Tag: Rural

Day 995: Little Rivalry On The Prairie


Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.

Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.

Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.

But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.


The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…

Day 955: Conquering The Energy Problem, Wang-Style


What if I told you that I’d recently unlocked a treasure of scientific magic so potent and transformative it would affect the way everyone on the planet conducted their everyday lives. “But wait,” you might say, “haven’t you been spending the past 955 days writing a bunch of hastily-researched yet irrepressibly delightful articles?” “Okay,” I’d probably admit, “you have a point.”

But if the year was 1983, and “you” were the Chinese government and “I” was Wang Hongcheng, an uneducated bus driver from Harbin, you might actually listen. This was supposed to be the game-changer that would propel China from a communist non-player into the driver’s seat of the global economic Hummer. China would win the energy game; the Middle East would need to find something besides bubblin’ crude to keep their gazillions rolling in; the entirety of everything would be flipped.

All because of Wang’s magic liquid. The stuff that dreams are made of – the stuff that could build an empire whilst crumbling several others.

Also, if someone ends up making a movie out of this story, I hope they call it Wang’s Magic Liquid. But they probably won’t.


Wang Hongcheng made it through ninth grade, served some time as a soldier, then became a bus driver – just another faceless cog among the Harbin masses, toiling at a day job and doing his obligatory service for the collective, in accordance with Maoist principles. But clearly Wang wanted more. Wang wanted to be known for something extraordinary. Despite his complete lack of scientific training, Wang claimed he had invented a liquid that could transform a bland liter of water into a spectacular fuel, simply by adding a few precious drops of his secret serum. Read more…

Day 932: Tornadoing It Right


As the summer weeks amble past that first premature sploosh of sun, sweat and network television’s filler programming (the latest season of Fox’s 24 notwithstanding), we are reaching the time when the season becomes entrenched in whichever little cubbyhole we wish to place it. For some, it’s the season of swimming in a sun-soaked pool. For teachers and their flock, it’s the season of delectable freedom and a furlough from responsibility. For those of us who live with both a teacher and a student, it’s the season for drinking heavily to compensate for the globby paste of envy we feel at watching everyone else in the household sleep as we leave for work.

But for a number of geographically-encumbered folks, the sub-surface pillow-down of summer brings with it more grave and ungroovy consequences. Hurricanes and tropical storms are gearing up to spank the Gulf of Mexico with a debris-wreaking fist. Droughts will speckle farmland country, crapping its dusty fury upon a smattering of unlucky agriculturalists. And inevitably the funnel clouds will open up their peppery maws at the vengeful sky, bullying rural settlements and trailer parks alike on the ground.

Edmonton has seen but one tornado in our 100+ years as a city, and it left its mark on everyone who lived through it – even for those of us who saw nothing worse than the dog-spittle of rain against our windows. But in the interest of public safety – and as part of my court-ordered restitution for ‘liberating’ those pet store frogs into the IKEA ball-pit – here are some safety tips.


Remember that viral video in which a Kansas TV crew near El Dorado fled from a nearby tornado and took refuge beneath an overpass? Yeah, don’t do this. If you happen to be caught on an empty two-lane highway with a tornado sneering at the hairs on the back of your neck, you might be tempted to tuck yourself under a concrete canopy, but you’ll really only be worsening your chances of survival. That TV crew happened to pick a rather odd overpass – there was a hollow crawlspace at the top of the embankment where they could grab hold of the exposed girders to stay stable. Read more…

Day 913: Psychiatric Pseudo-Symptoms Take Aim At Science


In more than one of his couch-quivering rants, Tom Cruise has expressed distrust and disdain for the science of psychiatry. Perhaps he believes Xenu and his intergalactic pals can do more for the struggling mind than can a branch of human medicine. I don’t agree – and I count that as a big win for my own sense of logic and reason. The science isn’t perfect but it’s progressing, and while the humans who administer its teachings are fallible, there’s still actual science there.

Psychologist and Stanford professor David Rosenhan also found the whole thing suspicious. It was the early 1970’s and psychiatric patients were treated somewhat differently than they are today, as anyone who read Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest will know. Doc Rosenhan wasn’t convinced that patients were being properly diagnosed, and he wasn’t sold on the standard treatment procedure either. He came up with a devious plan.

What if someone perfectly sane were to talk their way into a psychiatric hospital, only to have their symptoms disappear once inside? What ensued was a damning criticism of psychiatry and psychiatric diagnosis, one which still resonates to this day. But was Doc Rosenhan’s experiment a genuine scalpel-slice through the pristine flesh of the science of mental health, or was it pseudoscience? His results were shocking, but in fact they need to be scrutinized beyond the knee-jerk swoop of an accusatory finger.

Dr. Rosenhan was also suspicious of the science of hair restoration.

Dr. Rosenhan was also suspicious of the science of hair restoration.

Doc Rosenhan drafted eight ‘pseudo-patients’ for his experiment, which included himself, a grad student, two other psychologists, a pediatrician, a psychiatrist, a painter and a housewife. The eight of them were to show up at ten different psychiatric hospitals around the country. Underfunded rural hospitals were targeted, as were revered urban university hospitals and one pricey private hospital. Everyone held true to their biographical details, apart from their names (which were changed to protect them) and in the case of those who were actually in the medical field, their occupations. Doc Rosenhan didn’t want any special treatment for anyone. Read more…

Day 646: The Inescapable Laugh-Track


Though it hasn’t yet been accepted as fact by the Western medical community, there is an adage that claims that laughter is the best medicine. But what if laughter is the disease itself?

Somewhere amid the musty grey pages from the hard-to-reach file of wacky medical history lies the Tanganyika laughter epidemic. It’s a story that reads like a cautionary tale of bad hoodoo, one of those stories the old foreign wise man might spew in a bad movie. But enough people observed and documented this monumental weirdness that we have to accept it as fact.

Optimally there would be a well-polished explanation slapped onto the end of this twisted tale, a rubber stamp that could decree which tome of medical quirkiness this all belongs. But no one is really sure why so many people in this rural African region suddenly started laughing one day and couldn’t stop.

Probably had nothing to do with a mime.

Probably had nothing to do with a mime.

In late 1961, the British released their hold on the portion of German East Africa that they’d snatched up in the aftermath of WWII. The Republic of Tanganyika was formed, sticking around under that name on only two years’ worth of globes before merging with Zanzibar and changing its moniker to Tanzania. But in those two years they made their mark in medical mythology with this little slice of history.

It was the morning of January 30, 1962, a typical day at a mission-run girls’ boarding school in the tiny village of Kashasha. Three girls, somewhere between twelve and eighteen years of age, started laughing. No one knows what set them off, if anything. They simply started with a titter, ramped up to a chuckle, then kept rolling into guffaw territory. Like yawning, laughter can be notoriously contagious, so it wasn’t unusual (though probably somewhat distracting) to see other girls catch on. But it got a little weird when the laughter wouldn’t stop. Read more…

Day 447: My Plea For The Right Size Weekend


There are a few topics to which I will almost never turn while searching for fodder for my daily writing regimen. Religion is one, because I don’t feel the need to fuel heated, angry debates any more than I believe I should be pushing my own chosen religion (Jediism, of course) on others. Another is cricket because I still have no idea how the rules of that game function, and I kind of enjoy my ignorance. Lastly there’s economics because I’m usually swatting at my subjects with the flimsy flyswatter of lethargy-inspired humor, and there simply isn’t a whole lot funny about economics.

But today I don’t care. I’m going to stamp my fist repeatedly against my desk and write with passion, with fervor, and with a close eye on my word count because I really might run out of steam before I hit a thousand words.

The first gripe that gets me clenching my hair in furrowed frustration is the concept of the four-day work week.


I think the last time I felt rested and refreshed after a two-day weekend was when I ingested a salt-shaker’s worth of cocaine on a Monday morning. That doesn’t help me this weekend, because I really can’t handle doing that two Mondays in a row. But the fact is, working five days for two days of relief is insane. My Saturday is often a write-off, as we catch up on the trivial matters of suburban life: cleaning the house, mowing the lawn (or, since it doesn’t look like winter will end this year, mourning it), grocery shopping and polishing the wooden shelf in my trophy case where one day my Pulitzer will go. For five blissful months of the year I have a Sunday date with football. Read more…