Two Tired Parents Go to a Lecture

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Last night, Pete and I went to a lecture at the Craigleith Ski Club.  It was organized by the Georgian Triangle Lifelong Learning Institute.  The GTLLI offers courses to members (mostly retirees) wanting to expand their horizons, but once a year, they put on a special event like this one.  In 2011, when I was pregnant with C, we went to a lecture by former Canadian ambassador to the UN Paul Heinbecker (who was one of my professors in grad school) and we were, by far, the youngest people there.  Still, it was a fantastic lecture and there were very delicious snacks afterwards.

We were excited to get tickets to this year’s event.  This time, we were not the youngest people there (damn you, hip twenty-something couple!) but we felt like we might be the exhaustedest (not a real word).  You might argue that octogenarians are likely more tired than even the most frazzled new parents, but we were the first people rushing out of the ski club so that we could be in bed by 9:15.  So, I stand by my statement.

Last night’s lecture was by CBC journalist Brian Stewart, who was a foreign correspondent for decades and is perhaps best known for his coverage of the Ethiopian famine.  His CBC crew introduced the world to Birhan Woldu, the little girl who would become the face of the famine.

Birhan Woldu in 1984; Brian Stewart; Birhan Woldu in 2004.
Photos via Make Poverty History

Stewart’s lecture, Hope Out of Ruins: Human Endurance in an Age of Crises, was an optimistic take on the state of the world.  Stewart believes that despite what the media would have us believe, there has never been a period in human history with more stability, tolerance and peace than this one.  Coming from a man who has covered some of the most devastating catastrophes of the last several decades, it was an uplifting message.  Stewart was careful, however, to warn that our 24/7 news cycle and short attention spans are compromising our ability to understand our world.

For instance, we are more likely to think that crime rates are rising in this country, when they are, in fact, falling.  When the news media cover violent crimes, they don’t point out that such crimes are rare.  The fact that they are rare is the reason why they are being featured on the news in the first place.  An event is considered “newsworthy” when it is extraordinary.  I used to use this famous example when teaching my policing students about crime rates: if 1 airplane out of 10,000 leaving a particular airport crashes, the headline will not be “9,999 planes land safely.”  This is by no means a critique of the news media, it simply illustrates that we see the noteworthy, extraordinary events on the news.  The problem with this is that we become so accustomed to seeing these events nightly that we begin to think that they are a lot more commonplace than they are.  By every measure currently in use, crime rates have been steadily falling in Canada for several years.  Yet the high-profile shootings in Toronto and the horrific case of alleged murderer Luka Rocco Magnotta lead the public to believe we’re living in a more violent time.

Brian Stewart pointed out that we are facing a dilemma.  We are living in a relatively stable, peaceful time, but we are more pessimistic and cynical because of our constant exposure to negative media coverage of current events.

Stewart mentioned dozens of encouraging developments, the fact that dictatorships have fallen across most of Europe and much of South America, that all but one African country hold elections, and that human rights are increasingly respected while our tolerance for war has markedly diminished.  What to do about this cynicism was left for us to ponder.

It was a great evening; an intellectually stimulating date night.  And we were in bed by 9:30.

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An Evening with Linden MacIntyre

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I was lucky enough to attend An Evening with Linden MacIntyre in Meaford, Ontario earlier this month.  This was a fundraiser for the local library and was held at the beautifully restored Meaford Hall.  I was obviously excited about this because I had an evening to myself that involved wine and cheesecake on a stick (!) and stimulating adult conversation.  I’m also a fan of Linden MacIntyre’s work.  In case you aren’t familiar with him, Linden MacIntyre is a CBC journalist and Giller-prize winning author.  I absolutely loved his book The Bishop’s Man and recommended it to my sister, who also raved about it.  It’s thought-provoking and understated.  And in a book tackling the difficult subject of the Catholic Church and sexual abuse, it doesn’t take the easy way out.  It’s fantastic.

MacIntyre began by reading from his new novel, Why Men Lie.  He then sat down with the evening’s host for a discussion of his novels and his career as a journalist.  He talked about his own childhood in Cape Breton and how that informed his writing.  He discussed some of his assignments as a journalist and how those experiences affected him.  He has written about some of the more haunting experiences in his novels in order to exorcise them from his life.  There is a character in his new novel who is based on a real death-row inmate MacIntyre interviewed before his execution.  He was a Canadian convicted of murder in Texas, and agreed to speak with MacIntyre after rejecting all other offers.  According to MacIntyre, the inmate asked why he should speak with him, and MacIntyre replied “Because they don’t want you to.  They want to control what is said about you.  They want to show a twenty-year-old mugshot of you on the news and have that be the end of it.”  And so the inmate agreed to tell his story.  MacIntyre claims that his conversations with that inmate so affected him that he couldn’t quite capture that in his journalism.  And in writing about him, MacIntyre claims that he was able to let go of a man who had haunted him for many years.

After MacIntyre’s interview was over, I high-tailed it to the reception area so that I could have the chance to meet him and still get home at a reasonable time.  I was third in line to have my copy of The Bishop’s Man signed.  Linden MacIntyre signed my book and then I told him that it was an honour to meet him, that I had loved The Bishop’s Man and that I showed Fifth Estate documentaries in my criminology courses to my policing students (before I had C, I used to teach college- and university-level courses for a policing program).  I used to show them his documentary about Steven Truscott, a 14-year-old boy who was wrongly convicted of murder in Ontario in the 1950s.  Linden MacIntyre told me that he thought it was so important to expose people, and particularly policing students, to stories of the wrongly convicted.  He then offered to send me one of his non-fiction books, Who Killed Ty Conn?  He was gracious and charming and I was thrilled to meet him.

Pete wasn’t able to come with me that night, because we weren’t able to find a babysitter, but next Tuesday we’re going to a lecture by Brian Stewart of CBC news on media sensationalism and we’re both pretty excited for that.  Learning!

Setting My Literary Sights a Little Lower

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For the past six weeks, I’ve had this book sitting on my coffee table, taunting me with its starkly beautiful cover photo:

I’ve wanted to read this book since I first read a review of it, shortly after C was born.  The Guardian writes that it is “a magnificent account of the British assaults on Everest in the 1920s [that] puts Mallory’s adventures in the context of war and imperialism.”  I love reading magnificent accounts of assaults on Everest.  I stayed up until all hours reading Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.  And as a history buff and political science grad, I’m even more pumped about putting these adventures in the context of war and imperialism.  World War I is endlessly fascinating to me, and this book manages to bring these themes together in a vivid and poignant narrative, or so I’ve been told by various book reviewers.  I haven’t managed to read even the first chapter.

We’ve had so much going on, including lots of company, various doctors’ appointments, and a teething baby.  And since the library is becoming impatient with my renewing shenanigans, I’ve decided to return Into the Silence and to try to read something a little lighter instead.  So yesterday, on a whim, I picked up the newest book by A.J. Jacobs:

A.J. Jacobs writes lighthearted books that are similar to a blog put to paper.  He usually lives some sort of wacky experiment and hilarity ensues.  I’ve read three of his books and loved them all: My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself; The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible; and The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World.  I’m chuckling to myself as I write these titles.  I really enjoyed these books, particularly the latter two.  Jacobs really commits to his experiments in his books, including stoning a suspected adulterer in The Year of Living Biblically (as far as I recall, he throws a pebble and then scurries away).  In The Know-It-All, Jacobs reads the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica and becomes so frustrated with the monumental task by the letter F that he becomes enraged about Daniel Fahrenheit’s temperature scale.  It’s hilariously nerdy.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to reading Jacobs’ latest book.  His interview with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC Radio’s Q was great and reminded me how much I enjoy his writing.  Now the only challenge is to wrestle this book away from Pete, who has managed to start reading it first.  He has been home for two days, ill with a fever, so I think I can overpower him.

And now for a quick question: what are you reading right now?