Archive for November, 2011

HirOshima.

I might have enjoyed Hiroshima by John Hersey a little bit more if I hadn’t read the book from front to back in about seven hours, between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.  But this, of course, is my own fault and will not prevent me from giving a genuine and honest opinion on the book.

After hearing it in blog presentations and reading it on people’s blogs for myself, I feel a bit repetitive in saying it, but clearly what worked best and what stands out the most in Hiroshima is the level of detail that Hersey poured into the work, that really brought it to life.

I read something in this book that will likely stick with me indefinitely as one of the most eye-opening (no pun intended) and startling things I’ve ever read, and that is when Hersey describes one of the main characters stumbling upon a group of (temporary) survivors whose eyeballs had melted and were running down their cheeks.  It was partially because I really had no idea that eyeballs could actually melt like that, and just the visual of the scene, it was so gripping and disturbing, and it’s details, however gruesome they may be, that really makes Hiroshima come to life.

One thing that I thought didn’t work in this book was simply the number of characters Hersey chose to focus on.  He chose six in total, and at 152 pages in the book, that leaves an average of about 25 pages for each character’s personal story.  Not only did it possibly force Hersey to jam details together where they might have benefited from being more drawn out, but the characters were just too hard to all keep track of.  They all had specific details to their story, and going from one to the next, to the next, to the next, rinse and repeat just became a headache after a while.  Sometimes I would start a new section on, say, Mr. Tanimoto, and I’d have to flip back to the end of his last segment to remember where his situation had left off, because I’d just finished reading about five other people.

I don’t think anything is necessarily “missing” from this book.  It is an internationally acclaimed piece of writing, and I am a firm believer in the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” As grammatically incorrect as it may be.  Like I said, I don’t think anyone would have complained if Hersey had chosen to maybe focus on only three or four of his chosen subjects.

The number one thing, in my opinion, that journalists can learn from this book, is the art of storytelling.  This is a non-fiction work, so how does Hersey make it read like a work of fiction or an action/adventure novel?  Well I certainly don’t have the answer, I assume that Hersey does, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that journalists can learn how important storytelling is to their craft.  The straight facts of Hiroshima, while historic and intriguing, would probably put most of us to sleep if they were just read one after another after another.

But there I was, four in the morning, glued to that book as if my grades life depended on it.  I’m being sarcastic of course, but I really did find the book interesting, and plenty of others in Hiroshima’s place definitely could have put me to sleep at those wee hours of the morn’.  But Hersey’s ability to weave everything together, and make it readable is what journalists need to realize is so powerful about this book.

It’s also what sets the book apart from a lot of other non-fiction works.  I’ve read non-fiction books – professional wrestler autobiographies, let’s say – and a lot of times it’s hard for authors to avoid telling a true story without (basically) saying “After that happened, this happened.”  It’s extremely difficult to try and recount a true story that is full of details without sometimes making the reader feel like they’re just being fed detail after detail.  But Hersey somehow manages to make the entire book, from start to finish, one cohesive unit that flows nicely.

Originally published in The New Yorker, Hiroshima was met with mixed reviews, but I think it was ultimately highly praised. From what I read, it seems like there were some people who believed that, in publishing this work, The New Yorker was taking the stance of being sympathetic to Japan and regretful that the bomb was dropped.  The New Yorker cleared up any and all misconceptions, and, like I said, it was met with mostly high praise.

I enjoyed reading John Hersey’s Hiroshima.  It gave me a really good perspective on the human side of what happened when the atomic bomb was dropped, and I think that is something that we are fortunate to have gotten.  It’s one of those things that is tragic to read about, but important to read about, and I think Hersey did a fantastic job of presenting in a way that is approachable and digestible.

All I Want For Christmas…

Is a referee who can call a damn hockey game.  Let’s go:

WANTED: Dean Morton, Robbery

For those who had the displeasure of watching the Winnipeg Jets vs. Buffalo Sabres game tonight, we were treated to a real doozy, weren’t we?

The Jets came out looking strong and determined, and by the end of the game I’m sure it’s safe to say that most of the players, much like myself, were steaming.

With a total of 14 penalties for the Jets to the Sabres’ six, the number one star on the night is referee Dean Morton; just the way he wanted it.  Talk about a sad little man just dying for some air time.

Burmistrov’s penalty, the first of the game, set the pace for the disgraceful whistle-blowing that would follow.  Burmistrov throws a hard, clean hit that he needs to come up on just a little bit since he’s shorter than average.  But, charging?  No chance in hell.

The Jets continued to take penalty after penalty, and as hockey fans know, it’s standard practice for referees to try and keep things as even as possible.  Key word: possible.  It doesn’t mean that if the Jets take a penalty, the Sabres are owed one to even it up.  It means if the Jets take, say, three in a row, the Sabres should be under a microscope in the eyes of the refs, and should be called for penalties that might otherwise be overlooked.  The logic behind it makes sense: If you just had three power play chances, you clearly had quite an advantage, so you better not take it for granted, and be sure to be on your best behaviour.

But as the Jets continued to be banished to the sin bin time and time again, the calls on the Sabres were few and far between.

And the 5-on-3’s, oh my Lord. Help me to understand why a referee would think it’s okay to just hand out 5-on-3 advantages like they’re candy and it’s Halloween.  Giving a team a 5-on-3 power play is giving them a goal 90% of the time.  You had better have a blatant penalty in front of you to make that call, and I don’t think they ever did.

Where things really got out of control was the end of the game.  At 11 penalties on the night, to the Sabres’ six, Stuart tries to clear the crease of an opposing player after the whistle, and the guy goes for an Oscar with his epic dive, and Stuart sits for two!?  With everything that had happened up until that point, with how closely the Sabres should have been being watched by the officials for crap just like this, Buffalo easily – easily – should have taken the penalty for diving.

But don’t stop me yet, it gets worse.  After Buffalo ties the game thanks to this atrocious call, Kane breaks away with Burmistrov in the dying minutes of the game.  Burmistrov has his stick clearly pulled out of his hands, a cheap, lazy move that eliminates the 2-on-1, and there is no call on the play.

At this point I think I had to pinch myself.

And then we take a penalty in overtime?  If there’s one thing that is usually handled with more care than giving a 5-on-3, it’s giving a penalty in overtime.  Even before overtime was 4-on-4.  Now when you decide to hand out a penalty in overtime, you’re giving a team a 4-on-3 advantage.  Easy goal.

To put it simply, I’m nothing short of disgusted by the desperate attention-grab by Dean Morton tonight during the Jets/Sabres game, and his performance should be reviewed by the NHL.  This was a game that the Jets not only could have, but should have won.  And only because of one man’s pathetic antics were we denied of the ‘W’ tonight.

Remembrance Day 2011

I always stand up for Don Cherry.  People who criticize him just don’t get him, and probably haven’t seen enough of him to understand the type of guy that he is.  Every once in a while Grapes gets himself into some trouble for his comments, usually made on Coach’s Corner.  Personally, I applaud Don for having the stones to be as honest as he is, and I also know that he is a classy and respectful person.

Anyone who’s watched Coach’s Corner around Remembrance Day knows that.  Every year, Don honours Remembrance Day and all of the fallen soldiers, specifically the Canadians.  One look at the way Don reacts when speaking about this stuff says a lot about the kind of guy he is.  Any time he talks about fallen soldiers his voice starts to crack, and he’s on the verge of tears.  Gotta love a guy who gets that emotional and shows as much respect for Remembrance Day as Don Cherry does.

Check out Grapes’ Remembrance Day tribute from this past Saturday here.

Last year, for my journalism Remembrance Day assignment, I went and visited my Grandpa at Poseidon Care Centre, where he lives now.  I talked with him for over an hour about his experience fighting in World War II, and was amazed at how collected and coherent he was in recounting his stories to me.

A few years ago he suffered a couple strokes, and I believe a heart attack as well, and has quite simply not been the same since.  He requires special care now, and his mind often plays tricks on him, causing him to think or believe things that are not true.

But he was sharp as a tack when it came to explaining to me his experience in the war.  He saw a lot of action, and was hit in the lower body by shrapnel from a mortar explosion in Falaise, France.  As he told me, one piece went in his “left ass cheek” (his words), and another piece went in one side of his left leg, just below his knee, and right out the other side.

He lost consciousness, somehow survived, and woke up safe at an ally camp, having been carried back by other soldiers.  He was sent back to England to be treated, and actually rejoined his troops later.  He fought through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany right up to the eventual surrender of Nazi Germany.

This is my Grandpa in Brussels, Belgium, before he was deployed:

I believe he was 19 at the time.

Today, he’s 88.  This is a photo of him taken last year, during my visit for my assignment:

He’s not sad in that photo, don’t worry.  Must be his new picture face, haha.

So buy a poppy, and respect your elders! You never know if you’re looking at someone who faced death so that you can enjoy the freedoms you have today.

Law Courts (Pt. II)

So I hit the law courts once again today for Journalism class, and while I got a pretty good story the first time around, I’d have to say that the second time was probably even more interesting, simply because of the specifics of the case I covered.

I also visited the fourth floor of the courts, which quite suddenly reminded me that I had been here before, whereas previously I thought I hadn’t.  The fourth floor is where a lot of the domestic violence and youth hearings are, and it reminded me that that was where I visited in my 12th grade Law class.

Next thing I know, I’m telling Ashley about how I got to sit in on this super “interesting” case back then involving a young woman who had been raped.  While I was there, she actually testified in court and described the incident.  Thinking back it would have been a really interesting case to cover for this Journalism assignment.

But today I sat in on another interesting case involving domestic violence.  Basically this big, burly guy got good and loaded at a party, and put a pretty horrific beating on his girlfriend.  She was actually “too afraid” to appear in court today with him present, but is planning to resume her relationship with him when he gets out of jail according to the Crown lawyer.  So it’s hard for me to be sympathetic.

But between the case today and the way I spoke about the one I sat in on in high school, it got me thinking about the conflicting emotions journalists feel from time to time with matters like this.

Obviously by now I’m much more of a journalist than I was, say, a year ago.  And I find that now when I think back to a case like the one I saw in high school, I almost end up saying things like “That would have been an absolute gold mine for quotes”, or something equally insensitive.

And same with the domestic violence case today.  I walk out of there going “Awesome, should be really easy to write up a story out of this”, and basically what I’m saying is “Thank God that beating he gave her was so brutal that it gave me enough details to meet my word count”.  It’s like I can’t even understand that those are actual people in there anymore, they’re simply supporting details to the story I’m going to write.

Today was a little bit of a silent wake-up call for me.  I think it’s important for journalists not to lose that sympathy and understanding to the point where they’re just cold, lifeless robots with quotation marks in their eyeballs, even if that means just consciously reminding themselves to be a little more sensitive at times, like I did today.