Archive for June, 2012

Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down; TheByteDaily’s Valedictorian’s Address

As the 2011-2012 school year ends, a new flock of prospective citizens graduate from their compulsory 12 years of education, and proceeds to move onto another three to four years of education (in addition to every other possible work based derivative). At the same moment, a new flock of valedictorians have been elected, and chosen and are now forced into giving a five to ten minute speech summarizing their feelings on their past four years of learning. In most cases, the speeches will be succinct and relatively well-delivered, littered with inside jokes for each of their classmates to both laugh and smile at, and will, no doubt, be written adequately enough to fill the constraints and restrictions set out by their past orators.

I have no doubt that this generation of valedictorians will more than accomplish the lofty tasks of writing a meaningful speech and delivering it in the standard fashion, though my fear is that the contrary will occur.

Certainly, I’ve spent enough time watching poorly written and adequately delivered speeches dissolve into absolute monotony, that my primary fear entering any commencement ceremony is having to sit and clap appreciatively while a nervous student vocalizes an opinion piece on the state of the world and the future they’re entering. In this way, in an attempt to prove that my criticisms come from an accepted source, I’ve decided that, every year beginning with this one, I will produce an essay (which can be read aloud in a manner similar to that of a speech) that could, for all intents and purposes, be considered a valedictorian’s address.

Friends, family members, fellow classmates, and faculty members, as I stand before you today, I cannot claim that this past year has been easy, nor can I possibly hope to claim that any individual day following this one will prove the contrary. The world, in every sense of the term, is a difficult place and the human culture we share thrives on difficulty and adversity, and these hardships do not cease simply because we have left the halls of an educational sanctuary. Certainly, to many, the shared halls of our school have been a haven from the outside world, and to those who suffered, I can only promise that the world does get better, but only once one has moved past the difficulties of our shared existence.

It is undeniable that, despite our growth, and evolution, we are still a young species and are an even younger culture. Of course, these are all matters for our future teachers and professors to discuss, and I, therefore, have no use in describing any subject with great magnitude or detail – I simply stand here as the elected result of casual and accepted nepotism. Today, however, I am before you as a fellow human being, with the sole difference being that I’m in a rare position of being able to reach and speak to a vast majority, instead of screaming and hoping to be heard within the daunting minority. My words, if anything, may have little meaning or bearing, and will, undeniably, be forgotten by my audience, which is why I must be brief and succinct.

My fellow graduates, once you are admitted into the world outside of your schools, teachers, and classmates, you will discover a universe filled with indescribable hardship, and incredibly unnecessary difficulty, which is why I can only say one thing to summarize my beliefs: Illegitimi non carborundum. It’s a beautiful, mock-Latin phrase that translates quite simply to, and pardon my language: Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Fellow graduates, this year has been anything but easy, and we’ve all had to make many sacrifices; we’ve given up on more than a few dreams, we’ve lost more than a few friends, and, most importantly, we’ve had to make choices based on little time and even less data. Our futures, at such a young age, have already been decided for us, without even having left the building we’ve called home for the past four years. Indeed, it seems that our choices today will have results that will resonate within the infinite halls of tomorrow and later on, and we haven’t even been given a single chance to see how they will resonate, other than what we can imagine and hope.

The choices we’ve made have led us to this single event horizon, and there’s no doubt that our lives and choices will continue to culminate in such impacts, but the fact remains that, along the way, we will experience continuous moments of hardship and distress. Losing the opportunity to achieve goals or dreams, continuing to lose friends, accepting that we are merely the product of our environment and our innate desire to live; it’s in these dark moments that we will, eventually, decide on who we want to be as people, and where we want to move forward, but it’s undeniable that we will want to give up on moving forward because of the trouble and difficulties we will experience in the everlasting process.

Fellow graduates, I speak of events that haven’t happened, and I speak of events that may never happen, at least not to all of us, though my request remains adamant regardless of the person: Illegitimi non carborundum. I understand that the impetuousness of youth grips us all now, and I recognize that the invincibility of the human spirit is even more prevalent today, of all days, but when the time comes to make a decision regarding moving forward or standing still, simply remember to never let the bastards grind you down.

I do realize that giving up is not wrong and is acceptable, but only under certain, absolute conditions.

We can only give up and cease moving forward once every possible attempt has been made from every possible point-of-view and from every possible position, from every possible derivation of the original and subsequent attempts.

Friends, and I speak to you now not as a human being orating to a crowd of 300 people dressed in the same manner but as a friend, giving up, without trying and failing in every possible way, is absolutely unacceptable, and giving in to the bastards is undeniably wrong. Your arguments to the contrary would, no doubt, be well-founded, reasonably thought out, and well-executed, but the fact remains that we cannot stop moving forward. I say again, we’ve lost close friends, we’ve had to give up on dreams, and we’ve had hopes and desires crushed for no reason other than “We weren’t good enough,” and still we move forward. Difficulties and hardships have knocked us to our knees, and yet we’ve all decided to stand up once again, and this is the only logical decision to make when falling down, simply, getting back up.

Thank you for your time, and enjoy the beginning of the rest of your lives; good luck friends, and stay gold and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Season One] (TheByteScene Review)

3.5 Pro-Bending-Fire-Ferrets out of 4

Avatar: The Last Airbender (also known as The Legend of Aang in certain regions) crafted a story about a young boy named Aang destined to end a 100-year war and bring balance to the universe as the Avatar, a reincarnated , omnipotent figure capable of controlling the four elements. Introducing the concept of bending, The Last Airbender began as a children’s program and evolved as the fan-base aged; beginning with the book of Water, moving onto the book of Earth and, finally, the book of Fire, the television program succeeded in creating a realistic and believable portrayal of a world divided into four nations, all while drawing from Asian mythology to produce a story of a boy forced to stop the imperialistic expansion and genocidal decimation caused by the evil Fire Nation.

The Last Airbender remains one of Nickelodeon’s best series, and continues to be a pinnacle of animation and story-telling that many so-called “Cartoons” should strive to achieve. Though the first season is largely considered to be the most cartoon-y and childish, the second and third seasons make a point of focusing more on story-telling, character development, plot expansion, and universe creation.

Avatar: The Legend of Korra begins 70 years later and focuses on the next incarnation of the aforementioned, and titular, Avatar. Following the nomadic and spiritual character of Aang, a pacifist and firm believer in using violence only when necessary, Korra is portrayed as hot-headed, stubborn, excessively violent, and lacking in the spirituality needed to connect with both her past selves and her identity as an airbender.

Within the Avatar universe, the bending is a hereditary trait that was taught to humans by the spirits and their own Avatars; waterbenders learned from the moon, earthbenders learned from badgermoles (a chimeric combination of a badger and a mole), firebenders learned from dragons (who have all but died out), and airbenders learned from six-legged flying bison (who are, quite frankly, giant flying bison, with six legs). The ability to bend is often treated like the ability to perform any regular physical task, requiring practice, dedication, and a natural affinity to accomplish; some benders are incredibly gifted and capable of performing spectacular feats, while others are less inclined with the sole point being that bending exists to live harmoniously with nonbending.

It’s in this harmonious balance that the task of the Avatar becomes important as they are the only humans capable of manipulating all four elements and are, thereby, required to learn these four elements to maintain a relativistic balance in the universe. Events such as the destruction of an entire race, global devastation, abuse, neglect, and absolute evil fall under the jurisdiction of the Avatar and their ability to equalize and unify.

Korra’s inability to airbend is most peculiar in that she is shown capable of bending the other three elements at a young age, while her ability to control air is nonexistent along with her ability to connect to the Spirit World (an alternate plane that exists as the antithesis to the Living World). The series begins with her passing her firebending exam, graduating as a firebender, and having gained mastery over her third element. The characters immediately make a point of commenting on her inability to control herself, in addition to her inability to connect to the spiritual side of bending, focusing solely on its physical aspects. Rebuffing these claims, Korra embarks on a short polar beardog ride on Naga, her best friend and, as one can imagine, polar beardog (a chimeric combination of a polar bear, and a dog) that allows the creators and artists to showcase their craft.

The art within The Legend of Korra is absolutely stunning, and is entirely hand drawn; scenes appear to be painted using all manners of brush strokes and pencil lines and the set-pieces within the World of Avatar are stunning to behold.

While the story begins in the Southern Water Tribe, one of the two tribes that represent the waterbending portion of the World of Avatar, Korra runs away to Republic City to find her airbending instructor Tenzin (the son of Avatar Aang). Republic City is portrayed as a utopia for benders and nonbenders created by Aang to maintain and continue the trend of a harmonious existence though Korra soon learns that the most powerful members of Republic City are, in fact, benders, and that nonbenders seem to be getting the short end of the proverbial stick; to counteract this inequality, a group of nonbenders aptly named The Equalists have risen to bring back equality.

I’ll admit that the concept of bending has always seemed inherently flawed to me, and I’ve often wondered what kind of balance an almighty figure could hope to maintain, especially when they are incapable of understanding the struggle that those beneath them must experience. The Equalists seems to tackle this problem with an Occupy-Movement sense of ease. That being said, members of the Equalists plan and execute anti-bending protests, all while asking the ever important question regarding power in a society designed to be unequal; specifically, how can anyone consider themselves equal when there’s always someone controlling them through some form of unconcious manipulation. Indeed, it seems that benders have an advantage over nonbenders simply because they can bend, and Republic City’s entire infrastructure relies on the presence of benders to function.

Interestingly enough, the leader of The Equalists, a shadowy man named Amon, attempts to answer these questions with a single, indisputable solution: remove bending from the universe, and equality will be achieved. I noticed that I agreed with the character of Amon for the majority of Season One, often finding it difficult to disagree with him due to the callous nature of the benders I saw. Certainly, it was even more easy to agree with the man once I challenged the notion of religion in an increasingly scientific world, until it dawned on me that the World of Avatar exists beyond the possibilities of our own world to the point where bending isn’t religious unless handled by the religious. Instead, bending seemed to be less a spiritual entity, and more a special skill that some people were just born with; the firebending electricity generating plant made this incredibly evident once I saw tired workers channelling lightning with all their might to produce a source of renewable energy for their fellow citizens. These people aren’t attempting to control nonbenders en masse, they’re simply trying to earn a living with the means that they have.

My major gripe is the characterization of the main antagonist; Amon begins as a relatable character with very real reasons for being against bending, though he evolves into an idealistic tyrant incapable of seeing past his own haughty ideals. In a sense, it would have been fantastic writing to have a villain that’s undeniably right in his accusations, but, once I reflected on his motivations, it seemed absolutely logical to have him characterized as a deeply damaged and blinded man.

Interestingly, the Equalist plot is resolved within the 12 episode span that consists of Season One, and the entire first season is standalone, resolving the airbending and spirit world plots as well. The pacing is an additional point to comment on as the majority of the plot is incredibly fast-paced leaving very little time to dwell on anything unnecessary. Each and every subplot is handled dexterously, with very little time spent on filler, and the overall plot progresses brilliantly.

The only concern I had with the pacing was the characterization of Mako and Bolin, a firebending-earthbending set of brothers that accompany Korra on her quest to realize her position as Avatar, and the way the eventual romantic subplots were written. Bolin is written as comic relief, and his role is spent injecting humour into otherwise serious and incredibly somber moments. Mako, contrarily, spends most of his time as a rough and abrasive character wearing a constant scowl, even when smiling. Mako’s written worse since he’s Korra’s romantic interest, and the writers have the difficult task of providing a reasonable solution for that subplot within 12 episodes, something that comes off as a little sloppy.

In addition to being two more benders on Team Avatar, the bending brothers introduce Korra to the sport of Pro-Bending, a three-on-three sport reminiscent of Mixed Martial Arts, where teams fight against each other in a hexagonal ring. The Pro-Bending subplot provides a hearty action component with some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen outside an HBO prizefight. I honestly don’t think there’s a higher compliment that could possibly be paid to any program; I genuinely believe that the action scenes in The Legend of Korra are some of the best I’ve seen in a cartoon, and on television, with every step, parry, jab, thrust, and strike expertly portrayed and brought to fluidity. Without a doubt, there isn’t a single misstep in terms of bending.

I don’t feel the need to add this, but the voice-acting is fantastic; each voice, except for a single exception featured in the last two episodes, is stupendous, well-chosen, and well delivered. I must mention that music and soundtrack that was produced by TheTrackTeam was phenomenal and it was easy to see that the artists responsible for the music worked strenuously with the artists responsible for the art and writing.

The Legend of Korra is, without a doubt, one of the best shows on television, and the fact that I, or anyone, have to wait another year or so for Season Two is more than enough to make me tearbend. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous, the set-pieces are stunning, the voice-acting is stupendous, the plot is amazing, the characters are, on the whole, well-rounded and amazingly written, and the action is spectacular.

I could use more positive adjectives and dissect the show episode by episode, but I won’t. What I will say, however, is that LoK was an absolute pleasure to watch, and should be watched by any fan of things that are, quite frankly, awesome.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

A Succinct Analysis of The Godfather; Nothing Is More Important Than Family, Not Even The Family

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather establishes the lives of Vito Corleone, and the Corleone crime family of New York, as an analogy for the pre- and post-World War II gang scene. Drawing inspiration from the real Five Families of New York, Coppola and Marlon Brando, the man responsible for the portrayal of Vito Corleone managed to produce a movie about the importance of family, the presence of tradition and ancient morals, masculinity and femininity, the rise and fall of emperors and their empires, the gaining and loss of power, the futility of the American Dream, and the importance of distancing one’s self from the personal when conducting business and business when treating the personal.

Through a series of three epic films, the last of which considered to be the weakest entry in the trilogy, Coppola crafts a convincing tale of loss, gain, and loss again through his expert portrayal of the characters from Mario Puzo’s masterpiece. Simply put, The Godfather Part I, The Godfather Part II, and (for the most part) The Godfather Part III are some of the best and most important films ever created, if only for the simple fact that they’re amazing movies and deserve to be analyzed, critiqued, and watched time and again.

I’m flourishing, I understand, and I’m leaving out Al Pacino as Vito Corleone’s youngest son Michael, but all in due purpose.

The first film begins with a scene in Vito Corleone’s study, where he and his oldest son Santino “Sonny” Corleone, are talking to a man detailing the heinous atrocities experienced by his daughter at the hands of a non-Italian boy and his friend. This labelling and casual racism is prevalent throughout the course of the franchise and simply coats the film with age and tradition. The scene continues as Vito offhandedly berates the pitiful man for only coming to him because he cannot refuse a request; after all, no self-respecting Sicilian man denies the request of anyone on the day of his daughter’s wedding. Indeed, Constanzia “Connie” Corleone is marrying a friend of Sonny’s, though it’s later revealed that the man is vicious, unfaithful, disrespectful, and power-hungry; we also learn that Vito, once again due to tradition, cannot interfere in his only daughter’s marriage because of Sicilian morality.

Through another offhanded piece of dialogue, we learn that Vito is distrustful and uninterested in the small time criminal, Carlo Rizzi, because he’s not Sicilian.

Sicilian men, in Vito’s eyes are true Italians; they love their families above all, their businesses are separated from their personal lives, and nothing is more important than the well being and safety of the family, even if this family consists of gangsters, kingpins, and their underlings (Capos, Soldats, and Consiglieres all in tow). Of course, it’s difficult to determine Vito’s point-of-view on Sicilian men because every Sicilian he meets is power-hungry, and viciously violent, often determined to cross any path and walk down any road to accomplish a task. The Sicilian men we see are cruel, vindictive, haughty, and conceited, and we wonder what, if anything, Vito sees in his countrymen. Even his oldest son, who has already been chosen as the next Capo di tutti Capi (boss of all bosses) once Vito retires or dies, is nothing short of amoral; he continuously cheats on his wife with a mistress we see him acquire on the day of his sister’s wedding, he’s rarely around his children, and spends almost no time with his family apart from the constant bickering we see onscreen, and the presumed animosity we don’t.

This loyalty and dependability on one’s family is what drives Vito, though none of his sons or daughters express a similar devotion to their own families; it doesn’t help that his children have learned from the negative associations Vito has around him at all times, but they’re not very pleasant to their next of kin anyway, even though they seem to carry around their father’s moral code at all times. Michael Corleone, once his father steps down as Don Corleone and his brother dies at the hands of another Sicilian family, goes on a killing spree, eliminating anyone and everyone who could possibly pose a threat to the “Legalization” and expansion of the Corleone family and then outright states that the family (whether it be his wife and children, or the Corleones) is the most important part of his life and decision. He concludes Part I by ordering the execution of some of Vito’s best capos, all in the name of the prosperity of the family.

Indeed, family is the driving force in The Godfather, if only for the fact that it’s the most prevalent, and the most widespread, though Michael Corleone wouldn’t be the first Corleone to disprove this notion. Michael is, simply and frankly, the opposite of his father: he’s a boy who grew up with everything, and his father lost his family at the age of nine and was forced to claw his way up into the criminal underbelly of the growing Italian gang-scene; Michael was the youngest male among three males, while Vito had no family and was therefore his own teacher and father figure; Michael is a business-minded Don, while Vito spent his entire life accumulating favours and contracting “Friends” into helping him. Without a doubt, that’s their most separating factor: Vito treats the people he works with as friends, mingling with them and interacting with them on a personal level to the greatest degree that his lawyers and advisors will allow it.

A Don captured because he spent too much time with the Soldats is a poor reflection on the family, and either the Consigliere, or the Underboss will need to deal with the problem immediately.

The ultimate difference is that Vito seems to regard anyone who owes him a favour, or anyone who treats him to coffee in their home as family, while Michael has no family. He discusses more murder with the ex-Consigliere-turned-Corleone-lawyer Tom Hagen, who was an orphan adopted by Sonny in the boys’ youth, and produces “I don’t feel the need to wipe everyone out, Tom. Just my enemies.”

At this point, Michael Corleone is out of enemies; no single family poses any iota of a threat, his greatest foes have all been sated, all the right people have been bribed, and all the right governments have been assuaged, yet in his single-minded view of conquest and expansion, Michael fails to see the irony in eliminating anyone when everyone’s already dead. It’s even more powerful when you combine it with the nugget of knowledge that manifests itself as Vito’s views on avoiding war, and the importance of discussion, mediation, and arbitration in order to avoid the needless deaths of those caught in the middle of gang warfare. Vito is an old man at this point, and has already lived a life filled with fear and apprehension, and his non-violent approach is understandable when compared to Michael’s reckless battle cries, but Michael refuses to see the pointlessness in his battles. He’s already won, but in his mind he’s only just begun.

Of course these characters are brought to life because of their gray-scale morality; they aren’t meant to be perfectly evil or perfectly moral characters, but as grey compilations of what could be and what is. Vito Corleone, we later learn, is not the moral family man that his old-age makes him out to be; in his youth he was as callous as his sons, though in a more refined and classical approach. He promises his friends difficult to arrange results, and finds a way to actualize each promise. He’s vicious, but only when he needs to be. He’s vindictive, but only when he knows he’s arranged every piece in the right order, and only when he knows he can’t lose. Dealing with the Sicilian Don that killed his family, Vito waits for power and money in America, before returning to Italy and seizing revenge. Say what you will about the man, but he had patience and more than a little nerve; he was an upstart, but one with flair, style, and enough intelligence to know when to stop, a trait his sons never seemed to inherit.

Granted, It’s difficult to determine the exact point that the tone of the series shifts, but it’s somewhere around the time that Michael returns from Sicily and approaches his future wife, and mother of his two children, Kay; it’s at this point that the story becomes less about the repercussions of Vito’s life, and more about his fall, and more about Michael’s rise. Part I details the fall of Vito, and the rise of Michael, while Part II attempts to piece together hitherto unknown facts of Vito’s young life. Part II is about the fall of Michael, and the early rise of Vita, and the juxtaposition isn’t made apparent until Michael loses his family and Vito finally gains closure. I say that it wasn’t made apparent, but the truth is that I didn’t realize that their lives were being so carefully juxtaposed until it dawned on me how similar their stories are, and how different their failures were.

Ultimately, Vito failed because he relied too much on his family, and his death in the orchard with his grandson is a fitting way to end the life of a man who spent his entire life working for his children, for his family, for his underlings, and for his legacy. Michael’s death, alone with nothing but his dog, is the perfect way to end the life of a man who spent his entire life fighting for his independence and for himself; it’s the perfect way to end the life of a man who was never truly together until he was separated from his family and their overbearing concerns. I entertained the notion that Michael took the risk of killing Sollozzo and McClusky to avoid having to spend any more time with his family, but I struck it from my mind as argument material; I now propose that Michael risked his entire life to run away from his family, and that his actions (though admirable) were ultimately done for selfish reasons.

The true end of the series, barring Michael’s expected death in Part III, concludes in the opposite way that Part I begins. Instead of Vito, Michael is alone with nothing but his thoughts, and instead of being surrounded by members of the family and his son, Michael is left solitary with nothing but a cigarette. Indeed, Michael has always been alone, and his desires and thoughts have never been understood; Michael was the missing child, and so-called “Black sheep” of the Corleone family. It seems that the family always uttered the phrase “Where’s Michael” because he never really seemed to exert a presence as part of the family. He never really wanted to be part of the family in the first place, hence “They keep pulling me back in.”

Part II ends with a surprise party for Vito, who is celebrating on the same day that the Japanese Forces bomb Pearl Harbour. The Corleone boys are discussing politics while Connie is introduced to Sonny’s friend Carlo for the first time. It’s also the same day that Michael went against Vito’s wishes to enlist. As the patriarch enters the home and the guests move to surprise him, Michael is the only member left at the table. Part II ends as the antithesis to Part I’s beginning. Ultimately, however, Michael is still missing from the celebration, and the entire family is still held back by Michael’s decisions and actions. Truthfully, there’s nothing more important than family, and that’s an inevitability that neither Michael, nor anyone, can ever truly escape; the family, our families, effectively determine every aspect of our future except for the futures themselves.

The possibilities are determined by the people around us and the environments that we are exposed to, but the actualities and the results are all determined by our own choices and our own decisions.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Death is Something to be Celebrated and Welcomed, Not Feared; An Evening at a Muslim-Iraqi Wake (TheByteWeek Issue 11)

Its not often that I document momentous occasions, though I’ve noticed that when I do, the event is usually culturally based; my recent trip to Vietnam, for instance, had me attending a Vietnamese wedding. These events allow for a global perspective, and a sense of human unity, because they’re important events marking growth and maturation. The wedding was the beginning of a completely new chapter in the lives of the bride and groom, and their families, and I was very lucky, and honoured, that they would allow a complete stranger into a very personal event.

Momentous occasions, however, are not always filled with joy, life, and mirth, and with the case of death, are often sombre, serious affairs that require control and tact on the part of the guests. Funerals, in this way, are quite lifeless, and the mere act or presence of happiness seems odd, inappropriate, and entirely tactless. In a sense, death is often the sole unifying event that can bring people together, and alienate them, simultaneously; while some may marry, and others not, everyone dies, regardless of age, race, gender, belief, or opinion.

Death is the ultimate release from pain and suffering, and is the single most powerful and meaningful event in any individual’s life. In every sense of the word, death is the culmination of decades of grievances, successes, disasters, tragedies, joys, and moments of life. These were the thoughts that occupied my mind as I entered the hall where the wake for a Muslim Iraqi man was being held; death is something we should celebrate, something we should accept, and something we should welcome, not something we should fear or tantalize.

The man had died of a long approaching illness, and was survived by his wife, and two daughters; a separate series of services were held in Iraq and Jordan, and one of the daughters (who lives in Canada with her husband) had returned to perform a final service for all those who hadn’t had the opportunity to pay their respects in the Middle East. I must confess that my expectations for the event were largely fuelled by images I had seen in pictures, and on television and film; having never been to any form of funeral or wake, I was expecting the colloquial North American service, with the grieving surrounded by friends and family, together in remembrance of a fallen friend.

What awaited me inside the hall was completely different from what I had in mind.

The hall was divided between the men and women (something I only speculated on, and something that was later confirmed to be traditional in Iraq) with seats on both sides of the room. Entering, my companions and I were divided based on gender, and I was sent to sit with the men who had begun to recite a verse in unison; they weren’t speaking, but were mouthing or whispering with their hands in front of them, with their palms facing up. I noted that the gesture resembled a person using body language to ask “Why?” but I later realized that they were holding up an imaginary Koran, and were “Reading and reciting” the verse from it; this was in stark contrast to the women, whom I noted were actually praying from a physical Koran.

For some reason or another, I didn’t receive the traditional salutation that all the other men received, but was instead given a handshake and a pat on the back. Sitting in the front row, next to some of the older men, I learned that when a man enters the wake, all the men are expected to recite, whisper, or mouth the verse that I noticed when I entered, perform the reading (or “Why?”) gesture, wipe their faces, raise their hands and say “May Allah be with you.” This custom, contrarily, is not true for women, for a reason that no one could explain; the women shrugged it off as another thing for the men, and the men simply knew that it was something that was always done, and something that was accepted and known.

Having no one else to talk to, I sat down in silence, and allowed the gravity of the situation to overpower me, and in doing so, noticed that the women had a different arrangement entirely. Their seating plan was circular, forming around the grieving daughter in a concentric pattern, with those emotionally closest sitting next to her. Furthermore, the women were praying from several Korans, and seemed far closer, emotionally. I surmised that this was due to the deceased himself; the man was the father of the daughter, and it made sense that she would receive more “Attention” than her husband. Later I would also learn that grieving women are expected to do so for seven days, while men only grieve for three. Once again, there seemed to be no explanation and, being a guest I didn’t press the matter further.

I simply sat down, and observed, noting that, had I not seen the Canada Post van driving on the street, and the faint glimpse of the Shopper’s Drug Mart across the road, I could have been in Iraq. The customs were identical and were entirely unchanged, and each member of the gathering understood that; for a moment, I noticed that the husband’s expression grew morose every time he looked in his wife’s direction, and it occurred to me that it was possible that maintaining tradition wasn’t as important as making sure his wife was dealing with her emotions as much as everyone around her.

In this regard, I was unable to remain objective; the separation between male and female did little to hide the fact that couples were separated, as well as entire families since young children were also separated based on gender. It seemed incredibly counter-productive to hold an event meant to honour the spirit of a passed friend and family member, and then proceed to dichotomize the entire group. Immediately I recognized and understood that it was a cultural point that I would need to accept; regardless, the audacity of the disjoint remained in my mind until dinner, when the two groups finally united to eat.

Of course, the daughter and her husband weren’t very hungry, and everyone else seemed more than ready to socialize and move on from their period of mourning. It crossed my mind again that this was how death should be treated; it shouldn’t be shunned, or feared, but accepted and welcomed. It should be something to look forward to, not something to avoid with great terror.

Then I noticed the picture of the deceased, and his grieving daughter next to it.

It was the first time that I got a clear look at either the deceased father, or the very living daughter. She was distraught, honestly, and seemed serene and calm despite her red eyes revealing that she had been crying earier. Looking at the large picture frame, wreathed in white flowers, with three lit candles in front of the image (one for each immediate family member he had left behind, I assumed), I realized that, to me, this was the only proof that he lived; a black and white portrait of the man in a suit, and his grieving daughter, who took turns at being quiet, and grievous were the only visible legacies the man had left. Momentous occasion or not, culturally based or not, Iraqi or Canadian, it was enough to humanize anyone, and everyone else was enjoying the very tasty dolma, and the even tastier hummus.

Ultimately, death is something to be welcomed and celebrated. It really is something to look forward to, and it is a release from illness, misery, and suffering. Death is the universal finality that every individual travels towards and, ultimately, through. Death is the ultimate release, for those who die, of course.

For those who are touched by the death of another, for those who feel death take away a father, or a mother, a son, daughter, sister, brother, friend, uncle, aunt, or anyone else, death feels and looks like the worst catastrophe, and most pointlessly devastating experience that anyone would venture towards, because it is the worst catastrophe, and the most pointlessly devastating experience that anyone would venture towards. Death is painful, rude, abrupt, thorough, and instantaneous, in every conceivable sense, and in every possible derivation.

It was as I left the hall, together again with my companions, that I learned that the father had been suffering for years from an illness and that his death, in the most literal sense was a release from the pain he had been experiencing. Despite this fact, I don’t think anyone had the heart to tell his daughter that his death was an end to his suffering, especially since his loss will last, hurt, echo, and resonate for the rest of her life. I still believe that death is life’s greatest positive, and should be welcomed, not scorned, but only under the right circumstances.

Regardless, even I must have respect for the dead.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Understanding The Importance of a Silent Opinion; Succinct Comments on Two Horrifying Events, With Help From Luka Magnotta and Ahmed Hassan

Living in Canada is a fascinating, and often educating experience. A quarter of the world’s population believes every single stereotype that exists about Canadians and their cold, igloo filled nation; another quarter believes every single stereotype that exists about Canada being a peaceful, carefree nation of hockey fanatics; another quarter believes that Canada is effectively the Switzerland of North America; and the final quarter is filled with people who understand that stereotypes exist and that they don’t necessarily have any real bearing on the people who live in a particular environment.

Obviously I joke when I say that the former three quarters believe the stereotypes, because they obviously don’t; apart from those who are unlucky enough to not have acquired a rudimentary education, and I’ll admit that the numbers are starkly depressing, those who “Believe” the stereotypes simply believe them in jest. Like how many joke that Sweden often holds the wallets of warring nations, many joke that Canada is a cold, penguin-filled, desolately peaceful tundra. These comments are stereotypes, and as far as anyone should be concerned, they’re untrue. For those that believe in these stereotypes, I can say little because (while I’ve made many jokes about meeting people who have made the penguin jokes to me) I’ve never met anyone who genuinely believed that every part of Canada is blanketed in snow for the entire year.

In this way, I’ve also never met anyone who didn’t genuinely believe Canada to be one of the safest, and most comfortable countries to live in, based on quality of life or otherwise. The truth of the matter is that the country, for the most part, is incredibly safe; much like any nation, there are examples of violent crimes, and behaviour motivated by either chemical or intellectual imbalances, but the truth is that the vast majority of the country doesn’t live in fear of spontaneous death. Interestingly enough, two recent stories have brought a concentrated break to this trend of relative peace and any reader of international news will know that Luka Magnotta, a pornographic actor, and Ahmed Hassan, a gang member, have recently been in Canadian (and World) news for their devastating, and thoroughly disappointing, acts of violence and wanton aggression.

Magnotta murdered and ate his lover Lin Jun, a Chinese national studying in Concordia University, and was recently found in Berlin after a week and a half of being “On the run,” so to speak, while Hassan opened fire in the crowded Eaton Centre food court killing another gang member, and injuring 7 others. Additionally, Magnotta sent several of Jun’s body parts to various government institutions as an act created by his severely imbalanced mind and Hassan reportedly turned himself over to police at around 2:00 AM on Monday, June 4th, 2012. The two events are related only in their ability to bring disappointment in the eyes of an human who didn’t share their world views.

I recently spent a day in downtown Toronto, visiting three popular landmarks and towers, including the Eaton Centre, and remarked about how I regretted not being able to visit Toronto more often (the article can be found here). In the article I noted that my laziness and distance were my only reasons for not visiting a location that’s under an hour away by GO train (it’s actually even closer than that, though I do digress). My point was that I didn’t go to Toronto as often as I liked, and that I’d make it a habit to visit more often in the future, all while never really explaining or detailing when I would do so.

Oddly, I find myself wanting to visit Toronto even more now that these random and unrelated events have occurred. Interestingly, these same events have done very little to dissuade the general public from doing anything, and some members of the Toronto public were even surprised that the Hassan shootings forced the entire Eaton Centre to close for a day (and the food court for slightly longer, for obvious reasons).

At first I thought it was due to social ignorance; certain members of the public weren’t aware of the shootings, and then I thought it was due to a desensitization to violence. Studies have been conducted, and will continue to be conducted on the state of violence in North American (and Canadian) culture, and results have continued to show that we, as members of a world that is seemingly characterized by its wanton destruction, mindless hatred, and horrifying atrocities, are reacting less to events that can be categorized as such. I soon realized my inaccuracy, when I considered interpreting the story from a different point of view, and my queries answered themselves with a simple question: what better way to acknowledge a problem or concern than by facing it head on?

Or rather, what better way to deal with a horrifying event than by refusing to let it effect one’s self? Or rather, what better way to deal with an event that only affected a few people, by refusing to dwell on the event, moving forward without making a big deal out of things, and by letting those affected grieve privately without making the event into a carnival or circus? The politicians made their statements, the press got their stories, the shooter is in police custody, and the grieving have been given time and space to grieve. In every sense of the word, this is the perfect way to react to a horrifying event.

It’s hypocritical of me to claim that the best way to deal with a horrific event is by letting those affected have their space, and then proceed to write about the horrific event, and I understand that, but for all intents and purposes, this will be the final article I write on the matter. In every sense of the term, I’ve taken my time to discuss the shooting and the murder, and it’s time that I too move on. Certainly, my words will do little to console the families of the seven who are injured, and my words will do even less for the grieving families of both Lin Jun and Luka Magnotta, which is why I must keep them quiet and succinct.

I’ve realized that, when dealing with horror, or tragedy, the only way to proceed forward is by choosing to not dwell on the horror, and by allowing those who have been affected to grieve.

At a certain point, voicing opinions is no longer appropriate, and even the most blatant and loud must control themselves, and silence their collective mouths to insure that the people who really need to speak can easily do so. We must, quite simply, keep calm, alert, and ready for when anyone hurt needs to speak about their pain; otherwise, there will be no point in being able to do so.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Losing a Tennis Match; A Singles Lane Discussion of Anger, and its Position as the Most Overpowering Tremor in the Negative Spectrum of Human Emotion

It all starts off well enough; your feet are moving stupendously, adrenaline is still pumping through your body , the sensations of pain haven’t yet begun to resonate, and you’re returning everything that your opponent is sending your way. It doesn’t last very long, however, and you miss; you finally feel the pain in your wrist, your hips, and your legs. Your feet begin to feel swollen and your muscles puffy; you notice the sweat dripping down your face. Your serves become worse, and you start missing over and over again. You become angrier at yourself for missing, which only makes you miss more, and then it happens: a serve finally connects and through some sort of athletic miracle your opponent misses, sending him into the same spiral as you. This continues for a few more minutes, and the sensation of impending victory begins to overpower your brain, neutralizing the pain you were feeling a few moments.

You miss again, and the cycle repeats itself.

This time, the feeling changes because you know what to expect; you prepare for your opponent’s miss, but it never comes. Serve after serve, your form continues to degrade while his seems to remain controlled and composed; his body never hesitates, and his technique shows absolutely no weakness. You begin to blame yourself for your sudden decline, and with no one to stop or correct you, you continue down the path of anger and hatred. Suddenly, it happens again; your serve connects, and your opponent misses again, his form taking on a momentary resemblance to yours.

This time however, you mistake anger for skill, and fool yourself into believing that your anger is the only reason your opponent failed. You continue with this belief, and as you miss more serves, and as your returns are sent across the court in all directions, you refrain from correcting your form. You believe that the angrier you are, the better you’ll be; you continue to decline and you become angrier, which only continues your declination. You begin shouting and flailing around wildly, and the pain that was held back a few moment ago by adrenaline and your defences is now surging through your body; your wrist feels like it’s being weighed down by lit sandbags, your legs feel like they’ve been struck my bats, and your entire body feels sluggish and desolate. Moments ago you were feeling nothing (the overwhelming sensation of victory was pumping through your veins), but the sheer force of loss has finally began to settle in.

Disregarding everything you’ve read and have been taught, you refuse to suppress your fear or anger, and you let it take you over; you feed the hatred, and allow yourself to give into your darkest thoughts. Winning or losing no longer makes a difference to you; the contrast between the two events seems meaningless, and the innate human desire to achieve and be successful is rendered null. Regardless of what the outcome of the game is, you’ve already lost, and the worst part is that you already know it.

You wonder whether winning would be worse than losing.

Of course, then it happens: you lose, and you realize how much of a fool you’ve been.

Without the pressure of achieving victory consuming you, your anger fades away instantaneously. You contemplate the reasons for your loss, and you discover every mistake you’ve made. Through the greatest sense of irony, you learn that you could have detected these mistakes earlier, and that you could have fixed them in an instant without reproach. Every misstep, every failed serve, every failed return, every wrong move, and every discontinuity could have been solved, corrected, and amended had you not given into your anger and had you not let the wave of hatred overcome, overwhelm, and overpower you.

The worst part is that you were playing against a wall, and it never cared about its victory anyway.

Through two weeks of playing tennis, I’ve come to discover that, of all the tremors that form the negative spectrum of human emotion, anger is the most powerful, and the most overpowering if left unchecked and unaccounted for. Certainly, fear and sadness are powerful, but anger is indistinguishable; anger makes itself present and obvious, while fear and sadness mask themselves as something else. An angry person is more than aware that they’re angry, but a depressed or fearful individual has so many symptoms that their ability to diagnose themselves with sadness and fear is almost entirely impossible.

Anger is, annoyingly, the most powerful human emotion that exists within the negative spectrum of human emotion, and also the most basic. All it takes is a single pinprick for a person to become angry, but, unless an individual is suffering from clinical depression, it takes far more to go from happy to sad, and even more to go from happy to afraid.

I suppose that the truth of the matter isn’t that tennis makes a person angry, or that losing produces a sense of unbridled rage, because both are equally true. The truth is that anger is so simple, and so incredibly basic, that because of the very human tendency to become upset over trivial concerns, it can and will overpower an individual if left unchecked. Anger is so simple and so basic that we refuse to calm ourselves even though we can see ourselves becoming angry and losing control of our actions and words. Anger is so simple and so basic that we actively underestimate its ability to drag us down to the depths.

I suppose my ultimate point is that anger is simple, and basic, and must be overcome to make rational, and logical decisions. Anger, more so than fear, disgust, contempt, and sadness, is the single most powerful negative emotion, and will absolutely lead to the downfall of an individual if it’s not controlled, and disregarding this fact can, and will, lead to further strife and ruin. Of course, this is incredibly obvious, which might just make a person angry for having read this article; ironically, that would only prove my point.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK