Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Things I Can Live Without: The culture of anti-smoking

Full disclosure: I am a former heavy smoker who hasn't touched a cigarette since September 2005, with the exception of lighting a cigarette for a gentleman who had fallen after slipping on some ice in January 2010. (As the first responder, it was my next order of business after calling the ambulance.) Far from triggering a relapse, that brief puff only reinforced how glad I am to have left that filthy habit behind.

With that out of the way, let me say that I find our society's fixation on demonizing smokers highly suspect, as I believe very little of it has anything to do with saving lives.

Can cigarettes cause cancer? Absolutely. On the other hand, we live in a world that is chockablock with known carcinogens, or things that could be shown to be carcinogenic if the powers that be had the appetite to get to the bottom of it.

What about the other things that cause illness and misery, such as the overconsumption of alcohol? Where are the scary warning labels on booze? "This product can destroy your family." "Alcohol consumption can lead to transgressive or abusive behavior." "This is a liver bloated by a lifetime of liquid lunches." (In fairness, there is a movement here in Ontario for such labels, but as far as I can tell it is still just that - a movement rather than a sanctioned cause.)

How about the stress the average person takes on while pursuing their required alotment of status symbols? Years ago, my old family doctor told me that easily 80 percent of the cases coming through his practice were stress-related. If his observation is representative of the public at large, then why hasn't stress been declared a wide-scale public health emergency? Where is the movement to unilaterally ban its biggest causes? (My own belief is that there are some who work themselves sick, and others who benefit economically from that unwarranted level of loyalty and commitment, but that's a whole other thing.)

In the end, cigarettes are an easy target: they're stinky, they discolor human tissue after prolonged exposure, and are unhealthy enough to distract the populace from asking serious questions about other sources of illness.

Instead, we have ever more graphic warning labels that I presume are meant leave us with the warm and gooey feeling that comes with knowing that cancer is being eradicated, one supposedly grossed-out smoker at a time.

* * * 

NEXT - Things I Can Like: Public transit

Monday, April 14, 2014

Things I Like: General interest magazines

In recent years I have cooled to the idea of special interest media. That's not to say I don't ever seek out an all-music radio station, an all-news TV channel, or magazines geared to a narrow topic - it's just that I've become more open-ended in how I approach my media consumption.

The biggest reason for this shift from special to general interest is a desire to be caught off guard by unexpected topics or perspectives, to be pulled in a direction I didn't know existed. A good example of this is demonstrated by a change in how I buy and read magazines.

There was a time when I would hunt down whatever magazine scratched a very specific itch, be it guitars, cameras or poetry, to name a few. And prior to making a purchase decision, I would accumulate a shortlist and then pour through the contents of each until I determined which one would give me maximum reading pleasure for my money.

This seemed to work for a number of years, even though it meant I usually knew exactly what was coming next, and, ironically, often found myself skipping over entire articles.

Fast-forward to the present, where my tendency now is to simply grab a title I know and love (such as Harper's, The New Yorker, or the Saturday Evening Post), and do my utmost to not glance at the table of contents or even study the cover too closely before sitting down to read it from cover-to-cover.

In this way, I now make a much heavier demand on a magazine - whereas before it only had to satisfy whatever nich whim I was following at the time, now I expect it to do nothing less than open up whole new worlds to me.

That's a pretty tall order, but when it is met, reading becomes the thrilling adventure it was always meant to be.

*    *    *

NEXT -  Things I  Can Live Without: The culture of anti-smoking

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Deagle's Law

If it is true that everyone has a twin somewhere in the world, then it follows that everyone also has a mother with some explaining to do.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Phil Conway and local community spirit: a former This Week reporter looks back

(This letter to the editor was published in the August 22, 2012 edition of Barry's Bay This Week.)

Dear Editor,

It was with sadness as well as fond remembrance that I recently heard of Phil Conway’s passing. I worked for him as a reporter back in 1993, when he was publisher of this newspaper, and remember his cheerful and forgiving nature as if it were only yesterday.

Beyond representing his hometown as a local municipal councillor, he was also a staunch representative of the Madawaska Valley’s community spirit, a spirit that I view as being defined by a strong sense of hospitality. (When I refer to ‘hospitality’, I mean it in this case as an innate virtue – something that is practised without forethought because it is simply the natural thing to do.)

Thinking about Phil, as well as Barney McCaffrey, who also passed away earlier this year, got me to reflecting on my time in your community, where I was frequently the recipient of the above-noted hospitality. A few quick examples come to mind:

-My impromptu tennis lesson with then-Deputy Reeve, the late Eric Huestis. Concerned that I was wearing loafers on the court, he told me I’d perform better with more appropriate footwear, and insisted I drive all the way back to my trailer near Combermere to retrieve my running shoes, and then come back to resume the lesson. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll still be here.” Sure enough, he was.

-A particular venture to someone’s house to snap a picture – while I have long since forgotten who it was or the reason for the picture, I do remember that they wouldn’t let me leave without first sitting down for beer and pickled eggs in the backyard.

-At another backyard photo shoot, this time a small family reunion and cookout in the middle of the afternoon, the host got wind that it was my last assignment for the day. Someone handed me a plate and, before I knew it, it was late at night and I was still there, locked into a marathon of food and conversation, almost forgetting that this family reunion wasn’t my own.

All of the above occurred just within my first few days on the job, and came to represent typical encounters in my travels. As time went on, I would of course meet, write about and photograph many more of the characters that make up your community. And being a music guy, I also have particularly fond memories of the Tuesday night they let me play the drums (badly) at the Wilno Tavern’s weekly blues jam.

Then there was Phil himself – larger than life, constantly enthusiastic, and always with a beaming smile on his face. Whenever he had a joke to tell, you could see that boyish twinkle of benign mischief that seemed to be his signature. Conversely, whenever he had to impart criticism or corrective advice, he always did so in a way that respected the dignity and humanity of the person on the receiving end. (Being a greenhorn, I was that person on more than one occasion.)

The last time I saw him was in the winter of 1995, when I breezed through town and stopped into the office to say hello. He and his wife, Helen, greeted me with the same level of warmth and good cheer as they did on my first day on the job. Similar to my experience with the folks at that cookout, it felt like I was visiting my aunt and uncle rather than my former employers. It is truly a regret that I allowed myself to drift out of contact with them after that.

I will always be grateful to Phil and Helen for giving me the opportunity to serve (and get to know) their community as a young reporter just fresh out of college. Although I may not have realized it then, I was having the time of my life.

James Deagle
Ottawa, ON

Monday, October 1, 2012

Alphabetical Tabloid (Front Page)

For bpNichol

across ALL AMERCIA & AND and Angels ARMAGEDDON arthritis BIG BLESS BUCKS CASH COME COMING COUPONS evil FINAL FREE GIVEAWAYS! GOD Good herald hordes he's INSIDE INSTANTLY JACKO KILLS LIVES Magic making millions MIRACLE MUCH MUCH of over PAIN predict: PROPHECIES psychics Second seers spice still Top triumphs TRUE!

TRUE! triumphs Top still spice seers Second psychics PROPHECIES predict: PAIN over of MUCH MUCH MIRACLE millions making Magic LIVES KILLS JACKO INSTANTLY INSIDE he's hordes herald Good GOD GIVEAWAYS! FREE FINAL evil COUPONS COMING COME CASH BUCKS BLESS BIG arthritis ARMAGEDDON Angels and AND & AMERICA ALL across

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


This is turning out to be a hectic summer on several fronts for Yours Truly, resulting in a continuing shortage of time for blogging activities. (There has been some writing activity, which I'll get around to discussing here when appropriate. For now it shall remain under wraps.)

 I hope to be back to typing in this space on a regular basis once some offline things come together.