Sporting Life

Dangerous Heights

Trekking through Nepal’s deadly mountain luxury

Published on November 13, 2014
Photograph by Harley Rustad
Harley Rustad Field of monuments to mountaineers who died on Everest. Photographed in March 2013.

Twice this year, Nepal’s mountaineering and trekking industry has been shaken by a major deadly event in its mountains. Last month, at least forty-three trekkers (including four Canadians) and Nepali guides and porters died as a storm hit the Annapurna range, northwest of Kathmandu. The majority of the bodies were found buried in snow near the Thorung La—a 5,416-metre pass that bisects the two-to-three-week Annapurna Circuit.

The unseasonal weather was caused by Cyclone Hudhud, which made landfall in eastern India days before lashing the Himalayas, as many storms do, with rain and snow. Those who were crossing the pass speak of a white-out blizzard that forced dozens to take refuge in a small stone building near the prayer flags that mark the trek’s highest point. As the storm raged, many felt their only option was to try to descend toward the town of Muktinath on the other side of the pass.

Some people were caught out in the storm; others died in avalanches. The Nepali military rescued hundreds of trekkers from the area in the following days.

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After “Night March”

An interpolation

Published on November 12, 2014

This is from a story I “wrote” in 1998, when I was sixteen. I say “wrote” because I interpolated a chapter from Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato, changing the names and substituting most of the verbs, adjectives, and adverbs with synonyms. Instead of being a story about the Vietnam War I made it a story about melancholy goblins.

Small-Striker Gil’han Mok was pretending. He was pretending he was not in the war, pretending he had not watched Sirad Bol collapse earlier that afternoon. He was pretending that he was a cub again, collecting skri’ stones by the river-bed, building hekruney with his father. Laughing. In the twilight, with his eyes pinched shut and long hands squeezed into fists, he pretended. Gil’han pretended that when he blinked open his eyes, his father would be there by the hekrun. His father would draw stories in the soil, and Gil’han would read them in a low hiss, his voice like the brushing of ferns. In the firelight, the goblin would see the journeys of Morak and Kor, the battle of the Hak, and he would not be in a war, and Sirad Bol Ne would not have collapsed, his heart unbeating, that afternoon. Gil’han pretended he was not a warrior.

When Mellor rose and they had reached the sea, things would be different. Better. Gil’han would wade in the surf, feel the wet sand between his toes. The sweltering first day would be forgotten, would never have happened. The second day would be better. Gil’han would learn.

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Calm in the Storm

A block away from the Ottawa shootings, online news extinguished the panic before it could start

Published on October 29, 2014
Photograph by ErasingScott
ErasingScott A flag in Hamilton flies at half-mast to honour local soldier Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was killed while guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

Shortly after 10 a.m. last Wednesday morning, I was heading back to my office from a meeting at a nearby coffee shop. The walk is only 100 feet from door to door. Because I’ve been conditioned by the conveniences of modern technology to fill even the briefest intervals with digital stimulus, I pulled out my smartphone and punched in my passcode.

A missed call from my wife.

A text message asking where I was.

An inbox full of new messages.

My screen displayed the first line of every email, so I quickly got the gist: gunman, loose, downtown, get inside.

I didn’t look up until I reached our building (I have been conditioned, too, to navigate complex urban environments without watching where I’m going). When I finally lifted my head, I saw a young guy standing near the door, watching me. He was one of those aimless downtown kids whose demeanour and attire make it hard to tell whether they’re homeless and drug-addled or just incredibly stylish. For a split-second I wondered why he had one hand so deep in his coat pocket. But by the time my imagination had worked up a vision of gun being drawn and pointed in my direction, he’d already disappeared around the corner.

I unlocked the back door and went upstairs.

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An Interview with Simon Brault

The Walrus Foundation presents a special podcast produced in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts

Published on October 21, 2014

Money for Nothing and Cheques for Free

Do we deserve a guaranteed basic income?

Published on August 13, 2014

The idea of a guaranteed basic income—that is, the government cutting a monthly, taxpayer-funded cheque to everyone in the country, to the tune of maybe $10,000 or $20,000 a year—seems to be having a moment. Earlier this summer, the Basic Income Canada Network convened a conference on the subject at McGill. Switzerland will soon hold a non-binding referendum on whether to give every citizen around $35,000 annually. And it’s a proposal that opinion writers and policy wonks love to wrestle with. Although basic income is typically associated with the social-democratic left, last week, for The Atlantic, Noah Gordon made “the conservative case for a guaranteed annual income”—namely, that it would be a more efficient way to fight poverty than a sprawling plethora of welfare programs. In any case, you know an idea is catching on when it’s being castigated before it’s even been implemented; recently, for The Week,Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry presented an ostensibly scientific case against it, although his arguments were quickly debunked by Dylan Matthews at Vox.

Basic income is a bit of a blunt tool. Most iterations would not, for example, consider regional differences in cost of living. Additionally, unlike the related idea of a negative income tax—in which everyone gets a cash grant that is then taxed progressively, according to income—basic income would not take into account differences in wealth; everyone would receive the same amount. (This means that it feels, counter-intuitively, almost like a reverse-flat tax, which perhaps explains why it’s earned the admiration of some conservatives.) The most common objection is that so-called “money for nothing” would act as a disincentive to work, but the findings on that are mixed. As Matthews wrote, “The worst case scenario is that we eliminate poverty but see a modest decline in employment. The best case scenario is we eliminate poverty at even lower cost and don’t see much of an effect on employment. That’s a gamble I’m willing to take.”

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Trouble in the Colonies

The troubling relationship between pesticide use and rising mortality rates of pollinators

Published on August 7, 2014
Photograph by Jo Naylor
Jo Naylor A monarch caterpillar.

As every schoolchild knows, pollinators are in decline around the world. This is how I ended up as caretaker for Munchie Mattawa, the black-and-gold striped monarch caterpillar my eleven year old recently scooped up next to the Big Joe Muffraw statue at the confluence of the Ottawa and Mattawa rivers. This was the second summer my daughter had spent looking for monarch eggs and caterpillars to raise, and the hunt had been surprisingly hard. I’d taken her to all the places I’d remembered finding milkweed as a kid, up at the cottage and down in the city, with no success. Which is why she was so excited to find Munchie, and insisted on bringing the tiny caterpillar on our journey home.

Monarchs are in trouble because milkweed is disappearing. To combat the problem, well-meaning gardeners like my mother are planting the stuff at home. The real problem, though, is that even at the start of this planting season, milkweed was still listed as a noxious weed under Ontario’s Weed Control Act, with helpful notes for farmers on how to control it with pesticides like glysophate.

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Foul Territory

A former major league pitcher confesses to witnessing rape in the minor leagues—and is lauded as hero, years after his complaints might have mattered

Published on July 30, 2014

“…woman is out there, representing ‘points’ to be scored—a trophy to be wooed, captured, seduced, suckered or even smacked over the head with a club. And men who play baseball come standard with a club.”—Dirk Hayhurst, “Minor League Manhood

The standard narrative when someone finally confesses to witnessing a years-old crime is one of remorse. We expect to see guilt, the regret of doing nothing, and then the subsequent begging for forgiveness that should come with having allowed something horrible—something criminal—to happen. Yesterday, when former major league baseball pitcher Dirk Hayhurst published “Minor League Manhood,” his horrifying account of repeated sexual misconduct, violation, and rape in the minor leagues, we didn’t get that. Instead we were asked to believe, in a flood of social media support, that Hayhurst is courageous for sharing the sordid details, eleven years later.

The piece, “a first-hand account of masculine sports culture run amok” published at Sports on Earth, is a compendium of egregious misogyny—and criminality—on the part of the 2003 Eugene Emeralds minor league team. Hayhurst candidly documents his time with them, focusing on the toxic stew of alpha masculinity that viewed “bagging girls” as the mark of manhood. Women lack identity and agency, becoming nameless, faceless points in a hierarchy system, with the most lays garnered in the most perverse ways earning a player the most respect from his teammates. A majority of Hayhurst’s telling consists of standard asshole behaviour—players sleeping with as many women as possible, grading said women’s performances, and then grotesquely bragging about the details. Women are referred to as “beef” and “tunnels,” when they’re not being called “Cleat Chasers,” “Slump Busters,” “White Buffalos,” “Yard Rats,” “Butter Faces,” and “Promotions.” But at a certain point in the narrative, things veer beyond heinous jock behaviour into something altogether more monstrous, with women being coerced, subjected to surprise group audiences during sex acts, and videotaped without their consent. (Not to mention a reference to one girl who is underage. Her father arrives to rescue her, wielding a two by four, from an unnamed teammate’s clutches.) Most disturbingly of all, women are “tricked” in the dark into sleeping with men other than the one they have agreed to. Rape is justified with the phrase “chicks love ballplayers.”

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The Lego Effect

Sailing the high seas with the toy that is as ubiquitous as water

Published on July 29, 2014

Thousands and thousands of Lego bricks and minifigures in near perfect condition have been washing up on the Cornish coast of England. They fell off the Tokio Express when a giant wave smashed into the Hamburg-based, Florida-bound cargo vessel and toppled a shipping container of mostly nautical-themed sets into the ocean. (To help visualize what happened, assemble the 1,518-piece Maersk Line Triple-E, float it in a bathtub or swimming pool, and unleash your inner Kraken.)

BBC News reported on the sea’s colourful acrylonitrile butadiene styrene bounty last week, and the story has since been picked up by newspapers, blogs, and public radio around the world. This isn’t exactly news: the Tokio Express lost its oversized toy box in 1997, and the 4.8 million pieces inside came from sets that have long since been discontinued. Nevertheless, as anyone who has ever read Robert Louis Stevenson or seen The Goonies can tell you, there is something endlessly fascinating about treasure hunting; local beach combers have been picking up vintage cutlasses, life jackets, and the occasional black octopus, to the envy of Lego fans everywhere. Couple that fascination with the enduring popularity of the brand, and you have a quirky story that screams viral. Still, the overboard bricks have been washing up on shore for seventeen years, so why have they suddenly become media darlings?

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The Way Forward

Will cultural changes come to Canada’s largest police service?

Published on July 28, 2014

Much of the media coverage of the release last week of Frank Iacobucci’s groundbreaking report on Toronto Police Service encounters with persons in crisis, focused on the hardware of law enforcement. The retired Supreme Court justice, hired a year ago by Toronto chief Bill Blair in the wake of the shocking shooting death of eighteen-year-old Sammy Yatim, had a recommendation that captured every news editor’s attention: Iacobucci suggested the TPS, which has been pushing (unsuccessfully) for expanded use of tasers, “consider” a closely supervised pilot project with these controversial devices, with the proviso that any officers equipped with the weapons receive additional mental health training, get fitted with lapel cameras, and be subjected to special scrutiny.

Yet the most significant, and somewhat under-reported, parts of Iacobucci’s impressive work involve institutional software: police culture, the effectiveness of expanded training on dealing with people in crisis, and subtle but hugely important shifts in the way police respond to calls involving such individuals.

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Things Rob Ford Has Quit

An incomplete list

Published on July 21, 2014
Illustration by Graham RoumieuGraham Roumieu

  1. Carleton University
  2. Talking to the Toronto Star (after the paper published this July 2010 article, about an alleged physical altercation between high school football coach Rob Ford and a student player)
  3. Rob and Doug Ford’s “Cut the Waist Challenge
  4. Driving under the influence of paperwork
  5. Drinking alcohol at the Air Canada Centre: “I have admitted to my mistakes, and I said it would not happen again, and it has never happened again at the Air Canada Centre,” Rob Ford, November 2013. This past spring, he appeared to be impaired while attending a Toronto Maple Leafs game—at the Air Canada Centre
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