Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Flames are out

Laura needs to stop making hockey bets.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Flashback: One-stop shop

Appeared in the Leduc Representative on June 28, 1912.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Divas hypnotized

Last night was the Leduc and District Chamber of Commerce's "Divas L.A. Style" ladies-only party at the curling rink. Hypnotist Colin Christopher provided the entertainment and several ladies fell right under his spell.

I had never been in the audience for a hypnotism show, so it was pretty interesting to watch. Some of the ladies who volunteered to go up on stage didn't go under at all, while others seemed so out of it they flopped right over in their chairs like rag dolls (see above).

I volunteered to be hypnotized at a similar show at my campus pub a few years back. I don't remember much about it, but I do recall that I didn't really feel like I had surrendered my consciousness to the hypnotist. I simply felt I should go along with the act because hundreds of people were staring at me expecting, well, to see someone do silly stunts at the will of somebody else.

I remember that I had to pretend my chair was the sexiest man I'd ever laid orbs on and he was waiting for me to make the first move.

I've done a lot of improv in my life, so it wasn't hard to feign something like desire and wrap myself around the back of the chair. I could have dropped the act and walked off the stage anytime, though — I think.

So last night, watching the show unfold, I wondered how this whole hypnotism thing works. Are some of the subjects really at the mercy of the hypnotist, suspended in a dreamlike state between sleep and waking? Or does a hypnotism show work on the power of suggestion — everybody is thinking everybody else around them is really hypnotized so they'd better play along for the sake of the show?

I guess it's one of those things that only the hypnotist — like the magician who masters sleight of hand and optical illusion — really knows.

Flashback: Early sensationalism

Apologies for the terrible photo. The tag line reads: "Too much baking has killed many a woman."

Really? I'd like to see some numbers on that.

Appeared in the Leduc Representative on June 14, 1912.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Weekly Roundup — April 24

Here's what's making news in Leduc and area this week:

• It was all about volunteers this week! The Leduc-Nisku Economic Development Authority held a special breakfast to recognize the contribution Leduc's hundreds of volunteers make to the community, and guest speaker Sandy McLeod called volunteers "the most powerful force on earth."

• Local emergency personnel are gearing up for a baseball tournament in support of Little Warriors.

• Blackgold Kennels are preparing for their busiest season by adding space for more lost and abandoned animals.

• The tragic death of a 10-year-old Calmar boy in an ATV rollover last weekend has prompted calls for more safety precautions.

• The City of Leduc is planning for future traffic headaches by highlighting areas for improvement on the city's roads.

• Stageworks is finishing off their season with three upcoming performances.

• In sports, a local team triumphed at a major pool tournament in Edmonton, the Leduc Drillers are preparing for their epic 200-km bike ride to raise funds for cancer research, and the Leduc StrayCats got their season off to a good start.

Check out our website or pick up a copy of the Rep for all this and more, including full coverage of what to expect at the 40th annual Black Gold Rodeo, which kicks off this Thursday!

(Photo: Magician Kent Wong demonstrated a little-known technique for relieving neck and head tension on Kaylee Dewar at the EDA's volunteer appreciation breakfast on April 21. Photo by Alex Pope.)

"This is why they call us hillbillies."

Joan Shackley, one of the co-ordinators of Extendicare's music program, entertained the crowd as "Cousin Minnie" at a special appreciation supper for Extendicare's many volunteers at the Royal Canadian Legion hall in Leduc on April 23. As one onlooker commented, "This is why they call us hillbillies!" (Photo by Alex Pope)

Friday, 17 April 2009

Weekly Roundup — April 17

• Leduc has lost two great champions of the community: Doris Smith and Pearl Livingston.

• A man has been charged in connection with an armed robbery at CIBC in Leduc on April 8.

• Leduc County is looking at ways to cut back on capital spending after the province announces fewer dollars for municipal grants in 2009.

• Thorsby police are cracking down on drunk drivers.

• The Boys and Girls Club of Leduc is one step closer to its new home in the Leduc Recreation Centre.

• In sports, the Leduc Atom B1 Roughnecks brought home a banner.

• Laura has some tough advice for Leduc vandals.

For all this and more, visit our website or pick up a copy of the Rep.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Weekly Roundup — April 10

Here's what's making news in Leduc and area this week:

• The Alberta government has provided a grant for nearly $3 million to help an Edmonton company build a second supportive living residence for seniors in Leduc.

• Following country legend Charley Pride's amazing show of generosity last week, the City of Leduc has made him an honourary citizen. Have you ever paid too much for concert tickets? Weigh in on our poll.

• Country fans enjoyed a kickin' concert in Warburg on April 4 — and raised $60,000 for local projects.

• Leduc residents are being reminded to stay off the ice now that the weather is warming up.

• Leduc's fire department has received special equipment that will help them save peoples' pets from smoke inhalation.

• In sports, Tiger Studios recognized students who have earned their black belts.

Pick up a copy of this week's Rep or visit our website for all this and more.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Step AWAY from the phone

Disclaimer: I am fully aware of the irony of tackling the subject of technology addiction on a blog, but I've been dying to rant about this for weeks and it's not my turn to write a column for another two weeks.

The crowd is hushed as the stadium goes dark. An electrical current of anticipation passes through the 10,000 people gathered to witness what promises to be a fantastic spectacle. The dull murmur of conversation suddenly builds to a collective roar as spotlights come up on the stage to reveal a shimmering curtain, behind which can be seen a curvaceous silhouette flanked by willowy dancers.

It's her, the multi-platinum recording artist we have all paid hundreds of dollars to see in the flesh. The curtain parts — and 10,000 blue and white screens suddenly pop up in the darkness, aimed toward the stage.

A large part of what follows over the course of the next two hours will be seen not with the human eye, but through three-millimeter lenses attached to cell phones. The audience is not just the people who have paid to fill the stadium seats, but the entire world.

Within moments of Beyoncé taking the stage at Rexall Place in Edmonton on March 26, pictures were being remotely posted to Facebook and MySpace. Video clips were being streamed wirelessly to celebrity gossip websites like Perez Hilton. A running commentary of the show was supplied via text message, email and Twitter.

You didn't even have to be there to see the show. I'm not convinced the people who were there saw it.

I'm not a technophobe by any stretch of the imagination, but I was shocked. Number after show-stopping number, the people all around me had their eyes glued to the four-inch screens in their laps, thumbs flying, documenting for all and sundry an experience they paid $200 not to see.

Even I'm not that hardcore, and I'm paid to document events.

To an extent, I get our collective fascination with technology. I was 12 when the Internet went commercial and for many years I felt my online life was just as rich as my real one.

After I went to university, I used instant messaging to stay in touch with friends back home, and I've had a few websites and blogs over the years, none of which lasted very long or rocketed me to my hoped-for level of Internet fame and which I am now kind of embarrassed about.

Nowadays, I'm more of a consumer of online content than a producer. I use Facebook to share photos and interesting articles I come across, and try to update my status once a day because reassuringly, there are people out there who care what I'm up to.

I've become more selective in what I choose to share with the world online, though. My contributions to the global digital dialogue are carefully edited to remove any suggestion of private pain or indiscretion. The result is a mostly superficial online presence — an objective, bare-bones chronology of the past five years of my life.

There's more to me than lists of my favorite things and random facts, but as Technology Review editor Jason Pontin aptly put it, "I never broadcast the substance of my inner life, because I know it would become insubstantial the moment I did."

In a world where it seems things don't happen unless they happen online, I feel an urgent need to keep some things for myself.

Most of the time, that just means self-censoring when I go to post something on Facebook or this blog, saving my gut reactions and deepest feelings for the handwritten journal I have kept since I was 7.

But it also means spending more time on simpler, yet more somehow more meaningful pursuits: losing myself in a good book, going for long exploratory walks, sketching, talking to a friend face-to-face.

I recognize that our world is pretty much driven by the rapid dissemination of information, all made possible by incredibly complex and admittedly fun technologies. But when I see young people and adults alike unable to focus on a single task for more than half an hour without reaching for their phone to check their email, their stocks, or the score on the hockey game, it truly saddens me.

When I think back to some of my happiest memories, they are of times when there was no digital camera present to capture the fun, when my phone was off and the nearest computer was miles away. These memories are also my strongest, perhaps because, undistracted by the compulsion to document the experience, I was able to be more fully present in it.

The undisturbed, late-night conversation over a bottle of wine, the five-hour hike to a sweeping panorama, the moment spent in silent contemplation or prayer, the fulfillment of doing absolutely nothing — are these experiences becoming lost to future generations? Are they just bland, outmoded maxims to be worn on a tote bag alongside reminders to floss, breathe and recycle?

Is anything sacred anymore?

You might be thinking to yourself, "All this because some kids took some pics at a Beyoncé show?"

That was the catalyst for this post, but I've been mulling the issue over for a while. Every time I see a group of kids walking down the street together, each one engrossed in his or her own online handheld game, or a young woman more involved in text-messaging her friend three rows back than in watching a live show, I feel a little panicky.

It seems to me that while we are increasingly driven to prove our existence by leaving a running stream of consciousness in our wake like a slug leaves a slime trail, all this distraction is actually eroding the processes of thought and memory. Everything is evanescent, "live" for a day or two and quickly buried beneath the constant influx of new information.

There are so many layers to this phenomenon I can't possibly tackle them all in one blog post, but it seems to me that the ultimate result of all this documentation will not be a collective remembrance, but a collective forgetfulness — and because I believe that at the end of the day, all we really have is our memories of a life fully lived, that is very scary indeed.

(Note: No phones were harmed in the shooting of the above photograph. My cell phone is three years old and has been dropped so many times it comes apart quite easily, which makes it a handy tool for illustrative purposes.)

72 hours

Ask anyone you meet if they've ever had a brush with large-scale disaster, and a surprising number of them will say yes.

At the Riggers awards banquet last weekend, I started chatting with a couple whose son was on the team. They had lived for 25 years in Yellowknife (which was very interesting in itself), but the dad revealed he was originally from a little town near Hamilton, Ont. called Hagersville.

I immediately looked to my boyfriend for some sign of recognition, since he grew up in Pelham, about 40 km down the Niagara escarpment, but the name didn't ring a bell — until the man said, "That's where they had that big tire fire."

A Wikipedia search for Hagersville reveals that the most notable thing about the place is that in 1990 a "gigantic, uncontrolled tire fire" broke out and raged for 17 days, spewing toxic smoke all over the region. Oddly enough, the fire didn't start in Hagersville; it started in nearby Townsend, but the media felt Townsend was altogether too small, unknown and unimportant to be capable of producing such a monstrous disaster, so they attributed to the fire to Hagersville.

One thing I have in common with Michelle is that we both lived for a time in Mississauga, Ontario, which usually gets absorbed into the Greater Toronto Area unless you bring up the train derailment of 1979. Then suddenly everybody knows where Mississauga is. Michelle likes to say, with some degree of pride, that the derailment happened really near her house.

I could give lots of other examples — virtually my entire extended family, who are concentrated in Montreal/eastern Ontario, suffered through the Ice Storm of 1998; a friend of mine's father lives in New Orleans and shared with us the insurance photos he took of his home after Hurricane Katrina.

My own closest brush with disaster happened while I was living in the Dominican Republic. On Oct. 28, 2007 (my 22nd birthday), a tropical depression formed over Puerto Rico and began tracking northwest. By the time it hit the south coast of the D.R., it had a name, Noel — although everyone called it "Noah" because of the devastating amounts of rain that fell during the five days the storm remained stationary over the island.

In hindsight, the storm could have been a lot worse, but at the time, it was frightening. A tree fell on the power lines in my neighborhood on the second day of the storm, knocking out electricity to the entire area, and crews could not safely get in to fix it for three days. I could still get out to the stores to buy clean water and provisions, which I cooked on my gas stove, but my drains backed up and my apartment was invaded by cockroaches and centipedes. The lack of light, especially in the evening, played on my fears as I huddled in bed with a can of aerosol insect spray, reading by candlelight.

After the storm came mudslides in the central mountains, massive crop failure in the southwest and outbreaks of disease — dengue fever and various bacterial illnesses that thrive in standing water.

As the government and military scrambled to co-ordinate helicopter evacuations for people cut off by mudslides, clear inundated roads and repair dams and bridges, relief organizations sprang into action, setting up mobile medical clinics and distributing food to the hardest-hit villages.

It was not the worst storm ever to hit the island — that distinction still belongs to Hurricane David, which killed 2,000 people in 1979. But the aftermath took months to clean up. For the most part, the islanders were left to take care of their own affairs with whatever resources they had at their disposal.

In a sense, countries like the D.R. have a natural advantage in that hurricane season is an annual event. The likelihood of one or more severe storms making landfall in that six-month window is quite high.

Still, when you live in a place day to day and fall into an unremarkable, perfectly safe routine, it becomes difficult to imagine anything disturbing it and emergency preparation takes a backseat to more immediate priorities. How else to explain the fact that even routine, fairly predictable events like hurricanes consistently take leaders and residents by surprise, with heartbreaking results?

The same is true everywhere, whether it's in a small town in Canada or a crowded city in the developing world.

Disaster can strike anywhere, at any time. Fire or flood, wind or hail, drought or accident, it doesn't discriminate — everyone is vulnerable to random devastation.

In light of the recent emergency planning exercise held by our local municipal leaders and the fact that May 3 marks the start of emergency preparedness week in Canada, take a moment to consider your response to a disaster. How would you protect yourself and your loved ones?

Whether it’s having enough food and water stashed away to sustain your household for at least three days, a little cash set aside, or a home evacuation plan, a little foresight goes a long way.

It’s natural to hope for the best, but wise to prepare for the worst.

Related: Noel trumps the race card
Everyone has role to play in emergency

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Flashback: Tell that to the people who wear their pajamas in public

I would like to draw your attention to the bottom of the photo (click to enlarge), where the writer's comments remain staggeringly relevant to today.

Appeared in the Leduc Representative on May 12, 1911.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Flashback: WIN

It's always doom and gloom with you journalist people, isn't it.

Appeared on Canoe.ca (a division of our parent company) on March 31, 2009.

Weekly Roundup — April 3

Here's what's making news in Leduc and area this week:

• Leduc County decided not to make a decision on a proposed amendment to its land-use bylaw that has caused a lot of controversy in the region

• Four municipalities held an emergency planning exercise that simulated a critical water shortage

• Black Gold Regional School Division is working on setting a new direction for special education

• A school program that encourages junior high students to help each other stay away from smoking is looking for support from the community

• In sports, the Leduc MNP Riggers held their season-ender awards banquet on March 28, while the Leduc Roughnecks Atom AA team finished their season as Alberta Central Cities Hockey League champions

• Community members got together to reflect on and pray for those in leadership positions at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast on March 28

For all this and more, pick up a copy of the Rep or visit our website.

(Photo: Taylor Davies, Emma Faulkner and Keri Bierke of Beaumont's Daisy Chain Theatre Productions performed a mini-musical called Nuts with other members of their Tiny Broadway class at the group's year-end recital at the Maclab on March 27. Photo by Alex Pope)

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The best surprise

I just got trampled in a press scrum for legendary country singer Charley Pride, who came to Leduc all the way from Dallas just to present one of his biggest local fans, Jackie Sharp, with a front row ticket to his June 20 show at Jubilee Auditorium — and a cash refund for the exorbitant sum she originally paid for second-balcony tickets.

Sharp bought her tickets online from a scalper for $1,201 — $1,000 more than the face value of what the tickets should have cost her. Upset, her son wrote an email to Pride's management to alert them to the scalper situation. He never expected that Pride himself would get involved.

Her reaction when Pride walked through the door of the City Centre Mall to personally present her with an upgraded ticket was priceless — check the April 10 Rep for more!