Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Shining Star

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I actually took this picture a few weeks ago, and was saving if for a day like this, when anything else I might care to write seems frivolous and empty.

I've lived in Vancouver almost nine years now, so long that I don't even get allergies in the spring any more, and I've never seen a sea star within city limits. I'd never seen a purple one before, either. This day I was walking along False Creek and happened to see a dozen of these purple ones and a half a dozen of the more common orange ones in a sheltered piece of foreshore near a marina.

When I lived here before, in 1990, False Creek was so dirty you wouldn't have seen this. First, the animal wouldn't have been there, and secondly, if it had it wouldn't have been visible as deep as this one was, about a metre down. I didn't even need a polarizing filter to capture this one, the water was that clear.

It's easy to say that things are dirtier and more violent and in every way worse today than they've ever been, but now I don't know. To give myself a little perspective, I was reading about an even worse school attack than the one at Virginia Tech which took place in Bath, Michigan in 1927, in which a man dynamited a school and killed 45 people, most of them children.

Talk about your good old days.
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Books Wormed - Pete Hamill's "Downtown" and "Five Points" by Tyler Anbinder

Despite having so little time for anything else lately (like sleeping or eating) I've actually been doing quite a bit of reading. So much so that I finished two books in one day. Feeling quite virtuous, I then proceeded to get carried away, and read an entire issue of The New Yorker, a six-week-old copy of the Georgia Straight that I'd already read six weeks ago, and the instruction manual for a fire extinguisher.

Never let it be said that Daddy doesn't like him some readin'.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe first book I finished was actually brought to my attention by James Mullin, my book enabler, er, dealer. Seller! My book seller... When he handed me this one I snatched it away from him so fast there was a concern he might need a blood transfusion to help him recover from the paper cuts.

Ah, Manhattan... Or as I like to call it "The Holy Land". Mr. Hamill gets it just right, or at least I assume he does. I've never been to New York, but reading this one made me want to go even more, if such a thing is possible. By turns elegiac, puissant, and erudite, "Downtown" is everything a travel book should be, including written by someone who knows what they're talking about because they've lived there forever, without being as needlessly sesquipedalian as I can be.

I loved how he took well-known places, set them in a particular 20th century context, then finished them with some frisson of personal yet utterly relatable anecdote. More than a travel book, it's a time travel book. Not only did it make me want to go there, it made me want to go there 20 years before I was born.

Plus it reads like poetry crossed with chocolate. At 280 pages, I wanted it to go on and on...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketCovering roughly the same territory (geographically, at least), albeit 150 years previous, is the thick and juicy "Five Points" by Tyler Anbinder. I love nothing better than wrapping my hands around a great big history book, especially one which throbs with insight and pulses with life. Fortunately, I'm not one to sublimate, nor would I dream of exaggerating. Not in a million years.

Having previously read (and adored) "The Gangs of New York", Professor Anbinder's take is still thrilling, despite all the accuracy which, sadly, is lacking in Herbert Asbury's landmark 1928 publication. Twice as long as "Downtown" I was so enthralled by "Five Points" I read all the end notes and the index. Where Hamill's book is a rich, fulfilling dessert, Anbinder's is a steak.

To any student of conurbation, such as myself, New York City is the ultimate paradise on Earth. Although London is a close second - the cradle of the modern world, if you will - Manhattan is it's playpen, the nexus of everything, a gleaming pinnacle... I'd say more, but I'm afraid if my reverie rises above a certain Woody Allen-esque pitch Mr. Gagne dials up Bitch-Slap-o-Gram, and the next thing I know there's a knock at my door and a eight-foot tranny with a delivery for me.

So yeah, y'know, read 'em, don't read 'em... Whatever.
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Editorial Policy Clarified

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As a glib, snarky publication (GSP) the Pop Culture Institute has a definite role to perform in the larger media. Namely, to be glib and snarky, guh! There are thoughtful publications, there are sleazy publications, and there is everything in between; all are invaluable for filling the niche they do.

There are stories I'm following that it's otherwise impossible for me to cover without seeming insensitive, to whit: the Virginia Tech shooting. From the Ecole Polytechnic killings of 1989 through the Columbine killings of 1999 to the Dawson College killings last year and now this, I have always been appalled that places of learning should ever be terrorized in this way.

Obviously, it is my opinion that if you are going to go on a killing spree only to then commit suicide you should by all means go first. You are obviously a selfish person, so why choose this crucial time to share? This, of course, is merely a reaction to a tragedy; in the fullness of time, I know I'll find myself trying to understand and forgive this monster.

Once CNN and their ilk start trotting out the killer's friends and family, and they start crying all over the place, that's when my mushy little heart will start to bleed. Years from now, when it's proven that he did it because of too many trans fats or antidepressants or whatever excuse they can find in place of a reason, we'll already have moved on to the next thing.

And if it turns out the reason he did this was because he was bullied, forget it. You might as well wave a pork chop at a rabid weasel, because I will lose it. I've been bullied my whole life; I have not gone on any shooting spree, nor will I. Instead, I started a GSP.

Killing a bully makes a bully a martyr and a martyr is a hero; the only real revenge is to overcome the bullying and instead find it in yourself to mock the bullies incessantly. That said, I'd better stop now. Knowing myself as I do, I've already said something I'll come to regret. My thoughts go out to Virginia Tech today, as I go to work at a vast campus and hope...
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