asshole teenagers who had insulted his family in the park with racial taunts. I can only imagine how unfair he felt it was. He was just a fellow looking to set up a better life, in a better place, for his family. What did colour have to do with it?  He was working hard, he contributed to society, he paid taxes, he liked hockey and maple syrup; he wore a toque and shovelled the snow from his driveway like all other Canadians. He drank Red Cap and Black Label. Why was he any less of a Canadian, with any less of a right to be there, simply because he had more melanin or came from another culture?

Why don’t they just fit in and adapt to our culture?

Holy shit are you kidding me?  How much more can Gurdeep and Nabil fit in than hosting Sportscentre and talking about jams and flushes and biscuits and all that other jargon the sports guys throw about.

Now I can be a joker at times and I like to crack what I think are the occasional witticisms.And yes,  I have from time to time made an off-colour joke that has gone deep into “non-politically correct” territory – always followed by an immediate apology. So I get it  – once in a while we get it wrong. And no matter how educated and enlightened we are, we always have baggage. Maybe we are intolerant of the ridiculously liberal, the hard right, the deeply religious, the creationist, the evolutionists, the gun lobby, the oil people, the granolas…or whatever cause or ideology that causes us angst.  And I am sure we have had a not so kind thought to ourselves – but I am sure that we had our say using our “inner voice” only.

But I can’t understand these guys – the 2013 equivalent of my Grade 4 spray-painting buddies. What were they you thinking?   Twitter?  Yeah, that won’t go viral. And once you have put yourself out there, I don’t care what you say or what you think – you are forever known as The Racist.  Apologise if you want – you ain’t getting that spray paint off the wall.

So, whether it was a joke or not, the words were tweeted; the sentiment was expressed for millions to see. Their close-mindedness about what makes a Canadian, and what being a Canadian is all about, was evidently clear. These will be the same kind of guys who complain that the immigrants are stealing their jobs, the janitorial ones or taxi ones or fast food – you know, the ones that they are just lining up to apply for (not) – or that the immigrants smell like ethnic food…I have heard it all  before.

“Why don’t they just go home?”…followed by “just kidding”.

I am hoping that we have moved on from 1970s Toronto. But you know what, in the end it doesn’t matter. Because, when all is said and done, the immigrants will suck it up and carry on. They have done it for a century or a half,  whether they were British or French or ex-Black Slaves or Ukrainians or Slavs or Scandinavians or Australians or Asians or Arabs or Africans or South Americans or Central Americans…and on and on and on.

And perhaps they will, like I did, enjoy a wry bit of irony later. My Dad told me he ran into one of my childhood tormentors a couple of years ago – life as a late night parking attendant was suiting him fine. Maybe he should have learned how to spell…

Later,

ASF

The Priorities have all gone to SH*T…

The not so Triumphant...

The not so Triumphant…

Unless you live in a Buddhist monastery, you probably couldn’t help seeing or hearing about the Cruise Ship TRIUMPH, and its slow limp back into harbour – a 2013 SS Minnow on a three-hour tour. The ship left port on 7 February – for what was supposed to be a four-day trip. And then the trip evidently turned to shit…

The ship lost all power after a generator fire wiped out its electrical system leaving it powerless. And though I still don’t understand how the toilets were affected by the electrical system (unless it has to do with water pressure) the ship became a cess pool.

That does bite. I understand that it would be most, most unpleasant. But I hardly think it is the end of the world.  I mean, add a couple thousand watts of hard rock and a few pyrotechnics and it would be an outdoor concert in any field. Heck, about 44 years ago kids would have slid on their bellies in the stuff.

I admit that I would be torqued if I had dropped a couple of grand on the Turd Boat…and that I had to camp out on the Poop Deck. I might look for a return on investment – like my money back, some compensation and a deal on the next cruise. Oh, wait.  That is what Carnival is offering. However, in the typical “sue-and-I can get-rich for-no-effort-whatsoever” reality that is the American Dream, the lawsuits are starting:

Cassie Terry, 25, of Brazoria County, Texas, filed a lawsuit today [15 February] in Miami federal court, calling the disabled Triumph cruise ship “a floating hell.” “Plaintiff was forced to endure unbearable and horrendous odors on the filthy and disabled vessel, and wade through human feces in order to reach food lines where the wait was counted in hours, only to receive rations of spoiled food,” according to the lawsuit… “Plaintiff was forced to subsist for days in a floating toilet, a floating Petri dish, a floating hell.” (http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/carnival-cruise-ship-hit-lawsuit-floating-hell/story?id=18509079)

Give me a break.

Disconcerting? Revolting? Traumatic? Sure. Life threatening? Seriously…

The  angst has been unreal; the words that were thrown about did a disservice to those across the globe who are really suffering. Jim the Hammer ShapiroAsk the poor souls who are trying to survive in Syria, Darfur, Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen or Baluchistan for their thoughts on lining up two hours for food.  I wonder if they are considering lawsuits against their parents, or governments, or the arms industry. Too bad Jim “The Hammer” Shapiro wasn’t practicing law in the Third World – he’d get them a settlement.

Dadaab Refugee Camp Kenya

Dadaab Refugee Camp Kenya

How did this small problem – compared to the countless of real tragedies involving hundreds and thousand of people – gain such prominence?

Simply.  The media did it.

The national media, from the good old CBC to CNN covered “the Disaster” – the ill-fated voyage of the QE Poo. CNN even devoted hours to it.  Especially near the end. Photogenic anchors with no journalist skill kept asking stupid and leading questions in the hunt for a story – disgruntled people to spew venom about the trip. All it got were gentle kudos from its interviewees about the crew and how hard they tried their best to keep people out of the “dumps” – perhaps it was the crew’s heightened sense of “doodie” (okay…sorry, enough of the scatological puns). And bravely, CNN tele-linked passengers with their loved ones at home – give me a break! They were on a cruise ship, safe if not sound…not in a radical compound with hoods over their heads fearing for their lives. Their families weren’t really expecting to hear from them anyway and who wanted to listen to those private phone calls anyway?

Seriously?...

Seriously?…

The major story became the shared red bio-hazard bags…shared as in “do-you-have-a-spare-bag?” vice shared as in “…can-I-poop-in-your-bag?” whch was the CNN angle.  Even the potential voice of doom and suffering –  Dr Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s medical guru –  was hard pressed to come up with a shocking by line, admitting “that it was unlikely the passengers would experience widespread illness, despite deplorable conditions”. The eyewitness testimonials and the good doctor’s prognosis did not jive with the dramatic “Sheisse-Sturm” theme musik CNN was playing before the constant footage of the ship under tow. ”

And CNN and FOX and MNBC and CBC Newsworld and CTV News One were not any better.

Once upon a time I used to look at all these stations with awe using them to understand what was happening in the world. To follow major breaking news stories. CNN was a news leader at one point, just like Ted Turner wanted it to be. It’s coverage of world stories – German Unification, Gulf War I, 9/11, the Tsunami, the Japanese’s Earthquake, the Arab Spring are just a few events in a long list.

But somewhere over the 33 years since it started, it has changed.  Aside from the global game changers, which are easy to cover

Breaking News....

Breaking News….

because they are global game changers, the all-news stations suffer. We aren’t interested. Unless something remarkable happens, they have nothing to do.  But bills have to be paid and advertisers want viewers. So the newsies have changed the way the biz’ is done. No longer a news reporter, the media has now become the newsmaker.  Small stories become big stories. And the incessant, repetitious reporting sensationalizes the trivial.  The constant loops of the same news cycle has them scrambling for new angles to report the same details. No longer is the aim for detailed investigative journalism that provides all the facts in a well presented package; the goal is to present the biggest bang in the shortest time.  And to keep it reporting it over and over until the next thing comes along.

And do they care if it is true?

Evidently not. Otherwise why would they broadcast hours of numbing repeat footage and useless interviews with so-called experts and dubious eye-witnesses.  And like watching a train wreck, we cannot help but stare.

Bad things are happening all over the world, and there are events and places that we should be staring at.  But we don’t.   The Fifth Estate made a disabled cruise ship into a major news story. And it will continue to do so. I can’t wait for the coverage of the litigation as Ms. Terry looks for compensation for her ordeal. Hope her filth encrusted, shrunken shoes fit so she can prove she was a victim.

It’ll make for riveting and entertaining TV. It should be on right after the Oscar Pistorious trial…

Slow down fer pete’s sake…there’s a foot of snow on the ground!

The white-out...aka The Squall

The white-out…aka The Squall

We were supposed to drive to Ottawa today, to have a nice reunion dinner with friends.  But as you are all aware, Eastern Canada – including sweet little Kingston – enjoyed a full dump from Old Man Winter’s icy bowels.  We had a nice deposit of 30 cm of snow over the past 24 hours. That pretty much choked our road network like an Occupy Wall Streeter hit with pepper spray.  The plows and sanders did an admirable job – most of the main arteries were passable – but I was required to bring out my best Swedish Snow Rally Driver skills as my little VW Golf churned through the piles of white stuff on our little side street. The Little-Car-That-Could did well.  But at the risk of being immodest, knowing how to drive in the snow helps too.

f**nuts, rhymes with duck-butts

f**nuts, rhymes with duck-butts

It is obvious that not everyone in our stretch of the woods does. Now I won’t call the drivers that are on the road the same lovely pet name  used by The City of Vaughan…which I believe rhymes with “duck-butts”…but over the past two weekends I have noticed that many people drive like morons when facing snow. It was just last week that we were caught in a surprise squall 20 km west of Kingston (and that last 20 km took 45 minutes to travel!), and this week I took a brief spin on the 401 to see if a drive to Ottawa was worth it. From what I saw, it wasn’t.

All I can say is that some people have no right to call themselves Canadian, or drivers for that matter, based on their skills, their etiquette, or their common sense.

What is going through their brains? I do not know if they have some sort of invisible force field, or Star Trekkian deflector shield.  How do they develop the audacity and boldness to drive like that? Do they have some sense of invincibility, of immortality, because they are driving shiny SUVs? Or are they  exempted from the laws of physics.

Doubt it.

I just think they are duck-butts.

Unless there is a dying person involved, I can think of no circumstances that create such urgency that rushing quickly to any place is more important than staying alive. They must have some logic or rationale, because driving the way they do creates life or death situations.

It is stunning.

how the heck....

how the heck….

To be honest, they piss me off. In the end, I do not care if their vehicles end up in the ditch or kissed against a guard rail.  Again, I wish I was a perfect human being, but I am not. I have to admit that I enjoy that wee bit of schadenfreude when the driver who sped past you ends up in the snow bank (uninjured of course). Or gets a speeding ticket. You know the one that I mean. That guy with the halogen headlights on high beam that cause those retinal burns; the one that violently splashes icky yucky salty slush across your windshield (leaving you vision-less as your windshield wipers fought valiantly and frantically to restore sight), or creates that snow rooster tail that obscures the road. We have all met him.  Truthfully, once you know all is alright and no one is injured, who amongst us hasn’t smirked to ourselves, “How’s that Porsche Cayenne working for you now, Ducky?”

And honestly, I could care less if they are waylaid. But you know what? These same morons are the ones that create the accidents. Lane hopping, tailgating, quick braking, they create confusion and mayhem, that inevitably ended up creating collision chain reactions.

By relying solely on their daytime running lights  they are invisible…duh…half the battle in not getting hit is taking action to be seen. Don’t people know that most rear vehicle lights are not on during the day? Turn-the-lights-on in bad lighting conditions!

And as the Classic Rock radio guy commented today…”What the hell, people?” There is a foot of snow on the ground. It is not August. You can’t go roaring around at 80 km per hour, and then expect to stop in 10 metres. You-are-going-to-slide!

Regardless of the energy you try to impart on your brakes – à la Fred Flintstone – the equation for momentum, P=Mass x Velocity, means that your car will keep moving when you are screaming for it to stop. Force=Mass x Acceleration, will decide how much of the car in front of you will be destroyed as you plough into it. The physics is easy…either you start driving around on a roller skate with no mass, or you slow the “duck” down.

And use your brain. To see snow physics in action – your hysterics will be twinged with incredulity, and at some stage in the video, just plain pity for their errors and consequences – check out the Utah drivers at this link… Snow Turns Utah Drivers Into Morons Too (Editorial Amendment – this video is a little more scary… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RK0x20SJVY )

Still from the Utah Drivers...

Still from the Utah Drivers…

That is in town. What about those highway drivers?

Their lack of snow plow etiquette is staggering . Yes they go slow. But they make the road safe. Let them do their job; follow them and take the cleared, sanded road. Why do people drag race them? The plow  will win the ensuing collision. An empty snow plow weighs 60,000 lbs and is armed with a 12 foot steel wing plow that can push tons and tons of snow. The average car weighs 4,000 lbs. I betcha it’ll just toss that car aside like an Emo kid brushing aside their bangs.

The Plows will always win!

The Plows will always win!

And, I also heard someone say that it took over 6 hours to get from Kingston to Brockville  – a distance of 83km. (I admit, it was second-hand, from the radio announcer who knows a guy who knew a guy who had a Timmy’s coffee with that couple who apparently took 6 hours).  They were waylaid by the accidents, the snow ploughs, the closed-off sections, and the

Near Montreal...

Near Montreal…

road conditions

white-outs…I can believe it. They must be living in a cave where there is no internet, or TV, or radio. Do you not have the Weather Channel so you can check the conditions when you drive? Oh yeah, the roads are bad, but man, I just need to get there …or my car can handle it…or I have snow tires…or I could do it. Maybe you can, but what about your fellow travellers?

People are so optimistic about car travel. We’ll get there.

Jeez…when do you give up and get a hotel room, grab a case of beer and hunker down eating a pizza watching Pay-per-view?  Or dig into your Facebook contacts list and refresh that acquaintance with your Grade Six BFF who lives in Gananoque?

And I would love to know how many of them have an emergency kit in their car. Oh right, their car coat and Esso ball cap will keep them warm in sub-zero temps. (If you need a steer on what to pack in your car for those unavoidable winter trips, check out Winsconsin’s link here…How to Make a Winter Car Survival Kit

winter_car_kit

I know friends who safely made the drive down from Ottawa today. At one point I was fairly confident in my ability to navigate the 401 and 416 to Ottawa. But as we moved down Highway 401 from our house to the West end of town (12 kilometres) to do some errands, both m y wife and I Iooked at the nasty and brutal end results of two spinouts and one multi-car collision. The vehicles were The Invincibles– pick-ups, SUVs and mini-vans. And I know that they are all safe and sturdy vehicles that if driven with care can get you anywhere.  Great vehicles really that should not crash with proper care. The only variable was the duck-butts who were driving them.

Multi-car accident north of Toronto.

Multi-car accident north of Toronto.

And that, in the end, the thought of sharing the slippery roads with people like that was enough to make me stay at home.  So we stayed home, all stress-free, and dug out the movies (and watched the Leafs pot 6 goals against the Canadiens – sorry I couldn’t resist).

It’s winter. If you have to drive, drive safe. If you don’t have to drive, crack a bottle and enjoy being warm and cozy – and safe.

Later,
ASF

Bread and Circus XLVII – NFL Style

superbowl47

I am writing this while watching Super Bowl 47 (or EX-EL-VEE-AYE-AYE if you prefer), so my thought streams might be a little more convoluted than usual.  Add in the stupefying pre-game show, I am unable to concentrate well as I am caught up in the high tech, sternum-thumping music and sensory overload that psyches us up for the game to come. All I can say is, “Wow”… do the Americans ever go big!

Is it me or is the Super Bowl way more than a sports event; I feel like a 21st century Titus or Maximus preparing to watch full-blown Roman theatre.  Based on the hype and pageantry,  I keep expecting to see Joaquin Phoenix lower his thumbs as the vanquished gladiators prepare to retreat from the field of battle – a panem et circenses sort of thing. (Sorry, still justifying that Grade 11 Latin class). I guess that is why it is XLVII instead of 47!

Gladiator

I am convinced the Super Bowl is fantastical. It is no longer a game – it is a Major Event (note the caps). It is a  stunning (not like “holy cow” stunning… more like a “taser” stunning), mesmerizing festivity that keeps us hooked with the promising potential of a  “train-wreck”.

Really, who even cares who is playing? Maybe fans of the two teams (who are the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, if you care).  As for me, I‘ll just root for whoever loses the coin toss – I love the underdog! (By the way,  in keeping with the sheer extravaganza, did you notice the coin toss also included a laudatory speech from the Referee…reminding us how America provides great opportunity for anyone who is willing to work hard… or has a spare $124,707, 285 to payroll a NFL team).

The game is one thing, but if you ask me, most could really care less about who is playing or who will win.  I betcha that most of us are hypnotised by the prospect of gorging on gluttonous volumes of food and gallons of alcohol.  According to msn.com, the stats are staggering – we will consume 51.7 million cases of beer, 6.2 million pounds of nachos (that is a mere 3 million kg for my Euro friends…), 2 million pounds of chips (crisps, old boy…) and who knows what else. After the binge, I am sure all of us will look like NFL linemen on Monday…

NFL HEAVYWEIGHTS

The Super Bowl is simply an excuse to party; a chance to enjoy our first post-Christmas celebration.  Think about it; it has been a proverbial 40 days and 40 nights of roaming the wilderness since our last festival of merry-making. And it is so friggin’ cold and cheerless, that we need something vaguely positive event to justify our want to drink ourselves into forgetting it is only February and Punxsutawney Phil or Wireton Willy has seen his shadow… SO why not drink like a bunch of honey-badgers?!

punxsutawney-phil-photo“But. but, but…” say the football purists among you.  This is really about celebrating American Football!

You sure about that?

I will admit that the Super Bowl is more modestly named than the major league baseball finals, humbly dubbed “The World Series” (in what atlas are the continental United States and Toronto featured as the World? – what about Japan or Korea and Cuba?).  No one pretends that the Vince Lomabrdi trophy is a World Trophy (though it probably has more right to do so than baseball’s).  Football takes the moral high ground and posts for the simple and plain adjective, “Super” (and funnily enough the trophy is not a bowl either, not like the CFL’s Grey Bowl).  I am surprised that the game is not called the Most Fantastic Marvellous Tremendous and Terrific Bowl of the United States of America. “Super”, in comparison seems quite sedate.

But how Super is it?

Well, a 60 minute game is tightly jammed into a closely choreographed 5 hour-long spectacle, showcasing all that emotion, glitz and “over-the-toppedness” that only the US of A can generate. It is a showcase…and why not? It is watched by 11o million people worldwide. I think that is roughly the same size as the seating capacity of New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Mercedes-Benz? Is that even American?)

jhud_sandy_hook-600x450I admit that the spectacle started poignantly, with a Celebration of America…Jennifer Hudson and the Sandy Hook Childrens’ Choir. And though that was a touching moment. that made me think back to the horror and how resilient kids are/ With a nice version of America the Beautiful, I couldn’t help but think of the subliminal and manipulative message it heralded: children who have experienced horrific gun violence singing with an adult who has also suffered through gun violence. A tribute to America or an indictment of the Gun Culture? I am not sure that was all about the pigskin…

And then it moved to Alicia Keys…a great artist for sure. But her stylised US anthem, “a 45 rpm song delivered at 33 rpm”, must have frustrated everyone. Those waiting for the game and those ad execs who were robbed  of an extra ten 30-second commercial spots. And what about her ad-lib at the end? Why don’t our singers do that on Hockey Night in Canada? Oh wait, our singers  know they and the anthem are merely foreplay; get it over with, let’s get to the main event!

So now, 35 minutes after flipping on the TV – the TV guide did say “Super Bowl XLVII @ 1800” – and the game has just started…and now at 1838 hours, it has been an exciting three minutes of football – two plays!

And then on the 39th minute, CBS created the commercial. Lots of them.

Now Super Bowl commercials are legendary and there have been some very good ones over the years. But then again, they should be good at $3.8 million per 30 second spot (that equals $456 million/hour – or  I am guessing, about one minute’s interest on the US national debt).  But I am pretty sure that the Super Bowl advertising revenues subsidise all the CBS Executives’ annual Christmas bonuses. Why else would there be a commercial break every 12o seconds?!  How do you keep up our interest with such a choppy game flow? How do they possibly hope to stoke my competitive fire? Or is it a conspiracy to keep me drinking more Anheuser-Busch and scarfing down Chili Heat Doritos.

kia-slow-walk_s640x427

Anyway if you care, at the half Baltimore has bitch-slapped San Francisco. It has that disappointing feel of another Super Bowl blow out…

BeyonceSo now, I am sitting here having watched two hours of commercials and a bit of football waiting impatiently for the Halftime Extravaganza – Beyoncé…in all her Bootyliscious glory. Now if you have not been tracking Beyoncé – I have to ask why not? (Kidding.)  Seriously,unless you have been stuck under a rock for the last two weeks, you have to know that she is still reeling from that Inauguration scandal – LipSynchgate! The question asked ridiculously often the past week has been “Will she sing live, or will she pull a Brittany?” It was big news on the major news channels.  Guess that civil war in Syria was just too dull.

And because I was not going to make the under-over spread on the game now that Baltimore is kicking ass, I checked NFL.com for the stats to get a reasonable betting line on the Halftime Show.  I found that for Super Bowls played in February in the Southeastern US, where one of the teams is named for a Bird, or if one team’s uniform has gold as a supporting colour, the odds of a lip-synch performance by an act of two or more performers was 83%. Gambling on an NFL trifecta of “lip-synch, wardrobe malfunction and arrest of a starting linebacker for a concealed weapon”, the payout would have been 3800 to 1.  Mind you, those are the odds is in the pre-NFC/AFC unification era – today’s odds might have been less. Unfortunately I could not get that bet into Sports Line before the 6pm deadline.  For once I wished there was a British bookie shop nearby; that bet would have been a nice pairing with my betting stub on whether the Queen would wear Lime Green during the Royal Jubilee Flottilla or whether the new Royal Baby will have 11 toes…

Anyway, all I can say for the half time show, and the much vaunted togetherness of Destiny’s Child, is that after all the hullabaloo, Beyoncé should have lip-synched. It was no Janet Jackson…

And so we move to the last half. Looks like it is might be boring…oh wait, the lights have just gone out. Seriously? Well half of them anyway.  Jeez, why didn’t I put money on that? Wearing my tin-foil hat, I am thinking that SanFran may have paid off some the Mercedes-Benz staff  to turn the lights out – maybe they are hoping for the game to be called off on account of “dark”.  Or maybe it was just good old Mercedes-Benz engineering and a German-manufactured switching transformer blew; don’t worry they can get the parts at the nearest dealer…on Monday!

And so the minutes tick by…and during the glorious 31 minute delay…I witnessed the best of American Sports Journalism. (Okay, I sat and watched it…Loser)  Interviews with the sideline crew, replays of the first half low-lights, detailed analysis on Beyoncé’s “dress”, and explanations on why the Forty-Niners still haven’t showed up for the game. 31 minutes to figure out the lights…amazing that the most technologically savvy country in the world, the one that is the envy of the undeveloped world in terms of infrastructure and wealth, can’t figure out how to play football with only half the lights on.  Anyway, in the stadium there was still enough light for every kid in Africa to read a bedtime story; just not enough for a professional football player to catch a ball. Did these guys never play sports in the dark as kids? Maybe they should have asked all the fans to turn on their cell phones and turn them around – it worked for the half time show. Ummmm….sorry, was that my internal voice?

Super Bowl 47 Power Outage

….Sorry, I was transfixed for the second half. Who knew a power outage would kick start a 49er? Okay the game is over; it turned into a good game. 34-29 for Baltimore…and San Francisco made a game of it.  After 5 hours and 10 minutes of  TV coverage – or 60 minutes of game play –  EX-EL-VEE-EYE-EYE is over.  I hope that I am not the only one who watched it all!

But is it really over?  Wait, here comes the onslaught of post-game analysis. Baltimore will be applauded for their effort and SanFran will be consoled for their bad luck and misfortune;  Beyoncé will be heralded as a great entertainer, and everyone will comment on the ocean of tears shed for brave kids from Sandy Hook.

And for one more year, the Super Bowl will have served its purpose of rejuvenating the Stars and Stripes and reinvigorating America’s love for manufactured goods, food and alcohol.  And for a brief evening I forgot it was the middle of a cold, snowy winter…regardless of the score.  Perhaps like the Roman theatre, maybe that is what it is was all about in the first place. The Super Bowl,  just like the panem et circenses, cures everything.

Can’t wait for EX-EL-VEE-AYE-AYE-AYE!

Later,

ASF

A classmate adds his thoughts on “bystanders” in the wake of a beating on an Edmonton LRT witnessed by more than a dozen people. The victim, who has died from injuries sustained in the attack, pleaded for his attacker to “stop, stop, stop”. No one did anything….

"As I mused, the fire burned"

I am presently struggling my way through a talk for Saturday night on the subject of integrity. For a person that has spent most of his adult life studying the question, I’m finding it surprisingly hard to put words to paper.

Three things caught my eye. The first, a blog post by a classmate of mine, concerning a gentleman who was pushed onto the subway tracks in NYC and killed by a train…his post begins discussing the freelance photographer who captured photos of the man just before he was killed, apparently while he was trying to use his flash to warn the driver. The second is the post by theologian John Stackhouse noted below, about our role in evil. The third was this story, very close to home, about a man beaten to death on an LRT train on last Friday afternoon. A beating that took place while…

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